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Why Miami Heat guard Kendrick Nunn is helping single fathers

Raised by a single Black father in Chicago, the second-year pro understands the importance of his dad’s presence

Many things come to Kendrick Nunn’s mind when he hears the stereotypes that African American men are often absent fathers. The Miami Heat guard has the perspective of someone who was raised by a single Black father in Chicago and currently has full custody of his own young son.

“When I hear things like that … I honestly just think they haven’t been exposed to the good Black fathers out there that are actually taking care of responsibilities and taking care of their children,” Nunn told The Undefeated. “There are single Black fathers out there like that. And actually, the first thing that comes to mind is my dad.

“There are single fathers out there that’s doing good things.”

Nunn recently partnered with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) to give a grant to the Dovetail Project, a nonprofit that helps men in the Chicago area who are single parents. Nunn donated $5,000 to the organization (which the NBPA matched) and serves as a mentor for other single fathers.

“I just wanted to tap into some things that I can relate to, honestly,” Nunn said. “First thing that came to mind was how I was raised by my dad.”

Kendrick Nunn as a baby with his father Melvin.

Nunn family

Nunn and his older sister, Kendyl, were raised by their father, Melvin Nunn, who eventually split up with their mother, Kimberly Harris. Nunn said his mother, who is now back in his life, dealt with depression which led to his father taking full custody of both kids.

“She was dealing with a lot of depression and things that didn’t allow her to be in my life early on,” Nunn said. “And that’s pretty much all I can say about that situation.

“But she’s doing great now. She’s a good mother. I love her to death. And she is definitely around now in my life and we’re happy. We’re happy together. We are a happy family now.”

Melvin Nunn raised his children while working full time as a delivery truck driver in Chicago. He said he had help from his family and Harris’ family, but was primarily on his own. He recalls often hearing a common word when someone learned he was a single parent: “Wow.”

“When I became a single parent, I didn’t bow my head or panic,” Melvin Nunn, 53, said. “I just knew what it took to raise two kids because I saw my parents raise me. You have to have things planned on how you want your kids raised and how you want them to become. So, I put them in situations where I could succeed with a little help from my family and their side of the family.

“I took everyone’s advice and got a little help along the way. With myself being a strong Black man and knowing what I had to do to raise my kids in my household, it was no-brainer. You got to work, you help your kids with homework, you talk to them, you extracurricular them. I was blessed to be able to do that with one income.”

The Nunn family had stability and lived in the same home for most of the kids’ childhood in the predominantly Black Chicago suburb of Calumet City. They often bonded over basketball. Nunn fondly recalls his father making time for him and his sister after work.

Melvin Nunn (left) with his children Kendrick (center) and Kendyl (right).

Nunn family

“I really noticed the amount of time that he invested in me and my sister as we were growing up because he had other things he had to take care of,” Nunn said. “He had his job, it was 9 to 5, that he had to provide for us. But he also took the time to spend family time with us and make his presence known as a father in-house. And that carried on throughout my life.”

Last season, Nunn quickly proved he belonged in the NBA by scoring 112 points in his first five games as a rookie, surpassing Connie Hawkins’ record for an undrafted player with 105 points in his first five games in 1969.

“It was definitely life-changing. It was just the opportunity for me to prove myself and to show who I was as a player with an NBA team,” Nunn said.

Nunn averaged 15.3 points during his rookie season and went on to be named to the 2020 All-Rookie first team. He also finished second behind the Memphis Grizzlies’ Ja Morant in the Rookie of the Year voting.

Miami Heat guard Kendrick Nunn directs his teammates during the first half of an NBA game against the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 18.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo

“It was a great year for me, rookie year,” Nunn said. “There were definitely some lows when COVID hit. Me missing some time, not being with the team and having to come late to the bubble, falling out of the rotation and things like that were some lows. But overall I had a good season and I was pretty happy about it.”

This season, the 6-foot-2 guard is averaging 13.4 points. 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists for Miami, which will need consistent scoring from Nunn with two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo possibly out for the season with a knee injury. Nunn and the Heat are fighting to stay within the top six seeds in the Eastern Conference to avoid participating in the play-in playoff tournament for seeds seven through 10.

“There’ve been some pieces moving around on our roster, but overall, we have a good group that can get it done again this year,” Nunn said. “It is going to take a lot of fight, a lot of determination and a lot of ambition to get it done.”

Nunn said it has come “full circle” for him as he now has full custody of his son. And when he is on the road with the Heat, his father actually flies to Miami to take care of 4-year-old Kyren.

Melvin Nunn said his son is a good father.

“He loves his son and can do a lot more for his son than I could for him,” said Melvin Nunn. “But he is loving him the same way. Now with him being a single father, he can just remember and go back to the footsteps of what I was doing as a single father.”

Next month, Nunn plans to spend time with members of the Dovetail Project in a Zoom chat. He said he also plans on being more involved with the organization once the pandemic is over.

The Dovetail Project founder Sheldon Smith is proud to have a hometown hero involved.

“It’s not even about the dollars,” Smith told The Undefeated. “It’s really just about the things that have come outside of the dollars, the opportunity for him to visit the class or for him to use his voice.”

Smith, who became a first-time father at the age of 21 in 2009, was inspired by his daughter to found the Dovetail Project in Chicago in hopes of supporting “fellow young Black and brown fathers ages 17-24.” The word dovetail means to join or put together, and it is his hope to see fathers and their children together.

“Our goal is to make sure that we have young men who are going to court to fight for custody of their children, who understand their rights and responsibilities, who are engaged in employers and staying employed,” Smith said. “But most importantly, learning how to be strong dads, strong parents, strong role models and men, because oftentimes the communities that many of our young men come from, they don’t have that strong role model that if you could see it, you could be it.”

Melvin Nunn has been a beacon of light for his son Kendrick. Looking back, Nunn said he had a great childhood and has a strong appreciation for his father.

He also has advice for other single fathers.

“Spend as much family time as you can with your kids because that can go a long way with them growing up,” Nunn said. “That family time is very important because that shapes them for who they are when they leave the household. So just invest in time and see our children the right way and spend as much time as you can with them, loving them.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.