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Chauncey Billups’ letter to self provides rare insight into trials, triumphs

The Players’ Tribune is quickly skipping toward the top of the food chain when it comes to our favorite form of insightful online sports journalism.

On Wednesday, ahead of tonight’s halftime ceremony honoring Chauncey Billups by sending his No. 3 to the Palace rafters, the website released the Billups-penned “Letter to My Younger Self“, offering an inside look to Mr. Big Shot’s turbulent ride to the top.

Billups, the third overall selection in the 1997 NBA draft, bounced between five different teams by the time he was 25. It was enough to wreak havoc on Chauncey’s typical sure-fire self-confidence:

In the meanwhile, though … Chaunce, I won’t sugarcoat it: it’s going to be tough.

It’s going to be you, on your own, in the basketball wilderness. Boston to Toronto … Toronto to Denver.

“Stud prospect” to “journeyman” in less than two years.

Or that will be the perception, anyhow.

It’s crazy how misperceptions get started.

Billups got his big break by mere happenstance during his second season with the Minnesota Timberwolves. After spending his first campaign with the Wolves coming off the bench, a knee injury forced starter and former All-Star Terrell Brandon to the sidelines, opening up a void at starting point position.

Brandon, even as he watched Billups effectively take his place in the starting lineup, remained a key mentor to Chauncey’s development as point guard, and he receives effusive praise in the piece for his behind-the-scenes contributions.

Before Terrell, your attitude going into games is going to be unsophisticated at best: Play well, and win the game. That’s it. But Terrell is going to put you on this whole other level. Now it’s, When does Kevin want the ball? Where does Wally like to catch it? What specific play do I have to call … to get this specific guy the ball … in this specific spot? When, and where, and how, is it best to get mine?

Now you won’t just be playing hoops.

You’ll be playing point.

Billups’ career transition to Michigan offered insight as to how he came to settle on the No. 1, and it’s not your typical “top of the food chain” rendition.

Later that summer, you’re going to sign with Detroit.

A little advice on the jersey: pick No. 1.

No, not because you’re the best — nothing corny. Pick No. 1, as in … one shot. Detroit is the one shot they’re going to give you — this league, that almost spit you out, is going to give you — at greatness. At running your own show. This will be it, and then that will be that.

If you blow it? Hey — you had a good run in Minnesota, Chaunce. It’s not like you’ll be unemployed or anything. You’ll still be a proven role player, no matter what, and you’ll be able to go right back to that.

But you won’t want to go back to that. You’ll have worked too hard, and overcome too much, to go back to that. And that’s what No. 1 will mean. You’ll have been to Boston. Toronto. Denver. Orlando. And, finally, Minnesota. That’s a lot of pit stops in five years.

Of course, Billups would make the most of his opportunity in Detroit, eventually earning three All-Star appearances and a Finals MVP award as he helped pave one of the most successful runs in franchise history. For Chauncey, for the city, it was team first, everything else second.

In Detroit, you’ll have a group of teammates who are nothing like you … and yet somehow, also, just like you. You’ll have a family of brothers who have been through adversity — and come out the other side. You’ll have Ben, and you’ll have Tay, and you’ll have Rip, and you’ll have Sheed. And when you step onto that floor with them … you’ll feel it. You’ll know it: that Deee-troit Baaa-sketball won’t just be your one shot at greatness. It will be theirs, too.

It will be all of yours — together.

And that will make all of the difference.

Read Billups’ full piece from The Players’ Tribune HERE.

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