Washington Wizards' Michael Jordan (23) battles for the ball against Houston Rockets' Juaquin Hawkins (1) during the second half of the Wizards; 100-98 overtime win, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2003, in Washington. Jordan had 35 points in the win.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Washington Wizards’ Michael Jordan (23) battles for the ball against Houston Rockets’ Juaquin Hawkins (1) during the second half of the Wizards; 100-98 overtime win, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2003, in Washington. Jordan had 35 points in the win.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Former NBA player Juaquin Hawkins can tell you a thing or two about perseverance. Like a lot of kids, Hawkins lived out a fantasy in his head of someday playing in the NBA. Reaching that goal would take Hawkins through the twists and turns called life.

By grace, Hawkins has pushed through one difficult challenge after another to be standing where he is today. Where Hawkins stands today is alive, healthy and pursuing his passion of working with young people. That didn’t seem like a remote possibility after Hawkins went down with a stroke at 34.

“You know you wake up in the morning and you have a routine,” Hawkins said. “My entire life’s routine changed at the spur of the moment.”

A day after playing a basketball game overseas with his international team, Hawkins saw his face become disfigured.
Suddenly, his limbs went numb and he couldn’t move them. Suffering a stroke was the last thing Hawkins thought could happen to him.

He was fit, athletic and still in the prime of his professional basketball playing days. Unfortunately, it did happen to him. The incident left him questioning the unknown. The journey towards recovery would be long and daunting.

Getting back to normalcy after suffering what could have been a life-threatening crisis presented a much bigger challenge to Hawkins than the night he squared off against Michael Jordan and scored 14 points on the NBA Hall of Famer as a member of the Houston Rockets.

“I’ve always been a God-fearing man, but after having a stroke, having to rely on others, it was pretty difficult for me to have the faith I had before, and really the strength to move forward in a different direction because I was no longer a professional athlete,” Hawkins said. “It was just a test. It was a test.”

Hawkins has taken his step of faith to the literary level, penning his life story in “The Stroke of Grace: Trauma, Triumph and Testimony of Former NBA Player Juaquin Hawkins.” Hawkins will be sharing his story with avid book readers at the 2016 Leimert Park Village Book Fair (LPVBF) at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza on Saturday, Aug. 20.

African Americans, according to the website Minorities and Stroke, are disproportionately higher in numbers when it comes to having a stroke compared to other ethnic groups. Hawkins is now an advocate of stroke awareness. He wrote his life story to bring more awareness and attention to this debilitating disease.

“I’ve tried to make efforts to be more of an advocate of stroke and not just for young people,” Hawkins said.
One of the things he focuses on in his book is for people not to ignore the warning signs of a possible stroke coming on, Hawkins said.

“That was part of my learning of what happens when you have a stroke,” said Hawkins. “I had no idea that the
different facial expressions on your right side or left side of your face, I didn’t know that was one of the things to happen when you have a stroke. My right arm, my right leg, not having any movement or being able to move my arm or my leg…I didn’t know that they were things that happen when you have a stroke.

“Your memory, your speech; I had slurred speech. I had no idea. I only thought it was something either I ate something wrong or maybe I was just really dehydrated. I didn’t associate being with those symptoms to really having a stroke because I was an athlete, a professional athlete at that. I had just had a game with my professional team the night before. It was definitely an eye-opener for me, a learning experience. It was tough. It definitely was tough.”

Tough going usually brings out the toughness of some people. Hawkins is one of those cats. Unlike so many others, Hawkins became one of the rare ones to make it through the cycle of dashed hopes, false starts and a lot of hard knock realities as he tried to lift himself from the streets of Lynwood.

Don’t feel sorry for him. Hawkins just wants you to understand his story. He wants you to overcome the way he did.

He wants young people to believe that no obstacle is too hard to climb over.

He grew up without a father. His mother raised him. His grandmother and three uncles also carried the load of parenthood to Hawkins. With that guidance, Hawkins made it to Long Beach State. Since he had a thing for the roundball, Hawkins played four seasons for the 49ers.

It was then onto the NBA. Or so he thought. Hawkins’ path to the NBA was met with roadblocks, detours and a lot of stop signs. Catching on with a ballclub turned out to be as fleeting as the morning mist. Attempts to latch on to a roster spot with the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers flamed out.

“I really talk about perseverance because it wasn’t just me and my recovery from my stroke. I had a chance…I’m very blessed to say that I played in the NBA,” Hawkins said. “My role in the NBA was not like others. So many people told me I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t the right height. I was too skinny.”

Hawkins didn’t let these setbacks discourage him from pursuing his longtime dream. He finally caught a break when the Houston Rockets signed him for the 2002-2002 NBA season. The dream had finally come to fruition. Hawkins shares his road of being the victor instead of victim in “The Stroke of Grace.”

“I grew up without a dad. I never used not having a dad as an excuse not to find success in life,” Hawkins said.

“Overall, it’s (book) more like a reality check for everyone that are going through ups and downs and all the challenges of life, that you believe you can find a way to get to where you want to. There are a lot of stories within my story that I share giving specific examples of how I overcame.”

Hawkins believes that what he has gone through is not to be in vain. Getting others on board about stroke awareness has become his way of ministering to others. It now has become his mission.

Through the grace of God and going through the experience and having a good support system, I was able to come out of that with a much stronger faith,” said Hawkins. “That was the most important lesson that I learned for myself.

You can never underestimate your faith and your belief.”