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Telfair Reflects on Lessons Learned 10 Years After “Through the Fire”

Ten years after filming “Through the Fire,” Sebastian Telfair shares what he knows now that he didn’t know then.

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It has been almost 10 years since the world got a firsthand glimpse into the life of a young basketball talent on the path to stardom. From New York to the NBA, Sebastian Telfair was one of the next big things to watch in sports.

His decision to go straight from high school to the pros was captured in the documentary “Through the Fire.” The movie, released in 2005, chronicled a period in his life when the doors were wide open for him to take the pros by storm. The highly touted high schooler was well on his way to acheiving his basketball dreams when filming wrapped. Years later, Telfair realizes how much of the unknown actually laid ahead of him.

“I was a young man who just had ambitions to make it,” Telfair told Basketball Insiders. “(There) wasn’t much of a thought process at the time. I was a kid from Coney Island and I was saying I was going to the NBA from nine years old; ’04 was like voilà, there it was.”

In many ways, the past decade feels like just yesterday for Telfair. He is now 29 years old and will turn 30 next June. Telfair had been touted as a young talent for so long; he suddenly he finds himself as a veteran in the NBA.

“Man, it’s a blink of an eye. It goes real fast,” he said. “I remember coming into the league. I used to be in Portland reading the game notes and I used to look by guys names and be like, ‘Man, eight years, nine nears, four years. I’ve got to get me some years.’ I couldn’t wait to have that feeling. I blinked two times and it’s here.”

What seemed like a clearly paved path has turned into a winding road with stops around the world. The Portland Trail Blazers drafted Telfair out of Abraham Lincoln High School with the 13th overall pick in 2004. Since then he has played for the Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors and Tianjin Ronggang in China. This season he returned to the NBA as a backup point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

This isn’t necessarily how Telfair envisioned his career to unfold. Then again, as a teenager he was so zoned in on getting to the league that he didn’t consider much beyond that point.

“That’s the problem with myself — at that time I really didn’t even take that time to think about that or plan that out or foresee where I wanted my future to be,” he said. “My goal was to play in the NBA, get out of my projects, and I knew what to do to do that. I knew I had to go to school and all that kind of stuff. I got to that point, but I didn’t really take the time to plan that out 10 years ago when I first got in the league. It wasn’t something I was really thinking about at 18. Of course you wanted to be a good player, All-Star, all the fruit that comes from it, but I really didn’t plan it out like that.”

Now that time has passed, Telfair is able to evaluate what he would have done differently. If he could re-do any part of his career, he would go back to 2006 and extend his time with the Trail Blazers.

The team had struggled in his first two seasons. A winning record, let alone the playoffs, seemed distant, especially to an eager 20 year old. The Trail Blazers traded Telfair to the Celtics on Draft Night 2006. Thinking about the team now, though, he would have liked to have been part of their turnaround.

“I would have stayed in Portland,” he said. “When I was in Portland, it was a rebuilding stage. Also, I would have been more patient and understanding that teams go through that and then they make draft picks and (hire) new coaches and things like that and things turnover for the best. I would have waited to see some good times there.

“I’m not sure [what would have been different if I had stayed in Portland]. I’m just thinking maybe some good things. Me getting drafted in Portland, drafted an 18-year-old kid out of high school, [I] just wish I had some time to be there and make some playoff runs and played with a solid teams.”

It was impossible for the teenager to know back then what he has come to learn over the past 10 years. There were so many situations he had to experience for himself as a professional athlete. As far as he has come, “Through the Fire” still brings him back to his basketball beginnings.

“A lot of people watch it and quote a lot of things from it. Whether I watch it or not, it’s a daily reminder,” he said. “It caught a moment in my life where I was making a big decision for myself. I get to look back and look at it. At the time, I didn’t understand the significance of it. I was just going about life, being a basketball player and being a kid. But it caught a pretty unique time in my life.”

For all the young athletes being hyped as “the ones to watch,” Telfair offers advice to the emerging talents.

“I would say be conscious of your plan,” he said. “Once you get here, you’ve achieved that goal, just have a plan for yourself. Within those plans, make sure you’re striving to be the best that you can be.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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