Fultz’s Inner Circle Investigated by Washington Post
On Friday, Marc Spears of ESPN's The Undefeated released a story about former NBA guard Ben Uzoh. The now 30-year-old spent time in the NBA from 2010-2012 and was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome in 2014. His symptoms dated back to his 2009-10 season at the University of Tulsa, when he lost feeling in his shooting arm. Eventually, he received the same diagnosis as Fultz, which is a rarity for NBA players. Uzoh mentioned that the injury is as much mental as it is physical, and that in order to progress, you need to be dedicated to rehab and clear out the noise around you mentally.
That might be hard for a guy who may not be getting the best advice from the people around him.
There's been speculation, especially since Fultz went to go see specialists, that there is some disconnect between Markelle, his inner circle and the Sixers. His agent, Raymond Brothers, released information on Fultz's medical situation to the media before the organization knew. The day after Fultz was benched in the second half against Phoenix for T.J. McConnell on November 19, Brothers advised that Markelle go see specialists for his shoulder. Elton Brand and Brett Brown found out about it after it was already released by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Washington Post recently published a story with Fultz's inner circle as the main topic. The story, titled 'From No. 1 draft pick to basketball's biggest enigma: No one knows what's up with Markelle Fultz', focuses on the people closest to the former top draft prospect from his former trainer/friend, Keith Williams, to his mom, Ebony Fultz.
Needless to say, there are some extremely interesting excerpts in the piece. Let's start with this one:
But some close to Fultz believe the problem is more than physical. In interviews, those who know Fultz — current and former teammates, NBA people as well as Washington-area allies — describe a life burdened by a number of factors, from a restrictive inner circle to lost allies to outside criticism. Those who have peeked inside this world tell stories of those closest to Fultz going to extreme efforts to keep personal details confidential.
At the center is a 20-year-old who seems to be struggling to exert control over his own life and career.
There's no questioning that at least some of Markelle's problems are mental. And that's 100 percent okay. How could it not be? He went from being the consensus No. 1 pick to a guy with some mysterious injury that can't follow through on a jump shot. At the age of 20, it can't be easy not knowing why you can't perform like you used to after all the work you put in. Going through a long diagnosis process is exhausting physically and mentally and it would be shallow to think that this is all physical.
One of the people formerly in Markelle's inner circle is his former trainer and mentor, Keith Williams. Williams was at the center of the scrutiny revolving around Fultz's change in shot mechanics prior to last season. The Post notes Williams as a 'prominent basketball trainer based in Maryland'. He was the guy that originally taught Fultz how to shoot and that jumper is the one that started turning heads in high school, at the University of Washington and the Philadelphia 76ers. But it was the summer before Fultz reported to his first NBA minicamp that Williams noticed something was off with his men-tee. As did Fultz himsellf.
Williams taught Fultz the jump shot with which DeMatha, the University of Washington and eventually the 76ers fell in love. And Williams noticed a change in that jumper during the summer before Fultz reported to his first NBA minicamp. According to Williams, Fultz’s release point started at his chest, not above his head as usual. When Williams asked about the funky release, Williams said Fultz told him, “It feels like somebody’s holding my arms down.”
As others started to dissect Fultz’s suddenly ugly shooting motion, a common narrative blamed Williams for altering the technique. Williams said he made only small efforts to dispute the claim, because he didn’t want to expose Fultz to further scrutiny.
The article goes on to mention that Williams has been more than a coach to Fultz, knowing Markelle since he was seven years old. Williams was Markelle's representative leading into the draft. As things started to go downhill, though, Fultz's agent and mom started to separate Markelle from others.
In the lead-up to the draft, Williams served as Fultz’s representation, connecting him with sponsorships from such brands as Nike, Tissot and JBL. But as things started to derail, Fultz’s mother, Ebony, and Brothers took control of the player’s off-court life. Williams said he backed off to avoid conflict, but he believes the forced separation might have affected Fultz.
“Everybody mishandled all of his relationships,” said Williams, who still makes an effort to maintain contact with Markelle but no longer speaks to Ebony, once a close friend.
At this time, Ebony Fultz's focus is on her son and getting him healthy. Nothing else. Her over-protection of Markelle dates back to his AAU days. According to The Washington Post's article, Fultz's mom had cameras installed in Markelle's home.
Fultz is now a professional on a four-year contract worth $33 million, but close associates said Ebony still goes to great lengths to shield him. During Fultz’s first season in Philadelphia, Ebony had cameras installed inside his New Jersey home, according to several people familiar with the setup who described the indoor surveillance as unusual. The cameras have since been removed. Multiple people said Ebony has asked some who have dealt with Fultz to sign nondisclosure agreements for reasons that are unclear to them.
“There’s definitely crazy [expletive] going on with the mom and how involved she is and how overprotective she is,” said a person with a close connection to Fultz. “The best possible situation is if the mom just backs off for a period of time and gives him a chance to breathe.”
Ebony Fultz declined to go much further than saying this:
I’m not concerned about what other people are saying. I’m concerned about my son’s health right now. That’s my No. 1 priority,” she said. “At this time, I don’t have a comment. We just found out what’s going on with my son and I want to put all of my energy on him and what he needs, the support he needs right now to get healthy.”
The remainder of the article focuses on Fultz's teammates and their support for him, despite the personal issues that are being talked about regularly. Sixers big man Joel Embiid has been through a different injury, but people counted him out just as they are with Fultz.
“I went through the same thing and I know what it feels like,” Embiid said. “I can see myself and I know he’s going to put in the work and come back and prove them wrong — just like I did.”
“I just know that he’s a great person. He comes in every day, does his job and tries to make the team better. He’s a great guy. Everybody around loves him. I love him personally but that’s his business. I don’t want to get into the whole family thing.”
Although the Sixers have reportedly received some trade offers for Fultz, The Athletic's Shams Charania reports that the Sixers remain "100 percent committed to getting him 100 percent healthy" and that "they can't make a move with Markelle Fultz until his body, mind are all 100 percent." The article in the post reiterates that message.
According to people in the league, the Sixers have rejected multiple trade offers for Fultz. It’s not just that Philadelphia remains hopeful in getting Fultz on track to be a star in Philadelphia — much like prior top picks Ben Simmons and Embiid, who both missed their rookie seasons because of injuries. The Sixers have not received trade offers with what they believe to be equal value, a telling sign that indicates how other teams in the league view Fultz and the rocky start to his career.
As the stories surrounding Markelle Fultz continue to surface, whether about his physical or mental game, all we can hope is that he gets things right, returns to the court and proves everyone wrong.