“Find a way or a make a way.”
By Michelle Ancell
It’s a phrase Milwaukee Bucks player Chris Copeland has heard from his mom throughout his life. As a boy playing basketball outside in New Jersey and Virginia, to a Division 1 athlete at the University of Colorado, and now as a professional basketball player, Copeland has always found a way to meet his goals and overcome challenges. It’s a skill he learned at an early age.
At 13 years old, his life changed when his older brother tragically died after being hit by a drunk driver. Vincent had been Copeland’s coach, mentor, and friend.
They loved basketball together. Under Vincent’s direction, Copeland practiced in alleys near their home in New Jersey and at a local park.
“He is always with me,” Copeland said. “There not a particular time or situation that makes me think of him, he’s just always there.”
Rather than folding into his grief, Copeland found a way to capitalize on the skills and passion for basketball that his older brother instilled in him. He found success at Hermitage High School in Virginia. Engrossed in the game as a 6-foot-6 high school student, Copeland became a star, earning many local honors in his senior year of high school.
All of this caught the attention of the University of Colorado at Boulder. He earned a letter the four years he played at the school, he contributed to the team’s NCAA Tournament berth in 2002-03, and to two National Invitation Tournament appearances in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
He also discovered his love for the mountains, playing basketball and studying psychology with Flagstaff Mountain as the backdrop.
He still visits Colorado when he can, reconnecting with friends and heading up to Boulder. “Colorado is beautiful,” he said. “I have many close friends there and I enjoy being close to the mountains.”
After playing for the University of Colorado, Copeland went undrafted in 2006, then broke his foot before he was set to play at a San Antonio Spurs minicamp. He went on to play for the Fort Worth Flyers in the NBA’s development league, garnering attention from teams overseas. He packed a suitcase for Europe and played professionally in Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium until 2012.
“The way I made it to the NBA is not common,” Copeland said. “But I was able to find a way, even though the odds were not in my favor, I found a way.”
In Europe, Copeland earned many accolades. He was named the Belgian League MVP and Star of the Coaches honors, an honor where coaches throughout the league named him the best player.
But being apart from his home and family was tough for Copeland.
“My family motivates me,” he said. “My mom, my brother, even my cousins, and uncles, they are my inspiration and keep me motivated.”
But finding a way to adapt overseas, enduring life’s ups and downs, and overcoming injuries are part of what has made Copeland who he is.
“My life is like the movie Slum Dog Millionaire,” he said. “It is the sum of a bunch of experiences. There’s not one single one event that has shaped me. It’s been all of them.”
He urges others to not be defeated by life’s challenges. “Things will happen in you’re life, but you can find your way, in fact, you must find a way,” he said. “Personally, my faith in God has gotten me through everything.”
While playing abroad, Copeland’s skills caught the attention of the New York Knicks. He signed a one-year deal with the team and was named the T-Mobile NBA Rookie of the Month for April of that year.
He played for the Pacers, 2013-2015, and is currently playing with the Milwaukee Bucks under Head Coach Jason Kidd, who he said he feels “blessed” to play for. Kidd has been credited for leading the Milwaukee Bucks from their dismal showing in the 2013-14 season of just 15 wins, to their 41-41 season for 2014-15.
As the 6’ 8” small forward for the Bucks, Copeland carries the look of a champion. Big, strong and confident.
And while he plays with, and against, some of the biggest names in the NBA, like Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James and Golden State’s Stephen Curry, the first person he thinks of when asked who lives up to his idea of a champion is his mother. “She’s tough. She’s a warrior, with a never-give-up attitude,” Copeland said. “She works hard at everything she does and that’s what I have tried to do as well.”
It’s with his mother as his supporter, cheerleader, and spark, that Copeland has achieved champion status himself. He’s low-key and humble. Without claiming to know all of the answers, he advises future champions to learn to really know themselves. Know what they want and learn about themselves.
“Achieving success is all about what a person wants and what their goals are,” he said. “Success is setting those goals and achieving them, working each day to see your dreams come to fruition.”