Get (more) familiar with former NBA prospect-turned-author, Isaiah Austin
Isaiah Austin is a gentle giant. Hovering above seven feet, the former Baylor Bear is always armed with a smile and naturally optimistic phrases that are fitting of a life coach than an ex-college baller. While Marfan Syndrome (a genetic disorder) dashed his dreams of going pro in the NBA, Austin was named a 2014 draft honoree by league Commissioner Adam Silver, who praised his talents. “Like the other young men here tonight, Isaiah committed himself through endless hard work and dedication to a potential career as a professional basketball player, and we wanted to make sure he fulfilled at least this part of his dream.”
These days, Austin has made inspiring others his reality, probably better than anyone who tried to fill his size 18 shoes. Founding his Isaiah Austin Foundation last year to support related disorders and other charitable causes, the 21-year-old is now an author, as well. At his recent book signing at New York’s NBA Store (June 24), the Baylor University star sat down with VIBE to discuss his new page-turner Dream Again, his Draft Day anthem and how his struggle ultimately turned into success.
VIBE: I want to start with a quote from your book that really stuck with me. “Sometimes if you want to pursue your dream, you have to be willing to leave a good situation behind for the unknown.” Speak on how that applies to your life
Isaiah Austin: Basketball has been my stepping stone my whole life. It’s been something I’ve worked for my whole life and unfortunately, I’ve had to give it away because of a certain circumstance but it’s been for the better. Basketball wasn’t going to give me the opportunities I have now. I have opportunities to help inspire people all across the world [and] help them push through their own life problems, their struggles. I feel like if you give something up that’s good, it’s not always a bad thing. Me not being able to play basketball wasn’t a bad thing; it’s a blessing in disguise.
A lot of people probably couldn’t say the same. I feel like your optimism is a product of the people you surrounded with yourself, especially your family but what made you decide to pen your story into a book?
I wanted people to know the in-depth situation that I was really going through. A lot of people know that I had eye surgery and that I was playing blind in my eye but they didn’t really know everything I’ve been through. After each eye surgery, I had to lay face down for four weeks at a time and then just getting hit with bad news after bad news, thinking my eye was healed then having to rush in for another emergency surgery. I wanted people to really go through my feelings, really try to experience it just so they know they’re not alone when they’re experiencing those feelings themselves, when they’re fighting their own problems.
You also have a co-sign from Carmelo Anthony and your friend, Robert Griffin III, scribed the foreword but has there been anyone else—in or outside of the sports world—who commended you and took you by surprise?
[Trail Blazers’] Damian Lillard. He’s really been on my side with all this. He sends me inspirational quotes and he’ll text me that God gives His toughest battles to the strongest soldiers. He’s been really supportive throughout this whole process but I couldn’t thank him enough because to see how humbling a guy of that stature is, is a blessing.
Now let’s say we took this book and turned it into a film. Who would you want to play Isaiah Austin?
Probably Will Smith.
You’re also in NBA2K15. Do you actually play as yourself?
I have. I drafted myself to the Lakers so I can steal the ball from Kobe [Bryant] and put up more shots than him. [Laughs] That whole experience was amazing. Shout out to Ronnie 2K and those guys for making that happen.
This Thursday, the NBA Draft is going down at Barclays, marking a year since Adam Silver called your name as an honorary draftee. Which song would you consider your Draft Day anthem?
I have to say Fetty Wap “Zoo Wap.”
Talk to me about your Isaiah Austin Foundation and why you decided to start that.
I started the foundation to just be able to share my story worldwide. I know that it’s a great cause and a lot of people are supporting it. I want them to really know that what I’m doing is not for me, it’s for the people around me. I’ve always been that type of person, never selfish or self-centered. I’ve always wanted to help inspire people. I feel like with my foundation, that’s what we’re striving to do: share my story, share my testimony but at the same time, bring the awareness to Marfan Syndrome ’cause that’s what brought me to this stage in the first place.