Three years have passed since the Phoenix Suns selected Bahamian big man Deandre Ayton as the first overall pick in the NBA Draft. His standout play throughout this postseason has helped bring a national spotlight to his home country.
“Everybody here is watching,” said Petra Haven, the executive director of the Bahamas Anti-Doping Commission. “We love basketball and to be able to see one of our own represent the country so well is definitely amazing.”
Ayton is thriving in his first ever playoffs for a Suns team that takes on the Milwaukee Buck tonight in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. He is averaging 16 points and 12.1 rebounds in the postseason and has had 17- and 19-rebound games in the finals.
Ayton is following the lead of fellow Bahamian Mychal Thompson, who advanced to the NBA Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers. Thompson has been offering Ayton words of wisdom along the way.
“I know he’s been holding it down for me, supporting me all the way to here, keeping me in high spirits and always sending the words of wisdom here and there,” Ayton said.
Thompson paved the way for other players from the Bahamas, including Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield. Others before him found success, too, including former Celtics and Lakers forward Rick Fox.
Surprisingly, Ayton is not the first player from the Bahamas to play for the Suns. Ian Lockhart played two minutes for the Suns in one game in 2020.
Jamaal Greene, a native of the Bahamas and now assistant coach at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, said Ayton’s success on a big stage means a lot for their country.
“I think for us to see someone from your home country that brings joy,” Greene said. “We are very joyful, we are very passionate people, so to see someone from our background having the accomplishments that he’s having and the success that he’s having is overwhelming with pride.”
When Ayton plays, the Bahamian community is glued to the screen, Greene said.
“When he’s playing, there’s always like, ‘Hey, we need to make sure we stop and watch what he’s doing,’” he said. “Back home in the Bahamas, everyone is rooting for him, cheering for him.”
The love goes both ways as Ayton tries to represent his home country to the best of his ability. He is aware of his important platform.
“There is a lot of people back home supporting me,” he said. “I want to put on a show for them and make sure this thing happens and every game I’m going, I’m bringing the Bahamas with me, so I’m locked in.”
Ayton isn’t the only Bahamian to find success in the NBA. Thompson was the first overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft and had a successful career, playing for 12 seasons and winning two championships along the way. But even he knows how special Ayton is and what he means to the Bahamian community.
“He should be recognized and appreciated by this country,” Thompson said during an interview with ESPN. “He is going to be the face of Bahamian sports for the next 15 years.”
Haven agrees, and can’t wait for Game 6.
“This is a proud, proud moment for us,” she said.