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Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

Dallas Mavericks guard Dante Exum celebrates bittersweet Father’s Day during NBA Finals – Andscape

By meerna Jun18,2024
Dallas Mavericks guard Dante Exum celebrates bittersweet Father’s Day during NBA Finals – Andscape

BOSTON – Father’s Day Sunday was bittersweet for Dallas Mavericks reserve guard Dante Exum.

The Australian celebrated his first Father’s Day – his daughter Daria Lior was born in December 2023. Exum’s girlfriend, Jessica Corey, and their daughter remained in Dallas as the Mavericks prepared for Game 5 of the do-or-die NBA Finals on Monday night (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC). It was also the first Father’s Day for Exum without his father, Cecil, who died on July 2 at the age of 60.

“Obviously the biggest thing that sucks is being away from your family,” Exum, 28, told Andscape after Sunday’s practice at TD Garden. “But playing in the final is something I wanted to do and I’m doing it for her. I just had a daughter, so it’s my first Father’s Day as a father and without my dad…

“He would be here every step of the way. And I think that’s what hurts the most. But I know he’s proud.”

Before Exum played in the NBA and reached the Finals, his father, Cecil, was the first talented basketball player in the family.

Cecil Exum retired his high school jersey from Southern Wayne High School in Dudley, North Carolina. He was named MVP after leading the school to the 1980 North Carolina 4A state title. He played with Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and James Worthy on the University of North Carolina’s 1982 NCAA championship team.

Cecil Exum was a 6-foot-8 forward who averaged 1.5 points in 103 games for the Tar Heels from 1980 to 1984. The Denver Nuggets selected Exum with the 194th pick in the 1984 NBA draft, but he suffered a serious knee injury before the end of camp.

“I haven’t been to Jordan very often,” Exum said. “But I saw him once when I was in Charlotte, and he loved my dad. My dad loved him and his competitiveness. My dad was a competitor too. That was an aspect I always took away from him.

University of North Carolina forward Cecil Exum (fourth from right) celebrates with his teammates after defeating Maryland in the ACC championship game at the Capitol Center in Landover, Maryland, on March 9, 1981.

AP photo

Cecil Exum played professionally for one season in Sweden in 1985, then played in the Australian National Basketball League from 1986-96. The 1989 NBL champion averaged 10.7 points and 6.9 rebounds in 197 career games.

“There are similarities between me and him,” Exum said. “Coming out of college, he got injured. He was drafted to Denver in the later rounds and suffered a knee injury just before camp. He was someone who was able to help me throughout (my injury problems) because he had been through it himself. He managed to make a career in Australia, fight and get to the top league there.

Exum’s parents, Cecil and Desiree, are from North Carolina and met in college. Exum said that when he was born in Melbourne, Australia, on July 13, 1995, his parents raised their three children in Australia “because they loved it there.” They loved Australia, an English-speaking country that “offered a lot of love,” Exum said.

Exum has American and Australian passports. He grew up playing basketball, Australian Rules Rules and competing in the 200m dash, 400m dash and long jump in Melbourne Athletics. With his father’s support, he decided to focus on basketball around the age of 7.

“It wasn’t something he was encouraging and trying to get through me,” Exum said. “There have been several times in my life when I wanted to do different things. For him, it was either this or basketball. If I wanted to quit basketball, he was happy to do it. Ultimately, I chose basketball.

“I did a bit of athletics and Australian rules football. There were a few early mornings and he said, “You can do it if you want, but you have to stop playing basketball.” So I chose basketball.”

It hurts Exum that his father couldn’t see him play in the NBA Finals. He missed his father’s support and advice during his tumultuous journey to, back to, and back from the NBA.

Exum was the fifth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz, beating out the likes of two-time All-Stars Julius Randle and Zach LaVine and 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart. As a rookie in the 2014-15 season, he averaged 4.8 points and 2.4 assists. Exum began struggling with serious injuries after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during an Olympic qualifying match between Australia and Slovenia in August 2015.

Exum said the hardest part of his career was missing the entire 2015-16 season. After returning in the 2017-18 season, he played 66 games for the Jazz, but after suffering another shoulder injury, he played in only 14 games. While playing for Utah and the Cleveland Cavaliers (2019-2021), he never played more than 42 regular season games due to injuries.

“There is nothing that I regret or wish I had done differently,” Exum told Andscape on May 30. “Most of it was bad luck with injuries. I appreciate the work I have to put in now and even the work I put in when I’m healthy.

“I put pressure on myself to perform (then). But in the situation I found myself in in Utah, I had a good understanding of where I was. There were too many ups and downs.”

The Dallas Mavericks guard Dante Exum’s dunk against the Boston Celtics during Game 3 of the 2024 NBA Finals on June 12 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Exum signed a non-guaranteed, three-year contract with the Houston Rockets for the 2021-22 season. However, the Rockets released him before the start of the regular season. Without a guaranteed NBA option, Exum was looking for an alternative opportunity to “play and have fun.” Therefore, in 2021, he signed with European powerhouse FC Barcelona in Spain and won the Spanish Cup in 2022.

Exum rejuvenated his basketball career, averaging 13.1 points in the 2022-2023 season with Partizan Belgrade, winning the Adriatic League title and earning all-league honors. Because he played in the NBA, Partizan viewed him as a leader and teacher along with his teammates. Exum also performed well at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for Australia, which boosted his hopes of returning to the NBA.

“At first I was worried about coming back to the NBA,” Exum said. “But once I got over it, I was ready to just play and have fun. I wouldn’t say it was humiliating because I was quite humble at that point. But I used it as motivation to prove that I fit in.

Although Exum flourished in Europe, he always believed he would return to the NBA, and his father also encouraged him.

“His advice was to just have fun,” Exum said. “Every father wants to see his son in the NBA. He knew I belonged in the NBA. He was with me when I first signed for Barcelona. He was excited and ready for me to take on the challenge.

“And he was there first with me. We shared a hotel room with him, and he snored, just before my first match at Real Madrid. It was just a little experience where he rode with me the whole way. “

Cecil Exum regularly attended European matches, watching his son play for Real Madrid and Partizan. Looking back, Exum appreciates this special time with his father.

“He was in Madrid with me and Serbia,” Exum said. He was going to follow as much of my basketball as possible. That’s why it sucks and hurts to watch him now because he would be traveling to every game.”

Cecil Exum was hospitalized in an intensive care unit in Los Angeles in 2023 due to pulmonary complications. Exum was at his father’s side in the hospital as he considered a two-year, $6.15 million contract with the Mavericks, which he quickly agreed to. Cecil Exum died on July 2, 2023 at the age of 60, before his son signed with Dallas. A memorial service and funeral for Cecil Harris was held on July 20 in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

Exum says he still hasn’t fully recovered from his father’s death.

“He just lived by example. He just showed love and support every day,” Exum said. “People talk to me about him. There are some things he did for me that I didn’t even know about. It was always about how much he loved his children. Me, my brother and my sister, he would do anything for us. I felt that when he was here…

“I don’t think I’ll ever come to terms with it. I can sit here and say yes. But I still feel that when I go back to Australia (his presence) will be there when I get back into a routine. Australia was home. So I’m going back to different places and I’m expecting to see him, and that’s going to be the hardest thing.

Dallas Mavericks guard Dante Exum arrives at the arena before Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics on June 9 at TD Garden in Boston.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Exum delivered his best playoff performance when Dallas needed it most. With Dallas facing elimination in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, he scored 10 points and made two three-pointers off the bench in the Mavericks’ 122-84 victory over the Celtics. In the best-of-seven series, the Mavericks lose to the Celtics 3-1. No NBA team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in the NBA Finals.

Exum said the “only way” the Mavs can look at their predicament now is to look at themselves one game at a time.

“If we lose, we go home,” he said. We have to make sure we win every quarter and every possession. I think that’s the way of thinking. Make every possession count. If we can do that, we can win.”

Because of his ties to America and Australia, Exum looks forward to celebrating Father’s Day twice a year. Father’s Day is celebrated in the United States every third Sunday in June. Father’s Day in Australia is celebrated every year on the first Sunday in September.

“I always joked with my dad that wherever he was, it was his Father’s Day,” Exum said. “It’s the little things that make you laugh. But I kind of regret making such jokes. I just want to go out there and make him proud and I feel like I did that. Let’s hope we can win.”

Marc J. Spears is Andscape’s senior NBA writer. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to do it for years and his knees still hurt.

By meerna

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