Learning right from wrong was not always about morals for 76ers center Amir Johnson.
"L.A. is gang-affiliated, so if you go down one street or this other alley, you know there's going to be some Crips or Bloods, depending on where you were," Johnson said. "I had to watch out for that stuff when I was walking to school or taking a public bus. You learn what areas you're not supposed to go to or be around."
Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, a certain set of rules had to be followed. The right colors, the right clothes, the right kind of hat.
Johnson, 31, said things are different now, but that's what it was like in L.A. back in his day and those lessons have stayed with him.
He doesn't consider himself a flashy person, he tries to pay attention to surroundings, and no matter what city he's in, he feels as if he's aware of where he should and shouldn't be. Even so, when Johnson thinks about his hometown, his mind doesn't automatically go to the undertones of gang life informing where he could go or what he could wear.
"Beaches, good weather, In-N-Out burgers," Johnson said with a laugh. "It's a city where dreams can come true."
Johnson's dreams came true earlier than he expected. Drafted into the NBA out of high school, Johnson is now in his 14th season of professional basketball.
He said he owes everything to his home, but home for Johnson is not about the streets of L.A. He thinks about the people that helped to shape him and keep him on the right path. People, he said, are what really come to mind when he thinks about his hometown.
"I lived under a roof with a lot of women," Johnson said. "Any time I did something wrong, I got in trouble by the whole family."
Living in a house with his mother, father, grandmother, and aunt, Johnson was taught to always be humble, respect women, and try to do the right thing.
Johnson had a lot of energy as a kid, and his parents put him in sports as an outlet. Track and field and basketball gave him not only a way to expend some of his energy but a way out of L.A.
"It's all about the people you surround yourself with," he said. "I had friends that loved to play basketball, so I stuck with the friends that wanted to hoop instead of the ones that were in the streets."
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