Clippers forward Kenyon Martin may seem like a tough guy, but his on-court demeanor hasn't stopped him from helping children overcome stuttering. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / February 22, 2012)
It figured to be one of those welcome to L.A. interviews, the scary, animated and intimidating tattoo that is Kenyon Martin saying, "Why don't you put on your basketball shoes, come on the court and I will run right through you."
I think that was after I said hello.
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You hear about this thug now playing for the Clippers, the run-in he had with a radio guy in Denver, his suspension at halftime of a playoff game for getting into it with Denver Coach George Karl, and more Karl bashing this week.
Then, a few hours before Wednesday night's game, you listen to the blowhard huff and puff about how he's a man, he doesn't care what anyone thinks of him and blah, blah, blah.
It's a great show of bluster, and almost believable when he adds, "You tease me about that, and I'll mess you up. I will fight you."
But he's stuttering as he says it, and while I would never tease him about stuttering, I just had no idea. I guess I was too intent on ducking if necessary, not noticing the occasional collision of words coming from Martin's mouth.
A few minutes later he's talking about how much he wants to help kids who might also be stutterers, and it's almost scary how thoughtful he can be.
"If you're a kid, it's all you think about if you stutter," Martin says. "Kids can be so mean. My grades suffered. Class participation weighs heavy in grading, and I wouldn't open my mouth to read or talk in front of anyone.
"When kids would tease me, the way I would handle it, I would fight them."
He went to the University of Cincinnati and did what he could to avoid being interviewed. It wasn't easy for someone who would become the No. 1 player selected in the 2000 NBA draft.
But looking back now, whatever he's accomplished on the basketball court, it's hard to believe it's any bigger than what he's already done for so many off the court.
In addition to donating money to disaster victims across the country and his own foundation, which helps youngsters who do not have fathers, he works as a role model on behalf of various organizations for those who stutter.
How's this for a headline? "Bad Guy Does Good."
A few years ago he received an award from the American Institute for Stuttering, the blue crystal iceberg emblematic of the pain that runs beneath the surface for so many stutterers.
"I first met this kid, I think his name is Darius, and he couldn't even get the words out," says Martin, talking as soft and caring as a father might about his own children. "Then he went through a program, and here he's the one who is presenting me with the award.
"And he didn't stutter one time. How cool is that? It makes me so happy just thinking about it."
Martin says he has learned how to control his breathing, which helps him not stutter. And he laughs when reminded how routine it is for him now to speak to large groups.
"I couldn't even stand in front of 15 other kids in school," he says.
So what would Martin, the tough-guy basketball player, do now if approached by a kid with a stuttering problem?
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