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‘My love for my son is underestimated’: Why Tee Morant is out front for his son, Ja Morant

As the Grizzlies All-Star’s fame has risen, his father has become a courtside celebrity. But he says it’s not for attention.

Tee Morant was standing outside of his downtown San Francisco hotel waiting for an Uber on Sunday morning when he noticed a man in a nearby car staring at him. He instantly put his guard up just in case there was a situation brewing. But just before the father of Memphis Grizzlies All-Star Ja Morant jumped into his ride, the man in question rolled down his window and asked what is becoming a familiar question.

“People recognizing me is new. It is strange, but I’m cool with it,” Tee Morant told Andscape. “I was about to go over to Ja’s hotel. And when I was waiting on the Uber, a dude was just sitting in a car, just looking at me. I kept on moving around, but he kept on eyeing me down. So, I was about to say, ‘Hey, man, you all right? You good?’

“So, at the time I went to get in my Uber, he [rolled] his window down and said, ‘Hey, aren’t you Tee Morant?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, you could have said that earlier, man, instead of staring at me.’ It’s weird. It’s new. I’m cool.”

Tee Morant has appeared to be the cool dad since his son arrived in the NBA.

A dressed-to-the-nines, top hat-wearing Tee Morant first arrived on the national scene when his son emotionally thanked him for “everything he has done for me” on ESPN while standing by his dad’s side after being selected with the second pick in the 2019 NBA draft. Tee Morant sat next to his doppelgänger Usher, the famed R&B singer, during Game 5 of this year’s first-round playoff series against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

But what has attracted the elder Morant the most attention is when he and Karl Towns Sr., the father of Wolves star Karl-Anthony Towns Jr., playfully talked trash to each other during the first round by taking part in a series of humorous and son-loving television interviews.

“The way that him and Karl Towns Sr. were going at it, he talked to my pops a little bit, it’s just about the pride of your son playing at the highest level that makes you feel something. You love to see your dad out there supporting you,” Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry said.

Tee Morant also appeared on television shows and social media when he chopped it up with Curry and Warriors swingman Klay Thompson, whose fathers played in the NBA, during second-round playoff games in Memphis. Curry’s father, former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, also visited with Tee Morant during this playoff series.

Stephen Curry says it “means a lot” for NBA players to have support from their fathers and praised Tee Morant.

“You can tell how much it matters in terms of making it about Ja. It’s not so much about him. Everything he talks about, criticism or praise, is about uplifting your son. You love to see it,” Curry said.

Tee Morant (left) said of support for his son, Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant (center): “I’m going to keep being me because that’s all I know how to do.”

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

It hasn’t been all love for Tee Morant, who has received criticism on social media for being flamboyant and accused of seeking attention while sitting courtside. For example, the Instagram account for @SlamStudios wrote: “Tee Morant is approaching LaVar Ball levels of annoyance,” referring to the outspoken father of Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball and Chicago Bulls guard Lonzo Ball. Ja Morant responded to all the social hate toward his father by saying during a tweet in response, “F— em we ball TM.”

Tee Morant says he is going to “keep being me” and he is “not doing it for attention.”

“Somebody put on social media that I was annoying right after Game 1 because I embraced [Stephen] Curry, had a conversation with him and Klay Thompson as well,” Tee Morant said. “And then after that, all of a sudden, I’m annoying? I’m in the player’s space? It’s sportsmanship to me but it was like, ‘Wow.’ So, I’m annoying for supporting my child?

“And if you know me, my motto is, and pardon my French, ‘That don’t do s— to my blood pressure.’ Meaning if somebody’s thinking what I’m doing is negative or saying negative things about me or whatever, I couldn’t care less because it don’t do [s—] to my blood pressure. I’m going to keep being me because that’s all I know how to do.”

Tee Morant was also seen before Game 2 of this playoff series against Golden State talking to Dell Curry while wearing a black T-shirt that read: “PROUD SUPPORTIVE BLACK DAD.” When asked about the shirt, Tee Morant said: “They’re not used to seeing a dad that’s this in tune to the game and the fans and everything that is surrounded by pro basketball. So, that’s why I wore it like, ‘Yo, this is what I stand for right here.’ And that’s the gist of it.

“But the funny thing is, why wasn’t they talking about that shirt. You talk about everything else that I’m doing. Talk about the shirt, talk about why I’m doing what I’m doing, because I’m supporting my son.”

Tee Morant (center) wears a T-shirt supporting his son to Game 2 of the second round of the NBA playoff series against the Golden State Warriors. “They’re not used to seeing a dad that’s this in tune to the game and the fans and everything that is surrounded by pro basketball,” he said.

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Considering Ja Morant’s road to superstardom, it certainly makes sense why his father, who played basketball at historically Black Claflin University, is so excited and appreciative of his success.

ESPN 100 didn’t rank Ja Morant as a notable college basketball prospect when he came out of high school in 2017, not even as a three-star recruit. He starred at a mid-major in Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, after being spurned by Power 5 schools. Ja Morant rose to superstardom with the Racers to become the second overall pick in 2019 by the Grizzlies.

The 2022 NBA All-Star has grown tremendously in popularity this season due to his high scoring and athleticism that has been compared to Hall of Famer Allen Iverson. And the 2022 NBA Most Improved Player also now owns the league’s ninth-hottest-selling jersey.

“I’d be lying if I said I did,” Tee Morant said when asked if he thought his son would become an NBA star this quickly. “I’d be lying if I said he would go No. 2 in the draft. I thought he would be a top draft pick. I’d be lying if I say he’d be first-team [All-NBA]. Yeah, I’d be lying if I said all that pre-before what he’s doing. I know he had the ability to compete at the highest level, but I didn’t know it would be this quick and at this level.”

Tee Morant was not able to cheer for his superstar son on Monday, as Ja Morant missed Game 4 of the Grizzlies’ second-round series against the Warriors due to a bone bruise on his right knee (the team announced Tuesday that he remains doubtful for the rest of the postseason). But through all the highs and lows, being criticized and recognized, Tee Morant vows to always be there for his son.

“My love for my son is underestimated,” Tee Morant said. “I’d give my life for that boy. I’d give my life for that boy because he’s a miniature version of me pretty much, because he came from me. Of course, me and his mom and God, but at the same time I think of it as, and I always told them, I’m his first line of defense. So, take me before you take him.”

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.