WS Moore, Sports Correspondent.
On Monday, June 6, the Los Angeles Lakers announced the hiring of their new head basketball coach, Darvin Ham.
Ham is the 28th head coach in franchise history and the 24th of the Los Angeles era. He replaces Frank Vogel, who was fired one day after the Lakers wrapped up the 2021–22 season, which resulted in a 33-49 record where they missed the playoffs.
Since 2018, Ham has been an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Although he was born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Ham’s local roots stretch all the way from Ludowici to Savannah and beyond.
In a 2011 interview with NBA.com writer Mike Trudell, Ham recalled how his family left the south and migrated north.
“We’re originally from Ludowici, Georgia, where I still have cousins. They were sharecroppers and were a part of the Great Migration pilgrimage coming up from the south, my grandfather from Mississippi and my grandmother from Georgia. They were making $1 an hour all of a sudden, after getting paid 15 to 20 cents as sharecroppers. It just goes to show you how far we’ve come.”
Ham said he came from a working-class home.
“My mom was a schoolteacher and adult educator who helped get people their GEDs and eventually got into politics, and my dad worked on the General Motors assembly line. We were a blue-collar family living on the east side of Saginaw.”
Before Ham started his speech at his Lakers’ press conference, he thanked God for his blessing.
“Coming from where I come from, I was raised in a household with strong, spiritual faith, belief in God and his Son, Jesus Christ, so I want to start with that. Everything I’ve been able to overcome in my life, along with the people around me, it’s been that spirit that was instilled in me as a youngster.”
His grandmother Evalena Jackson Jones was born and raised in Ludowici until her family moved to Michigan around 1945. The family worshiped at New Hope AME Church in Ludowici, which was not far from the family home. She died in 2017 at age 93.
Ham’s mother, Wilma Jones Ham McZee, is a celebrity in her own right, having been elected as the first woman and African American mayor of Saginaw in 2001. In 1994, she was elected to serve on the Saginaw City Council. An alumna of Delta College and Saginaw Valley State, she is a former educator in the Saginaw Public School System.
McZee is proud of her son, as she is of all of her children, and said she wants Ham to “stay focused on coaching and the Lakers that you will come together, work together and don’t let anybody separate you, divide you. Just keep straight in the Lord.”
Ham’s brother, DeRonnie Turner, played basketball at Savannah State for two seasons after transferring from South Georgia College in the early 1990s. The 6-foot-4 Turner did not put up big numbers for the Tigers, but during his season (1990–91) he averaged 5.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game while shooting 64 percent from the field. He earned a business degree from SSU in 1994 and later a master’s degree from the University of Phoenix. He is employed by General Motors as a manager in human resources policy and employee relations investigator.
Turner said his brother always wanted to be a coach.
“This is something we always talked about, even as youngsters,” he said. “This has been a blessing and an honor. It’s legendary, monumental, fabulous and pronominal.”
He also recalled when his brother would make trips to Savannah.
“During his breaks from college, he would come to town and visit me at Savannah State. The basketball coach would see him during our pickup basketball games and would try to recruit him to come play for Savannah State, but he wanted to play Division I basketball,” Turner said.
Arnold Jackson, Chief Operating Officer for the Liberty County School System, also expressed his joy for his cousin.
“He has been the talk of the family. We all were surprised, and we are planning to have a family reunion at a game in the fall,” he said. “We’ve come from such humble beginnings that a combination of hard work, determination, honesty and strong faith can get you anywhere.”
Ludowici native Harland “Champ” Gibbs is also happy for his cousin.
“We are so proud of him. This is a blessing for him,” he said. “He prevailed through prayers from his grandmother and mother and other members of this family.”
Gibbs added that Ham and his brother learned to play basketball in Ludowici.
“DeRonnie and Darvin would come here for the summer when they were young, and we would play basketball on the dirt courts,” he said.
After graduating from Saginaw High School, Ham attended Otero Junior College for a year (1992–93) before transferring to Texas Tech (1993– 96). A 6-foot-7 forward, he played in 90 games for the Red Raiders and averaged 8.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and one assist per game while shooting .597 percent from the field and .498 percent from the free throw line.
During the 1996 NCAA national tournament, in a game against North Carolina, Ham gained national attention when his dunk shattered a backboard. That same year, he won the NCAA slam dunk contest.
Ham enjoyed an eight-year NBA playing career (1996–98, 1999–2005), suiting up with Detroit, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Washington, Indiana and Denver. He also played internationally in Spain, the Philippines and Puerto Rico.
After his successful playing career, Ham began coaching in 2008 as an assistant coach with the New Mexico Thunderbirds of the NBA Developmental League before taking over as general manager and head coach of the team in 2010. In 2011, he joined the Lakers as an assistant coach, spending two seasons with Los Angeles. He would then spend five seasons as an assistant with the Atlanta Hawks (2013– 18), joining the Milwaukee Bucks as an assistant coach in 2018.
Ham already has a pair of championship rings — one as a player with the Pistons in 2004 and one as an assistant coach with the Bucks in 2021.