Knicks Signee Bobby Portis Grinds Through Offseason to Create a Legacy from Little Rock

LOS ANGELES -- When Bobby Portis was in the 10th grade, he had a conversation with his mother, Tina Edwards, that would change his life forever. By then, he was already a starter on the varsity basketball team at Hall High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, though he was still a long way from becoming a McDonald’s All-American, the 2015 SEC Player of the Year at Arkansas and a gifted contributor for the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards in the NBA.

In 2011, the Hall High Warriors were well on their way to defending their state championship. But when they got to that year’s title game, Bobby wasn’t getting much playing time.

“I was starting the whole year,” Bobby tells CloseUp360 at his house in Sherman Oaks, California. “About halfway through the season, the coach took me out of the starting lineup and made me come off the bench. I was only playing like 10, 12 minutes a game.”

That night, Hall High claimed its eighth state championship, but Bobby, who played just two minutes in the game, was hardly in a celebratory mood.

“I didn't feel like I really won a championship ‘cause I didn't do anything to help the team,” he says. “I didn't feel like I earned it that night.”

Despite the win, Bobby was filled with tears of frustration as his mother drove him home.

“My mom like pulled me to the side. She told me I got to work harder and that nothing's going to be given to me,” he says. “That same night, I hit up coach Marcus [McCarroll] and I asked him, ‘Can you start working me out more? Can we get in a gym more?’

“I think that little talk with my mom changed my whole mentality and I started going harder and harder. I don't think we missed a day for like four years—in [the gym] every day.”

Eight years later, Bobby, who signed a two-year deal with the New York Knicks on Sunday night, still lives by the mantra instilled by his mother that night in the car. The NBA’s only Little Rock native applies it not just to basketball, but also across all areas of his life, including his latest focus: business. Well aware that nothing will ever be given to him, Bobby has taken measures to immerse himself in ventures that will help to not only sustain him after basketball, but also ultimately create generational wealth.

“I'm 24 years old and I have equity in two companies. I think that's a big accomplishment for myself,” he says. “Obviously I want to play basketball as long as I can, but I know the ball stops bouncing one day.”

For Bobby, the NBA offseason is no break at all. While spending the summer in the Los Angeles suburb of Sherman Oaks, he keeps his schedule as regimented as it would be during an NBA regular season packed with back-to-backs. On this particular day in June, it spanned nearly 12 hours, from training in the morning and afternoon to business meetings into the evening.

Two months after the end of his season with the Bulls and Wizards, Bobby is up at 7 a.m. with a gallon jug of water in his hand as he heads out of the house to start a day of workouts and business meetings. Despite being traded from Chicago to Washington in early February, his goal remains the same: to improve his game. 

When asked about his summer vacation plans, Bobby is quick to answer. 

“Nah, no trips,” he says. “I’m not that type of guy.”

En route to the gym, Bobby is accompanied by Patrick Frazier, his business manager, and Marcus, his old coach and trainer who has become a father figure looking after and supporting him since his teen years.

“I was 261 [pounds], but I’m down to 254. Goal is to be around 245, 246,” Bobby says on the way to his first workout. “Since I started this summer, I’m down three percent body fat.”

He’s on a strict no sugar diet—so strict that he even had to change his toothpaste to eliminate all traces of sugar.

Bobby Portis

Bobby Portis began a long day of workouts and meetings at MusclePharm in Burbank, California. (David Chisholm)

This summer, Bobby’s focus is purely on basketball and business, though he begins his day with the former.

At 8:30 a.m., he arrives at MusclePharm in Burbank to work out with reputable pro athlete trainer Amoila Cesar, better known as Cesar to his clients. The gym is all work and no play, with the late Nipsey Hussle's "Hussle and Motivate" setting the tone as it blares through the facility. After a three-mile warmup run on the treadmill, Bobby is pouring with sweat before his session with Cesar begins.

Trainer and trainee spend the next two hours doing basketball exercises to improve Bobby’s defense, reflexes, speed and footwork. Cesar puts him through a series of drag punch drills and shadow boxing, following some heavy strength training.

After the workout, despite looking completely drained, Bobby’s not done. He gets in an Uber SUV, along with Marcus and Patrick, to head to another workout. But his drive wasn’t something that developed overnight. It was instilled in him at a young age.

“Having my mom around, she really worked hard to take care of us each and every day,” he says. “I saw my mom work two jobs.”

Growing up in Little Rock with three younger brothers (Jarod, Jared and Jamaal) and a single mom, Bobby had no choice but to become a man at a young age. While Tina worked constantly to make ends meet and provide for her four boys, Bobby helped out wherever he could.

At times, Tina’s efforts weren’t enough. Bobby remembers being evicted from their home “six or seven times.” Looking back now, he realizes that he was oblivious to the evictions, since his mother never let him and his brothers worry.

“I really don't think people understand what you have to go through and what you have to do sometimes. My mom had to go to work and provide,” Bobby says. “Like, when you see your mom taking care of four kids by herself and working hard on a day-to-day basis, my other brothers become my kids ‘cause I'm the one that's there. When I was that young, I was a man. I had to become a man.”

Everyone in Bobby’s family understood the need to help out whenever they could. As a kid, Bobby was often responsible for helping his brothers with homework, teaching them how to wash and iron their clothes, and waking them up in the morning to get them to school on time. He credits those experiences for the strong relationships he now has with them. 

To his siblings, Bobby wasn’t just a big brother; he was a father figure.

“Bobby's mom never played the victim role,” Marcus says. “[Tina] never acted like she was entitled. She always took whatever she got and made it work. Her problems weren’t her boys’ problems. She didn't want the burden on Bobby.”

Throughout Bobby’s childhood, Tina split her time between working days at National Car Rental and nights at American Airlines. Despite her busy schedule, she prioritized being available to drive her oldest son to basketball practices and games.

“I would feel bad waking up [my mom] to ask her to take me to the gym. There was no Uber or Lyft and even if there was, we couldn't pay for it,” Bobby says. “She would just sit outside sleeping in the car while I'm working out. Then we'd go back home and she'd get dressed for work at night.”

Tina still lives in Little Rock, where she owns a truck route, delivering bread to supermarkets all over the city.

“That's my mom, man. She's a hard worker,” Bobby says. “Gets up at four in the morning to this day. I've been in the league for four years and my mom works six days a week—still.”

“Tina's a G,” Marcus adds. “Period.”

Despite the fact that Bobby has told her she doesn’t have to work, she refuses to quit. Bobby, though, understands. After all, he inherited Tina's hustle and drive.

Bobby Portis

Bobby credits his mom, Tina, for inspiring his work ethic. (David Chisholm)

During the ride from MusclePharm to his second workout of the day, at Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park, Bobby devours a to-go container of grilled chicken and broccolini. It’s all he’ll eat until dinner—no snacks in between. Though the meager portion seems small for someone of Bobby’s size (officially 6’11”), he doesn’t let it faze him. Reaching his goal weight means more to him than indulging in a big meal.

At Mamba Sports Academy, Bobby focuses solely on shooting. He warms up with game shots and then spends the rest of the workout perfecting position shots with his trainer, Zac Boster. From pick-and-rolls to pick-and-pops to low-post moves and perimeter work, Bobby is locked in. He goes through each shot as if it’s just him and the rim.

After living through struggle and poverty, Bobby’s focus has always been to achieve success—whether on the court or off it. He has equity in StatRoute, a company that provides advanced analytics and statistics on athletes for fans using FanDuel or DraftKings for fantasy sports. Having heard about the company through a colleague, Patrick brought the opportunity to Bobby.

“It's very cool for me ‘cause I get to be an owner and not just a player,” Bobby says.

“With StatRoute, what they really value about Bobby, beyond his ability to endorse and promote the product, is being an NBA player,” Patrick says. “He knows the in and outs, and how helpful those advanced analytics could be."

Bobby also holds equity in Nightfood, a company that offers healthy late-night snacks for those with a sweet tooth like Bobby. Nightfood has created what it calls “nighttime ice cream” that contains significantly less sugar than the typical bedtime bowl, along with proteins and enzymes to aid digestion.

“I used to snack a lot,” Bobby says of his days before the diet. “I’d wake up at night, like three or four in the morning and go get a snack. I'd grab one of those [Nightfood] ‘cause it was just right there.”

While Bobby plans to create his own flavor (pralines and cream), his current favorite is Cookies n’ Dreams, Nightfood’s take on the classic cookies and cream.

In addition to his equity in StatRoute and Nightfood, Bobby has an endorsement deal with HowUdish, an app that helps its users maintain their diets when eating at restaurants. For Bobby, he shares the meals he eats at restaurants on the app for his followers to see. It also provides meal plans for users to follow that are tailored to their individual preferences or according to what their favorite athletes are eating.

“A lot of people want to train like athletes, but a lot of people don't have the insight of what athletes are actually eating to fuel their training,” Patrick says. “With Bobby posting on the app what he's eating before games or before workouts, people are able to see, like, 'Oh, Bobby Portis is eating salmon and broccoli before a game. I'm going to start incorporating that into my routine.’”

Bobby Portis

Bobby continued his day of workouts at Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park, California. (David Chisholm)

Once his basketball workouts are done, Bobby shifts his focus to business. After his skills training, he rushes home for a meeting with his personal advisors from Goldman Sachs. Last month, he settled on Goldman to help manage his wealth and future investments after spending two months interviewing advisors from other institutions, including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Paragon.

“I'm just trying to have generational wealth,” Bobby says. “I'm just trying to have things in line for me to save my money and help it grow.”

Outside of his investments, Bobby looks for opportunities to give back to his community, specifically focusing on those to whom he can relate. He recently established the Bobby Portis Foundation to provide resources to single mothers in Little Rock. Tina will be spearheading many of the foundation's events, programs and initiatives for single mothers. 

“We had a conversation and we said, 'Who better to run it and know what resources single mothers would need better than his mom?’” Patrick says.

In August, Bobby will host a weekend of events, including a basketball camp and tournament where kids will be required to bring canned food that will ultimately go to single-mother families. They’ll host two sessions: one for first to sixth graders and the other for seventh to 12th graders. They hope to one day expand the foundation nationally.

“I just like supporting single moms,” Bobby says. “Obviously, I grew up in a single mom home. I just want to help out as much as possible. It's always been a passion of mine.”

Between basketball, business ventures and his community work, Bobby stays busy. When he gets a moment to relax, he prefers simple pleasures. After a day of back-to-back workouts, he finishes with a plunge into his pool—sometimes fully clothed. He says jumping in as soon as he walks through the door can be a moment of release.

And when he’s feeling a little more energetic, Bobby loves to bowl. 

“Me and all my friends, we bet push-ups when we bowl. You’ll never see me on camera [doing push-ups] because I never lose,” he says with a grin.

Bobby developed a passion for bowling in college at Arkansas after he and his teammates casually played together. He loved it so much that he even spent late nights at the bowling alley, where he sought tips from other seasoned bowlers.

During his time in Chicago with the Bulls, Bobby spent his free time bowling in a league on a team of “old guys.”

“It's really soothing for me,” he says. “I go in there and it's just like going to the gym and shooting shots. It's real comfortable and it makes you feel good. With bowling, I'm not thinking about nothing."

This fall, Bobby will take his talents—both on the court and on the lanes—to New York when he plays for the Knicks. The move to the Big Apple will give this native Southerner a chance to keep raising his game, and expanding his all-around interests in the NBA’s biggest market.

“I’m excited to be playing for one of the most iconic franchises in the NBA, while being able to live in one of the best cities in the world,” he says. “I’m looking forward to getting to New York and taking advantage of all the incredible opportunities the city has to offer, as I continue to build my charitable foundation and business portfolio off the court.”

Bobby Portis

After spending another summer in Los Angeles, Bobby (here at his Sherman Oaks house) will move to New York City to continue his NBA career with the Knicks. (David Chisholm)

At the core of everything Bobby does is his mother’s inspiration. From his unwavering drive for improvement to his desire to expand his business interests and give back to struggling families in Little Rock, he uses everything he saw his mother go through as motivation.

Though his and his family’s hard times are long gone, there isn’t a day that goes by when Bobby doesn’t remember the struggle they once knew. He now looks forward to continuing to make business decisions that will enrich his future beyond basketball.

“Just having [my mom] around and seeing some of the things she did to survive, I think that made me work hard,” he says. “I think where you come from makes you who you are. Makes you really appreciate things.”


Magdalena Munao is a Multimedia Producer for CloseUp360. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.