Felton Using NBA Riches To Repay Parents
(09/02/05 - LATTA, SC) -- The tiny wood-frame house sits less than 100 yards off a two-lane road, across the street from a soybean field and within walking distance of the packaging plant that's the largest employer in town.
Drenched in a coat of paint some might call "Tar Heel Blue," passers-by can't miss it. There's a basketball hoop at the edge of the sand-covered driveway, another one in the grassy backyard.
Raymond and Barbara Felton can't imagine leaving this home, where the trophies are visible through the storm door and are stuffed in every corner of the tiny living room. But in less than two months, they'll be gone. Their dream house will be complete and they'll make the 130-mile move to Charlotte, N.C.
Raymond Felton Jr., budding NBA star, wouldn't have it any other way.
In the two months since the Charlotte Bobcats made him the fifth overall pick in the NBA draft, he's showered his parents with gifts to thank them for getting him where he is today. The generosity is something Felton, Sean May and Marvin Williams all took into account when they decided to leave school early after leading North Carolina to the national championship.
"We all dreamed about this moment, just to be able to give back to your mom and dad," Felton said. "We can never give back to them what they've given to us for all of our years. But just trying to start, just by telling your mom and dad they don't have to work if they don't want to, or take them home a brand new car, something they've never had.
"It's just a wonderful feeling."
Raymond Felton Sr. spent 22 years working at the Russell Stover Candies plant in Marion, until its 2000 closing put more than 800 people out of work. He was one of the lucky ones to find a new job, landing a spot on the third shift at the packaging plant.
His son would visit him at work and leave heartbroken.
"Raymond would come by and see me covered in sweat, and I wasn't working in the day, I was working all night," the elder Felton said. "He'd come in and he'd just shake his head. But he knew I had to work. He knew it had to be done."
On the day he decided he was leaving school for the NBA, Raymond Jr. told his father he never had to go back to the plant again.
"With my dad, he's just working so hard to take care of me and give me all the things I needed or wanted," the younger Felton said. "It feels good just to tell them they can be done with all that stuff, and do whatever they want. Relax. Get up when they want to. It's emotional, a very touching thing."
Father and son were close, because in Latta, family is all you have.
There's not much to do in this tiny town of about 1,500 people, where window air conditioning units and cable television are considered luxuries. Daytime was spent inside, waiting for the sun to go down so it would be cool enough to start a pickup game.
Young Raymond would spend hours shooting hoops behind the house, perfecting the ball control that cemented his future. There was no flat, paved surface for him to practice dribbling on. His hoop was planted in the middle of a grassy yard, and after years and years of bouncing a ball into the soft, sandy soil, the ground in front of the basket began to sink.
Today, it looks like a shallow grave covered in lush, green grass.
For years he played hoops against his father, who for a long time was considered the best basketball player around. But when Raymond hit high school, his father knew his reputation was in jeopardy.
"In ninth grade, I figured he maybe could finally beat me," the elder Felton said. "In 10th grade, I knew he could beat me. So I stopped playing him then because whenever anyone asked 'Who won the last game?' I always wanted to be able to say 'I did."'
Then one day the two went out to join a pickup game, where it was standard practice for Raymond Sr. to be the first player chosen when the teams were selected. This time, the son was picked first. "That was a little shocking," the elder Felton said.
But by this time, everything their son was accomplishing was a little surreal. There were times Barbara would finish her shift at a local daycare center and rush to her son's game, worried she wouldn't get in.
The line outside Latta High School was a mile long, she said, with people standing four across, shoulder-to-shoulder, trying to cram into the tiny gym. By now the Feltons had lost their identity -- they were referred to as "Raymond's mom and dad" -- but that celebrity status allowed her to move to the front of the line.
His travels in AAU ball helped Raymond Jr. make a name for himself, gaining the attention of recruiters and earning fancy write-ups in basketball magazines.
"We read someone compare him to Allen Iverson and Isiah Thomas," Raymond Sr. said. "We were just like 'Woah. We know he's good, but those guys are great."'
Suddenly, it was clear their son had outgrown tiny Latta, a place few people get the chance to leave. One day Raymond Jr. returned from one of his many AAU trips with the news that sealed it.
"He told us he met some people from North Carolina and they told him he might could get a scholarship to go there," Barbara said. "That was it. There was no more recruiting from there. He was set."
The Feltons made every sacrifice to attend all but a handful of his college games, home or away. It meant driving all night in an old Buick to get back in time for Barbara to start her 6 a.m. shift, and Raymond Sr. talking his way into getting a day off he wasn't entitled to. That's no longer a concern -- they quit their jobs shortly after Raymond Jr. entered the draft.
As soon as Raymond Jr. signed his contract with the Bobcats, he surprised his father by pulling up in a brand new Chrysler 300. It is the first new car the elder Felton has owned.
"We all just cried when he gave it to him," Barbara said.
Because his mother doesn't drive and Raymond Jr. didn't want her to feel left out, he handed her a necklace with a diamond heart pendant as his father checked out his new ride.
"I told him he doesn't have to do these things," she said. "And he said, 'But, Ma, I want to."'
Still, the Feltons worry about their son's big heart and his newfound riches. With opportunities so limited in Latta, everyone wants a piece of Raymond Jr. and his money. They've told him to send all requests their way, so they can be the ones to say no.
It's not always easy, either. They've had to change their phone number since he was drafted.
"I just have to say to them, 'What would you have done before Raymond went to the NBA?"' she said. "Everybody has an idea on how Raymond should spend his money. Everybody has an investment for him or a business to start, or a friend who has an idea. It's gotten a little out of control."
So in a way the Feltons don't mind moving to Charlotte, where they can help keep an eye on their son and offer a hand as he adjusts to life in the NBA. They worry he won't eat right and are looking for a chef to prepare his meals. And he's so busy already, he needs their help in setting up his own new home.
But the Feltons will never leave Latta for good, despite the offers from strangers who knock on the door, offering to buy the house where Raymond Felton Jr. grew up.
"This is home, we'll always keep the house so we can come back and remember where we came from," Barbara said.
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