When Price stopped Williams from taking an unimpeded path to the basket on a fast break, he simply wanted the all-star point guard to know he was there. He body-checked Williams, and snatched the ball away for good measure, leading to a heated exchange that required both players to be separated.
After the game, Williams delivered some dismissive comments about Price needing to make the most of the “little minutes” he’s going to get as a backup with the Wizards. Price explained the situation as a common occurrence on the basketball court: Players talk trash. Emotions sometimes boil over. You move on.
“Before I’m a basketball player, I’m a man first. I can stand on my own two feet and if I feel somebody is disrespecting me, I’m going to speak up,” Price said. “Just letting him know. ‘I’m not afraid of you. I’m not backing down, regardless of who you are or what your stature is in this league.’ I’m not backing down from anybody.”
Backing down has never been an option for Price, someone who has had more comebacks than a heckled comedian, and doesn’t plan to go away anytime soon.
Price, 26, has dodged death, nearly tossed away his second chance over some idiocy, redeemed himself, almost had basketball taken away again because of a knee injury, made it to the NBA, suffered another knee injury, returned to become a rotation player and then got tossed aside by his first NBA team.
Now, Price is a favorite to be the Wizards’ starting point guard on opening night while John Wall recovers from a stress injury in his left knee.
“It’s not a knock on the league, but most of these players have been handed everything since day one. AAU, all the way up,” Price said. “I almost lost my life at 17. Had brain surgery at 18. . . . I’ve been through controversy. I’ve been through everything. It’s nothing too challenging for me. Nothing I haven’t seen before and nothing I can’t handle.”
‘I wasn’t a good person’
Price’s journey to the NBA seemed destined from the start. His mother, Inga, named him Anthony Jordan after his father, Tony, and Michael Jordan, “the greatest basketball player alive,” she said.
Inga Price is a former point guard for Morgan State. Tony Price was the top scorer of the 1979 NCAA tournament and led Penn to the Final Four in Salt Lake City, where the Quakers lost to Magic Johnson and Michigan State — and he became a forgotten footnote to the start of Johnson’s rivalry with Larry Bird.
Surrounded by basketball his whole life, A.J. Price went on to lead Amityville (N.Y.) Memorial High School to two state titles, became one of the top recruits in the country and picked a national power in Connecticut. But after that, Price’s life and basketball career were riddled with one challenge after another.
“I told A.J., ‘Man, you’ve got a wonderful story to tell and it’s not finished.’ Matter of fact, we’re not even in the middle,” Inga Price, an account executive for Travelers Insurance Company, said with a laugh in a recent telephone interview.