Imagine What You Can Do
Motivational Speaker. Two-time NCAA All-American basketball player and the team captain of the World Famous Harlem Globetrotters.
The old saying is, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Melvin Adams shares his recipe for lemonade. Melvin grew up in poverty, with an abusive father in Houston, Texas. He was challenged early on with extremely negative circumstances. Even though Melvin was only 5’8”, he became a two-time NCAA All-American basketball player and the team captain of the World Famous Harlem Globetrotters. Melvin Adams knows firsthand how to achieve great things despite challenging circumstances. Now a globetrotting motivational speaker, Melvin can be reached at and booked through https://topyouthspeakers.com/speakers-topics/melvin-adams
[Jaunty Guitar Music]
Mike: Welcome everybody. This is Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, brought to you by Westwords Consulting. As always, I'm Mike McGowan. Every now and then during these conversations, we've focused on people or groups who have done things that benefit their community and serve as an inspiration for all of us. Well, that's what we're gonna do today with Melvin Adams, our guest.
Melvin grew up in poverty with an abusive father in Houston, Texas, and was challenged early on with extremely negative circumstances. Melvin knows firsthand how to achieve great things despite those circumstances. Even though he was only five eight, he became a two-time NCAA all-American basketball player and team captain of the world, famous Harlem Globe Trotters.
Today, he's a globe trotting motivational speaker who I've had the pleasure to meet, talk to, and hear. Welcome, Melvin. Good morning.
Melvin: Hey man, it's an honor to be here the with the man of greatness.
Mike: Yeah, right, right. That's great.
Melvin: Eminem baby. Eminem.
Mike: Yeah. Well, let's start way back, because I think that always helps. Tell us about your early life.
Melvin: So, I grew up in Houston, Texas, and you know, it's so flat, you can see your dog run away for two weeks. I think in order to know where you're going, to like what you're doing, you gotta know where you come from. So had a great mom. My mom was a hard worker, but you know, hurt people, hurt people.
So my mom was just the type of woman that, you know, if you got a 89, you know, she would say you should have got a 90, if you got a 90, you should have got a 91. And I was a mama's a boy, so I was always kind of looking for that. I think all kids and people, those are three words that they all look for, is that, I love you, I'm proud of you, and you belong.
So, I was just hurt. My dad was a cop, but was very abusive, wasn't around a lot. And so I was just a very hurt, angry kid. Of course, my dad was six-foot-six, and as you're talking about sports, my brothers are 6'8, 6'7, 6'2, my mom was five three, so I kind of got the black smurf part. So, with the drive of even being the baby, just kinda in my mind thinking, if I could just throw more points or make more money, you know, my mom would love me. Because I think that at the end of the day, that's what I was really looking for. So the success and, you know, the stats don't really reflect the young boy who just wanted his mom to say she loved me.
And that's the question even as we talk, is finding out why do we really do what we do? And even as we look at our world, you know, we're so driven by money and power and because we're all like insecure, and that's the real truth of it. So, I was just that kid I was just a hurting kid, man. But I had people like you, man, people that are doing stuff like that you're doing on your show who hear about others.
My high school principal, her name was Ms. Eaton, who just, it was simple man, she had love in her heart, so she threw love on me and just told me I was awesome, she told me I was amazing, she gave me my first birthday party and man, it literally changed my life. And then a high school coach who didn't come to school to get a check, I mean he wanted to win, but he cared more about us winning inside because we could win numerous championships, but if twenty years later we robbed a bank or killed somebody, then, you know, why did I really have those kids in front of me? It was more than just about winning games or making money or being famous. It's gotta be bigger than that, you know? Gotta be about making the world a better place.
Mike: That's stunning. How old were you when you got that first birthday party?
Melvin: So I was fifteen, yeah. And you know, like having no idea, man. I think sometimes, you know, we go through life and when your life is a certain way, you think everybody's life's like that.
Melvin: I remember seeing a guy at Denny's, he was holding this lady's hand, his wife, and I was blown away by that. I had never seen any public affection, private infection. So me seeing that at seventeen, I remember going to that guy and saying, Hey man, can you teach me how to be a man? Ended up gonna that guy's house for the next five years every weekend, just seeing how they all ate together as a family. I've never seen anything like that. They passed the food around, asked about each other's day. That was just weird to me, like kissing their dogs on their lips, I just never seen anything like that, like paying their bills on time, it was crazy. It was life changing though.
Mike: Well, you're alluding to it and boy, you know, we don't know each other that well, you're basically sharing my story as well. But the world is full of pitfalls, right? How did you avoid 'em? I think you're alluding to some of it, but how did you stay out of trouble?
Melvin: Well, you know, I was talking to my son yesterday, Mike, you know, I got two boys and my oldest son is, head down, focused, 4.8 gpa. My youngest son has a loving heart, but just gets distracted.
Melvin: And I can tell him this wall is white and he'll argue with me that it's black. And so when I grew up, I saw all these guys are on drugs, the dudes that was like pimping women. And I just saw their end. And I didn't want that. And then even looking at my mom, I just never wanted to disappoint my mom. And so I stayed away from like, you know, with girls, like I kissed a girl my junior in college, and even like talking about sex, I was like 25. I just was more focused, man. I mean, I had a goal, I wanted to get outta my situation, I wanted to better my life, I wanted to one day get married, and when I had kids, I never wanted my kids have to wake up to gunshots and police cars.
I just wanted better. And it's crazy how like you can give that to your kids. Like the kids where we live, a lot of those kids think they wanna grow up where I grew up and then the kids where I grew up wanna live where we live. It's just the craziest thing.
Mike: Now basketball ended up being your thing, did your older brothers play? How did you get into it?
Melvin: So my dad cheated, so I had two brothers that I found out after he died. But the brother that I stayed with, he was about 6'1/6'2 and he loved basketball. Well, I actually played football. When I first started I remember being eight, my mom put me in it and I just excelled in it. Like you could hit people and not get in trouble. So it was just great, I was fast, and I was always running from dogs in a neighborhood, sometimes running from cops. I mean, I was this fast. And so, I remember football came really easy for me.
I started on varsity as a freshman, ran a 429 and a 40. My brother though, I looked up to him, well I looked up to everybody because I was little, but I looked up to my brother, and I remember he had migraine headaches really bad. And he wrote in this journal, his dream was to play in the NBA and he couldn't play because he had migraine headaches.
So I remember going to my football coach my sophomore year, started on the varsity, I had like sixteen, seventeen touchdowns, great year, sophomore year, like, killed it. I remember going to this coach and I said, coach, I'm gonna play basketball.
And I remember him grabbing me by my face and he was like, out of fifteen guys, only one guy would get a scholarship and you'll probably go D1, like you're an idiot. So I quit what everybody said I would make it in to go play what everybody said I wouldn't.
And that's kind of been the whole part of my life. That's why I love Rocky, and I hope even people as they listen, there'll always be people telling you what you can't do. Your own parents might even try to kill your dream. But if you get that burning desire in your heart to know you want to do something to life, don't let anybody, even people in your own family, they might not understand it cause their road is different than your road. Or sometimes as parents, we think our kids are gonna go through the same thing we do, but it's just gonna be a whole different life, whole different journey, that they gotta go through.
Mike: Yeah. Well, you know, in a sport, because you know, at 5'8, you're almost exactly Barry Sanders height, right, for football. But then you chose basketball, and in a sport where height is a huge advantage, you really defied the odds. Now brag a little bit, Melvin, tell us about your accomplishments.
Melvin: So, I went to college at JUCO, I got redshirted. Coach told me I'd never play. Again, more drive, worked hard. Went to college in California, where they didn't really have a winning season. And just hard work, dedication, knowing how to make others around you better. We ended up winning the national championship, and then I ended up getting MVP of the tournament and kinda setting some records as far as scoring in the national tournament.
And then my junior year we didn't do so well, but I was voted first-team All-American, which I was first-team All-American two years in a row. But I led the nation in scoring my junior year in a 28 points a game. Then on my senior year, we ended up winning the national championship again, but I think the greatest accomplishment was those young freshmen that came in my junior year after we had won the championship the year before, watched me and I hung out with 'em, just speaking to 'em, getting into their head, help making them think like I think, so when we won a national championship my senior year, their sophomore year, when I graduated, they won two years in a row.
So it's like, I think as leaders we should always be working ourselves out of jobs, but that when we leave people will say, well, who is Mike McGown? But they know the person that you trained. And then I guess as a father, you're sitting back and you're just proud of the young man or woman that you mentored that are, you know, that are doing a little bit more than what you did. We want our children to do better than us, not that it's about a competition, but I went to college with a bicycle. My son is in college with a car.
Melvin: But yeah, then I went overseas and then overseas, the same thing overseas, we either won championships or lost them. So everywhere that I've been, I win. You know, it's trying to build into people's minds, how do you make everybody around you great and can get the best out of all of their abilities? Building confidence, making people that are shy, stretching them a little bit, making the people that are, you know, whatever their deal is, stretching them. And then you just bring balance and have people believe, and when people believe, I mean, when we can come together and believe and not be worrying about one's fame than the other, then even as a basketball team and as a world, we can just do so much. We can, we can literally change the world.
Mike: God, we could use it now, couldn't we? You know, I'm listening to you and what I'm getting from that is that part of your drive growing up was backwards, not backwards, but make your mom proud.
Mike: And part of your drive then became forward, which was making the next people who followed you, follow the example. So that's an outstanding philosophy; pay it forward and reflect backwards.
Melvin: Well, you know, Mike, I tell you, man, so as I started playing everything began to make sense to me because I look at like Whitney Houston. We said that Whitney Houston was a voice of her generation, and she had fame, she had money. We had Miss America, we said she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Suicide, you see 90% of most athletes five years after they retire are broke, divorced, and on drugs. So we look at that and we'll see a kid, like you know, the running back for the Baltimore Raiders who hit his wife in the elevator, destroyed his career like that. But that anger issue was with him when he was a little boy, but, how many coaches took them to the side and said, you know what, I don't really care about your speed or your ability, I care more about you as a young boy that's gonna be a man. So let me start teaching you some of these things, and these character things, and I've come to realize that, because I've seen it, I've seen people with great success are the most unhappiest people in the world. Or you'll see like the girl who's the prettiest girl and she thinks she's ugly. Which is crazy. So I've kind of changed. You know, once my mom told me she loved me, I was 31.
Melvin: And when she told me she loved me, man, I was like, basketball didn't even mean what it meant. You know what I mean? It was all that people pleasing, and we live our whole lives like how many followers are we going to get? And if you just do what's right, those things will take care of themselves, but they have to be about, not about me, but how can I make more people listen to Mike McGowan's show? How can I make Mike McGowan more known? And so then that takes me out of the equation. It builds you up, but the reality of it, it builds me up too, because the first will be last and the last will be first. So you gotta think about other people.
And if we had more that in the world, I may not like what you like, but I know you'd be a great leader, you know, we may have different views, but I know you're a good husband, you're a good father, and I don't wanna lose, but if anybody, I'd want to win, it'd be you, you know? And at the end of the day, we can still go out, we could have a drink, we could, go to the movies, we can see each other's kids grow up. We can help each other when our wives make us mad or something like that. So that's, we just need more love. More love.
Mike: Well, I watched the reaction of the room when you spoke, and teenagers have to connect at a pretty deep level and emotionally with many of your stories, particularly those kids who have a ton of obstacles themselves to overcome.
Melvin: Yeah. Yeah. I always tell people, when kids are coming to a school assembly of any kind, they're already thinking this is gonna suck.
Mike: Yes. Yes.
Melvin: Schools typically bring in people whose butt's so tight, Moses couldn't part it. You know, the people that they bring in aren't even excited about what they're talking about. There's no passion, no joy, and nobody wants to hear their dad or their mom get up there and say, don't do this, don't do that. And that's the message we want to get across, but it's how we say it. And so, for me, comedy, it breaks down walls. And so I know I got two minutes in this generation that go from Instagram to TikTok, from TikTock to BeReal, BeReal to Snapchat.
And so, you gotta be quick. I tell people, you got two minutes. You got two minutes, whether these kids are gonna tune you in or tune you out. So I come out with comedy, I break the ice, and the kids are like, Wow! And so then I go into the tricks that wows them when you use your gift, and then you got 'em.
And then once you say, man, my mom never told me loved me, my dads abusive, you immediately, that's when it goes from funny to serious, and then I go back to funny and then back to serious, so now I'm going in and outta your heart. As soon as you open it up, I'm gonna come in and do my work, and then when it gets to a little serious, you start closing up, I'll make you laugh and open you up again and I'm going back. It's just surgery to me man, I'm just going in.
I tell you, Mike, I was in fifth grade, and I was just looking for love. I remember my fifth grade teacher telling me, she said, Melvin, why don't you go get the janitor's mop? It was right outside the door, so I want you to roll it in here and try to go get it. I roll it in the front of the class and I'm gonna sit down, and she goes, no Melvin, go stand by it, and I go stand by it, and she goes, look everybody, that's what Melvin's gonna be when he grows up, he's gonna be a janitor.
And so of course I laughed with everybody, but I cried later that day. But I thought about that in my life now, the definition of a janitor is one who cleans the mess of what others have done, and that's literally what I'm doing all around the world. So she was telling the truth, and it's all in perspective.
I am a janitor. I've literally traveled the country cleaning the mess of what other people have done from the things that I've learned, how to set people free and help people know their value and from great people like yourself that have been coming into my life, just like you're saying, paying it forward, giving it back. And so I'm literally like a modern day traveling janitor.
Mike: That is great. Well, and like you said, if you don't have it, you gotta find it. And you found a lot of people who motivated you by being negative, but also a lot of folks who took you under their wing and taught you what you didn't learn at home.
Melvin: Yeah. Oh yeah. So true. And there are people like that every day, people like you. You know, I was watching you, people were coming in and man, you were breaking the ice. As kids were coming in and you were like speaking to 'em. Cause a lot of people don't feel like they're seen. People are going through life, man, and you know, like it's easy to connect to people that have your same type of personality. But what about that? I can remember there was a girl that had walked in that day and she just looked like she probably doesn't have a lot of friends, you know, like a loner. And she walked in and you just said something to her, and at first she looked at you like, is he talking to me? Because probably nobody ever does that. And then, I watched her because I watch people like you were doing what I normally do, but I was like, you know what, he's doing it, so I'm just be quiet. And that girl walked man, and then she walked past you and then she looked back at you, like she looked back like, wow.
And to most people, that's probably not a big deal. But to that girl, she could have went home, and we did everything we were supposed to do because you saw her and you made her feel like she mattered. But you did that to a lot of people that day.
Mike: As long as you are mentioning that, to be that's exactly why I wanted to have this conversation with me because when I speak at an event, or whatever, and they bring in somebody who has that national cache like you do, you know, all over the place, it's not unusual for them to be hidden. And then they wait to be introduced to make this big introduction, so when you walked out a half an hour ahead of time and we're doing the same thing, just chatting people up, that was one of the most impressive things that I saw and that I've seen for a long time. And you can't do that Melvin, unless you really like people.
Melvin: Yeah. Yeah. Man, you know, Mike, I've done things, so I used to go to Midland-Odessa. Which is like my second home, I love it. And I would book these speakers and some of them would be like, they wanted all green M&Ms, when they landed, they wanted to come to their room and they wanted bathwater ran, and they wanted it at a certain temperature. And in my mind, I go like, what you doing this for? Like, you know what I mean? And I'm looking at him like, you're not even that dude.
Melvin: So, if you're a jerk on this level... and so I have a friend, a good friend of mine, he was traveling on the road with me, and I was training him, because again, I'm trying to find the next, you know, Mike McGowan, the next, you know, Suzanne Somers, or whoever, I'm trying to find the next. So when I find these people, I train them, I listen to their story, and I teach them how to be more effective with it, right?
So I get this guy, and bring him on the road, he's amazing. He's killing it. But his private life didn't add up to his public life. And when I looked at it, I go, man, this dude just wanted to be a star. It never was about the people, and you know, you could throw it out and go, yeah I do it for the love, and some people are driven by money, and some people are driven by fame, and all this insecurity stuff.
But I tell people all the time, I never got into this to be rich or famous. I got into this with the reality of it, I love people. And like, just watching you, I knew that. Because like you said, most people, they wanna sit in the green room, and they wanna be in the back, and they wanna, you know, like you said, get this wild sparks flying and give this speech and go, wow, look at me, I'm amazing. And kids can see past a cubic zirconia and a diamond. They see right past that.
Mike: Yeah. And they don't need a little scope to do it either, do they?
Melvin: Yeah. Yeah, if Stevie Wonder can see it, it's so easy to see.
Mike: Hey, you know, you did do some tricks with the kids, which was awesome. And I know from watching that some of the tricks came from your Globetrotter days. I can't get away without asking you that, how does one hook up with the Globe? Did you have to try out, did they find you because of the All-American stuff? How does that work?
Melvin: So, it's crazy, man. I didn't go to like a really big school, but I made my name because I was short, and then lead the nation in scoring, and then being in California, it's a lot of publicity, right? So I was there, I got this offer to go play in New Zealand. So I go to New Zealand, my first game had 71 points, the second night I had 69. Again, it's just, you know, you're trying to prove like, hey, I'm little, you know, don't look down on me, da, da da.
So anyway, I come home, having a great year in New Zealand. My buddy goes, there was this basketball tournament, the winner would get ten grand. So he was like, come play it. And this talks about always being ready because you never know who's watching you. You never know what opportunities you can gain or miss by your position and where you are in life. So he calls me up and I'm like, oh man, I'm there.
So we go out, we're playing, we get to the championship game and there's this 6'8 guy, he got drafted by The Rockets that year in the second round, played for University of Houston. And so in halftime I got like 27, I'm killing these cats. And so this guy starts guarding me, in my mind, I'm thinking, where is my game at?
So I think I hit like 39 on this dude in second half. So I think I end up with like 60 or 70 something, like we lost the game, and I'm walking off the court and this guy, I mean, looks like a, I don't know, just a normal dude. He comes up and he's like, man, where'd you play college ball? I'm sharing with him. And he was like, what's your dream? Like, I'm gonna make it to the ABA, and he was like, dude, you're like five-whatever. And I was like, but doesn't matter, this is my dream. You can't see it, this is my dream. The Fondé in Houston where all the NBA guys go. So he goes, can you come up there? And I'm like, yeah, again, not knowing who this guy is.
Man, I pull up to Fondé, this dude's in a Jaguar, he's got like Cedrick Ceballos, like Hakeem, David Robinson, like all these NBA dudes. I'm like, what's this dude? Dude goes in the gym, and Mitchell Wiggins, his father, forget his first name, but it's Wiggins.
So anyway, I go over there and it's John Lucas. And so, John says man, I heard you were all American. You think you can play with these NBA guys? And I said, well, question is, can those guys play with me? So he laughs and he goes, stay right here, I'll put you in the game. So get me in game, I come down and I do a move on Kenny Smith. I blow by him and I throw a alley-oop to a Hakeem and John Lucas goes, man, you could pass, but can you shoot? So I came down, I did my little move, I hit a three-pointer on Kenny Smith. So he gives me five-hundred at the end day. He says, can you do that tomorrow? I'm like, yes sir, come back next day, gives me thousand.
The third day I come, I'm dribbling and I fall, but I still keep my dribble. I'm like dribbling while I'm on the floor. I get back up, and so on the other side of the court was the Harlem Globetrotters head coach.
So after I'm done playing, I'm walking off, he goes, hey, young man, he asked me about myself. He says, hey have you ever played baseball? I'm like, yeah. He said, you know how to slide into first? I'm like, yeah. He said, well, can you slide? Because I liked how you were patting the ball, like reminds me of Curly Neal.
Melvin: So he goes, what are you doing tomorrow? He says, meet me at the Y at this time. So I go to the Y again, not knowing who he is, and he gives me the pads and he says, I want you to slide and keep the dribble on the right side, and I want you do it on the left side.
Of course, I did it, kind of effortlessly. So I did that for about a week. Every day I come in, I would practice on that for two hours. He'd show me a couple tricks. Gave 'em some video, and then they flew me to Orlando, which is where they were at the time. And it was like 300 guys. And so for two weeks you're strictly playing basketball. Like the best players stay. If you can't play, you get cut. And so, for those twenty, those thirty guys that made it, the last week, they teach you tricks and all. And I had my personality, so it's funny, my first game, we played in Nebraska, my rookie season, and so the lights are dark, so they're calling names, you know, Mike McGowan, White Chocolate, you know, Melvin Adams, Dark Chocolate, whatever.
And then the lights come on, and you see all the fans, right? So it's like 3,000, 4,000 people with these signs, like, you know, we love you Melvin. So the coach was looking like, this guy's first game?
Then we're in Omaha, went to Lincoln, same deal. We go to Phoenix, same deal. About the sixth city, he goes, hey man, come to my room after the game, he goes, who are you man? How is it that all of these people know you? I said, you did your study on me as a basketball player, but you didn't do your study on me as a speaker. I've been speaking since I was 17, and all these places that we're going, I've been here and spoke to all these youth.
Melvin: So that's why I was able to be Mr. Globetrotter for like the last three years, and so I would play in a game, take my shower, everybody would go clubbing, and I had to get on a private jet to go to the next city to do radio interviews, TV, speak in schools, then I would play in the game, and then take a shower, I would get on the jet to the next community, and do the same thing over and over. So, you know, media just came easy for me cause I was quick with it.
Mike: You know what? That is such a great story. That part of your career, was because you fell and a pickup came and kept your dribble.
Melvin: Yeah. Yeah. You know, Mike, I remember I was in Midland and I was driving to the bank and it's crazy because I was in the Dodge, but I was going to Chase Bank. This is all gonna make sense. I'm in the Dodge and I'm going to Chase Bank. And I remember, there was a truck in front of me, and so at the ATM machine, then it takes off and when I pull up, there was five $100 bills like, the guy like left it. So I take the money out and I'm driving, chasing 'Chase,' chasing this guy in the Dodge, and this guy's dodging me, he's thinking I'm some gang banger. And how do I know that? Because he kept driving past every red light. So to the point I was like, man, I lost the guy. So the next morning I go to the bank, I go, I say, listen, if you look at your cameras, yesterday about this time there was a white truck, guy pulls up, there was five $100 bills, he left it and he may need some for bills or Pampers.
So everybody was just looking at me like, who does that? Like, you know, you could have just took that and been on your way. So the next day, I'm speaking in school, I get a call from the president of the bank. He goes, hey, when you have time, can you stop by the bank? I stopped by the bank, and they got owned an oil company and gave me $10,000 just for giving the money back.
So, that's why I was saying like when you're moving, opportunities are all around us in every day. Opportunities to make someone smile, opportunities to get a job, opportunities to make your life better. But I think if you look at life like, what can I do to make people better? Or how can I make somebody smile with no strings attached?
Again, I didn't do it for that. I didn't know that I was gonna fall and keep my dribble, but I had been preparing and practicing for that moment.
Melvin: And then that guy was there in that moment, sees that particular move, and that particular thing stood out amongst all the 6'6 guys that could jump out the gym, that could windmill, I just fell on the floor and kept my dribble, and it got me a job with the Harlem Globetrotters, which is just crazy. Who would ever have thought that?
Mike: I think that's outstanding, I'd say. And what a great place to leave us today. Melvin, you are an inspiration, and not just your accomplishments, but it's your attitude and how you feel about people. I really, really appreciate you having a conversation with us today.
Melvin: Nah, man, I appreciate you, anybody that's doing anything that's gonna make the world better and for people that are listening, you know, if you have a dream, don't ever let anybody tell you what you can't do, but don't get into the dream to be famous and rich. Get into whatever it is you wanna do to use your gift to make the world a better place. And I promise you, the second half of your life will be far greater than the first if your heart is right and the motive of why you're doing it. Because even Mike McGowen, was a speaker too, he could have been in the back, they had a lot of good snacks, but he was there in the front, greeting everybody, making everybody feel loved, making everybody feel welcomed, even as you're speaking, he could have left, but he stayed back and sat at a table where the kids were. Speaks volumes, you know? You're in it for the right reasons, and that's why you're going to always soar, because your heart.
Mike: Yeah. Thanks for the compliment, I really appreciate it. You know, folks, occasionally, we have people that just inspire all of us. Melvin inspired me that day, which is why he's on the podcast today.
You know, I hope you have a good week. We hope you listen in next time, and until next time, we encourage you to please stay safe and if you trip, keep your dribble.
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