Originally from Martinique, Ronny Turiaf is a center for the Miami Heat, based in South Florida. He speaks about the importance of connecting with “home,” as he overcame his setbacks and achieved his goals.
“We have a routine,” Ronny Turiaf says. “Every time I come home to Martinique, my dad already knows, we’re not going anywhere until I go back where I grew up.” Georges Louis knows he might need to wait for hours while his oldest child pays respects to friends and mentors he left half a life ago.
[Turiaf says] “There’s no such thing as a celebrity, because they knew me before I was the Ronny Turiaf that you know. You don’t know the real Ronny Turiaf. [. . .] They do. So whenever I go back home, I allow myself to be the Ronny that I truly am, with no boundaries, no walls, the one walking around barefooted and not worrying about being photographed, not worried about being bothered. Because those guys know what I am, and who I am. It’s just pure joy whenever I go home, because I can be home.” This place, South Florida, could never replace that home, although Turiaf is appreciating the similar climate while trying to capitalize on a unique opportunity.
Turiaf has now played 10 games with the Heat, the last four as a starter, with the last one – eight points and nine rebounds in Sunday’s win against Detroit – ranking as his best.
[. . .] Turiaf, 29, has already accomplished much, especially considering his background. His parents separated when he was 6, and he moved many times with his mother thereafter. Such was the squalor and instability that, upon reflection, Turiaf says settling in a housing project at age 9 is “when my life became awesome.” [. . .] “I wanted to play soccer,” he says. He was better at that, and felt he had a future as a goalkeeper. His father felt otherwise. “He told me I was going to be playing basketball from now on,” Turiaf says.
With improvement came some enjoyment. When he was 15, his father sent him to Paris, and the National Institute of Physical Education, with its rigorous curriculum and emphasis on elite athletic training. His parents received plane tickets so they could visit. What they saw was a teenager growing his body and game. His play for the French Under-18 National Team attracted the attention of U.S. colleges and universities, including Miami and North Carolina. [. . .] But school – that was hard. He struggled at first to learn the language and maintain eligibility, spending many extra hours with an English teacher. Now it is one of the three languages (along with French and Antillean Creole) he has mastered, with passable skills in Italian and Spanish. He left Gonzaga without graduating in 2005, although he would return five years later to receive his diploma for Sports Management.
Turiaf was drafted in the second round in ’05 by the Los Angeles Lakers, but a team physical detected a heart ailment that almost derailed his career. He had six hours of open-heart surgery and a lengthy recovery but still played 23 games that season. “I grew up on an island, man,” he says. “I’m a Caribbean boy. So my attitude about life is different than the regular. We have somewhat of an enjoy-life, happy-go-lucky attitude, because we are surrounded by water. What’s not to love about that?”