At a smaller Division I school like Marist College, it’s not difficult to put a name to the face of the many athletes competing for the school. After walking around campus for four years with their bright red backpacks and constant Marist Athletics apparel, these athletes have established themselves as just that — athletes. As they round the corner to graduation, the question remains: who are they outside of their sport?
The following story is a part of Center Field’s 19 for ‘19: Stories of the Senior Class series.
Isaiah Lamb loves to roller skate. You would have no idea if you were to merely look at him. He stands at a lofty six feet and four inches, the typical height for a serviceable college basketball forward. He is, in fact, just that — one that averaged 7.3 points and 3.4 rebounds for his career. The numbers didn’t necessarily pour in as much as he had hoped, but he still has the opportunity to play professionally. Denmark and Iceland are on the table. “China, too… which is really far… I’d have to think about that one,” he said.
The roller skating in particular peaked my interests. “I go with Brian Parker a lot,” he said. “to the little ‘Roller Magic’ down the street… it’s funny ‘cause we’re the biggest people in there amongst a bunch of little kids. Everyone asks us if we play basketball.” He used to go every Sunday with his family in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. He called it “another getaway.”
Again, you’d know none of this. I sure didn’t. I sat with Isaiah in a conference room overlooking the court he has played on at Marist for four years, learning a ton of new things about him, but knowing just one.
Filed under the “SI’s Most Dramatic Covers” section on their website is Sports Illustrated’s October 20 issue from 2014. “Dramatic” is a word with a negative connotation, but it fits here. The story is incredibly intense (perhaps more appropriate jargon), focusing in on the lives of a number of high school athletes with high-level talents, and pasts in which they were homeless. Sports Illustrated’s L. Jon Wertheim and Ken Rodriguez conducted six months’ worth of research and investigation to look at the problem of homelessness among young athletes. On that “dramatic” cover and in the story’s lede is a young at-the-time Division I basketball prospect: Isaiah Lamb.
For years, every story written on or about him glazed over the other facets of his life, focusing on that one aspect alone. Isaiah was a homeless athlete. Until he wasn’t. Circumstances have changed, allowing Isaiah to broaden his horizons and interests to activities aside from basketball. In particular, he began volunteering and helping the homeless.
“I think I kind of owe it to my community growing up, and the people who got me to where I am today, like my parents, my coaches, to, you know, give back,” he says. “Part of it has to do with me working hard so I can give back, so I can be that help to someone else so they can be in my position or have an even better opportunity than what I have… I’m not the richest person in the world, but when I do have a little something, I do give back.”
In order to give back, Isaiah has served as a sort of mentor at the Children’s Home in Poughkeepsie, as well as Poughkeepsie High School, where he’s able to bond with a majority of kids over one common denominator: basketball. “These are high school kids – not too far from my age – that are going through some rough times,” he said. “I think it’s best for them to hear from someone around their age… and they all like basketball, so that was kind of my way to interact with them.”
A valued mindset for Isaiah is an idea that his mother, Valerie, instilled in him at a young age: “nothing lasts forever.” It’s a common adage on the college level; fewer than 2 percent of collegiate athletes move on to play professionally. Isaiah doesn’t necessarily see it as something specific to sports, though. “It works both ways,” he says. “When you’re going through a lot of things, a lot of struggle…it’s not going to last forever. There’s going to be some breaking point where things start to turn around… You’ve got to know that.”
It’s remarkable, really, to interact with a young man like Isaiah, who has been through an astonishing amount of hardship, only to come out the other side as someone who can act as a mentor for others. His temperament isn’t just palpable, it’s virulent.
When I asked him how he was able to remain positive throughout the difficulties of being homeless, he confidently said, “You know, it’s really tough to do when you’re in that situation because you can’t see the future, obviously. But just knowing that things are going to get better, that there are people out here that are trying to help; if you put yourself in the right position, things will work out. For sure.”
There’s nothing wrong with growing tired of a topic being beaten to death in constant interviews and questionnaires. Stories, too; especially when it’s about you. For Isaiah, having his story be that of “the homeless basketball star” wasn’t totally tiring, per se, it just wasn’t what he wanted to talk about. “It started getting a little irritating during the basketball season,” he said.
“When I think I’m playing well, or I want to concentrate on the games, and someone says, ‘I want to interview you,’ I think it’s about basketball, but they just ask about the Sports Illustrated.”
Not many people can share the feeling of what it might be like to appear on the cover of the country’s most prestigious sports magazine. Don’t get him wrong, he’s happy to share his story. “If someone personally came up to me and was like ‘hey, I heard about your story, mind if I ask you a few questions?’ I am completely open to that… I like that actually.” When it interferes with the task or successes of the present, things change. He said, “I’m here to play basketball, I want you to ask me basketball questions… about things that are relevant to what I’m trying to accomplish, instead of just living in the past.”
In the now, Isaiah has an increasingly bright future as he furthers his work with his new fitness brand, “LoLamb.” When Isaiah tore both of his ACLs, part of his treatment was to use small home exercise equipment, which, in turn, inspired him to build a brand of his own. He started with core sliders: small circles on which you place your hands when you perform core exercises, whether they be sit-ups or push-ups or various other exercises. Isaiah is currently in the process of releasing another product – resistance bands – as well as a fitness course.
“I think it’s a combination of me playing basketball and just me trying to grow that, as well as other things involving things that I’m good at,” he told me. Ideally, he’s able to implement these practices and his products in shelters, all in hopes of helping those who were perhaps in a situation similar to his own. “I think I’m really good at working out… I would like to do that for maybe a homeless shelter or a physical therapist shelter… it’s part of my story, as well as me trying to give back to others.”
People talk a lot about tools. Not in the offensive context, but more so the activity that acts as their escape. Isaiah’s escape, though, became a constant rather than something that appeared now and again when needed. “My love for basketball kept me on the right track,” he explained, “meaning when I’m feeling down, or to the point where I’m losing faith… I’ll play basketball. I’ll go to the gym… It may be different for some people… even if it’s writing, drawing, there has to be something that you love.”
Combining his loves works for Isaiah. His passion for sports, volunteering and physical activity in general all created this project that is growing into a fortified brand. By remaining on the track that basketball aided in paving for him, he was able to pour his enthusiasm for his craft into creating a product line and instilling constant effort into his work. It came as no surprise to me when he mentioned Russell Westbrook’s game and mindset as one that he appreciates. “A lot of people don’t like him, but he’s kinda like a dog on the court… He gives it 150 percent every time, and I think I do that every time I’m on the court. Even if I’m not as loud as Westbrook, I’ll always play the hardest.”
As Isaiah walked out following the interview, I just could not let the roller skating anecdote leave my mind. “Really, roller skating?” I asked. “Yeah, man! It’s so fun… sometimes I’ll go with the four wheels, sometimes just the one row,” he responded. A man of many talents. With everything Isaiah does, there’s a challenge involved. Homelessness took a lot from him, but never his drive and his focus. With emphasis, and before the recorder clicks off, Isaiah delivers one final message quite proudly.
“I’m striving for greatness. I’m trying to go beyond the expectations of someone in my position can do. And, when I do, or as I’m going in that direction, I’m trying to help others. I’m trying to give back as much as possible, while also benefiting myself and my family. It’s all from the heart. I really mean everything I do for people, and I truly want to succeed and bring others with me. It’s as simple as that.”
Edited by the Center Field Editorial Team.
Header image by Kristin Flanigan.