A traffic stop in Durham.
For the better part of a year, it seemed that a routine license check would forever haunt PJ Hairston. Hairston, a former shooting guard at the University of North Carolina, and passengers were arrested for marijuana possession in June 2013 at this stop. This would just scratch the surface on a hellacious summer for UNC’s leading scorer.
Along with marijuana, officers found a handgun just outside the car on the night of Hairston’s arrest. In addition to this, Hairston was cited with driving without a license, and the GMC Yukon which he drove was revealed to be a rental car under the name of Haydn “Fats” Thomas, a potential booster who had ties to other UNC players. PJ, and his supporters, were both posed with the question: What else could possibly go wrong?
On July 28, 2013, PJ Hairston was pulled over for speeding 93 miles per hour in a 65 miles per hour zone, in addition to a reckless driving charge. Coach Roy Williams immediately suspended PJ from the team indefinitely.
Despite the suspension, both Hairston and Williams were confident that PJ would eventually play for the Tar Heels in the 2013-2014 season. Hairston was featured on the team poster, introduced at Late Night With Roy, and sat on the bench for UNC’s home games.
This was the closest Hairston would ever be to playing in a Tar Heel uniform again.
On December 20, 2013, the University of North Carolina revealed that it would not apply for the reinstatement of PJ Hairston.
The news shook the basketball world. Despite the severity of Hairston’s charges, many assumed he would return to the team before it began conference play. Fans even made songs in light of the situation and PJ’s seemingly inevitable return. North Carolina was now without its leading scorer, and PJ Hairston was now left with serious question marks surrounding his basketball career.
Will PJ Hairston be drafted? How far can he fall? Can an NBA team trust him?
In late December and early January, these questions most definitely lingered around Hairston. It became a very real possibility that PJ’s poor off-the-court decision making, and the Durham license check that revealed it to the world, cost him a career in professional basketball.
What PJ Hairston may have previously lacked in judgement, however, he made up for with pure basketball skill.
In an effort to raise his draft stock and keep his game sharp, PJ Hairston joined the NBA D-League’s Texas Legend in the winter of 2014. In his debut, Hairston scored 22 points and collected 6 steals. In his next game, Hairston dropped 40 points on 24 shots, while grabbing 5 rebounds. In just two games, the shooting guard reminded the world why Roy Williams once called him the best shooter he had ever coached in practice.
While winning scouts over with his scoring prowess, Hairston also began to mend fences with fans left disappointed with his actions. He publicly announced he would remain in online courses at UNC, looking to finish his degree in communications. He showed no hard feelings toward the university in interviews. And, most importantly, PJ Hairston showed remorse for his actions. These were necessary steps in showing that PJ had moved on from his past mistakes, and that he looked to learn from them.
With his troubles behind him and his game elevated, PJ Hairston had now rebuilt his draft stock, making him a valuable asset for the Charlotte Hornets to pursue.
There is no question that entering the 2014 NBA Draft, the Hornets looked to add perimeter threats. Many assumed this meant the arrival of Doug McDermott or Nik Stauskas with Charlotte’s first pick, the 9th overall in the draft. However, when Noah Vonleh, a player many believed could have gone as high as the fourth pick, dropped into the Hornets lap, they jumped to add him to the team, picking up a big man with a smooth shot to add at power forward.
This meant, without question, the 24th pick would have to be spent on a shooter. With just about every team ahead of Charlotte after the 16th pick needing size and help at the perimeter, it looked decreasingly likely that the Hornets would be able to nab the player they longed for.
As the draft progressed, Hairston fell. Fans at Time Warner Cable Arena, site of the Hornets’ official draft party, held their breath with every pick, especially when the Grizzlies were on the clock at 22. Memphis desperately needed scoring, and experts around the board predicted PJ Hairston would provide that lift for them. Instead, the Grizzlies took Jordan Adams, and the Jazz got an absolute steal in Rodney hood at 23, leaving Hairston for Charlotte’s taking.
Fans in Time Warner Cable Arena knew. Fans across all social media platforms, especially Twitter, knew. Fans watching at home knew. It was time for PJ Hairston to come home.
So with the 24th pick in the NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets select… Shabazz Napier?
Yes, the Hornets stunned NBA fans across the world, turned down Hairston, and took Napier, the standout point guard at UConn. Napier carried the team to a National Championship this year, similar to how Kemba Walker did the same in 2011. It was not a bad pick; Charlotte needed a back-up point guard, and who better to take than Kemba’s “little brother“?
Rich Cho and the Hornets front office, however, had better ideas. The Miami Heat, and LeBron James, clamored for Napier to be on the board for their pick at 26. So Cho and friends swept him up, and immediately dealt him to Miami for their second rounder and the 26th pick.
As it turns out, Hairston’s road to redemption just had one more sharp turn at the end before coming home.
With the 26th pick, the Miami Heat selected PJ Hairston, completing both the trade with Charlotte, as well as PJ’s journey back to the basketball spotlight.
Hairston, overcome with emotion, broke down at his viewing party. Tears flowed; family and friends cheered; and in one moment, PJ Hairston had overcome the demons of his past to officially become an NBA player.
Just about every player that enters the NBA Draft has his own set of obstacles that he had to overcome to get there. None, however, created their own problems like Hairston did in the summer of 2013, and few would be able to recover from such a debilitating fall from grace.
Now that PJ Hairston is officially a Charlotte Hornet, time will tell whether he is ready for the big time. There are still questions about his stamina, given that his last meaningful basketball game was played on March 24, 2013, and he averaged under 25 minutes per game in his sophomore year at UNC. There are still questions about his psyche, as pointed out by ESPN analyst Jay Bilas at the NBA Draft. And yes, there are still questions about PJ’s judgement and how playing so close to home will affect him, as pointed out in Jonathan Jones’ excellent column for the Charlotte Observer.
There are, however, no questions about Hairston’s raw talent, scoring ability, and jump shot. In addition to this, and potentially more importantly, PJ Hairston has assured fans, and scouts, that he has learned and become motivated by his past. He has seen the sport he loves ripped away from him; now, he has a shot to display his skills on the world’s highest level.