For Trevor Ariza, life has always been about new beginnings. About having the strength and courage to move forward without forgetting the past.
Tomorrow in Charlotte, the 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward will begin a new chapter in his career when he plays his first game for the Wizards against the Bobcats.
Now in his ninth NBA season playing for his sixth NBA team, Ariza, 27, is the personification of perseverance, a man who has turned personal tragedy into professional triumph.
Its been more than 16 years since Ariza lost his younger brother, Tajh, in a tragic accident in Caracas, Venezuela. Ariza was 10 years old at the time and his family was visiting his step-father, Kenny McClary, who was playing professional basketball.
Ariza and his mother, Lolita, were attending McClarys game while his two younger brothers, Kenny, 8, and Tajh, 5, were back at their hotel with a babysitter. Ariza said it was just before tip-off when he and his mother were informed that Tajh had fallen from an open window on the 36th floor of the hotel.
My brothers were playing and there was an open window and my other brother Kenny saw him fall, Ariza recalled. It was tough on him. Really, really, really tough for him.
Ariza said it was nearly 30 minutes before he and his mother arrived at the hotel, which was surrounded by emergency vehicles and medical personnel.
The paramedics got there and they said his limbs were still moving but he was gone, Ariza said. Hopefully, he didnt have to endure that pain.
Despite the time that has passed, Ariza said he thinks of his brother every day and carries with him his warm spirit.
It was tough for me, it was real tough, he said. We spent every day together, we slept in the same bed. He was my best friend. Ill always remember how loving and jolly he was. He was a tough kid, a very, very tough kid, but he was very loving. Very caring.
Ariza paid tribute to his brother with a tattoo of praying hands on his right arm, a picture of his face on the left side of his chest and the following etchings on his left forearm:
Blood is thicker than water.I am my brothers keeper.Rest in peace, Tajh. I miss you.
Ariza said he remembers how difficult it was for his mother in the weeks and months that followed his brothers death, but he also remembers the strength she gave him and Kenny.
You dont recover from it, he said. You just try to cope. It was tough on her. Any time you lose one of your children its not something you can imagine Youre not supposed to outlive your kids.
Born in Miami, Ariza moved to Los Angeles and continued to pursue his dream of playing big-time basketball. He attended Westchester High School, which produced NBA players Bobby Brown, Amir Johnson and Gabe Pruitt, and led his team to two California State titles.
Ariza went on to play at UCLA and after being named to the All-Pac-10 team as a freshman he decided to enter the NBA draft, where he was taken in the second round 43rd overall by the New York Knicks.
He spent parts of two seasons in New York and parts of three seasons in Orlando before returning to L.A. as a member of the Lakers. Ariza won an NBA title with the Lakers in 2009, starting all 23 playoff games and averaging 11.3 points per game.
Ariza parlayed that performance into a five-year, 33 million contract with the Houston Rockets, but after averaging a career-high 14.9 points, he was dealt to the New Orleans Hornets.
Ariza spent two seasons in New Orleans, averaging just under 11 points, before he was traded to the Wizards along with Ekema Okafor on June 20 in exchange for Rashard Lewis and a second-round pick.
Less than a week into training camp Wizards coach Randy Wittman said hes already seeing the impact Ariza and Okafor can have on the teams younger players.
Theyve brought us really a kind of stability defensively with their experience, he said. Theyre probably our two best communicators right now. Thats another thing that becomes contagious -- our talking on defense, communication out on the floor with one another. Your big men are usually the back line of your defense, they have to be able to talk to the people out in front of them and thats really stood out.
Off the court, Ariza said hes never been happier. His wife, Bree, recently gave birth to the couples third child, a baby girl named Taylor. They also have a 4-year-old son, Tajh, named after Arizas brother, and a 1-year-old son, Tristan.
Its a great feeling being a father, a wonderful feeling, Ariza said. Youve got to be protective and make sure they have everything they need and I think Im great at that. I love being a father.
Now living with his family in Arlington, Ariza said he feels very welcome as a Wizard and is looking forward to starting a new chapter in his career and in his life.
I try to look at every experience as a learning experience, whether it be good or bad, he said.
The only thing I could have gotten out of my brothers death that I can look positively on would be that you never know when youre going to die, so you have to be the best person you can be every day because you never know when its going to be your last.