When the underachieving Los Angeles Lakers rolled into Barclays Center in February of 2013, starting introductions included three future Hall of Famers in Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, a 20,000 point scorer in veteran Antwan Jamison and a guy named Earl Clark. The introductions also marked the beginning of an eventful evening for Clark's parents, Brenda and Larry, as it was the first time that the New Jersey natives would see their son play as an NBA starter.
"I remember that game. It felt good to get some minutes at home, with my family getting to see me play," Clark told me in the Nets locker room. "They had seen me in the NBA, but not really out there playing, having fun and helping the team win."
The now 27-year old is from Plainfield, NJ, just outside Newark. Clark went to a regular high school, not a powerhouse – Rahway High School. He used to have fights with his dad who would say, ‘You need to go to St. Pat’s or St. Benedict’s.’ But Earl wanted to be different and he wanted to show people that you can make it coming out of a regular public school.
"Those schools were good and they were great programs, but I didn’t think I needed that to make me," said Clark, who was a McDonald’s All-American his senior season in 2006 and was ranked as the number one recruit out of New Jersey and the New York City Metropolitan Area.
"I just felt like I was good enough to have those coaches come to my school and watch me play. I took pride in being the only McDonalds All-American there and winning a lot of games."
He chose to attend Louisville, saying he felt they were the right school that could get him to the next level. As a junior, he and former Nets lottery pick Terrence Williams helped lead Louisville to their first ever No. 1 ranking and the Big East Title.
In 2009 he decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NBA draft, but only after learning plenty from coach Rick Pitino.
"Everything other than basketball he taught me. A lot about life, how to prepare when things aren’t going you’re way and how it’s a dog eat dog world," said Clark, who along with Gorgui Dieng and Russ Smith are the only former Cardinals in the NBA.
"You have to fight for what you want and he taught me how to be a man and be responsible." The Phoenix Suns drafted him 14th overall, but his rookie season entailed sitting in favor of a veteran-laden roster that went to the Western Conference finals and a D-League stint.
The following year, Phoenix traded Clark to Orlando and he once again was buried in the depth chart behind Ryan Anderson and Glen Davis. During the NBA lockout in the 2011 offseason, Clark signed a contract to play overseas with the Zhejiang Lions in China under current Knicks assistant coach Jim Cleamons. But he lasted only five days and never played in a game over concerns surrounding his wife expecting a son back home.
When the league returned he landed in Los Angeles as part of the four-team madness of a trade that brought Dwight Howard to Los Angeles. The Lakers initially considered him just a throw-in and he mostly collected DNP’s until he was given a chance in early January.
That shot came against Denver when Pau Gasol went down with what later turned out to be a concussion and Nuggets’ head coach George Karl thought so little of Clark that he chose him to shoot Gasol’s free throws. He drained both and then two nights later in San Antonio he had his "moment," as he set new career highs in points (22, on 9-of-12 from the field), rebounds (13) and minutes (28).
Then Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has always had a way of making unknown players feel special with his quick paced and quick shooting system. Clark went on to record a career-highs for games played (59), starts (36), points per game (7.3), rebounds per game (5.5) and minutes per game (23.1).
His breakthrough season resulted in a two-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he never lived up to the expectations that his contract demanded. Last February, he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and waived the following day. A few days later he latched on with the Knicks, where he signed a pair of 10-day contracts but was not retained for the remainder of the season after those deals expired.
In September, Clark signed with the Memphis Grizzlies. However, he was waived at the end of training camp and then claimed off waivers by the Houston Rockets, who waived him three days later. A few days later, Clark was acquired by the Iowa Energy of the D-League and then traded the next day to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. In November he was named the D-League's player of the month and after talks about resigning with the Lakers stalled, Clark jumped on an offer with the Shandong Lions in China.
In 19 game for the Lions, he averaged 26.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. "I really don’t put nothing beneath me," said Clark, who didn’t mind having to go play overseas or in the Development League.
"I think wherever you’re at in life you just got to figure it out and go through it. If you think about how you shouldn’t be here, or how it’s messed up that you’re in this position, you’re not going to get where you need to."
Late last month the Nets signed Clark to a 10-day contract to fill in for injured forward Thaddeus Young as he recovered from a knee sprain. That deal expired on Easter Sunday and Clark spent most of the day wondering if he had a future with the team.
Luckily, he did as he received a multi-year contract, encompassing the rest of this year with a team option for next season. "I’m happy to be here, grateful for the opportunity and it’s just another roller-coaster," said Clark. "Let’s see how it is at the end."