As then-Denver guard Malik Beasley was finishing up a game against Portland on Feb. 4, two days before the NBA trade deadline, his parents, Deena and Michael, were texting back and forth about trade rumors involving Malik.
Michael Beasley was back at the family’s home in Atlanta while Deena was in Denver with Malik. Postgame, Malik was visiting with approximately 40 children, all expecting a picture with him. That’s when Malik got a phone call from his agent, Rich Paul.
The rumors were true. Malik was headed to Minnesota.
There was a lot of emotion in that moment for Beasley and his family. For four years with the Nuggets, Malik had tried to earn major minutes. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t get the role he wanted.
“I said, ‘Are you getting traded?’ He said, ‘Yeah, Mama,’ ” Deena Beasley recalled recently. “I said, ‘Stop right here. Take these pictures. These are the last damn pictures you’re going to take in Denver, so you make them good pictures.”
Faking it for the camera — it’s a quality Deena and Michael Beasley have perfected in their careers as successful actors. So Malik put on his best smile for a few more minutes. Then he went back to the locker room, and the veneer dropped.
“Guys were crying. He was crying,” Deena Beasley said. “I said, ‘Let’s go. Let’s get your stuff. We’re going.’ He packed his bags, and we went back to his house and the next day [the Timberwolves] had his plane ticket at 11 a.m. to be here.”
So began the next chapter of Beasley’s career. What began with uncertainty became a fast match, but now is back into uncertainty as the NBA grapples with the fallout from the coronavirus. It’s fallout that has affected Beasley and his family, as he revealed last week that a relative on his mother’s side from Detroit had died from the virus.
Basketball hasn’t been available as an outlet for the team, which has also tried to comfort Karl-Anthony Towns after his mother, Jacqueline, died of the virus.
“This is all a tough time. The best thing we can do is stay together,” Beasley said.
That is happening virtually, for now, as the season remains in limbo. Will the league return this season? Have the Wolves and everyone else played their last game? If they have, it’s possible Beasley has played his final Wolves game, as improbable as that may seem.
Beasley was playing some of the best basketball of his career before the season was postponed in early March. He is a restricted free agent, meaning he could be somewhere else when next season begins. But the Wolves have cards in their hands to outmaneuver other teams and keep him, and before the season stopped, Beasley didn’t sound anxious to leave.
“Oh man, I love this system,” Beasley said before the stoppage. “It’s like the perfect system for me. We like to shoot threes. I’m a three-point shooter. We get out in transition. Our identity is to play hard all the time and that’s what I am. That’s who I am.”
Getting to this point
In one way, Beasley’s emergence with the Wolves was the next step in a progression he and his family laid out for him dating to high school.
Both Michael and Deena Beasley have a healthy list of acting credits to their name. Michael has appeared in shows and movies such as “Black-ish,” “Ballers” and “House of Cards,” while Deena was a model and has been in “The Hunger Games” franchise along with shows like “One Tree Hill.”
But they pumped the brakes on their careers when Malik, the middle of their three children, said he wanted to seriously pursue basketball. That meant making sure they could take him to practices, to games, to traveling tournaments — and it meant giving up jobs they otherwise could have taken.
“We both turned down jobs, if it didn’t make sense. If it wasn’t a life-changing thing, then we’d just, OK, the lights won’t be cut off this week …” Michael Beasley said. “We told Malik, at an early age, that you have to find a love for this game. We said we’re going to be all right, whether you make this thing or not. But you’ve got to love this thing. So he understood and took it in. His work ethic has not changed.”
When Malik caught wind that his parents were sacrificing their careers, he pleaded with them not to give up on their dreams for his. That realization came during a conversation with his dad.
“I told him just relax, brother, get back to acting,” Malik said. “Get back to yourself. I’ll make sure I handle my business and put in the extra work. … That’s just the love we have in our family, to sacrifice for each other.”
But Michael knew the passion required to make it in basketball, because before he became an actor, he played professionally overseas. So Michael would wake Malik up early in the morning and run him through workouts. It got to the point that Malik became so addicted to those workouts he was waking Michael up.
“Once I got to 10th grade and summer time, it was a different mind-set. I started to fall in love with the game myself,” Malik said. “I started going to the gym myself. I started waking him up instead of him waking me up.”
In high school, Michael would tell him what he had to do to be successful in college. The same went for when Malik was at Florida State trying to get into the NBA. Before they knew it, Malik was a first-round draft pick in 2016.
“There was one time we were in the gym and he was just shooting free throws and I was like, you’re really going to make it,” Michael Beasley said. “It wasn’t anything that happened. I just said, ‘You were going to make it.’ ”
The next step
Making it was one thing. Thriving in the NBA is another, and that process is a difficult, ongoing one. It wasn’t that Beasley never played in his three-plus seasons in Denver. He just didn’t play as much as he would’ve liked. He made just 19 starts. By comparison, he has started all 14 games with the Wolves.
“He rode the bench quite a bit,” Deena Beasley said. “He produced when he was on the floor, but he got mad. He didn’t understand why he was [sitting] and the coach would praise him but he wasn’t getting more minutes or wasn’t starting.”
His parents tried to keep up his spirits despite the frustration.
“We reinvented ourselves,” Deena Beasley said. “We’ve had careers, two or three careers we were successful in. And so it doesn’t happen overnight. Malik realized that. But when you’re in it, you don’t see it. You want things to happen overnight.”
They would keep coming to his games, but Malik questioned why when he wasn’t playing that much. They just wanted to support him in any way possible. Besides, it’s easier to resume their careers now that they can self-tape auditions for roles from hotels on the road. All they need is a camera and a blank wall.
Then the trade came — the opportunity for Malik to reinvent himself was here. His parents’ words of patience had proved prophetic. Now came a starting role and a leadership role on one of the youngest teams in the NBA.
“Biggest thing that I learned is patience,” Malik said. “I have to have patience with all the young guys, patience with myself. I want to win so bad. I just try to do everything I can for one play or one game, things like that. But it takes time and a process. That’s what I’m realizing.”
The Wolves traded for him with the idea being he would be here for a while. Beasley is a restricted free agent, meaning the Wolves can match any offer that comes in. They also own Beasley’s Bird rights, which means they can exceed the salary cap to sign him.
That’s important, especially in an offseason of uncertainty when the cap may decrease significantly because of the stoppage in play and teams might be looking to trim their payroll accordingly.
“I can’t control what’s going to happen,” Beasley said. “If the salary cap goes down or if it goes high. Or anything happens. I don’t know. I can’t worry about that right now. The main thing is I know for a fact is we have this virus going on. I can control what I can control by being with my family, working out when I can and doing things like that.”
Beasley endeared himself to Wolves fans in his first game, when he knocked down seven threes and scored 23 points against the Clippers. His intensity can carry over to his interviews, when he can be self-critical because he expects so much of himself. He also mentioned after that Clippers game he was expecting the Wolves to make a playoff push.
“The stuff he’s saying he means,” Michael Beasley said. “When he says I’m trying to get a championship, he means it. He’s not just telling you something. He really believes it.”
Those early mornings might have had something to do with that.