STEDMAN GRAHAM … CHAIRMAN AND CEO, S. GRAHAM & ASSOCIATES, AN EDUCATION COMPANY … BUSINESSMAN; MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER … AUTHOR OF YOU CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN EVERY DAY … 1,000-POINT SCORER, MIDDLE TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL TEAM You don’t know what pressure is until you play for five bucks with only two in your pocket. LEE TRE VINO, PGA golfer 98 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME For me, sports was a way to feel better about myself because in the environment I grew up in, the color of my skin, being labeled as not good enough, it was one way to showcase my skills without having to worry about race. I lived in Whitesboro, New Jersey, an all-black town in a mostly white county, and people used to say nothing good ever came out of my town, so we all had to prove ourselves. We had to be twice as good as anyone else, and the way to be revered was to play sports and then shine while playing them. In my case, some people in the black community thought I was too white, so I got it both ways. But instead of beating up people who insulted me, I figured the way to get back at them, the way to get your name in the paper so people would know who you were, was to get known as an all-state, all-county player. Only then would your confidence be raised, and you’d have a good foundation on which to build other parts of your life.
MENTOR NEEDED I played basketball every day of my life, but I didn’t really understand the process of being good at the game. What I needed to do was shoot five hundred baskets a day and work on my legs, all while learning to do the simple things right. When I got to college, my coach was astounded by my lack of technique. He couldn’t believe that no one had ever taught me the right way to shoot. He made me break down my shooting motion and then rebuild it. ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT I can only describe my attitude on the court for much of my youth as being much like Terrell Owens today. I was jumping all over my teammates, telling them what they were doing wrong, telling them what they should be doing. I was out of control. In one game in particular, it all came to a head. It was a championship game against Wildwood Catholic and I was just not getting the ball. Throughout the game, I was yelling at STEDMAN GRAHAM 99 my teammates to get it to me. After the game, a guy I respected pulled me over and said, You embarrassed me and our school and made the entire team feel bad. It was like being hit over the head with a bat, because I really was not that kind of a person in real life, and the thought of showing up my teammates in front of so many people is something I feel bad about today. Looking back, it was me trying to overcompensate for those who didn’t think I was good enough, for my skin color, and for having two learning-disabled brothers. It was an example of my low self-esteem and lack of confidence.
I thought I didn’t belong out there. WHAT IT TAUGHT ME That incident taught me to keep my mouth closed and do the best I could. Just because I might have been the best player on my team didn’t give me a license to make others feel bad about their game or themselves. I hated that it happened, but I might have needed it to happen because it helped me survive corporate America and it taught me how to build relationships with people. It’s hard for me to believe I could have learned this anywhere but on the basketball court. Today, I know how to handle the ego needs of others by identifying what I needed growing up. I didn’t believe in myself, but sports gave me the focus I needed. Sports also taught me to show up, work hard, and be part of a team. Those attributes alone gave me so much more than most of my family and almost all of my friends. WHAT DID I HAVE? I had a mom who would not be slowed down despite our circumstances, and despite the challenges my brothers’ situation presented for her. I saw my dad work hard to keep our family and his business afloat. I also had a community that went out of its way to make sure I knew they believed in me.
Most of all, they would not let me quit, and to this day I will never quit. OPRAH WINFREY My relationship with Oprah works because we have separate success. Some say, look at what she has. Well, I do look at what she has and I think 100 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME that’s great, but it’s hers, not mine. I have had my own path. I’ve written ten books; I speak sixty times a year around the world. I have my own company. Oprah is not doing that. I have had to work for everything I’ve ever gotten, and none of it has anything to do with Oprah. No one ever did anything for her, either. She’s been doing this since she was seventeen. She doesn’t just show up on TV every day and get a script. This is her life. MY WRAP Stedman had so many excuses to not be successful that few would have blamed him had he not panned out as a star basketball player and later as a star in business. Most of his old friends are either dead or allowed drugs or alcohol to destroy them. Instead of following their lead, he dealt with his painful lessons, broke out, and went back to his roots. What we can learn from this is that your ugliest moments might just be your best self-teaching tools. STEDMAN GRAHAM
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