Dion Waiters Takes His Island to South Beach

Dion Waiters' loyal supporters have referred to themselves as lodging on "Waiters Island". But the internet nickname might express more about Waiters than they imagine.

Condos, houses, villas; they’re all mostly vacant. A few have been stranded, marooned on an Island. I’m talking about Waiters Island, of course—the hideout for any Dion Waiters fan headstrong enough to tout his potential, as if there were no expiration date for it. 

Now, a new cavalcade of Miami Heat fanatics are wandering on the shores of The Principality of Waiters, stumbling into the short-lived homes of Oklahomans. But what can these new inhabits of Waiters Island expect—who is Dion Waiters? 

That’s what we're going to find out. 

Dion Waiters is an enigma of a player; he’s talented, mobile, and some would say undisciplined, with delusions of grandeur. What is anyone supposed to make of that? 

Well, in the past year or so, I guess, an internet joke. 

Still, Waiters has shown flashes of brilliance. Whether it was checking Kawhi Leonard, dancing with him beat for beat in the Western Conference Semifinals or shooting 44.4 percent from 3, in the same series. 

Yet Waiters’ per 36-minute scoring numbers have crept down since he left the Cleveland Cavaliers, a far worse situation compared to Oklahoma City. But why? Waiters had better teammates in Oklahoma City; he had a former MVP in Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook. He should have flourished. And, at times, it looked like he was, but for the most part, he was on an island. 

Waiters’ statistics paint a coincidental picture. In the 2015-16 regular season, per nbawowy.com, Waiters’ field-goal percentage with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the court was 39.8 percent.His field-goal percentage with Durant and Westbrook off the court was 39.5 percent. Virtually identical.

Even with two of the NBA’s most preternatural superstars on the court, Waiter didn’t prosper. The Thunder’s dynamic duo helped get Waiters easier shots, “practice shots,” the type of shots he won’t see in Miami, yet his overall shooting percentage remained unchanged.

Still, it’s not the first time Waiters has had trouble fitting in, on or off the court. In late 2013, when Dion was still on the Cleveland Cavaliers: after a severe loss, Kyrie Irving called a players-only meeting that, according to Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer, got “testy but not physical,” to paraphrase Waiters. Irving had a black eye and broken nose on that Friday’s home game; people were unsure if a fight between Waiters and Irving had taken place during the meeting, resulting in Irving’s shiner. But Irving was also struck in the head earlier that night. 

In the encompassing weeks, there were rumors of a divided locker room, with Waiters and Irving at the center of the whispers. It resulted in an uncomfortable dual interview with both of the players, where Waiters seemed distant. Irving was his usual gregarious self.

In April of 2014, the reported rift between the two was this palpable. Waiters’ comments on the two’s relationship: 

Yeah, we still need to learn certain things. But I think at the end of the day, we're genuinely friends. I love him as a friend, teammate, everything. I just want everybody to know that. I don't hate this guy. I'm pretty sure he don't hate me. I know he doesn't hate me. I hope he doesn't hate me. Rome wasn't built in one day. We're still young. We're still planning to stay together. We're still working. As long as we've got great communication down, it's fine.”

“I don't hate this guy. I'm pretty sure he don't hate me. I know he doesn't hate me. I hope he doesn't hate me.”

Not exactly what someone would say about their teammate if they were “genuinely friends.” But when you go back further into Waiters’ past, it’s not hard to see why he’s had trouble getting along.

Before Waiters was even in high school, he had cousins, brothers, and friends gunned down in the streets of Philadelphia (his home town). In a 2009 report by ESPN’s Brian A. Giuffra, he wrote, “While Waiters' basketball life was blooming, his personal life was in turmoil. His older cousin Antose Brown, whom Waiters spent nearly every day of his early life with, was shot to death in 2006. A year later, his cousin Isiah Brown and best friend Rhamik Thomas were gunned down on the street less than three months apart.”

In 2009, Waiters lost another cousin to a motorcycle accident. And, unfortunately, in early March of 2016, Waiters would get another one of those calls; the type no one deserves to get. His brother, Demetrius Pinckney, had been killed.

According to an ESPN report by Royce Young: “Pinckney was shot in the head in South Philadelphia after an argument and dirt bike chase, police said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 8:01 p.m. local time.”

The death toll in Waiters’ life is staggering. 

In Philly, Waiters was a street-ball legend before he was a freshman in high school. It’s where he took out his emotions. Basketball was his ticket out. When he was 14, he accepted his first college scholarship and committed to Syracuse before he even had the chance to visit any other schools; he just wanted out, and ‘Cuse was the first cab that pulled up to the curb. 

The census was that Waiters was a bad kid. He hopped from high school to high school, state to state; he didn’t get along with other kids. Is it any wonder why? Waiters has experienced more tragedy than most people endure in a lifetime, especially for his age (24); there’s no one to relate to. He’s on his own island. 

From a 2011 Syracuse blog by Donna Ditota: “I’m losing best friends to the streets, cousins. Just people I knew in general growing up. And it's hard. Especially as a kid. You think, 'I'm losing everybody’ . . . So I just play with a lot of pain and aggression,” said Waiters regarding his hardships.

Perhaps that same pain and aggression still dictates how Waiters jacks up shots, displaying his usual swagger; how, when he put his mind to it, locked down Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs. An intensity that cannot be tapered; a passion that no one can relate to. Perhaps “Waiters Island” is more than an internet nickname.  

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