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Steve Francis hoping his career can help next generation

Steve Francis hoping his career can help next generation
Steve Francis of the Houston Rockets in action at the NBA All-Star Game held at Philips Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Credit: USA TODAY)
Mike Roberts

HOUSTON (BVM) – Following years of championship contention led by Hakeem Olajuwon, the Houston Rockets ended the 1990s looking for the next wave of talent to bring them back to the top of the league. After consecutive first-round playoff exits in 1999 and 1999, the Rockets landed Steve Francis as the team aimed for a look towards the future. 

Francis’ flashy playstyle captured the league’s attention throughout his prime as he went to play for 10 NBA seasons before continuing his passion for the sport overseas. 

Steve Francis’ early life

Born in Takoma Park, Maryland, Francis early life was one of hardships and devastation. For someone as highly skilled as the future NBA guard, Francis had a tough time staying on the court growing up. With changing surroundings, the Maryland native attended six different high schools and played in just two high school games. Following the death of his mother due to cancer at the age of 18, and his father incarcerated for bank robbery, Francis found himself on the streets of his hometown working with drug dealers dating back to when he was 10 years old.

Living in an apartment with 18 people, Francis decided to switch up the path he was going down by completing his GED. While continuing to find time on the court, Francis received attention from San Jacinto College in Texas, after they had scouted him at an AAU tournament. With a chance at a more stable environment, the then-18-year-old took the scholarship offer and headed south.

Steve Francis Maryland
Maryland guard Steve Francis bring the ball up court in game against Stanford. (Credit: USA TODAY)

Steve Francis college career

Francis’ stay at San Jacinto would be short, but his impact was easy to see. In his one season with the program, the freshman guard led his team to 36 straight wins and a National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national tournament appearance. The following year, Francis headed back to his home state of Maryland and played at Allegany Community College. For a second straight season, Francis headed an unbeaten team as the Trojans advanced to the NJCAA tournament. Francis became the first ever player to lead two straight undefeated teams to the tournament. 

After two seasons at the JUCO level, Francis made his way to play Division I basketball at the University of Maryland. In his junior campaign with the Terrapins, he averaged 17 points and helped the squad to a No. 5 ranking. After wins in the first two rounds of the tournament, Francis and the Terps would end their season following a loss in the Sweet 16 to St. Johns. 

Steve Francis NBA career

The breakout campaign at Maryland created positive momentum for Francis who opted to forgo his senior season and enter the NBA draft. Following his selection to the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 1999 NBA Draft with the No. 2 overall pick, the rookie guard decided against playing outside the United States and vowed not to suit up with the franchise. The events following the disagreement led to both sides parting ways, as the Grizzlies agreed to a three-team trade with the Houston Rockets for Michael Dickerson, Othella Harrington, Antoine Carr, Brent Price and both first and second-round picks.

The team issues starting his career, however, wouldn’t affect his rookie campaign, as Francis coasted to Co-Rookie of the Year honors alongside No. 1 overall pick, Elton Brand. Along with his ascension in the league, Francis brought his game to the spotlight during the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, finishing runner up to Vince Carter.

Francis’ stellar play would lead to individual success early on, but the Maryland alum would be unable to lead the Rockets to the playoffs during his first four seasons. Following two straight All-Star Game appearances, Francis helped Houston to a playoff berth in the 2004 playoffs while also securing his third All-Star nod. Even though Francis averaged 19.3 points, 6.4 assists and 6.1 rebounds, a rift with coaching staff, along with the availability of Tracy McGrady, led to his departure in 2004.

Steve Francis Houston Rockets
Houston’s Steve Francis during the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. (Credit: USA TODAY)

Houston would go on to trade Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato to the Orlando Magic for Tracy McGrady, Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines. Francis maintained his stellar play in Orlando for two seasons but tension with the team following his suspension led to a trade to the New York Knicks. The All-Star guard’s tenure with the Knicks wouldn’t yield the same results after injuries hampered back-to-back seasons. After 68 games in New York, Francis returned back to Houston for his final NBA season on a free agent deal, but a short stay would end with a trade back to Grizzlies. Memphis opted against playing the veteran guard and waived him following the deal. 

Francis would go on to play with the Beijing Ducks in China for his final season playing in 2010.

Where is Steve Francis now?

Following the death of his step father, and the end of his NBA career, Francis struggled with life in his post-playing career. The former All-Star guard battled an alcohol addiction and had multiple run-ins with the law. He detailed his issues with mental health in The Players’ Tribune and spoke of the help a counselor provided him. He’s hoping his story is something the next generation can use. 

The former Houston Rockets guard continues to stay around the game, and attended action at the Toyota Center last year. As one of the marquee players of the early 2000s, Francis’ game will always have a place in NBA history.