If you were to go look up synonyms for “star power”, then this would be one of the first words suggested to you. It’s a perfect blend of the NBA and everyday life’s meaning of the word - in the league, the term is used best when describing the pull that a player has on his respective front office along with their appeal amongst fans. But in the real world, it’s a bit more simple - it’s just a term that's directed towards someone that just has it.
“It” is a type of enchantment that’s bespelled upon those around you and creates a seemingly magical desire for them not only to flock towards you but for cameras to also flash upon you.
For the sake of this story, the NBA and real-world definitions will be merged and the front office aspect will be thrown out. Since using star power will only leave confusion and hot take accusations, it’ll now be referred to as Hoopers Hoopla.
Hoopla was chosen not because the hype is underserved, but because the expectations that we sometimes set for players we root for can be entirely too early, and of course the word hoopers is being used because, well, that one is pretty self-explanatory.
Throughout last season and this past off-season, the Houston Rockets have made moves that have landed them three players that notably have received a ton of love since their arrivals but also already are being met with lofty expectations.
For one of these Rockets, they’ve flown under the radar for such a long time that most fans weren’t familiar with him until he got to college. So for the first edition of Hoopers Hoopla, we take a trip down memory lane where he began his climb from underrated to being dubbed as the second coming of the Rocket’s all-time leading scorer.
Enter: Kevin Porter Jr.
He didn’t have the typical rise to fame that most of today’s flashy young players had.
There never was a series of Ballislife mixtapes, let alone one, with his name on it during his high school days. There wasn’t a frequency of clips landing on basketball-related Instagram pages. There was, however, that one play... yes, THAT play.
As he left the initial defender collecting his thoughts after two devastating behind-the-back moves, one being a dribble and the other coming during his gather, Porter detonated on a defender who valiantly yet foolishly tried to meet the Seattle native at the rim.
When he landed on his feet, everyone in the gym had to have known it was going to go viral. I mean not only was he a Rainier Beach Viking; a title held by notable alumni like Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson, Doug Christie, Terrance Williams, and Dejounte Murray - but he also was the top-ranked player in Washington state.
The clip blew up and spread like a wildfire through social media but then it eventually began to fizzle out. Porter's moment came, then passed.
Despite how disgustingly good the sequence was, there wasn’t much surprise that it didn’t result in more exposure for KPJ. He wasn’t the first kid to have a crazy play against inferior competition and he certainly wasn’t the last, but what many that don’t reside in the Pacific Northwest didn’t realize back then despite him being a USC commit was that Porter was different.
He wasn’t in a situation where he could just enter high school and put up a high volume of shots on a bad team. He had to wait his turn. As a freshman, Porter was joining a roster that just one season before his arrival had become the first-ever public school to play in the Dick’s Sporting Goods National Tournament. Dejounte Murray, who of course is a San Antonio Spur, was the best player on the team and only spent one year as Porter’s teammate due to him being a senior.
The next year, there were two players on Porter’s team that were ranked top three in the state on ESPN. The highest-ranked one was Sam Cunliffe, who held the top spot in the class and went off to Arizona State before eventually transferring to Kansas, then Evansville, where he’d help spark that shocking upset over Kentucky in 2019. Keith Smith was the other star on the team, and he was ranked third in the state before going to Oregon and then ending up at Pepperdine.
The star-studded talent that Rainier Beach contained led to nearly any basketball-related mentioning of Kevin Porter Jr’s name to be followed with something along the lines of “it’s only a matter of time”.
When his junior year arrived, he finally was the best player on the team, but that didn’t mean that things would get easy. In Seattle, high school basketball provides a ton of obstacles and it seemed as if the toughest one for Porter was going to be getting past current Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jalen Nowell and a Garfield program that is notorious for its basketball pedigree.
That all changed when the nation's top player and current Denver Nugget Michael Porter Jr. and his brother Jontay Porter along with their family moved to Seattle and enrolled at Nathan Hale High School. Throughout recent history, Hale had been abysmal at basketball, but the arrival of both Michael and Jontay along with former NBA star Brandon Roy turned them into a transfer hot spot and the hottest thing in high school basketball.
They were not only an undeniable force but were also an immovable object, as they bulldozed their way through the season and became the greatest team in the history of the state while finishing without a blemish. They’d beaten the likes of Sierra Canyon, who was led by Marvin Bagley of the Sacramento Kings, along with Oak Hill Academy
There was one night when they ran into a bit of a scare though.
On Feb. 17, 2017, KPJ shredded any notion that it was a case of “it’s only a matter of time”, because he arrived that night when Rainier Beach faced Nathan Hale for a district title.
Heading into that game, there was not a single person that was being realistic with themselves that picked MPJ and Co. to lose that night. But still, KPJ needed to show up - it was his chance to show the state that he’s every ounce as good as he’d made out to be.
Michael Porter Jr. made his presence felt with a wicked 44 points which helped strengthen his engulfing reign of terror that he’d caused throughout the season.
On the other end, after a pretty quiet first half where he only scored 9 points; KPJ came out of the locker room and scorched defenders with a series of brutal crossovers, stepback jumpers, and flashy finishes en route to scoring 22 second-half points and 31 on the night.
(The title of the video says 34 points but it was 31, trust me on this guys)
In the end, KPJ’s effort wasn’t enough. Nathan Hale gutted out a 88-84 win, but if there was any moment during his high school career that feels as if it signified his accession towards all that he’d eventually become — it was that night.
The following year, Kevin was a senior, and although he was ranked on ESPN as the state's best player, it still felt as if he was flying under the radar on a national landscape; especially with ESPN only listing him as a four-star recruit. The underrated label stuck to him and with him throughout his final year at Rainier Beach, but more importantly, the city was finally his and he did his best to leave it in awe - even if they were opposing coaches.
During his senior year against a Nathan Hale team whose championship roster had become a ghost town, KPJ gave them an abusive 31 points as he crushed the rim over and over again.
After the game, Nathan Hale Head Coach Walter Washington (who replaced Roy who’d left to lead Garfield) told the Seattle Times:
It wasn’t until after his senior season that an audience of a larger scale would realize what Washington meant by it. They’d eventually learn though during the following summer when KPJ laced up his shoes and dissed out problems to anyone that’d try to guard him.
The first and probably most important lesson came when he was invited to scrimmage against Team USA’s National Junior Select Team during the Nike Hoop Summit In Oregon; a team that he hadn’t been invited to. With Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard in attendance, Porter dominated the event and was often described as the “best player on the floor” by spectators.
The buzz he generated off this showing eventually led to 247 Sports elevating him to a five-star recruit and ESPN giving him a rise in his class ranking (although they never gave him his fifth star).
Due to him not being invited to the McDonald’s All-American Game or the Jordan Brand Classic, Porter instead continued his revenge tour and played in the Allen Iverson Roundball Classic alongside seven players who were selected for the MCDAAG (McDonald's A-A Game). He ended up being named co-MVP.
Before wrapping up his eventful summer by heading to USC, he had one final stop to make and that was a trip to the Drew League.
If you don’t know, the Drew League is a summertime hardwood paradise for residents or visitors of the west coast. There are tons of NBA players that make regular appearances, including former Rocket James Harden; it’s probably best described as the Rucker Park of the west, just indoors and more organized.
A show ensued each time Porter played in the Drew as his flashy handle and evolving athleticism captivated audiences that were either in the gym watching as it happened or on youtube checking it out after the fact. For the first time in his young career, KPJ was consistently being seen through a screen.
From that point on, we all know the story. He’d go off and become a USC Trojan and eventually be drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he’d fall out with the franchise and get acquired in an absolute steal by Houston.
While in the organization, he’d get sent down to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to get adjusted and would show an immense amount of potential that quickly grew him into a fan favorite before he’d even log his first minute as a Rocket. Once making his Rockets debut, he never looked back and even dropped 50 points and 12 assist on the eventual NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks.
These days, Kevin Porter Jr. is about a month away from his second season in Houston, and his journey to this point has shown a pattern of putting his head down and grinding, which ultimately could lead to him being the face of the Rockets franchise.
He’ll have the keys to the point guard position due to the mutual agreement between the front office and John Wall to sit Wall out until they find a trade partner, so once again KPJ finds himself with an opportunity to show the world that he’s not of a case of “only a matter of time” and that his moment is now.