Rookie forward Maurice Taylor of the Clippers has a portrait of his late grandfather, Leroy Taylor, tattooed over his heart.
Were it not for Taylor's grandfather, who died in January 1992 at 63 of stomach cancer, Taylor might not have made it to the NBA.
"He actually paid me to play," Taylor said. "When I was a freshman in high school, he wanted me to play basketball, but I didn't think I was good enough."
Taylor later went out for the team at Detroit's Henry Ford High after his grandfather had bet him he wouldn't make it.
"We went to a game my sophomore year and I said, 'I'm better than all those guys,' " Taylor said. "He bet me $100 that I couldn't be a star on my high school team."
Maurice Taylor won the bet.
He not only made the team but averaged 30 points in the final eight games of the season.
Taylor, shooting a team-best 57.1%, learned to shoot using baskets made of discarded fruit crates.
"It's a Detroit thing," Taylor said. "Me and my cousin would go find an old crate and saw the bottom out of it. We'd nail it to a light post and play."
Although Ford Coach William Carter conducts closed practices, he made an exception for Taylor's grandfather, who attended every practice and game.
"We used to practice at 6 on Saturday mornings," Taylor said. "My grandfather was supposed to pick me up [at the gym] one Saturday, but he didn't show and I knew something was wrong.
"I called home and they told me he'd passed away. I was devastated."
Taylor, 16, when his grandfather died, dedicated his career to Leroy. He went to the University of Michigan so that his grandmother could see him play.
"I get the feeling that he's looking down on me all the time," Taylor said. "When I woke up from surgery after breaking my nose last February, I was having a dream and my grandmother said I was saying my grandfather's name."
Leroy Taylor would be proud of the way Maurice has played in his first month in the NBA.
Taylor, who wears a diamond-studded M on a gold chain around his neck, might have been the biggest steal in the draft.
The 14th player selected, he has emerged as one of the league's best rookies.
He was averaging 14 points and 5.5 rebounds in the four games before last Saturday's 94-91 loss to the Utah Jazz, when he got in foul trouble and finished with only eight points and one rebound, and has become one of the highest-profile Clippers.
He was a guest on Newy Scruggs' sportscast on Channel 13 Sunday night, arriving at the studio in a white stretch limousine with his girlfriend, Tiffany Terrell, and Clipper publicist Jill Wiggins.
Taylor, a baby-faced 6-foot-9, 260-pounder nicknamed "Big Mo," has hit the big time only one month after his 21st birthday.
With Loy Vaught, the team's leading scorer and rebounder last season, sidelined because of a back injury, Coach Bill Fitch has worked Taylor into the rotation. And Fitch tends to be impatient with rookies.
But Fitch compares Taylor to Adrian Dantley, the 1977 NBA rookie of the year.
"I love rookies," Fitch said. "I just don't like rookies who play like rookies. But he's not playing like a rookie."
Fitch may not appreciate the Notorious B.I.G. as much as Taylor, who psychs himself up for games by listening to the late rapper, but he can't rap Taylor's game.
Taylor, guarded by Chicago Bull forward Dennis Rodman in the Clippers' 111-102 double-overtime loss to the Bulls on Nov. 21, had season bests of 16 points, 10 rebounds and 27 minutes against the Bulls.
"Rodman kept trying to get inside my head by talking trash to me," Taylor said. "But I didn't get nervous because I felt I deserved to be on the court."
Taylor embarrassed Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone, the 1997 NBA most valuable player, by going around Malone with a flashy crossover dribble in the opening quarter of last Saturday's game at the Sports Arena. Taylor also blocked a shot by Malone in the third quarter.
Taylor, who made all four of his shots in the first quarter, talked trash with Malone.
"He started it first because I caught him with a crossover dribble and I kind of looked at him," Taylor said. "He came back down and called me a rookie and I told him it was going to be a long game because I don't play like a rookie.
"We went back and forth the whole game. I called him a baby because he whines on every call and he was calling me his grandchild because he said he was old enough to be my grandfather."
Success, however, apparently hasn't gone to Taylor's head.
He ate Thanksgiving dinner at McDonald's and he wears a rubber band on his left wrist, under his Rolex diamond watch, as a reality check.
"It's kind of a contrast, but it just reminds me not to get too big-headed because everything could be taken away easily," Taylor said. "When I make a mistake on the court I just pop myself with [the rubber band] to get myself jump-started.
"Some people pinch themselves to wake up, but I pop myself. I've been wearing it for about two or three years and I've never broken it."