NEW YORK -- Danuel House Jr. didn't know his mother's pain. As a kid, he said, his parents didn't exactly shelter him, but they tried to keep dark clouds away. He was an adult with two children of his own when Lisa House told him about her childhood trauma.
"My mom was one of eight -- well, technically one of 22 on her dad's side," House said. "My mom grew up in an abusive home. Her dad did some pretty terrible things."
House was a professional basketball player without a team or any idea when his next chance would come. His mother had always told him that good things come to those who wait, but his patience was wearing thin. She wanted him to know what she had been through. She told him he had the opportunity of a lifetime, and that other people would kill to be in his position. It hit home.
"If my mom could make it through a tough time dealing with her father and the abuse that he used to bring home to her and all her siblings and my grandma, there's no way that I can't handle a little adversity," House said.
House's father, Danuel Sr., delivered a message, too.
"He was one of 14," House said. "They just had it rough, had it really rough. But my dad said he never really got the opportunity. My dad dropped out of high school to provide because he had kids. And he just told me, 'Take advantage of it, and never look back.'"
Danuel Sr. lived with regrets, and he didn't want his son to do the same. House had a few "rookie mishaps," he said, as a member of the 2016-17 Washington Wizards, and suffered a wrist injury in practice. Six weeks before the playoffs they waived him, with a single minute of NBA garbage time to his name. His parents' stories helped him put it into perspective, as did John Lucas, the former player turned coach, trainer and mentor.
For House, a Houston native, Lucas is something of a father figure. They met when he attended Lucas' Camp Right Way at 13 years old. A player development coach for the Houston Rockets, Lucas had heard that House had been late for some practices and workouts in Washington. He did not want to hear House complain. Lucas' advice, rooted in his recovery and decades of experience counseling athletes: "Don't let problems get too big. Talk about it, solve it, fix it early, so it doesn't cause you to sway or get off the path that you're on."
Lisa, Danuel Sr. and Lucas wanted him to get out of his own way. House had gone undrafted and played in summer league and the G League, where he saw the thin line that separates NBA players and hopefuls. He could not afford to let his rough start discourage him, and he had to trust that a more mature approach would pay off in time.
"Once you're out of the league, especially for a guy that didn't really prove himself, it's really hard for you to come back in," House said.
House had his motivation, but would need the patience Lisa had always preached, too. In the league, people talk. Reputations tend to stick.
"All I wanted to do is just change people's perspective about me," House said.
As a junior at Texas A&M, House thought he was breaking through. He was shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, by far his best mark. It was early March, and he was on the verge of playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. After that, perhaps he would declare for the 2015 NBA Draft. He had transferred from the University of Houston partially because he had dreamed of all this.
"And then," House said, "I had a Jones fracture."
The broken foot kept House in college and the Aggies out of the tournament. "I was a little upset about it," he said, understating it. But he came to terms with his bad luck, and the fact that he'd have to wait to turn pro and change his family's life financially.
The first time House signed with the Rockets, his tenure lasted one day. It was a procedural move; Houston added him so he could be waived and allocated to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, its G League affiliate. The Phoenix Suns signed him to a two-way contract in December, just past the one-year anniversary of his broken wrist in Washington, but after that season Houston got another look at him.
House was impressive for the Rockets' summer league team in 2018, which led to a training-camp invite from the Golden State Warriors. On the last day of camp, the team chasing a three-peat cut him in favor of Alfonzo McKinnie.
"A lot of people were like, 'Man, that was supposed to be you,'" House said. "But I just told 'em, 'Hey, man, it wasn't meant to be. The Lord makes no mistakes.'"
He went back to Rio Grande Valley, and Houston called him up when it needed healthy bodies. But there were complications: In order to make another transaction, it had to waive House and sign him to a two-way deal. He earned a significant role with his hometown team, which could have been the culmination of years of perseverance, but he had to rejoin the Vipers for a month because his agent and the front office were in a standoff.
They reached an agreement on a standard NBA contract in mid-March, and House slid right back into the Rockets' rotation, starting for an injured Chris Paul in his return. When they faced Golden State in the second round, just six months after the champs cut him, the stories wrote themselves. But he played poorly in Game 1, managed only five minutes in Game 2 and missed the rest of the series because of an inflamed toe. He was left helpless as the Warriors eliminated Houston in heartbreaking fashion.
"Little do people know, the toe had been bothering me all year and I'd been playing with it," House said, immediately clarifying that this was not meant to be an excuse. In July the Rockets signed him to what he called a "big boy" contract, worth $11.1 million over three years, and he spent the summer holed up with skills trainer Kenny Ellis and Lucas, trying to make sure that he would be as prepared as possible for the first season he would begin with any semblance of security. He is determined, he said, to "not go out the way I went out last playoff series."
When House looks back at the wrist injury he suffered in Washington, "I laugh at it," he said. House had been told he was about to get some minutes.
"I was like, dang, I'm about to play, and I'm excited," House said. "Boom, that happens."
An X-ray revealed that he had broken his scaphoid bone.
"I just prayed about it," House said. "I was like, 'Hey, God, if it's meant for me to play, you're going to let me play; if it's not, then don't let me play.' Turns out to be it wasn't meant for me to play."
House said this at a recent shootaround in Brooklyn, where he literally laughed when discussing his foot injury in college. On getting cut by the Warriors, he said, "I laugh at that, too. I laugh at a lot of stuff. I'm a goofy person. Laughing soothes the soul."
If you "learn to laugh about it and appreciate it," House believes you can get past just about anything. He said he is grateful for all of the roadblocks that got him here, the "many tests, many quizzes to get me to the final exam."
Talking to House is like talking to someone who has just finished reading about Stoic philosophy and is high on enlightenment. Obstacles are blessings, quizzes, tests, not injustices. He exudes positive energy and finishes your sentences. When he said it was "like a breath of fresh air" to finally not have to fight for a training-camp invite at summer league, he took a deep, audible breath.
The contract, he said, was confirmation that he had shown the Rockets what they were looking for. "Everyone that talked to me told me that they knew I could score the ball," he said, but he had to prove he could defend consistently. He wanted his skill level to meet Houston's team's expectations, and go "past some people's expectations to be like, 'Oh shit, this guy's really good.'"
House's goal was to convince the right people that he had matured so he could get on the floor and stay there. Now, on a team with championship aspirations, he wants to show the full breadth of his game. House can make 3s and defend, but he rejects the 3-and-D label. He loves having Russell Westbrook around because the former MVP tells him to "be you."
"We don't even say 3-and-D over here," House said. He called coach Mike D'Antoni's system "perfect for me," especially with Houston playing at a rocket speed. "I make plays for others. I make the right reads. I make passes, throw lobs. I do a little bit of it all. So we don't have positions over here. That's what a lot of people be failing to realize. I see that a lot, though. I witnessed it. 'Cause everybody's always talking about, 'Oh yeah, you're the 3-and-D guy.' No."
Two weeks in, House has been fantastic individually, averaging 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks while making 45.8 percent of his 3s on six attempts per game. The Rockets, however, have been rickety, with a 5-3 record and the league's third-worst defensive rating. House was promoted to a starting role, put back on the bench for a blowout loss in Miami and reinserted into the first five the next night in Memphis.
Once again, patience is required. House said he thinks Houston's defense will be fine "once we get everything lined up." He knows it's not about how you start.