Patrick Beverley had to stay awake. His mom was counting on him. He was eight years old, sitting in the passenger seat of her green Ford Tempo. She had pulled off the road, finding a vacant spot on a side street on the West Side of Chicago.
The sky was dark. Blue-black. Lisa Beverley had just finished her overnight shift. Third job of the day. She and Patrick didn’t have much, so Lisa worked constantly: at a phone company, painting nails, babysitting. Every day, she’d keep from collapsing by telling herself: If I don’t make it, we don’t make it. I can’t fail my son.
She turned off the engine, and Patrick climbed onto her lap. She hugged him tightly, his tiny body melting into the curves of hers. But he was worried. He could feel the tired on her. He didn’t want the tired anywhere near her.
“OK, now you look at the clock,” she told him. “When the clock says this number, you wake Mommy up, OK? I just need some sleep so we can make it home. Help Mommy drive, OK?”
Patrick nodded, watching her eyelids slowly roll to a close. “OK, Mommy.” He began to stare at the clock, eyes open. Wide. Two white lights in a bleak, starless night.
Beverley is acutely aware that he might not have grown up to become one of the toughest, most relentless defenders in the NBA without those nights. That watching his mother hustle as she did is directly related to the way he hounds Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden up and down the court.
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“I didn’t want my mom to work that hard again,” Beverley says, picturing himself as a child, back in that car.
Sometimes Lisa wishes he didn’t remember the car, the clock. She is surprised that he does: “Some stuff, I never brought up to him, because you don’t want your kid to know how bad it really, really was.” At the same time, she recognizes that memory has always been her son’s motivator. It has pushed him to work, to survive. And that’s what has earned him his reputation and standing in the NBA—a reputation and standing that, after seven years in the league, resulted in the lucrative three-year, $40 million contract signed with the Clippers this summer. He is the floor general of a franchise suddenly in the hunt for an NBA championship after miraculously acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the offseason.
Beverley, 31, often thinks about all he has endured to get to this point. Things that have nothing to do with basketball. “I think it’s post-traumatic stress,” he says, taking a seat on a bench at the Clippers facility on a Thursday afternoon in September. He’s wearing a gray hoodie that says “West Side Story.”
He remembers his old life: having to share a sweatshirt with a high school teammate, not always able to afford his own. Feeling lost, alone, growing up without his father, who struggled with drug abuse. He remembers the family, the friends, that gunshots stole from him. The scouts telling him he was too small, too skinny. The uncertainty he felt after being declared ineligible to play at Arkansas after two seasons for academic issues. He left school to play in Ukraine, Greece and Russia, chasing an NBA dream in countries far away where nobody knew his name.
One memory stands out: his first night in Ukraine. He was 19. Lisa had moved there with him and was already sick from the food. When Patrick tried to play a video game, the power in their entire apartment blew out. The two fell silent. “F–k it,” Lisa finally said. “We know what it feels like to not have lights.” Patrick nodded. They’ve spent their entire lives trying to not get swallowed by the dark.
Beverley’s Los Angeles home is scattered with yellow sticky notes. They’re in his closet, on the walls of his bedroom, on mirrors—especially his bathroom mirror. He wants them to be the first thing he sees every morning while brushing his teeth. He doesn’t want to see his face. Doesn’t want to think about his appearance. Doesn’t want to think about anything except what’s on those notes: his goals for this season.
One reads “Championship.” Another: “Home-court advantage.” This reloaded Clippers team feels special to him. Different. He’s different. More cerebral. Ready to be even more aggressive, especially on the offensive end. “His hunger, his motivation, is heightened, even for him,” says Jeff Pagliocca, one of his trainers and a close friend.
Beverley has not felt this excited in a long time. “Just because of how close we are and that we play defense. People keep forgetting that part,” he says. Yeah, Leonard and George scored in the high 20s last season, “but when they first got to the NBA, those were guys that held their hat on defense. If we keep getting stops and no one’s scoring, then we can win every game.”
Beverley is not speaking hyperbolically. A sticky note on the armrest inside of his car reminds him: “Remember your goals.” Another one, on the wall next to his bed: “First Team All-Defensive Team.” He didn’t make any All-Defensive team last season, and that eats at him. “People thought I forgot,” Beverley says. “I ain’t forgot. I go to bed a lot thinking about that.”
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Now that his contract is out of the way, he can just focus on basketball. Winning. “I feel lighter,” he says. “It was a weight off my back. A lot of people don’t know this, and I don’t care, because I’m not here to be a people-pleaser, but I paid my way to get here. I paid a million to get here. Out of my own money. I put myself in debt to get to the NBA.”
He’s referring to salary from Russia that he walked away from in order to sign a three-year contract with the Rockets—with a team option after each year. Beverley stayed in Houston from 2013 to ’17. “I was willing to bet whatever on myself,” he says, “because I knew what my focus was.”
Beverley is more focused than ever. His motto this summer was “no detail too small.” He is addicted to training and doesn’t really tire. At least, “never mentally,” he says. He is called hard-nosed and durable, but he knows his ability to withstand has nothing to do with his body: “The body can only go as far as the mind takes it.”
That’s why when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2017, his first season in L.A., he woke up from surgery and refused painkillers: because he wanted to know what the pain felt like. He even took a lap around the hospital.
He is always on. Sometimes he’ll take off sprinting in the middle of a conversation. He won’t leave a weightlifting session unless his legs are shaking. Whenever in hotel exercise rooms, he’ll hype up random guests, whom he calls NARPs (Non-Athletic Regular People): “LET’S GOOOOOOO! YOU GOT THIS S–T!” “His energy is everywhere,” says Danilo Gallinari, a former Clippers teammate who is now with the Thunder.
Beverley lives by the mentality he learned in those early days in Chicago: Hustle, hustle, hustle until you can’t hustle no more. And when you can’t hustle no more, hustle more. Hustle creatively, too. He recently sprinted through the sand in Timberland fashion boots during a full beach workout. He made 400 pull-up jump shots in one workout without leaving the ground, his arm practically vibrating, so he could improve his balance. While in the Bahamas on vacation this offseason, he decided his cardio for the day would be swimming around a gigantic boat 15 times in a row.
“He’s f–king crazy,” says Matthew Alarcon, another of Beverley’s trainers, who became a close friend and now lives with him. “He’s up for everything.” Bob Donewald Jr., Beverley’s former coach in Ukraine and a former assistant coach for the Cavs and Hornets, remembers an NBA coach describing Beverley’s style of play as, “Position motherf–ker.”
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Beverley loves that people call him a villain, call him dirty, because he suffocates stars. He’s not afraid of anyone, anything. Never has been. As a kid, he used to jump off cars, off roofs and stairways. He hung onto moving cars and stole bikes and cars; he milled around the train tracks. He did all of those things because he burned to find out what would happen.
Those days still weigh on him. “I never act like something I’m not. If I wasn’t playing basketball, I would be in the streets,” Beverley says. “I’m saying that to shine light upon the fact that it’s f–ked up out here. To even have that mindset, an all-or-nothing mindset.
“It’s 10 million kids just like me. Kids in New York, in Chicago, in L.A., in Oakland, in Atlanta, who go through the same thing and don’t make it out; they don’t have a voice,” he says. “I speak for them. I hoop for them.”
When Lisa didn’t hear gunshots, she’d walk little Patrick to the concrete courts at the local park. He’d put on his boots and gloves, with the jersey of his favorite player, Kevin Garnett, tucked underneath his coat. No matter how cold, how windy, the two would shoot baskets. Shoot in the rain, shoot in the snow.
She’d grab the ball before it hit the ground and whirl it back to Patrick. Again and again. “Your shot’s too slow! You gotta get it off faster!” she’d say. She was his first and favorite teammate. His protector, his provider. His conscience, his heart. She was critical of him. Disciplined him when he acted up. She was crafty. Smart. “A real gangsta,” Beverley says. “She was forced to make decisions, whether they were right or wrong, based on not what was best for her. To make a decision that’s bad, and not for you, but to make sure he’s OK. Think about that. Think about that!” He pauses. “The sacrifices she took. Everything she did wasn’t legal. Some of the stuff she did was frowned upon, but she didn’t give a f–k. Didn’t care. Made the right decisions based on her son.”
She hid her fatigue, her pain. “I’ve only seen my mom cry once. Ever,” he says. She had every reason to. They both did. Patrick struggled with his father’s absence. And the man who was helping raise Patrick, Lisa’s live-in boyfriend, Dexter, was killed. Shot eight times. Lisa’s car’s engine often blew out, and she’d spend her entire paycheck on a new car.
“It’s me and you against the world,” Lisa and Patrick would say to each other, over and over.
Patrick was chasing his dad. Well, the ghost of him. He yearned to prove something to someone who couldn’t be found. Like punching air, Patrick would end up winded, upset, with nothing to hold on to.
He wasn’t just trying to prove that he could hang with the older men in pickup, like the time one elbowed him, knocking his jaw out. He couldn’t talk but managed a GRRRRRRR and kept playing. He was mostly trying to prove to his father, who also dreamed of becoming an NBA player, that he could make it in life without him. Be a better man. One day be a better father.
“I didn’t have that guidance,” Beverley says. That absence drove him. Hurt him. It still does. He looks at his own children now and thinks, I don’t ever want you to feel the pain I did.
Donewald Jr. wasn’t sure initially if Beverley was going to last in Ukraine. The coach of the low-budget club BC Dnipro had seen foreigners much older than Beverley wilt amid the biting wind, negative 20-degree weather, two feet of snow. No English. “He’s either faking it, and he’s going back to his apartment crying,” Donewald says, “or he’s the toughest son of a b—h I’ve ever seen.” Donewald, who has coached LeBron James and Baron Davis, soon determined it to be the latter.
Beverley left behind his daughter and son and moved to Ukraine as one of three Americans on a team with eight Ukrainians who “wanted to beat the s–t out of him,” as Donewald put it.
First day of practice? Beverley threw the ball out of bounds. The Ukrainians groaned. Why didn’t we sign a veteran? Beverley grabbed the ball back and at the top of his lungs cursed in perfect Russian. His teammates broke into laughter, embracing him, even if he was out to take somebody’s spot. When they brought Ukrainian kids to play dummy offense, Beverley hounded them. “Bring me the next! Bring me the next!” he’d yell.
Nothing fazed him. Not the time the stands caught on fire in the middle of an actual game (Beverley was laughing). Not the food he consumed (borscht and knockoff burgers and fries at a TGI Fridays that didn’t quite taste like TGI Fridays. Lisa would go to the grocery store and say, “Mooooo!” to convey she was looking for beef).
Beverley felt far from the NBA. “Timing,” Lisa would remind him. “Your time is not everybody else’s time.” He kept working. “He was willing to give all of himself,” says Darnell Lazare, a fellow American import on BC Dnipro. He constantly talked about the NBA. “He’d just tell me: ‘I gotta make it, man! I just gotta make it!” says Devin Green, the other American import.
But NBA scouts doubted his abilities. He was small. He wasn’t a skilled point guard yet but instead a combo guard who didn’t shoot much. They thought his toughness—diving on the floor for loose balls, locking up full court—was fake. Too loud. They questioned whether he could sustain his intensity over 82 games.
He’s been doubted since middle school, when a coach told Lisa that Patrick couldn’t try out but they’d let him shoot, so to not hurt his feelings. Afterward, the coach was frantic: “I gotta cut somebody! We gotta have Pat on the team.”
He’d prove himself at John Marshall High, too, challenging big names like Derrick Rose and Sherron Collins. Beverley wasn’t even known for his defense back then. He was a scorer. A leader. Stan Heath, one of his coaches at Arkansas, remembers being at one of his games when Beverley’s coach, Lamont Bryant, was off to the side and Beverley was in the middle of the huddle, commanding the group. “They were looking at Pat with tremendous respect,” Heath says. They saw that he always played full even when empty. “Nobody could stop him,” Bryant says. “Patrick could only stop himself.”
So could the gangs, the drugs, waiting for him. Beverley was always conscious that at any moment the things he was working for could disappear. He could disappear. One night after dropping 34 for John Marshall, police had to escort Beverley out of the gym for his safety. Someone is going to hurt my son, Lisa thought to herself.
She’d follow him to Arkansas, making the eight-and-a-half-hour drive there and back every game. Right before tipoff, he’d look around the arena to spot where she was. And, later those nights, she’d wake up at 3 a.m. to get her son’s rebounds when he couldn’t sleep. When nightmares seized him, he compartmentalized. Took it out on the court. On his teammates. “We’d have to change our uniform three, four times, it would be so soaked, because you knew going against Pat, you’d have to bring it every day,” says Gary Ervin, a former Arkansas teammate.
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Beverley averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 rebounds—at just 6’1″—in two seasons at Arkansas. And then he lost his NCAA eligibility. His professional dream was in peril. “He was devastated,” says John Pelphrey, the coach at the time. “Everyone was crying,” says Stef Welsh, a teammate. Beverley called his mom, told her the news. She didn’t judge him. Just asked when he would be home. “It’s me and you against the world,” she told him.
But that world began to unravel. That summer, Beverley’s 16-year-old cousin, Donovan, who idolized Beverley, was gunned down and killed. Beverley and Lisa had to identify the body. That nearly destroyed him.
Donovan didn’t get to graduate high school. He looked up to Beverley. And now, without college, without his cousin, Beverley was at a crossroads. “That forced me to make a decision if I wanted to choose the streets or basketball,” Beverley says. He promised himself he would give everything to make it.
Beverley believes there is an architecture to his life. A blueprint that God has carefully constructed, designed with dead-ends that Beverley turned into opportunities. “I’m fortunate to have had all the bad,” he says. Nowadays he views his cousin’s death as a “sacrifice,” a reminder of the need to work hard.
But the loss still haunts him. Nothing was resolved. Donovan’s killer is still out there. Free. Lisa often tells her son to continue to pray about it because there is nothing he can do to heal this wound.
“Maybe I don’t make it if my dad is around,” Beverley speculates, sinking deeper into his seat at the Clippers facility. “Maybe I don’t have the same drive if my dad is around.” He doesn’t talk about his dad much with anyone, except his mom. Except when he plays with his kids.
He remembers how lost he felt as a teen, trying to figure things out by himself. Things that the women who raised him just couldn’t teach him, despite how much they believed in him (his grandmother, Celeste Beverley, called him ‘Baby Jordan’ and said he was special) or sacrificed for him (his great aunt, Karyn McCullough, spent nights watching over him and would help Lisa with babysitting).
Beverley is trying to see things from his dad’s perspective. Lisa says it is “still a work in progress” for her son to build a relationship with his father.
“I can see how it could be hard in Chicago. Drugs. That’s not my job to judge,” Beverley says. “My job is to continue being something to my son that I never had.”
Beverley smiles, lightening the mood. “I’m the lit dad. I am the coolest dad in the world,” he says. He spends most of his money on his home. “We got this bigass resort in Houston.” He spoils his four kids with trips, pools, boats, because he does not want them to feel how he felt every Christmas, bereft of gifts.
His kids can feel happy, a word, a concept, he never had time to contemplate because survival kept him busy. Lisa asks her son every day: “How are you? Are you happy?” He dodges the question and focuses instead on his kids. He allows them to think independently but at the same time doesn’t want them to grow up with a sense of entitlement: “I’m real hard on my kids,” he says.
Recently, his four-year-old son talked back to his son’s mother. Beverley saw this as ultimate disrespect. Via FaceTime, Beverley told him to go outside and sit on the back porch that’s attached to the house.
“But it’s cold back there, Daddy.”
“Get your jacket. Oh, your mom bought you that, right? Nah, I guess you don’t need that jacket then.”
“It’s getting dark, Daddy.” Beverley made him stay out just a little longer.
One day, his son will learn of the months Beverley spent in Russia playing for Spartak St. Petersburg, where the sun did not come out. Where it was so snowy he couldn’t go outside. With limited resources in his apartment, he attached a TRX resistance band to the banister and trained with Alarcon, who came for the season.
Alarcon remembers many times sitting in the passenger seat of Beverley’s black Lexus when Beverley was racially profiled by Russian police, who would stop and ask for cash. “They’d extort us,” Alarcon says. “‘Give us money, or you’re going to spend the night in Russian jail.’ We knew we weren’t welcome.”
Beverley complied. Tried to focus on basketball. He won EuroCup MVP in 2011-12. He had been a force even before that, playing for Olympiacos Piraeus in Greece from 2009-10 after a stint with the 2010 Miami Heat summer-league team fizzled, as he was waived.
Even in Greece, Beverley rode the bench for most of the season. “F–k it,” he thought to himself. “I’m going to stay ready.”He worked out three times a day. Didn’t sulk. “People thought I was going to go home,” Beverley says. “I didn’t, because I didn’t really have nothing to go to.” He pushed his teammates, eventually playing in the championship game and helping his team win the Greek Cup title. “He bought into the team mindset,” teammate Josh Childress says.
Maybe Beverley will tell his son about almost giving up after Greece. “Maybe this is it for me,” he thought then. “Maybe this is who I am: an overseas guy. Maybe I need to get used to this life.”
But he wouldn’t. The Rockets would finally give him a shot in 2013, and he was ready to take someone’s spot.
Beverley didn’t care that his new teammates in Houston didn’t know who he was. He took one look at James Harden and simply saw another human standing across from him. So he did what he does to any human in his way: lock him up. He and Harden squared off every day.
“I really didn’t give a f–k. My attitude on the court is the same attitude that I had when I was in the streets,” Beverley says. “You’re the best player. I’m the best defender. I understand that if he gets the best of me, that helps me; if I get the best of him, that helps him. And it helps the team.
“I never went with the NBA motto of, You play with a star you have to just give in. I’m not like that. I’m gonna be myself. I’m gonna play my game.”
He battled Jeremy Lin, too, for the starting spot. Alarcon recalls Beverley telling him that sometimes before drill work, Lin would sit down, rest and take his sneakers off. “Pat started getting pissed,” Alarcon says. “He’d run up to [Lin] and say, ‘Yo, I can’t take your job if you’re not suited up and playing.'”
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Sometimes assistant coach Dean Cooper would have to tell Beverley to cool out. “He was on full throttle all the time,” says Cooper, now with the Bulls. That elevated the team. “Pat will bring the best out of anybody,” says Ronnie Brewer, a former Rockets teammate. “Dude forces people to be better.”
Beverley didn’t end up getting any starts in the regular season as a rookie. But then came the playoffs.
One afternoon, Beverley was driving down the street next to the Toyota Center, on his way home after shootaround, when teammate Chandler Parsons called: “I just talked to [coach Kevin McHale]. He says he’s gonna start you tonight! I think you’re starting tonight!”
“For real, bro? Don’t play with me, bro.”
“No, bro, I’m serious. I swear to God.”
They laughed a bit and then hung up. Beverley dialed his mom. “What’s up, Booda?” Lisa said. Only family members and friends from childhood call Beverley that. (When he was a child, his eyes were so big it looked like someone said boo and scared him, so Lisa’s younger sister came up with “Booda.”)
Clutching his phone, Beverley couldn’t find the words. He broke down crying. He had made it.
Beverley started five of six games in that postseason and all but one game he appeared in the next year. He never quite makes it, though, in his mind. Every day, he thinks he has to make it all over again. He needs some hurdle, something to overcome. So it would make sense that, even after he’d help the Rockets to four playoff berths—including a conference finals berth in 2014-15—as a vocal leader on the team, he saw only more hurdles when he moved into a similar role with the Clippers.
He initially thought a knee injury he suffered at the start of his Clippers tenure would sideline him for four weeks. He’s accustomed to playing through injury. After suffering a fracture in his right hand in Houston, he called himself Wolverine and told Lisa—standing on the court with him the day before a playoff game—that if he could catch the ball, he would play. Of course, he couldn’t, but he took the risk of further injury anyway, grimacing as he tried to will his fingers to grip the ball.
He approached things differently, though, after learning he’d be out the rest of the year with the Clippers. For the first time in his life, he was forced to sit still. Think. So, although he rehabbed hard, he focused on growing spiritually. Becoming closer to God. He felt stronger. More secure in who he was.
Maybe that’s why he chose to stay with this organization instead of signing somewhere else this summer. “They let me be Pat,” he says. “They just let me be me.”
His teammates see what outsiders can’t. That he’s silly. A prankster who pours water over Mya, his nine-year-old sister, while she’s sleeping. Who once tipped over a banana boat full of his Arkansas teammates while the team was at a tournament in Cancun.
Sometimes Beverley hands out $100 bills to homeless people on the street. Lisa thinks he is too giving sometimes, especially to people closest to him. “That’s one of his biggest faults,” she says. “He just wants everybody to be OK. He just wants everybody to be happy.”
The two have swapped roles, with Beverley now taking care of Mom. She’ll always be in charge, though. (She still makes him take out the trash.) And she believes it is her son’s time this season. He is finally where he’s worked to be. But a part of her still worries about him. So she continues to ask him: “Are you happy? Are you good?”
“Mom,” he says, “knowing you are good, I am great.”
Mirin Fader is a staff writer for B/R Mag. She’s written for the Orange County Register, espnW.com, SI.com and Slam. Her work has been honored by the Associated Press Sports Editors, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, the Football Writers Association of America and the Los Angeles Press Club. One of her stories was named a notable selection in the 2019 Best American Sports Writing. Follow her on Twitter: @MirinFader.