Skip Robinson remembers the moment Bones Hyland met Marcus Morris Sr. with vivid clarity, because watching a high schooler challenge an NBA player 11 years his senior before greeting him is not something easily forgotten. .
It was nearly a decade ago and Robinson, as coach of Hyland’s Philadelphia-based Amateur Athletic Union team, asked the guard about his goals. The answer was practical and safe: the NBA. Robinson knew someone who understood what that would entail: A decade before that, Robinson had coached an AAU team with Morris and his twin, Markieff. He negotiated a meeting.
“We were in the gym getting ready for a tournament and I brought up the calves and Marcus said, ‘Who’s the best guy right now?’ I’m like, ‘I think Bones has the most potential.’
“But at the time I might have weighed 115 pounds, I was probably 5-9. Marcus was like, ‘What is it?’”
Morris said: “He came out from behind and he was like, long, skinny, like he didn’t talk much.”
Said Robinson: “Bones didn’t shake his hand until Marcus agreed to play him one on one.”
“I wanted to let you know,” Hyland said of the meeting, “I have a few tricks up my sleeve.”
Hyland and Robinson remember settling on the HORSE shooter, an early display of the raw confidence that has never dissipated for Hyland in the nearly decade since it eventually led to them becoming Clippers teammates.
It was self-confidence that helped Hyland endure a life-changing fire that left a hole in his family and shattered his knee to reach the NBA just four years later. It was a quality the Clippers treasured when they learned more about him ahead of the 2022 NBA draft. It fueled their pursuit of a bigger role in Denver and the trade of him when it didn’t materialize.
When Hyland arrived in Los Angeles after the February trade deadline, the Clippers put his locker, home and away, next to the one person who knows what drives Hyland so well: Morris. The veteran striker, now 33, likened the full-circle nature of his relationship with Hyland, 22, to that of an older brother.
“It’s a happy moment for me because I know where we came from,” Robinson said. “Bones’ first AAU tournament, he could have had a plastic bag with, like, a change of underwear and socks. The (Morris twins) didn’t come of much either. To see where they are now, it’s a win for me.
“I know she’s going to be spending a lot of time with Marcus and that’s something I can sleep in at night knowing she’s going to be around someone who has her best interests at heart. That’s an NBA veteran who knows how to be a veteran and what he should be doing and what he shouldn’t be doing.”
The introduction of Morris and Hyland did not spark an immediate friendship that spanned the Millennial and Gen Z generations. The connection forged a conscience, Morris watching as Hyland became a top 100 recruit, while Hyland knew that, through Robinson , he had an open line with a player who had already walked the path to the NBA through uncertainty and tragedy.
Hyland was named Nah’shon at birth, but only his immediate family calls him by what he calls his “official name”. To the rest it’s Bones, a nickname given to him by a childhood friend nicknamed Chicken—really, he says—who had taken a look at his scrawny body. His stature belies inordinate confidence. Hyland wanted to protect the biggest names on the AAU Under Armor circuit, including future NBA top draft pick Anthony Edwards, who had the build of a linebacker, relying on the energy he says is given Oh my God. He spent team trips singing songs by Anita Baker, Freddie Jackson and Luther Vandross.
The artists are part of the soundtrack to Hyland’s childhood, listening and learning to harmonize as her mother played music while she cleaned the family home in Wilmington, Del. And it was there, in 2018, that Hyland first smelled the smoke from the fire while watching an NCAA tournament game.
As the fire grew, Hyland recognized that her only way out was through her second-story bedroom window. His right knee hit a brick stairway on her landing. The rest of his body was spared further damage by bystanders trying to catch his fall. He was taken to a children’s hospital and later diagnosed with a torn patellar tendon. It was the least of his losses. His grandmother Fay and two cousins aged 3 weeks and 11 months were trapped inside and later died of their injuries.
“I can sleep at night knowing that he is going to be around someone who has his best interests at heart. He is an NBA veteran who knows… what you should be doing and what you shouldn’t be doing.”
— Skip Robinson on his former AAU player Bones Hyland joining NBA veteran Marcus Morris Sr. on the Clippers
The Morris twins were in their junior year of high school when they learned that the North Philadelphia home they lived in with their mother, Angel, and brother, Blake, had burned down. A high school game was only a few hours away. They played anyway and won, then moved to their maternal grandparents’ house a few blocks away. As the family said in a 2016 Bleach Report Story, with nearly all their possessions missing, the children slept in the basement and took turns bringing cans of kerosene purchased from a nearby gas station to the house to heat the space.
“For Bones, I think the fire, and the twins as well, especially (Marcus), pushed them into a different space, that they saw everything taken from them and there was nothing they could do about it,” Robinson said. . “So they want to put as much heart and effort into making the league.”
When Hyland made it to the NBA and Denver played last season in Philadelphia, less than an hour’s drive from Wilmington, he met with 40 Wilmington firefighters before kickoff who helped put out the fire at his family’s home. They presented him with a custom station jacket, “Bones” written across the left side of his chest.
“We never really talk about it, I think it’s a long way off,” Morris said. “We just talk about the future and just be proud of it and whatever else it needs right now.
“Of course, where we are from… there is a tragedy that many people go through. We never really feel sorry for ourselves. He just kept going.”
Hyland said her connection to Morris “goes beyond that shared experience of loss.”
“That’s a very deep sequence for us to go through,” he said, “but I feel like we both clicked from the first time we met.”
Hyland recently found out that they are both Virgos. Both, Robinson added, hated the conditioning workouts he put them through at local tracks, and Hyland even hid in a bathroom to avoid the three-mile warm-up followed by 100- and 200-meter runs. Their connection made Hyland something of an exception to Morris, who said he doesn’t tend to cultivate relationships with younger players.
The night before Hyland was scheduled to train with the Clippers ahead of the 2022 NBA draft, he called Robinson and asked if the “big brother” was in Los Angeles. Morris did, and afterward he invited Hyland to lunch.
“He’s like a big brother to me, a very close family,” Hyland said.
When the Nuggets and Clippers played, Hyland and Morris would chat after the game about Morris’s children or Hyland’s season. As Hyland and Denver headed toward a break ahead of last month’s trade deadline, a widening gap between how the team and player viewed their role after an All-Rookie season, Morris remained a sounding board. . In January, after Denver crushed the Clippers in a blowout, the players met Robinson in the Denver stands to catch up and there were rumors of a possible move, with each player saying how excited they would be to play together.
“Just because you played a lot last year because guys were injured doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a role to play a lot this year,” Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth said last month in explaining the trade. . “I think that was always going to be a sticking point.”
Hyland told ESPN last month that he felt he was playing better in his second season, but was treated worse by the organization, citing miscommunication. Hyland had also come off the bench in the middle of a game, prompting discipline from the team.
Hyland’s role with the Clippers is smaller than it was with Denver, the addition of veteran guard Russell Westbrook pushing Hyland from a fringe rotation candidate in the middle of a backzone jam to a scoring option used only on lean nights. staff. Coach Tyronn Lue has worked to keep Hyland engaged through “constant communication from the coaches.”
“And I think Marcus is helping as well,” added Lue.
“I’m good at reading energy and what a lot of guys are going through,” Morris said. “This league is unforgiving, so man, you have to be very close to the point, mentally, physically, everything has to be in line. And a lot of young people, I think it’s not about talent, it’s about longevity and the business aspect and the other things that they go through with other organizations and day-to-day things. I don’t think they realize that.
“I try to use my purpose a little more than talking about basketball because basketball is not even a quarter of the situation that is happening.”
Sometimes though, it’s just basketball. Two players and a ball. Who won that first HORSE game?
“I don’t remember,” Hyland said, her answer revealing less than her smile.