Rayjon Tucker

11 MIN

I talk to God.

Because God speaks to me.

As long as he keeps talking to me, I will answer.

And when he stops doing it, I won't fail to look for him, not even for one day.

Praying to hear from him again.

I am who I am because of the life I've lived, because of the lessons I've learned, of the mistakes I've made. Because of the way I tell my story.


Time chasing time, lost in the past of a distant memory.

A past that does not return, that cannot return.

But also a past that lives in me, in my little brother's dreams, in my mother's eyes, in their journeys over distant oceans, made only to come and visit me.

To see how I'm doing.

Where I live.

Who do I share the locker room with.

If I eat well.

If I'm happy.

Rayjon Tucker

Son and brother, two things I will never stop being.

Whatever happens.

Absence and presence.

Love and hate.

Silence and screams.

Football and basketball.

Basketball or football.

My childhood passed like this, in the suburbs of North Carolina, between dreams of greatness and self-sabotage, between wins and losses.

Between the hunger for glory and the bites of the dust.

Between the desire to be seen and the desire to disappear.

Rayjon Tucker

I started playing football.

Of course I started playing football.

I couldn't have done anything differently.

Because football was, and still is, my sport.

Because football is important in my house.

Because my whole family loved football.

And because dad played football.

Semi-pro, although semi-pro means nothing at all.

Because just as there is no such thing as a bad pro’, there is no such thing as a half pro’. Passion is passion, work is work. Period.

He had a couple of try-outs, one even with the Panthers, our Carolina Panthers, but they hadn't gone well, for whatever reason.

Yet the game had always remained, despite the problems.

Despite the disappointments.

It was a part of his and our life.

One of the tools I loved most to understand the present, to shape to my days, my dreams and my aspirations.

Rayjon Tucker

Then, one day, when I was nine, dad left, leaving me, my mom and my baby brother, who was only two years old at the time.


Completely alone.

Both my parents had always loved me.


I knew this, I had always known this.

I didn't grow up in one of those toxic situations, where one person abuses the other, their patience, their love. I did not.

But that abandonment was like a carpet that was suddenly pulled from under my feet, making me fall to the ground and forcing me to look at the world from another perspective. A darker, colder perspective.

Forcing me to grow up quickly.

As if, in a single moment, I have consumed all my right to be a child. Just a child.

Who plays.

Who can be wrong.

Who scrapes his knees.

Rayjon Tucker

My mom owns her own dance school and that’s what helped me become the player I am today. She started picking up more shifts at work so she could earn more, and I started taking care of my brother after school when she wasn't home.

I began to look after him, teaching him the things I knew.

I used the remaining time to cultivate my big dream: to become a great wide receiver, or a great free safety, and play in the NFL.

I had the body for that.

I had the talent.

I had a love for the game and also a love for the pain that was needed.

The gridiron was my second skin, the only place in the world able of containing everything I had inside, all the energy, and strength, and the desire to express myself.

It was the only place where I could live as I really am: one route at the time.

Nothing would ever take me away from there.

Nothing would ever stop me from putting on my shoulder pads and playing.

Or, at least, that's what I thought.

Then the legal saga began.

The travels.

Whole days spent in court.

Then the custody battle began.

Rayjon Tucker

At 14 I spent an entire season without playing a single minute.

Because I no longer had the time to do that.

Not because I didn't want to.

Because sport had become a luxury for me.

A luxury I could no longer afford.

I went to live with my father, a person with whom I was trying to collect the pieces, after three years of not speaking to him at all.

And as I did, football, which was so deeply tied to him and his story, seemed too close to the past, too painful, to be part of mine.

I didn't want anything that surrounded me to lead back to him in any way, not to his career, not to his person.

I wanted to break away from his legacy, even if that meant leaving a piece of my identity behind.

I was lucky enough to meet Jeff McInnis on my way.

He became a mentor to me.

He was my AAU coach, and he told me about his time in the NBA and his time at the University of North Carolina. Basketball wasn't my favorite sport.

I only played in the summer, to keep fit while I waited for the football season to start.

I had never taken it seriously, like my friends did.

I never even remotely thought that that could be my future.

Rayjon Tucker

But God speaks many languages.

And I've always been a great listener.

At the beginning, my game was modeled on my football skills, with a lot of energy, physical strength and wild instincts.

I worked every single day, with dedication.

I went beyond my limits, in every single workout.

As if I wanted to create a new, different, space that was all mine.

Only mine.

In less than a year I became one of the top 100 prospects in the nation, I went to college, first to Florida Gulf Coast University and then to Little Rock Arkansas, where I found a special group of coaches during my red-shirt year, and finally declared for the NBA draft.

And that’s how my journey began.

Football has often come back to knock on my door.

I often missed it.

I even thought about changing sports again, halfway through university, but then the voice of God convinced me that what I was making was the right choice.

Rayjon Tucker

There was doubts.

Hard times.


I suffered, like everyone in this world.

But basketball became more and more important to me.

Because the game taught me how to be an adult and, at the same time, allowed me to go back to being a child, whenever I want, every time I take the field.

And this is priceless.

I have been on NBA rosters, then to Australia and now to Italy, and wherever I have been I have always managed to feel at home.

I managed to recreate a home.

Mom has an empty nest now, since my little brother left for college too, but once a year at least, they get on a plane and fly to me.

To see if there is still the usual smile on Rayjon's face.

We struggled, from time to time, but my mom always made sure we were good.

That’s why I want to give her the World. And then some.

And that’s why I work the way I work: I learned it from her.

Rayjon Tucker

Every now and then I also talk to my father.

But I do it from man to man, aware that I am no longer his projection.

The projection of his dreams and his desires.

I am who I am because of the life I've lived, because of the lessons I've learned, of the mistakes I've made. Because of the way I tell my story.

My time no longer chases the time I’ve lost, but it finally looks forward.

Because the past cannot and must not return.

But with the voice of God in your ears and in your heart anything is possible.

Everything is, truly, mine.

Rayjon Tucker / Contributor

Rayjon Tucker