Jontay Porter was playing “King of the Hill,” a one-on-one pickup game, in Denver in March of 2019, and felt a pop.
It didn’t cause anywhere near the pain from his first torn ACL at Missouri in October 2018, five months earlier, but he knew something was wrong. He was right. The injury was a re-torn ACL, and Porter had to restart his rehab. He said in a statement later on Instagram that he hadn’t yet been cleared by doctors to play.
“Everybody’s always feeling bad for you, so that got pretty overwhelming,” Porter said. “The first few weeks were really tough for me, but I think I learned a lot.”
Now, Porter could see the floor for the first time in 28 months as he joins the Memphis Grizzlies to prepare for the resumption of the NBA season.
His return to basketball more than a year after his second ACL tear comes after he spent 15 months rehabbing and living in Denver with his sister, former Missouri basketball player Cierra Porter, and his brother, Nuggets power forward Michael Porter Jr. The three of them cherished that time together, Jontay Porter said. And it prepared him to live on his own.
He taught himself how to play the piano and the ukulele. He used his Missouri stipend money to trade stocks on the market. And he took the time to improve himself mentally. Only 20 years old, Porter, like most players, said he will hire a financial advisor while he’s in the NBA, but he plans to enroll in online personal finance courses while playing.
“It’s okay to grieve and be sad, but I think when you’re at rock bottom, that’s when the most transformation can occur,” Porter said. “So I tried to take advantage of that opportunity.”
In the midst of his rehab, the 2019 NBA Draft happened. Projected at one time to be a first-round pick, Porter wasn’t sure if he would be selected at all because of his injury history.
And he wasn’t.
“As soon as the draft was over, I was like, ‘All right, bet,”’ Porter said. “I’ll just wait until a team calls, and sure enough, they did. It just took a lot longer than I thought it would.”
The call came nine months later, in March, from the Grizzlies.
He did receive a few offers earlier than the one that came from Memphis, but none of them made sense for Porter. He wanted to wait until he was healthy enough to work out in front of teams.
“I ended up coming out (to Memphis), working out, got dinner with the head executives and just loved every part of it,” he said. “The deal was great. I was like, ‘Let’s just do it.’ I mean, by the grace of God, I signed three days before the season got shut down. So if I hadn’t signed with them, I probably would just be chilling at home right now with nothing to do like everyone else.”
When he initially signed, ESPN reported that he would be healthy enough to attend training camp, which normally begins in late September or early October. But the NBA season, interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, now is planning to resume games on July 30, and Porter will be in Orlando for the restart. And yes, he’s going with the hope of playing.
“I feel good, but it’s a lot different going against nobody in practice and full-on scrimmage,” Porter said. “It will really be up to me and how I feel in the scrimmages and how I look. I’ll either play or be out there bonding with the guys. Either way, it’s a win for me. At least I get the exposure to playing and potentially get to play.”
Porter joked that if the Grizzlies play his brother and the Nuggets in the playoffs, “I’d for sure be suiting up.”
The next step in his journey came Tuesday in Memphis, where he did one-on-one drills with his teammates for the first time. Whether his NBA debut comes in Orlando or not, Porter will relish the time he lost away from the game of basketball.
“My life would probably look a lot different had I not tore my ACL in the first place, but I think I’m here in Memphis for a reason,” Porter said. “I think it’s going to be a really unique story by the end of my career.”