The Warriors and the Lakers traded baskets back and forth in an overtime NBA Summer League game in July. But the fast-paced game slowed down for Kiwi Gardner, the fresh-faced, 21-year-old point guard from Oakland who cracked Golden State’s roster after spending a year with the Warriors’ D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz.
Gardner stood up from the bench midway through and realized where he was. He saw the Lakers jerseys and the NBA logos. He saw Steve Kerr coaching on the sidelines and other legends watching in the stands.
This is what standing on an NBA court felt like; this is where he’s always wanted to be. And like any player on the outside looking in, uncertain when this moment will come again, Gardner tried to salvage every conversation or play around him.
“I feel so close but still I feel so far away. You know it’s right there,” Gardner says of the NBA. “I’m really looking to, you know, break in. Break in the door sometime soon.”
After playing a few minutes here and there throughout the summer, he exploded for seven points in a single minute of the Warriors’ final game against the Bucks.
Every minute counts for Gardner, who remembers the feeling of not having any. He remembers traveling to different cities to D-League tryouts last year.
With a hundred bucks for his entry fee in one hand, his NBA dream in the other, Gardner tried out for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Idaho Stampede, Bakersfield Jam, L.A. D-Fenders, Reno Bighorns and the Warriors.
Gardner, 5-7, had something to prove. He was known for his dazzling dribbling moves on YouTube, but had little college experience. He committed to play at Providence, but never gained eligibility to play. Then he transferred to a JC in Texas, Midland College, playing in just nine games before deciding to turn pro. Gardner was undrafted.
But everyone who paid their hundred bucks to get in the gym had their own back stories, too. None of it mattered anymore; everyone at D-League tryouts wanted the same thing: a chance.
“It’s hard to even get a real look in that kind of setting. In that situation, it’s hard to make the people that’s important, or make the people that’s looking, even know you exist,” Gardner says. “I was hanging on by a thread the whole time.”
Gardner didn’t try to do too much. Knock down the shot when it’s open, make the extra pass, push the ball up the floor as quick as possible; he tried to play a role and play it well. (READ MORE.)