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After a harrowing time, Joe Harris is ready to fulfill his childhood dream

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Phoenix Suns v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

When Joe Harris left for Virginia after high school in Chelan, Washington, his mother like all mothers cleaned out his room. As she recalled to Mike Mazzeo, she uncovered a list, written by a 10-year-old Joe, on the wall. It was about his goals.

Boiled down, it went like this...

1. Be a good teammate

Check!

2. Get a college scholarship

Check!

3. Play in the NBA

Check!

4. Win a championship

Pen at the ready?!

In his story published Saturday by Forbes Sports Money, Mazzeo writes about that moment of discovery by Alice Harris, who still lives and works in Chelan, and other memories shared by mother and son. Not all of it without pain.

“I still have a picture of (the list). I remember tearing up looking at it when I was cleaning up his room after he went to Virginia,” Alice told Mazzeo.

“It’s pretty amazing that almost all of it has happened. But that’s Joey. That’s just him. That’s what he does. We’ve always believed in him, and he’s always believed in himself. It would be very cool to check off that last box. Our entire family feels that way.”

After his 25-point, 7-of-10 from deep, performance in Game 2, no one should dismiss Harris pursuit of that last goal, a trophy for Brooklyn, a ring for him. Nor his belief in himself.

Harris and his mother went through a lot over the last two years. He may have once again led the NBA in 3-point shooting, signed a $75 million, four-year contract and is a starter on a legitimate NBA championship contender. But as Mazzeo writes, he also went through a harrowing few months starting in November 2019 when his mother was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer. Then, with his mom in New York getting treatment and staying with him, COVID struck the city and Brooklyn hard. Empty streets, sirens wailing.

Alice survived and credits Joe and his employer with doing everything possible to help her and cope.

“He just said his place was big enough and he’d take care of it. The Nets’ organization was incredible, helping make sure I was going to be safe from COVID-19 and not be exposed. They were amazing.”

Two surgeries followed and then, Joe’s grandmother died at age 88. He was in the “bubble,” having just played the Nets first game against the champion Raptors. Time to go home to attend his grandmother’s memorial service. The Nets said, go. Family comes first.

Ultimately, his mother recovered after bouts of chemotherapy and radiation and long hospital stays and Harris got his contract.

“Joey’s said, ‘I’d play for a lot less. I just love playing,’” Joe Sr., his first coach, told Mazzeo. “He doesn’t look at money as the carrot for him. It’s the result of the hard work he’s put in out there. He’s been very generous with our family. He’s got a foundation out in Lake Chelan where he gives out two scholarships every year for local kids. He has all this wealth and notoriety, but he loves giving back. We’ve also got a youth camp back home where Joe helps all 280 kids go for free every summer.”

To celebrate and commemorate, Harris got his first tattoo before this season, one that features his mother and grandmother...

“They’re two of the most influential people in my life, people I try to emulate — and a good reminder for me when I wake up,” Harris told reporters on Media Day.

It’s all good and far from the scene in another hospital back in June 2016 when Harris underwent ankle surgery that didn’t just end his season, but also his chance at a ring with the team that drafted him in the second round. Mazzeo recounts the moment.

The anesthesia had barely worn off from his season-ending right foot surgery on Jan. 12, 2016 when Joe received a call from Cleveland Cavaliers GM David Griffin. While the former second-round pick (2014) was under the knife, the Cavaliers had traded Joe to the Orlando Magic, and the Magic had proceeded to waive him. His future in the league was suddenly at a crossroads.

It was two days after the Nets rebuild officially started. Mikhail Prokhorov had dumped Lionel Hollis and reassigned Billy King on January 10. Roster spot would open up and the Nets would sign the third year player that summer. The rest is Nets history (and Cavalier and Magic regret.)

“To see someone like him that so many people doubted, questioning him and saying he couldn’t play in the NBA, to see him have success and be rewarded financially for the rest of his life, that’s what you dream of for your clients,” his agent, Mark Bartelstein, said. “Gratitude and humility. That’s just him. That’s just what he’s about all the time. He’s one of the purest people that I know.”

The Nets and his family think so too.