God Shammgod’s Basketball Odyssey Comes Full Circle in the NBA

LOS ANGELES -- You might not know his name or what he looks like. But if you watch the NBA, you’ve probably seen him.

In Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant. In Manu Ginobili, Lamar Odom and Metta World Peace. In Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving, Trae Young and Dennis Smith Jr.

And if you have a basketball and some time to practice, you could see him in yourself, too.

His name is God Shammgod. He’s currently in his third season with the Dallas Mavericks as a player development coach. He's also one of only two retired players to endorse Puma (Jalen Rose is the other).

And, as his name makes abundantly clear, he’s the man behind “The Shammgod.”

It’s a simple dribble move that can be deployed to spectacular effect. Throw the ball out in front with one hand—as if baiting the defender to take it—then reach out with the other and cross over.

A well-executed Shammgod can shake even the stickiest defender. Donovan Mitchell did it during the 2018 playoffs. Russell Westbrook and Omri Casspi have already made news for using it this season. ESPN even featured it on the daily NBA show “The Jump.”

For all the clips of The Shammgod on YouTube, there isn’t much film to study of its namesake. By his own count, God Shammgod did The Shammgod in an actual game “four times, tops.”

The first came in high school at New York City’s La Salle Academy, where he was teammates with Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace).

“Everybody just thought it was a regular move,” Shamm (as he’s known) tells CloseUp360 at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Los Angeles during a recent road trip with the Mavs. “Nobody called it The Shammgod or nothing.”

He rediscovered it, by accident, while at Providence College. In March 1997, the Friars were playing Rutgers University at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament.

“I went to make a move and the ball slipped out of my hand,” he recalls.

God reached out to pull back the ball with his other hand and, in doing so, found himself with a clear path to the hoop.

That night, God went back and watched the game tape. He was struck by that one move.

Man, he thought, this could work.

With the help of Corey Wright, his backcourt partner at Providence, God practiced it to perfection. 

Two days later, he did it again, in that very same Big East Tournament at MSG, during a loss to Villanova.

Sixteen days after that, he did it a fourth time, in front of millions of people on live television, during a loss to Arizona in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

That was the end of Shammgod doing The Shammgod, and the start of a basketball odyssey that would send him around the world and back, in search of inner peace.

“It’s a gift,” he says, “and a curse.”

There was a time when God Shammgod didn’t know how to dribble, and a time when he wasn’t entirely God.

He grew up in Brooklyn—Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights—with parents who instilled in him the importance of education. His mother, Adrienne Wells, was a schoolteacher. His father, God Shammgod, was a member of the Five Percent Nation, an offshoot of the Nation of Islam that believes in the ability of the brightest minds (the five percent) to reveal the truth of the world to the masses (the 85 percent) and, in doing so, free them from the elites (the 10 percent) who would otherwise keep them down.

When God the son was 10, his father went to prison for his role in a robbery. Adrienne moved her seven kids—God, Prince, Shammel, Shammquanna, Angel Wells, Elisha Wells and Tanya Wells—from Brooklyn to Harlem to live with God’s stepfather, Vernon Ham.

A new life in a new part of New York City also brought a new name: Shammgod Wells. He made the change as much to honor his mother as to avoid getting teased for his first name.

From time to time, Adrienne would take Shamm to visit God in prison. Seeing his pops and other inmates so confined scared him straight enough to stay out of trouble in Harlem.

“When I moved to Manhattan,” Shamm says, “everything was either sell drugs or play basketball.”

God Shammgod Puma portrait

God Shammgod poses in Puma gear from head to toe outside the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Los Angeles. (Amir Ebrahimi)

But Shamm had never really played basketball. He’d grown up fighting and wrestling in Brooklyn. He didn’t even know what dribbling was, much less how to do it.

“When I first used to get the ball, I didn't understand how to play basketball,” he recalls. “so I’d get the ball and just run to the basket. They'd be, like, ‘No, you got to dribble. That's a walk.’”

Time and again, Shamm would grab the ball and run with it. And every time he did, he’d hear about.

Eventually, he got the message.

“I heard it so much,” he says, “that it became my obsession.”

Shamm studied the sport every which way he could. In the days before League Pass, he caught the NBA's game of the week on live TV on Sundays. Without YouTube, he poured over VHS tapes of “Below the Rim,” a series of highlight compilations featuring contemporary NBA stars, from Magic Johnson and Kevin Johnson to Tim Hardaway and John Stockton.

Most of the time, though, Shamm could be found on an outdoor court in Harlem, at either the famed Rucker Park or Colonel Young Playground. He learned from watching legends like Sherman Anderson, Ed “Booger” Smith, Malloy “The Future” Nesmith, the McCullough brothers and the Arnold brothers. He played with and against his neighborhood friends, including Cameron Giles (a.k.a. Cam’ron) and Mason Betha (a.k.a. Mase). And sometimes, he’d just bounce the ball by himself for hours on end, crossing up nobody in particular.

“I always had that imagination,” Shamm says. “That imagination came from the streets of New York.”

Mase was often the one to test Shamms’ handles. Long before he ran with Diddy at Bad Boy Records, Mase was a tenacious defender and did his best to frustrate Shamm. One night, Mase got after Shamm so hard, the two almost came to blows.

“Who do you think you are?” Shamm shouted. “You won't never be no Biggie Smalls!”

Mase clapped back, “You think you Isiah Thomas?”

“You’re saying these words to somebody, and then when you look at the end result, it's just so crazy,” Shamm says now. “It's a beautiful thing, but it's so crazy.”

Though Shamm admired many a ballplayer in the Big Apple, he idolized Kenny Anderson. He and Stephon Marbury, Shamm’s friend from AAU ball, saw the Queens native as a shining example of where the game could take them.

“Mr. Chibbs,” as Kenny was known, had been a star point guard at Archbishop Molloy High School. He went on to become a McDonald’s All-American as a senior, a consensus All-American at Georgia Tech and the No. 2 overall pick of the New Jersey Nets in the 1991 NBA draft.

“Kenny Anderson was the ultimate inspiration,” Shamm says.

By the time Shamm was out of junior high, he was a regular at the Rucker. He had become an instinctive dribbler, with a knack for reacting to defender’s entreaties with spontaneous brilliance.

But all Shamm wanted was to be a McDonald’s All-American and get a college scholarship, just like Kenny.

“I don't know if you could be that,” Shamm’s middle school coach told him. “But if you come every day at six o'clock, work out, go to class, then work out after that, something good should come out of it and you maybe could reach that.”

That coach was Nate “Tiny” Archibald, an NBA champion, six-time All-Star and eventual inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Shamm, though, didn’t trust his coach’s credentials.

Everybody in the NBA is rich, he thought. There is no way this dude played in the NBA, and he's a gym teacher at my school.

Then one day, Shamm popped in one of his “Below the Rim” tapes. The video included a portion that paid homage to legends like “Pistol” Pete Maravich, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Walt “Clyde” Frazier and... Tiny Archibald.

That was enough to convince Shamm that his coach knew what he was talking about.

“So I just took his word for it,” he says.

Shamm ran with that word. He held his own on the playgrounds against Stephon, who was named Mr. New York Basketball in 1995; taught Kobe and Metta how to dribble in high school, and shined at the most star-studded basketball camps in the country. The late Howard Garfinkel, one of the most influential high school scouts around at the time, called him “the best ball-handler in the last 20 years.”

"The Shammgod" Around the NBA

Russell Westbrook

Chris Paul

Kyrie Irving

Donovan Mitchell

Omri Casspi

By the end of his senior year at La Salle in 1995, Shamm got what he wanted: an invite to the McDonald’s All-American Game and a college scholarship.

Shamm had offers from powerhouse programs, including Syracuse. Instead, he took his talents to Providence because Bobby Gonzalez, an assistant coach for the Friars, had once bailed him out after an arrest for hopping a subway train.

To register for college, Shamm had to revert back to his given name, for a $600 fee. By the time he torched the eventual NCAA champion Arizona Wildcats for 23 points, five assists and three steals as a sophomore during the regional final in Birmingham, Alabama, he had long since been God Shammgod again.

“It was like a big uproar at first about the name,” he says. “But for me, I think the name fits me perfectly.”

When he got back to New York after that game, God had a plan. He would leave school early for the 1997 NBA draft, riding the momentum from his shining moment in March Madness, and spend his spare time lighting up Rucker Park. And light up the Rucker, he did.

But no matter how many points he scored or how many dimes he dropped, God heard the same thing from the crowd.

“Do The Shammgod,” the spectators pleaded, over and over and over again.

“Then I just see little kids coming to me, like, ‘Oh, I'ma Shamm you,’” he recalls now.

God didn’t know what they were talking about, but he knew he wanted no part of it. So he stopped showing up to 155th Street, hoping those calls would cease.

But wherever God went, demands for The Shammgod followed.

“I’ll never forget,” he says. “I went to Indiana to talk to some kids. And then one of the kids came to me and is like, ‘Hey, can you show me The Shammgod?’

“That's when I knew it was a thing.”

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God during the 1995 McDonald's All-American game. (Courtesy of God Shammgod)

As keen as kids were on The Shammgod, the NBA was not. In a league where guards were expected to give the ball to big men like Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing and get out of the way, God’s handles looked more like a liability than an asset.

“That's all people would think I could do,” he says.

God went in the second round of the 1997 draft (45th overall) to the Washington Wizards, who slotted him behind Rod Strickland and Chris Whitney at point guard.

God’s coaches warned him off The Shammgod, told him not to be “fancy” with the ball. He loved And1, but feared that winding up on one of the brand’s infamous mixtapes would jeopardize his NBA career. His opponents, meanwhile, were instructed to back off and let him shoot, rather than risk getting crossed.

“It was to a point where, for a minute,” he says, “I hated playing basketball.”

God lasted 20 games with the Wizards. From there, he bounced around the Continental Basketball Association and the United States Basketball League, hoping to remain on the radars of NBA scouts. He tried out for the Mavericks in 2002 and drew interest from the Seattle SuperSonics not long before they moved to Oklahoma City in 2008—all to no avail.

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Throwback...... #CrossOvaToGod

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Along the way, God avoided Europe and its extended season as much as possible. He couldn’t bear to be so far from his young son, also named God, for so long.

Instead, he opted for shorter stints in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but was troubled by the conditions there. He finally found peace in China, where his reputation hadn’t yet preceded him.

“I just had so much freedom,” God says.

The money wasn’t bad, either. He had bills to pay and mouths to feed back in New York.

It helped, too, that God was so good on the court. In Zhejiang, he was twice the MVP of the Chinese Basketball Association, splitting the honor in 2001 with a towering star for the Shanghai Sharks named Yao Ming.

China was good to God. He earned enough to keep his family comfortable, played as he pleased and rarely (if ever) heard strangers ask him to “Do The Shammgod.” He liked it there so much that when Stephon was suffocating under the pressure of the NBA, God recommended China as an escape.

“It kind of helped me grow because during that time alone, the only thing you can really do is grow,” God says, “because you start to see what's really most important in life.”

Still, God felt like he had unfinished business back in America.

“The only thing I would want to change is, I probably would've fought harder to be back in the NBA,” he says.

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God and Kobe Bryant when he returned to Providence as a graduate assistant coach. (Courtesy of God Shammgod)

While God was in basketball exile, the NBA started to play more like he did.

Jason Williams (a.k.a. White Chocolate) brought the free-wheeling theatrics of streetball to packed arenas. A generation raised on The Shammgod had matured into magicians with the ball, led by a gifted kid from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, named Chris Paul.

The league, too, did its part to encourage backcourt creativity. In 2004, the NBA cracked down on “hand-checking” and shored up the defensive three-second rule . As a result, perimeter players could move more freely, and big men couldn’t park in the paint to stop them.

As great post players like Shaq and Hakeem aged out, the successors to Magic and Michael Jordan took over. Kobe had used the lessons he’d learned from Shamm to reach superstardom with the Los Angeles Lakers. Steve Nash became a two-time MVP as a pass-first point guard with the “Seven Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns.

Even some of the league’s tallest forwards, like Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant, could shoot threes and drain hesi pull-up jimbos.

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Easy Money Sniper....... @kevindurant #CrossOvaToGod

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During his offseasons back in the states, God spent time at Providence, working on his game and helping college kids with theirs. When God spoke, they listened. After all, he was a legend on campus and had invented The Shammgod, and that carried weight with basketball junkies.

MarShon Brooks was one of God’s most diligent early students at Providence. With his help, MarShon went from scoring just over 14 points per game as a junior to nearly 25 points per game as a senior. That jump made MarShon an All-American and a first-round pick in 2011.

Later that year, God went back to Providence for “Midnight Madness,” to celebrate the opening of the Friars’ men’s basketball season. Bob Driscoll, the school’s athletics director, asked God if he’d join head coach Ed Cooley’s staff as an assistant. They’d both witnessed what God had done for MarShon, and wondered what he could do for others.

God declined the offer, but it made him think harder about what he would do after his playing days were over.

I probably got three years left in China, he thought to himself. What if, in my third year, I want to coach and I come back, and this athletic director is not here?

After that season, with two years to go on his CBA contract, God retired. He returned to Rhode Island, to fulfill his promise to Adrienne that he’d get his degree, and to share what he knew about ball-handling with young players as a development coach at his alma mater.

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God during pregame warmups for a Mavs-Lakers game at the Staples Center this season. (Amir Ebrahimi)

For God, pursuing his passion and staying true to his word required significant sacrifices.

At Providence, he was once again away from his children. Without hooping for a living, he ballooned to 267 pounds—nearly 100 pounds above his playing weight—and became what he calls a “functional depressed person.” And without any real income as an undergraduate assistant, he spent two months living and sleeping in the basement of Corey Wright, who’d gone on to work in corrections after playing college ball with God.

“That probably was my lowest point,” he says, “but I didn't look at it as my lowest point because [Corey] is a real friend. Even though I was in his basement, to him I still was Shammgod.”

There were days when God struggled to get out of bed. But the game remained a source of solace and inspiration.

“Training kids at the school, that was like therapy for me,” God says. “They brought the joy back to me.”

They also gave him the confidence to proclaim, in 2012, that he would make it back to the NBA within six years. It only took him four.

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God tutors Mavericks second-year point guard Dennis Smith Jr. (Courtesy of God Shammgod)

God’s star pupils—Ricky Ledo and Bryce Cotton, Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn—caught the NBA’s attention. So did his role in coaching them up.

Mike Procopio was among the earliest to notice. The Mavs’ director of player development encouraged God to take his talent for teaching to the next level.

“He was the first person that saw me and was, like, ‘Man, you will be in the NBA one day. You're good like that,’” God says.

In 2015, God graduated from Providence with a bachelor’s degree in Leadership Development, and decided to return as a graduate assistant. In 2016, the Lakers came calling. So did the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Cavaliers.

But a follow-up from Mike and the Mavs was all God needed to make his decision.

“If I'm going to do it with anybody, I'm gonna do it with him,” God says. “It's been a blessing ever since.”

With the Mavs’ help—and their prodding—God also got back in shape. He switched to a vegan diet and started working out again. In just a year-and-a-half, he’s shed 73 pounds.

On the court, he’s reconnected with Dennis Smith Jr., whom he’d counseled as a precocious high-schooler in North Carolina; helped Harrison Barnes find his groove as a go-to scorer; and worked closely with veterans like Wesley Matthews and Devin Harris. In time, he's aiming to move into a front-office role, to eventually land a job as a general manager.

"I'm good at bringing people together and recognizing different strengths in other peoples' talent," he says.

But God’s influence extends far beyond Dallas. He’s offered guidance to Jimmy Butler, Victor Oladipo and Trae Young, and become a mentor to the “Jelly Fam,” a group of young players from Harlem and New Jersey. When the Mavs went to China during the preseason in October, God gave a speech at a retirement party for Stephon, whose CBA career brought him an MVP, three championships, a statue in Beijing and a stage play about his life.

Off the court, God joined Puma’s basketball revival as a cultural influencer for the brand this past April. The German apparel company has already helped him host a basketball camp in New York and hand out book bags and clothing to kids in his community. And that's just the beginning for God and Puma.

“It's not about selling a million basketball sneakers,” God says. “It's about helping and changing, and inspiring the people that come after us.”

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God can still do The Shammgod, though he rarely does.

The last time he did it? This August, in South Africa, at the request of a camper at the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders clinic.

Before that? God estimates it had been about 12 years since he’d dusted off the move that made him famous.

“There's so many dribbling moves that I did way better than that move,” he says. “It’s one of them things. Like 50 Cent, he made ‘In Da Club,’ but he has so many songs that's better than ‘In Da Club.’ But any time he goes somewhere, people want to hear ‘In Da Club.’”

Fortunately for God, he doesn’t have to play his own hit for the world to hear it. Since going into coaching, he’s caught courtside covers of The Shammgod from CP, Kyrie and Westbrook, to name a few.

God still doesn’t love the move, but he’s made peace with it. Whatever it may have taken away from his own playing career, it’s given back to him as a platform to help countless others build their skills on the court.

“If I'm not the best dribbler ever, I'ma spark the brain of the person that's going to be the best dribbler ever,” he says. “And I'm comfortable with that. I'm comfortable with putting my imprint on basketball, period.”

Nowadays, there’s more to life than ball for God. He remains close with his mother, who now calls the Bronx home. He describes his father, who lives in New Jersey, as “an amazing man now, an amazing grandfather” and “my best friend.”

God’s eldest son, God Jr., just turned 24 and is an assistant coach at Fairmont State University, where he holds school records for assists and steals. His two middle sons, Eryk (13) and Amir (12), prefer football. His youngest two, Prince (7) and Easton (2), are both hoopers like their dad.

They will keep the Shammgod name alive as much as his move will, even if God himself fades from memory.

“Kids don't even know that it's a real person,” he says.

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God in downtown LA. (Amir Ebrahimi)

Not that God is worried about being forgotten. The move that’s been, for him, a gift and a curse has given him another chance to write his own story, one dribble at a time.

“It's a borrowed life,” he says. “It's about what you do while you're in it that makes the difference.”

 

Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.