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After a difficult transition, Nassir Little is finding his place with the Suns and peace with his daughter

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
December 3, 2023
Nassir Little is finding his place with the Phoenix Suns and peace off the court with his newborn daughter Brielle Little.

Nassir Little and the Phoenix Suns were riding high last Sunday night. Devin Booker had sealed a big road win over the New York Knicks with a game-winning 3-pointer, Little was coming off one of his best performances of the season, and the Suns had won their seventh straight game.

A few hours after the game ended, Little received a different kind of unforgettable jolt when his pregnant girlfriend called. It’s the type of high that only a parent can describe: You need to get here, the baby is on its way.

“She called me, it was probably like 10:30 New York time,” Little said. “She was like, ‘I’m just letting you know, some contractions happened, but just be on standby,’ and then at about 11:30, she was like, ‘You need to come back.’ So I’m looking up, trying to find the flights and I’m calling every private jet company I know of!”‘

Within an hour and a half, someone was able to come through and find Little a flight back. The whole way home, Little was texting his mother for updates, while she responded asking for his E.T.A.

That frantic sense of urgency didn’t stop when he got to the hospital. Little joked that at any point, if he had turned left when he needed to turn right, he would’ve missed the birth of his daughter.

“I’m talking: running through the door and she’s pushing,” he said. “I’m talking: walk in, doctor’s like, ‘We couldn’t hold on any longer! We tried to make her wait!’ I walked in there, and then the baby was out 20 minutes later. It was crazy.”

Nassir Little made it there just in the nick of time: On Monday, Nov. 27, Brielle Little entered the world. Her dad joked that thanks to his long arms and his girlfriend’s wingspan, Brielle already has a bit of an athletic body type, with long fingers and feet.

“It’s the best feeling I ever had, man,” Little said. “I’ve had the opportunity to achieve a lot of things that I’m proud of, but that’s definitely be the proudest moment I’ve had.”

Nassir Little’s whirlwind of adjustments

In a span of three months, Nassir Little has had more than his fair share of adjustments. Just a few days before training camp, Little found out that he and Jusuf Nurkic were being sent to Phoenix as part of a three-team Damian Lillard trade.

Going from a lottery team to a title contender was a welcome change, but after spending the first four years of his NBA career in Portland, it didn’t give him much time to uproot his life and get his bearings in an entirely new city.

“It was hard,” Little said. “It was an awkward time, as opposed to those summertime trades, or even in-season trades, you’re already in the swing of playing basketball. But that specifically, working with the team all summer and then two days before, trying to move, and then training camp on Monday, and I’m trying to look at houses and we ain’t got no off days? It was just tough.”

On the court, Little had to quickly adapt to his new environment too. The Suns had a brand new coaching staff, but they also added a bunch of new players from all over the league. Nurkic and Drew Eubanks were familiar faces, but learning how to play with Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal — all while Frank Vogel experimented with different lineups — proved to be a challenge. All those changes put life in a state of flux on and off the court.

“I’m the type of person, like, if I’m chaotic off the court, it’s hard for me to be poised on the court,” Little explained. “I didn’t have a house, I was moving from Airbnb to Airbnb. It was tough. So as I got settled off the court, I feel like I was able to be my best self on the court.”

Now, Little has experienced another major milestone off the court. He barely slept the first two nights after Brielle was born, so he and his girlfriend started working on a game plan so that Little can get enough rest before game nights. Every day has brought a new challenge, but Little is tackling fatherhood one obstacle at a time.

“Changing the diapers has definitely been an experience for me,” Little joked. “I ain’t never changed the diaper before, but I changed my first diaper yesterday, so that was a milestone. So yeah, just continuing to learn and continuing to get better.”

The support of his teammates and coaches has already been a great help for the 23-year-old. Damion Lee, who has two children after he and his wife recently welcomed a new baby girl into their family, has been a huge source of support throughout the process.

“Just giving me advice, and I think my biggest thing was asking guys kind of how to navigate playing and being a dad,” Little said. “It’s a different type of thing, and I’m young, and nobody gives you a guide on how to be a parent. But especially being a parent and trying to perform at a high level is a tough challenge.”

Little has also gotten advice from coach Frank Vogel, who has two daughters, and assistant coach David Fizdale.

“It’s fun to be a part of someone’s life that’s getting to experience that,” Vogel said. “I really enjoyed being there for Nas before the baby came, and then talking to him, just hearing all the stories and what it was like driving home from the hospital and all that stuff. It’s fun. He’s got a hop in his step that’s really exciting to be around.”

Vogel warned Little that there’s no manual to being a parent, which requires a lot of guesswork the first two years. When Little has questions, Vogel gave him the order of operations: Ask your parents, ask the doctors, and don’t forget that YouTube is your friend.

That advice came in handy when Little was trying to set up Brielle’s car seat to leave the hospital.

“I ain’t know how to work no car seat, and everybody wasn’t helping me, I’m on YouTube and I’m stressing, we’re trying to get out of here, the baby crying, I haven’t slept in two days!” Little laughed. “It was a lot going on, but ended up getting it figured it out between YouTube and asking the nurse, so it all worked out.”

Nassir Little’s first week of parenthood taught him quite a bit. He said his respect for women skyrocketed after watching the miracle of birth, and he gave his mother a “nice, big hug” to acknowledge what she went through. People had told Little how it feels to have a child, but experiencing it firsthand is something different.

“Once she was born, it’s just like, I definitely understand about that unconditional love,” Little said. “Every time I’m not with her, like even right now, I’m just like, ‘I can’t wait to get home so I can just look at her.'”

As one of the most highly-recruited high school players in the country, someone who’s played for a prestigious blue blood like North Carolina, and a player in the middle of his fifth NBA season, Little has experienced some big-time, pressure-filled moments. And yet, none of them compared to putting his fragile, newborn daughter in her car seat for the first time.

“I’ve been in games where I gotta hit free throws with the game on the line, take big shots, and putting that baby in that car seat was the most nerve-wracking thing I had to do outta all of that,” Little said. “I was, like, shaking, just ’cause she’s so little.”

Nassir Little and the Stay Ready Crew

As a first-time parent to a newborn, Nassir Little is learning the value of preparedness. It’s a lesson he’s already familiar with at his day job, where he’s had to fight for minutes as part of a revamped bench on a team that’s dealt with injuries.

“In the league, especially on a team like this, you gotta be able to stay ready,” Little said. “At full strength, there’s gonna be guys who are good enough to be rotation players who may not be playing, but you can’t take that as an insult. You have to just understand kind of what the situation is and make sure you stay in shape, make sure you continue to work on your game.”

NBA players are creatures of habit, and that “stay ready” mindset is something Little’s had his whole life. From getting his extra work in at the gym to staying on top of his nutrition, staying prepared for his number to be called requires a diligent routine — even a few days after becoming a father.

Little watched the Suns fall to the Toronto Raptors while he was away from the team, but the work didn’t stop as he prepared to rejoin them in Phoenix.

“There was something I had to take care of, I think which everybody understands, but I was working out,” Little said. “That next morning, I ain’t sleep, but I was back in the gym, 7:30 a.m. and was getting my workouts in.”

That type of constant vigilance sounds cliche, but it’s essential for players trying to prove they deserve a rotation spot. After playing just 3 minutes in the Suns’ season opener, Little averaged 17.3 minutes per game over the next three contests. Then, over the next seven games, he played a grand total of eight minutes.

But with Yuta Watanabe injured and the Suns in need of some wing depth, Little has stepped up over the last eight games.

“Stay Ready Crew,” Devin Booker called it. “They’ve been grinding every day. Everybody that’s not getting an opportunity right now, we see ’em during practice, even some shootarounds, they’re getting after it, competing, keeping their wind up and waiting on their chance.”

Little has made the most of that chance. Over the last seven games, he’s put up 7.4 points per game to lead all Suns reserves. He’s scored in double figures four times over that stretch, chipped in 3.3 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in his 19.7 minutes per game, and shot 47.4 percent from the field.

“Love that Nas is a true pro,” Kevin Durant said after Little scored a season-high 13 points against the Portland Trail Blazers. “He understands his routine, he understands the business of basketball as well. So some nights you might not get that opportunity, but when you do, you gotta take full advantage of it. And tonight, last few games, he’s been incredible.”

After looking reserved at times in preseason and early into the regular season, Little has dialed up the intensity over the last few weeks. The best thing about being part of the “Stay Ready Crew” is there’s been zero hesitance to his game.

Whether in the half-court, transition or even off cuts, his downhill mentality has helped put pressure on the rim and attack closeouts with brute strength. Even before “dad strength” kicks in, Nassir Little hasn’t objected to putting his down and getting to the basket.

“I’m already a strong dude, so I’m eager to see kind of what [dad strength] looks like for me,” Little joked. “I don’t know how long it takes to come in, but if y’all see me throw somebody on the ground, y’all know what happened.”

The toughness, motor and energy he’s brought to the court as soon as he checks in hasn’t been lost on anyone.

“I just see the confidence in him growing,” Durant said. “I see somebody who’s understanding his role every single time he steps out on that floor.”

Part of that role is crashing the glass with composed abandon, displaying his athleticism, timing and genuine disregard for the ball’s safety. Nassir Little doesn’t grab rebounds; he snatches them.

Just watch how he skies over world-class athletes, smacking the ball like it needs to be punished for even thinking of landing somewhere else:

“You could tell he’s putting the work, and he’s a good player,” Vogel said. “We got a deep team, got a lot of guys on that bench that I trust, and it’s always a tough call as to which guys we’re gonna go with. But he’s playing solid two-way basketball, making shots, making plays off the bounce offensively, and then giving us a lot of toughness and rebounding on defense.”

Defensively, Little’s speed and 7-foot-2 wingspan help him stick with opposing wing players and track down their drives with chase-down blocks if they manage to get past him:

Little has said the under-the-radar things he can do will be magnified playing on a legitimate contender. He believed the transition would be seamless, and while the off-court aspect has made for a whirlwind couple of months, he was beginning to settle in over the last few weeks, proving how he could supplement Phoenix’s depth.

One might assumed a major life event like having a child could threaten that newfound stability, but for Little, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“As long as I’m there for my daughter and doing what I can to make sure that she’s fine, then everything else, it is what it is,” Little said. “Good game, bad game, I’m gonna be able to go home to her and just look at her little face, and I ain’t even gonna probably remember what happened. So I think it just brings a lot of peace to me, and also a lot of motivation as well. It makes me want to continue to go hard and to make her proud and give her the things that she wants out of life.”

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