BY: Marc Narducci
Shoot for the moon. You may not hit it, but you won't come up with a handful of mud, either.
Jamario Moon didn't take the common route to the NBA. One has to wonder how could anybody embark on such a trip, but more importantly where did Moon find the gumption to survive the journey? Only a stubborn belief in his ability earned Moon the long-awaited opportunity of suiting up in an NBA uniform as a twenty-seven-year-old rookie.
And now that he is a member of the Toronto Raptors, the 6'8" Moon has shown the NBA what countless other leagues have viewed -- a player with off-the-chart leaping ability and hunger for the game that enabled him to persevere when most others would have packed it in. While Moon can jump through the building, the fact that he stayed grounded while suffering one setback after another, gives a true indication of the fortitude he exhibited in order to finally make it in the NBA.
His career prior to his rookie season in 2007-2008 with the Toronto Raptors consisted of a litany of alphabet soup leagues. There was the CBA, the WBA, the ABA, the USBL, the NBDL, one lower-level league after another, but Moon used each as a stepping stone to the NBA. In addition to playing in the U.S. minor leagues, he also spent time competing in Mexico along with a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters. Finally, Moon not only won a roster spot, but eventually earned a place in the Raptors starting lineup as a rookie.
Actually it was a certain fear that kept Moon from quitting when the odds weren't exactly stacked in his favor. "I'm scared of failure and I just didn't want to fail and I didn't want to give up," Moon said. "God had a plan for me and if I stopped, I would have failed Him. I didn't want to do that so I wanted to keep going."
After just one season of competing at Meridian Community College in Mississippi, Moon applied for the NBA draft in 2001. Following that decision, he encountered the first of many road bumps when he wasn't selected in the draft. "I thought I would get drafted, go to camp and wind up making somebody's team," Moon said. "I wound up having to go a different route." A much more complex route.
In addition to his minor league experience, Moon played for NBA summer league teams of the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz. He also participated in a Philadelphia 76ers mini-camp in 2002.
And of course there were the minor leagues. He said the toughest of all the lower-level basketball leagues was the American Basketball Association, where he played for the Kentucky Colonels in 2004. Sometimes the checks wouldn't arrive exactly on time. "I still wanted to play, but it's hard to play when you aren't getting paid," he said. "A couple of times I toughed it out and they finally came around with a paycheck but it was hard." Yet not impossible, especially with a mental outlook that was a strong as his drives to the basket.
"I always thought I would make it," he said. "I felt if I kept doing what I was doing and worked hard, I'd be there."
A big break came for Moon in the 2006-2007 season while playing for the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association. That season he was named the league's defensive player of the year and helped the Patroons advance to the CBA finals before losing to Yakima. A Toronto Raptors scout attended a few of his games and then invited Moon to mini-camp.
Whether it was as a scout, fan, or team executive, it was easy to identify Moon's enthusiasm for the game. "He is just a real fun-loving person who has a smile from coast- to-coast," said Albany vice president and general manager Dave Bestle. "Jamario was doing something he loved and he always believed in himself."
Despite taking an unconventional route to the NBA, Moon quickly earned the respect of his Raptors teammates. "It's not a common thing in the NBA to have somebody that old make it, but so much of it is getting the opportunity and the right chance and circumstance," said Raptors teammate Anthony Parker. "He's definitely gotten the right opportunity in a good situation and he has made the most of it."
Since he had to take the extended route to reach the NBA, Moon now takes nothing for granted. "What I went through makes me appreciate every little thing," he said. "If it wasn't for those different minor leagues I played in, I don't think I would be here because I always had somewhere to keep playing if I wasn't in the NBA." And then showing his gratitude, he added, "I am thankful for those leagues."
Moon has to laugh when he hears NBA players complaining about such things as the travel, the difficult schedule or any other perceived inconvenience related to their job. "I don't want to hear complaining because they should go down and play one month in some of the leagues I played in and they would come back and appreciate where they are a whole lot more," he said. "A lot of people feel they are in tough positions when they are really at the top."
Nobody feels more on top of things than Moon, who understands that his story could provide inspiration for the countless others who are chasing that NBA dream. "Hopefully I am an inspiration," he said. "People have to realize that they should never give up."