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NBA players who think they had it tough growing up should talk to Leandro Barbosa

Jan 18, 2013, 12:40 PM EDT

Leandro Barbosa, Gerald Green AP

It’s a common story of NBA players — they focused on the game as a way they might be able to lift themselves and their family out of poverty and rough neighborhoods. That they were lucky to have the game keeping them out of gangs, keeping them alive.

And it is true.

But if guys think they had it tough growing up on Chicago’s south side or Red Hook in Brooklyn, they need to go talk to Leandro Barbosa.

In detailing the family challenges he faces — Barbosa missed games in December because his mother-in-law is in a medically-induced coma to keep her alive while they find replacement kidneys — the Brazilian point guard discussed what it was like growing up poor in Brazil to Jessica Camerato of CSNNE.com.

“When you have time, Google ‘favelas’ in Brazil,” he urged. “You will see houses on the hills and it is the most dangerous thing you can see . . . I don’t think you guys have that here in America and probably can’t even imagine how it is….

“We didn’t have beds to sleep on,” he said. “It was just blankets and we would sleep on the ground…. “Sometimes we had food, sometimes not,” he said. “I always had food because I was the youngest, so my sisters and brothers always saved food for me if we had a hard time to eat. I was the lucky one and I really appreciated that….

“The streets are really small,” he said. “I would walk and I could see guys with guns shooting people or putting fires on the people, all that kind of stuff. I had to (look straight ahead). I couldn’t look or say anything or say anything to anybody else or the cops because I could be the next one to be killed… When I was in school, I didn’t know if I was going to come back to my place alive or if I would leave my place alive because there were people shooting people. It was surprising for me a couple times that nothing happened, no shooting. It could have happened any time.”

If you want a partial vision of life in a favela, go watch “City of God” sometime.

It’s just a reminder — we are fans, this is our escape and sometimes we get caught up in the lack of production from a role player and lose perspective. These are human beings, who have been through and are going through personal ups and downs just like the rest of us. Having NBA money can ease some challenges, but the issues of life, death and love know no boundaries of class or ethnicity. Guys on the court are dealing with stuff off the court, just like you are.

And any time you think you’ve got it rough, there is someone who has had it worse.

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