If every season is a journey, then the career-long one that Pierria Henry has made from Charleston, West Virginia, to the heights of elite European basketball in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague is more like an odyssey.
Pierria Henry, Fenerbahce: 'The game has saved my life'
Henry, a 29-year-old point guard for Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, grew up without a father and relied on his mother, first and foremost, as well grandparents and other relatives, coaches and friends, to guide him in the isolated capital city of a small coal-mining state.
"It took a village. Everybody had a part in me becoming the man I am today," he recalls. "Just the lifestyle, being trapped in between those mountains, it makes you or breaks you. People just get comfortable and content and think that's all life is. I learned at an early age that there's so much more to life than just inside of those mountains, so I've always prayed to make it out of there, because not many do."
Before he could capitalize on his talents, however, Henry had to harness the values that would take him so far. At the center of it all was his devotion to his mother and younger siblings.
"I don't know my pops; I didn't have no man in the house, for real," Henry recounts. "I grew up fast and I've had a lot of responsibilities at an early age. When I realized that mommy's not home, she's working two to three jobs, somebody's got to feed the kids, somebody's got to bathe them, somebody's got to do the little things that a parent needs help with. We couldn't afford no babysitter or nothing like that, so I took it upon myself to try to keep the family as close as possible. Make sure the chores around the house and things like that were taken care of. Pitch in and help my mother out with bills whenever I could."
And when that wasn't enough, Henry's family would find itself moving in with his mother's parents, where he learned more about sacrifice and faith.
"That was our safe haven. My grandparents, my mom's dad and mother, they worked their whole life to make sure that we had that house any time that my mother would get evicted. We always could go there, and we always caught ourselves going back there," he says
"To see them putting in all that hard work and to remember when we were growing up that there were no strangers there. Anybody was welcome to come in that house and they make you feel like that was your home."
Basketball has since taken Henry on a world tour from Tbilisi, Georgia, to Eilat, Israel, to Bursa, Turkey, to Kazan, Russia, to Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, and now back to Turkey.
"I never imagined that basketball would take me this far, let alone that I didn't expect to live life this long," he says. "I mean, I could talk about my struggle. From the police harassment to the everyday hatred when you're outside. I can talk about the time the doctor told me you're 30 minutes away from losing your leg, you're 60 minutes away from losing your life.
"Everything from there, it was just a plus, a bonus. Everything I'm doing now is simply for the youth. For my daughter. For my nieces and nephews. I don't spend money on myself. Everything I get from this game is just for my own enjoyment. For the love of the game and how the game has saved my life and what the game has done for me, as well as for my family."
But always, Henry carries with him a piece of Charleston and the lessons he took from his difficult beginnings there.
"I've learned that, anywhere, as long as your respectful, carry yourself in a way that you treat people the way you want to be treated, you're not going to have that many issues, you are not going to have that hard of a time," Henry says. "When you step out of your comfort zone or your environment, you can survive, you can still make it."
Henry has not only survived, but thrived. Even more than his consistent improvement as a player – Henry led the EuroLeague in steals and ranked 11th in performance index rating last season – he has embraced each new place on his journey, as his turn as a One Team Ambassador with Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz during the pandemic showed.
What Henry has also learned is a new basketball culture. On the court, he's made new discoveries in the EuroLeague about the game he has always loved.
"It's an art. It's really team-oriented. It's more physical for one, to me," he says of the EuroLeague style of play. "It's definitely.. everybody's like on a cord. Although there's one basketball and one hoop, there's a different type of unity that everybody has. It's just team basketball, the way the game is supposed to be played. And I am just forever grateful that I can be a part to fit and be able to learn this style of play."
Off the court, his life abroad has been just as illuminating.
"The different walks of life," he muses. "Everybody's got a different path to get to where they are. And I believe that God puts everybody in each other's life for a reason. I was so ignorant as a kid; I didn't know about overseas, the geographic thing. What I knew was small. So to hear these languages, and things like that, it's what I embrace the most. I love that. I tell my teammates all the time, when they speak their native languages, I'll be staring at their mouths, staring at their faces. I'm ear-hustling. I just want to hear it. I just want to learn it.
"Because where I am from, there is no diversity. It's black or white; that's all you get. To be able to get history lessons and just pick up on different styles and things like that, it's a beautiful thing. It's really made me enjoy the game more. I love that, for real, more than you can imagine."