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Chapter 1: Chance Henry
Charlotte's star forward on life after tragedy and what's changed in his game this season.
Today’s edition of Dope! features “Hook” by Blues Traveler.
Last year, I started writing an idea I’ve had for a while. In the column Dumb Idea For Fake Interviews, I introduced the character of Chance Henry, a professional basketball player in Charlotte, North Carolina. I dropped the reader (and myself) into the middle of the interview, got to a stopping point, and posted it.
Marcus (who is a great writer himself), read what I had and gave me notes. We discussed a lot of my intentions with this story on Twitter messages and he was a huge help.
Funny it took me a year to do anything with those notes we made.
So when I sat down the other night with full intentions to really write something out, I reopened this story, found that old Twitter conversation, and got to writing. I present to you the first chapter of Yvette McDaniel’s (that’s the character I came up with when it came to the author of these interviews themselves) collection of interviews she’s done over the years. She was employed by Sports Tonight when she first sat down with Chance Henry.
Also: 5000+ words! I’m extremely proud of myself. Derrick and TC would be proud too.
It’s not every day that I get invited to the home of someone I’m interviewing. Sure, I’ve done them before but from what I know, the at home interview is usually needed when a celeb has done something outrageous enough to seem as human as possible while they talk in sad, short, matter-of-fact statements.
But it’s definitely not every day I’m invited to have sushi made in front of me of one of the league’s biggest names. Chance Henry’s reps reached out to see if I was available. When I said I was, they told me I was personally invited to have sushi with Chance at his home, courtesy of his personal chef.
The setup felt intimate but Chance hadn’t been his talkative self this season. Where in the past he would speak freely, he seemed to be more mindful of the words he said. If his personal space and chef would get him talking about the incredible year he’s having, then I’d be there with my own chopsticks.
My Uber driver dropped me off at the address I was given, a penthouse condo at the Settlers Place building in what’s known as uptown Charlotte. Henry had me buzzed in, and he was soon welcoming me into his modestly decorated home. He was casual in a Charlotte t-shirt and sweatpants with a pair of Griffey Max 1’s.
“This is Masuda Ono,” he said as we walked into his kitchen area. “He’s not my personal chef but it’s nice to pull a few strings every now and then.”
Ono looked up from his rolls and smiled at me.
“My sons have been begging me to see Chance play for months now. With my travel schedule and restaurants, this was the first time we could all go together. So I figured I’d make a few rolls for Chance in exchange for some floor seats,” he shrugged. “I’ll be out of your way in a few more minutes.”
Henry offered me a drink and I settled on a Coca-Cola with ice. He produced 2 glasses, filled them both halfway with ice from his refrigerator, and set one in front of me with an unopened bottle of Coke. He gestures for me to have a seat on one of the chairs at the peninsula connected to his U-shaped kitchen.
“I never know if I should pour or not,” he smiled. I said he could and Ono announced that the rolls were ready. He brought out a large plate with at least 16 pieces of sushi, each featuring salmon, crab, yellowtail, shrimp, and tuna. I complimented him on how wonderful everything looked and he bowed graciously. He and Chance quietly said their goodbyes and Ono took his leave after a handshake and a smile.
Now alone, being in the presence of a 6’9” man is a little unnerving. Sensing this, Henry flashes me that million-dollar grin that has been plastered over ads for almost 4 years all over the world. Chance joins me at the peninsula and says he’s ready as he picks up a few pieces of sushi and moves them to his plate. I pulled out my Zoom digital recorder, started recording, and picked out a few rolls myself.
“It’s hard to go out in public and eat in peace,” he says as he mixes a chunk of wasabi into a generous pour of soy sauce. “When I’m at home, I can cook a little and when I’m on the road, it’s normally delivery to the hotel rooms.” He picks up a piece of his sushi but pauses above his soy sauce. I ask him if he has fears of ever getting a bad pizza and having to play sick, like that one guy did in the 90s.
“Nah,” he scoffs in between finally dipping and putting the whole piece of raw fish and rice into his mouth. “I still say he made a bigger deal about it than what it was. He was definitely sick; we all know he’s not the greatest actor from his movie, so that wasn’t fake. But the whole bad pizza that late at night? I don’t buy it.”
After the way Chance has terrorized the league this season, his opponents were probably wishing he would eat some bad pizza. When available, he started every game, only missing time after he tested positive for Covid-19 in mid-December. He made a triumphant return in the Christmas Day game at home against his former team New York, leading the charge with 31 points and the game winning assist with under a minute to play. By late-January, he had rung up five 40+ point games during a road trip, all which resulted in wins for Charlotte. Even as teams started to account for his hot shooting, Henry began to lean more into his teammates. He averaged 7.3 assists in the final 6 games heading into All-Star break, which saw two of his teammates, Bus Jones and Manuel Frush, trading 20-point games as the team only lost 2 contests.
He took it “easy” in the All-Star Game, logging 13 points as he deferred his second half minutes to third year guard Rahzel Thompson of Sacramento, who was playing in his first mid-season showcase. Henry’s numbers dwindled to a “paltry” 24 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists per game after the break but Charlotte has kept winning. They enter the last month of the season with a 49-25 record, good enough for the 1st seed in the East. As Chance sits his chopsticks down to pick up his drink, I ask him what feels different than previous seasons.
"I wish I could say it was chemistry with my teammates or the coach calling more plays my way," he begins as he dunks another piece of sushi. "But honestly, I’m just out here trying to prove myself to Ty."
I had been told not to ask about what happened this summer by his team before we sat down to dinner but now Chance seemed ready to open up.
"I still wonder what I could have done."
Last summer, while in Atlanta fielding free agent offers, Chance and some friends were exiting Sanctuary Nightclub when a fight broke out. While trying to navigate through the crowd to leave, Tyrone Williams, Chance’s long-time friend, was stabbed. Despite how quickly the ambulances showed up, Williams bled out on the way to the hospital. Chance flew with his friend's body home to Wilmington, Delaware where they were both born. Three days after Tyrone was buried, Chance quietly resigned with Charlotte through a press release.
It was a two year deal that paid him his highest salary yet. But his second year would be the team’s option, putting all the power back in Charlotte’s hands.
"Ty never wanted me to leave Charlotte. He knew I was so mad about New York but he told me I had a real chance to leave a legacy here, something that’s been tried but never brought to fruition, you know?," he sighed as he pushed his almost empty plate away.
Charlotte has had many stars over the years but the franchise that was added to the league in 1988 has never sniffed championship success, let alone a conference championship. They’re fortunes had seemed to be on the rise when New York traded Henry, their top 10 pick three season ago by way of a trade with Houston, in an effort to enter the Al Patrick sweepstakes like so many other teams were doing at the time.
Henry had been a New York fan all his life, so the prospect of becoming their new starting small forward was something he relished. He had played well his first year, eventually settling into the sixth man role of a team that bowed out after the second round in the playoffs. With their incumbent starting 3 Miguel Richardson’s contract being up, Chance expected to be starting at the start of his second season.
It’s not a well-hidden fact what happened next. Al Patrick decided he wanted to leave Milwaukee, despite having led them to a championship in 2018 and the championship round again in 2019. The premier small forward in the league deciding to enter free agency despite being on a winning team sent everyone in the league scrambling. Patrick would sign with Portland, Milwaukee would go back to their losing ways, and Henry was on a Charlotte team that was always missing the playoffs or exiting in the first round.
Henry made it known he didn’t want to be in Charlotte and became more known for his off the court news than what he did on the floor. He continued to improve, with his numbers rising in years 2 and 3 but no one talked about that. Henry was starting in Charlotte but fought with then-head coach Matt Rogers so fiercely that it was reported Rogers demanded that Charlotte GM Scott Powell fire him or trade Henry. Powell resigned the day after Charlotte missed the playoffs in 2021.
Chance was frequently seen in the offseason not in the gym or even on a basketball court. He and Ty moved to Las Vegas for the summer, spending the time being photographed with beautiful women, being seen in casinos often, and doing everything but focusing on basketball. A late summer fender bender sent the pair back to Charlotte, where Henry would complain of a nagging foot injury.
The foot injury was real; he had hurt his right foot in a pickup game in July, he just never got it looked at. What should have been a fairly quick process for a sprain had turned to a fracture by the time Charlotte’s team doctor looked at Chance in August.
His foot would need surgery and he wouldn’t see the floor until at least December.
While he was rehabbing, Henry was hoping to put his loud first season in Charlotte and his unfocused summer behind him. But then reporters asked veteran Charlotte power forward Rumeal Jackson during training camp about how much not having Henry at the start of the season would hurt the team.
“Ain’t nobody worried about Chance because Chance is only worried about himself.” he snorted to the Charlotte Observer reporter who was closest. “How are you going to party all summer and not take care of an injury? I don’t care how young he is; when you’re hurt, you’re hurt. Go get it checked out. If he cared about this team at all, he’d be here.”
Chance wasted no time getting on Twitter to respond.
“Tell Ru that he needs to mind his own business and make sure we have some wins for when I’m healthy.”
New coach Todd Smith brought the two together shortly after but the damage was done. I sat down with Rumeal a few weeks after his comments and Henry’s tweet.
“All last season, I tried to help him. I told him this league is a business but he just wouldn’t let the New York trade go. He didn’t try to get along with us, he just showed up. And I was never a fan of how he went at Matt. Matt just became his excuse and now his foot is this year’s excuse. I just want him to show up and want to be a part of this team.”
Henry didn’t take to Twitter this time but unnamed sources in the locker room said he and Jackson almost came to blows the next day after my interview with Jackson aired. Any questions regarding the situation going forward were deflected but a rift had been formed. Jackson ignored any questions about Henry’s return, as did Henry when asked about Jackson when he returned to practice in late November.
The teammates put on a united front when Chance was about to play in his first game of the year in December, both complementing each other in the press. Charlotte won Henry’s first game back and then won the next two. A 10 point loss to rival franchise Miami was enough for the politeness to be over. They never said each other’s names but Henry or Jackson would take turns casting blame at each other any time a microphone was in their face.
Charlotte was in the playoff race as 2022 began and Henry was averaging career highs in points, assists, and steals. Jackson had picked up some of the scoring load in Henry’s absence and continued to score well. But Henry was often critical of missed rebounds, knowing full well Rumeal had paced Charlotte in rebounds the entire time he played for the team. Ru, for his part, win or lose, began to complain that he felt the ball wasn’t being moved enough and too much hero ball was costing the team games. Games that Charlotte would have to win come playoff time.
As Charlotte drew near the February trade deadline, Henry and Jackson were on their best behavior. Charlotte was finding ways to win and they still possessed a playoff spot. Both men had been seen talking on the bench in a blowout win, something not seen all season. They even seemed to share a laugh mid-game during a road win in Memphis.
Charlotte’s players all seemed to be in shock when they came to practice four days later to reporters asking about their thoughts on the Rumeal Jackson trade to San Francisco. Streak shooting Spaniard Lalo Veldez was joining Charlotte in exchange, as he was on the last year of his deal and refused to sign an extension with San Francisco. Despite how things seemed to be turning, blame for the Jackson trade fell squarely onto the shoulders of Chance Henry.
Veldez joined Charlotte in San Antonio and he wasted no time hitting 4 three-pointers in a 5 point win. The next night in Houston, Veldez couldn’t find his shot and fouled out as Charlotte lost by 6. His shooting woes continued in Phoenix and he kept mentioning that he was having pain in his shooting hand.
X-Rays the next day revealed Lalo had fractured that same shooting hand. Late in the San Antonio game, Lalo had streaked to the basket following a San Antonio turnover. The ball floated into his hands and he jammed the ball easily, just like he had done thousands of times.
It was the first time his hand felt numb afterwards.
“I thought it was a stinger,” Veldez said a few days after he underwent successful hand surgery. “I normally know when something’s not right but this was so strange. I’m going to rest up and hope I can make it back to help the team.’
As the league resumed after all-star break, Charlotte had slipped to the 7th seed in the East. They could mathematically miss the playoffs again if they didn’t boost their win column. I asked Chance what the plan was for Charlotte in the second half of the season.
“We’re going to fight. I’m going to fight. That’s the only thing I can promise.”
Charlotte won the first six games after the break and finished the season winning 14 out of 24, good enough for the 6th seed and a first round matchup with Washington.
Charlotte surprised many when they jumped out to a 1-0 lead after a 36 point effort from Henry. Game 2 was in hand until a late foul call sent Washington to the line with 3 free throws and a 1 point victory. As the series headed to Charlotte, the momentum seemed to be going their way.
Early in Game 3, Henry came down on Bus Jones’ foot with a rebound and twisted his ankle. He tried to come back briefly in the third quarter before watching from the bench as a returning Lalo Veldez missed a potential game winning shot.
Henry tested the ankle prior to Game 4 but still felt unable to go as Charlotte lost by 8. With home court advantage back with Washington, Charlotte was facing another first round exit. Henry had his ankle braced heavily when he returned for Game 5, but he never found his rhythm. He shot 3-17 as Washington won handily. He played until halfway through the 4th quarter when Smith pulled all of his starters, when the Washington lead was 17.
The pain he was in was evident though, as he would alter plays or step away entirely when it looked like there could be contact. That ankle was barely holding him up, let alone anyone else.
Of course Twitter immediately said that he was avoiding contact because he didn’t care and Chance became the running meme for the next few days. A still from the game showed Henry a few feet away from a Washington defender with the caption NO TOUCH.
A few weeks later, Rumeal Jackson’s phone rang. Chance was on the other end, calling to congratulate him and San Francisco on winning the championship. With that behind him, he and Ty headed to Atlanta for what they thought would be a full summer. Henry planned on working harder than he ever had in the offseason, Game 5 still a bad memory in his mind. He could decide his future there, be out of Charlotte, and get in the best shape of his life.
“I apologized to Rumeal immediately after the trade”, Chance says now, after he takes a drink of Coke. “He knew they didn’t move him because of me. But I still wanted to make things right with him.”
“And with Ty gone, all I’ve done is work on myself and basketball. That’s why I just re-signed here. I owe this city after last season. I need to prove to everyone that Charlotte is serious about winning. And I need to be accountable for it. I don’t want any excuses, if Charlotte doesn’t pick up my option next season, then at least I know I really gave them my best."
He stood up and carried our plates over to the sink. I commented on how much sushi was still left and Henry smiled.
"Ty loved sushi. He could sit here and eat all of this and not think anything of it." He paused and hung his head. "He really helped keep me grounded, my whole life in fact. Even back in Delaware, he was always trying to keep me out of trouble. And it worked."
He walked over to the sliding doors across from his kitchen and folded his hands behind his back. His view wasn't spectacular, not in uptown Charlotte, but it was definitely one of the better ones in the area.
"I just don't want Ty thinking I buried him for nothing."
We parted ways shortly after, with Chance citing an early wakeup call so he could get some miles in on his treadmill in the morning. We made plans to meet up prior to tomorrow's home game against Chicago.
It was a cold 48 degrees as I walked towards the entrance of the Spectrum Center. Spring started a few weeks ago but North Carolina had no intentions of showing it. Chance had been meeting with local reporters since about 2 PM and he seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as Charlotte staff broke up the handful of reporters that had been surrounding him. Henry spotted me and waved me over.
"Floor is mostly empty if you want to sit down there," he suggested.
I nodded and followed him into the bowels of the Spectrum Center. He was right; a small maintenance crew was working on the other side of the court underneath the basket, but compared to the usual volume of a professional basketball arena, Charlotte's court was peaceful.
As we settled in on the Charlotte bench, I started recording and asked him what his typical mornings last season looked like compared to now.
"I didn't sleep well last year, so I was always up late, even when we were home. And when I couldn't sleep, I'd just be up cooking. I wouldn't even eat it sometimes. Just cook it and put it away. Crawl into bed around 3, knowing full well I have to be up by at least 8." He laughed. "It's a good thing Charlotte isn't too distracting as fast as the night life goes."
"But this year, I've really made myself follow a routine," he continued. I'm normally done with dinner by 8. Lounge around and watch TV, play video games, look at some social media. Emphasis on some social media," he said as he made air quotes.
I asked him if that was because of him using Twitter when he was upset last season.
"Yeah man, no more Twitter fingers for me. I'm trying to be an adult over here." He stood up and walked to the end of the bench where a basketball had been left. He sat back down next to me and kept talking while he absentmindedly rolled the ball in his hands.
"Get to bed by 10 at home, as soon as possible on the road. Sleep has become such a critical part of my schedule now, it's ridiculous. Wake up around 7, meditate, and then get on the treadmill. I just try to clear my thoughts and run."
My face must have given me away as he smiled and rolled his eyes after glancing at me.
"Okay, not meditate, meditate, but I'm trying. I throw one of those long ass lo-fi videos on YouTube, turn off my phone, and just try to think about nothing. I know that's not even right but, I don't know, I kind of like it."
He stands now, lightly tossing the ball between his hands now.
"And shots, how could I forget? Today is probably the least amount of shots I've gotten up in a day since I left Delaware honestly. I'm not Kobe by any stretch of the imagination but I could lose two hours just shooting. That's always been my go-to whenever anything is wrong, just shooting. It reminds me of when I was a kid."
Henry's shooting this season has been at career high levels for field goals and three pointers. Where he would often tend to be comfortable catching and shooting as his legs got tired in games late last season, Henry seems to be all over the floor this season. His shooting is drawing a ton of attention defensively, especially after his January run of scoring. But Henry has also shown he's not scared to go inside to make something happen now, last seen in his rookie season in New York. I asked him what made him change back to his old ways.
"I was being lazy. Not giving 100% effort to my teammates. I don't know if you heard but I didn't want to be here," he whispered the last part, as if it was a secret. "I never minded playing inside but to be honest, I figured if I got hurt, it'd lessen by trade value."
I asked him if being that honest was a good idea with the way the league is scrutinized for everything, even in the offseason.
"I'm really trying to learn not to care," he replied as he set the ball down and pushed it to the opposite side of the floor. "I've always been big on being as honest as possible, good and bad."
"Anyone who saw how I played the last two seasons compared to this season should be able to tell how much I care now. I could hurt myself tonight, miss the rest of the season, and be rehabbing for Utah next summer. I'm not going to care about what people think. I just want to be the best player I can be."
Now seemed like a good time to ask him about the MVP race, another topic he's shied away from as his play improved. Defending MVP Al Patrick had lost the West championship to San Francisco in 7 games last season. Now, Portland had the league's best record and Patrick was well on his way to a second MVP.
"It would be nice to beat Al," Chance smiled. "That's my guy though. Despite being the reason I got traded, I'm so proud of him. But I really want to have a meaningful playoff run. Our team has really come together this season. Bus and Manuel have been playing out of their minds. Having Stevie (Charlotte guard Stevie Blake) coming off the bench has been huge for us. Me and Coach Todd have been getting along. I know last year was my fault but we met before the season started and cleared the air between us. We've been vibing ever since."
I managed to catch up with Coach Todd Smith shortly after I parted ways with Chance. I asked him how he felt the relationship between him and his star player had changed.
"He's been willing to listen for the first time since I got here," he replied. "Last season, he was always making excuses, blaming his teammates, and you could tell he really didn't want to be here. But the moment he decided to commit, you see how incredible he's been. I've seen them do things that I haven't seen in the league in years. It's scary how much potential he still has that's untapped." He paused for a minute.
"I'm just sad he had to lose his friend before he got to this point."
Henry hadn't spoken of Williams anymore today but I did notice a small TW tattoo on his right wrist, his shooting hand. It seems that even after he's gone, Ty has still found a way to be with his friend.
"I put a little investment into this sneaker shop back home, in Wilmington? I used to go in that store for hours when I was a kid. But my parents didn't want to spend that much money on shoes. It was called Sneaker Town."
"Turns out, while I'm home for the funeral, I hear that Sneaker Town is about to close. The owners can't keep up with the rent and they're losing a lot of sales just by people buying online."
He stands up again, pacing in front of me and the bench as if he's confessing something.
"So before I flew out, I stopped in at the store. It was a brother and sister that were running the shop, Lucy and Jamal Shields. They told me they took over for their dad a few years before he ended up passing. The only thing he made them promise before he passed was that they wouldn't sell the store. And now they were stuck with it until the end."
Henry goes on to say that he spent the rest of the evening with Lucy and Jamal, even missing his flight back to North Carolina.
"I don't know. I never met them a day in their life. I remember their mom, I remember their dad but I never remembered seeing them. I stayed until they closed the shop that night. The next day I flew home, contacted the front office, told them I'd sign a one and one, and that I was ready to work."
I had a puzzled look on my face. He noticed and smiled, like he just got caught doing something wrong.
"Oh," he laughed. "Sneaker Town is still open. I talk to Lucy or Jamal at least once a week. I didn't buy it or anything. I'm just grateful for opportunities to still make connections with people like that, especially from home."
I ask him if he really negotiated his own deal without his agent.
"Sure did," he said. "She was not pleased. But I'm pretty sure this Nike deal we just signed will make it okay."
She is Sidney Harris, Henry's agent since shortly before the league draft in 2019. Chance and Harris made news earlier this week when Nike announced they had signed the small forward to a multi-year deal worth about $10.5 million.
Henry had been loyal to the Reebok Question 1’s since his first game with New York but his knack for being completely honest the last two seasons kept any deals from happening.
"We at Nike are excited to add a talent like Chance Henry to our long legacy of incredible athletes and we pride ourselves on making the shoes that match their skills," a Nike press release had said. "We look forward to a long relationship with Chance and can't wait to see what he does next."
Chance had started this season wearing the Nike More Uptempos, made famous by Scottie Pippen in the 1996 season. Another sign that he was entering the season ready for change. A sign that everyone but Twitter missed.
@charlottehoophead tweeted opening night: Anyone else notice Chance finally gave up his beloved Questions? I wouldn't have changed to a Pippen shoe from an AI shoe, but what do I know?
Frequently, on nights Henry plays, the hash tag #itsgottabetheshoes is trending across the platform. A throwback to a bygone Jordan campaign that is perfect to sum up Chance's 180 over the past 9 months.
Longtime Charlotte trainer Joe Sharpe started walking across the floor towards us.
"That's probably my cue," Henry said. "Gotta get ready for tip-off soon."
Getting ready meant stretching, getting taped, going over the game plan with Coach Smith and his teammates, etc. I thanked Chance again for his time and wished him luck in the game tonight. He waved at me before joining Sharpe near midcourt and heading back the direction Sharpe had come from.
Back in my room, I was packing for my flight back to Los Angeles. I never stay overnight after I finish an interview. It's a whole thing with me. Chance's random comments about Sneaker Town and the Shields' stuck with me. I searched the store number and the phone picked up on the second ring.
"Sneaker Town," a lady answered.
"Hi, Lucy Shields? I'm Yvette…"
"Oh Yvette!" She interrupted. She pulled away from the phone. "Jamal! Yvette from Sports Tonight is calling! Yeah! I'm talking to her right now!" She brought the phone back up. "How could I help you, Miss Yvette?"
I told her how I just finished my interview with Chance Henry and if I could ask her a few follow up questions about something he said about her and her brother's store.
"I'm gonna stop you right there. Chance didn't buy us out. What Chance did do was buy the property from the jackasses who kept raising our rent. Then he set us up with this nice, nerdy boy who set us up online and we're currently outfitting three of the local high school teams this year. They couldn't find better prices."
I ask her why she thought Chance would do that from just one unexpected meeting over the summer.
"That boy was hurting Miss Yvette," she said coolly. "He just lost his best friend; he was leaving his parents to go back to Charlotte again. He came in here to look at shoes but what he found was family. That boy is my second brother; I don't care what anyone says about it!"
I finish writing my notes down on some hotel stationery and thank her for time.
"Oh don't you worry about Miss Yvette! You be safe flying back to LA but make sure you don't print no bullshit about my brother! He's come a long way since we met him. I just love him so much and I can't wait to see what he does to Chicago tonight!"
She pronounced Chicago with an R, the exact way my mother used to. I hung up and put the stationery in my purse.
Is it possible that Chance Henry made it to the league and became humble? If I left it to Lucy Shields, the answer would be a resounding yes.