Real Love

Larry Hughes spent 14 years as a solid NBA scorer before he left the League behind in 2012. These days, he only cares about two things: honoring his late brother and being there for his family.

There are days when Larry Hughes still needs to hear his baby brother’s voice. December 18 is one of them–that was Justin’s birthday. January 3—that’s the day in 1996 that Justin, at age 10, received his heart transplant, a procedure that was supposed to save him from the heart defect he was born with. Also, May 11—that’s the day Justin, at 20, took his last breath. His body eventually rejected the heart.

Eleven years have passed since then, 11 years since Larry last felt the warmth of Justin’s embrace. He still has the tattoos of two teardrops underneath his left eye—a constant reminder of what he lost. But on the days where he misses him more, Larry will take out his cell phone and dial his baby brother. He’ll let it ring and ring until his brother’s voice—the voicemail greeting—hits his ear.

“I still pay his phone bill—I never turned it off on purpose,” Hughes says. “I’ve been able to heal and grieve and am at peace with it, but some days you can’t let go.”

And so instead he does his best to live the life he thinks his brother would have wanted him to. Cliché? Perhaps. But the 38-year-old Hughes, five years removed from his last NBA game, says family is what his time revolves around now.

Take a drive on a school morning through St. Louis, where Hughes grew up and now resides, and perhaps you’ll spot the former first-round pick and 20-ppg scorer, shuttling his two youngest children to school. Afternoons are often spent cramming his skinny 6-5 frame into a chair to watch his daughter’s dance recital. On fall weekends Hughes and his wife will pile all four kids—and whatever cousins happen to be around—into the back of the black sprinter van they own and take a field trip to the local pumpkin patch.

“I go to everything, man—my schedule revolves around the kids,” Hughes says. “One of the reasons I stopped playing professional basketball is because I wanted to be around them. That’s my motivation