Long After It Happened, The Wizards' DeShawn Stevenson Learned That His Troubled Father Murdered His Grandmother

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By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 25, 2009

FRESNO, Calif.

The boy was 12 when he was summoned toward the television in the living room, to the crime watch alert on the screen.

"You know how you always wondered what your father looks like?" his mother, Genice Popps, recalled telling him. "Well, that's him. Right there."

DeShawn Stevenson moved closer, toward the image of Darryl C. Stevenson. He looked for a resemblance, but the mug shot disappeared too quickly.

DeShawn didn't know the police had apprehended Darryl that day for strangling his own mother -- DeShawn's grandmother. But DeShawn says he did sense, even as a sixth-grader, that a TV image might be the closest he would ever come to meeting his biological father.

"That's how I first saw my dad," Stevenson said in late May, as the engine of his Range Rover idled in front of his mother and stepfather's house in Fresno's prosperous Fig Garden neighborhood. "I just remember it as sad. I never talked about it because I know a lot of NBA players that didn't grow up with their fathers. You hear so many crazy stories about how NBA players grew up sometimes. I just figured that's part of the reason we're here, that going through that prepared me for what was to come."

Once a schoolboy phenom who levitated above the rim while winning a national dunk contest and whose pre-NBA draft fame nearly rivaled that of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Stevenson is now 27. He has overcome outsize expectations -- and a knee surgery that siphoned off much of his explosive athleticism -- to forge a career as a role player with the Washington Wizards.

The struggling shooting guard, in his ninth NBA season, voluntarily gave up his starting job -- and the league's second-longest streak for consecutive games started -- last month because he believed the Wizards would be better served with him coming off the bench. Conceding that he would have never thought of such a gesture as a rookie, Stevenson, who has missed the last 13 games because of a back injury, said, "Sometimes you have to swallow your pride for the good of the team."

It was merely the latest transition for Stevenson -- from a young knucklehead who was 19 when he came into the league to valued NBA citizen. It is a journey that only now has enabled him to talk openly for the first time about the tragedy involving his father, a man who once roamed the same Washington Union High School corridors as DeShawn in the small, unincorporated, central California farming community of Easton.

"It's part of my story," Stevenson said, a part hidden from the controversy and cocksure behavior that has marked his career, such as when he called James "overrated." The remark, which created a minor furor in the blogosphere and fueled passions during the first-round playoff series between the Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers last March, cast Stevenson as a mouthy antagonist with a chip on his shoulder, a label he understands and accepts.

"If you haven't met me, I might come across as being to myself. I might have swagger. I know I come off this way," Stevenson said. "But people who know me end up liking me. They find out I've been through a lot. And if anyone else had been through what I've been through, they wouldn't be where I'm at right now."

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