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PJ’s Mother Speaks Out

by Daniel Schere

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce to speak with Wendy Mailey, who is PJ Hairston’s mother.

She appeared cool and confident. No sign of vulnerability or unwillingness to sit down with a local reporter. I had mentioned on the phone that I wanted to speak with her about her son and she didn’t express any reservations.

We started by talking about her background.

Mailey has worked for both the Greensboro and Winston-Salem Chambers of Commerce, acting as the director of government affairs both times. She serves as a liaison between the chamber and all local, state, and federal elected officials. She has also served as a lobbyist with the Greensboro Partnership.

“I joke and say I beg people for money for a living,” she told me.

We then progressed to talking about her son. I began by asking her what her hopes and dreams were for Hairston after he was drafted 26 th overall by the Miami Heat and then traded to the Charlotte Hornets. She said the NBA’s development league gave him an unconventional route, but one she feels was beneficial.

“It kind of opened the doorway up to a different way to get where you’re going if you kind of get misguided or misstep so to speak.”

Mailey added that her son was able to take online classes during this time, and plans to eventually finish his degree at Carolina.

Hairston’s first exposure to recruiting came when he was a freshman in high school. Then-Arizona Coach Lute Olson saw him playing against future Detroit Piston Brandon Jennings.

Olson made Hairston an offer on the spot.

He had been dreaming of this day since he was 10 years old.

“As a parent though, you have to calm your kids down a little bit,” Mailey said. “I’m like, you probably need to talk this through a little bit first.”

Ultimately she realized her son’s talent could translate into a scholarship and in August 2009, he committed to UNC while still a junior in high school.

“I said if he gets a great offer, let’s go ahead and take it. Get it confirmed and then concentrate on finishing high school basketball. And that’s what he did.”

Granted, Hairston is a celebrity. But five, six, or seven years ago he was just like everyone else his age. All it took was some talent and recruiting visits from two big-name coaches to elevate his profile. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it does give him a little more responsibility. If someone does you a favor, they usually expect you to not waste the opportunity. Hairston owes Roy Williams a debt of gratitude not only for the chance to play basketball for an elite program, but for being able to have access to enormous educational opportunities he may not have had otherwise. PJ hasn’t exactly paid off that debt, or done himself too many favors the last couple of summers. You’d think getting caught driving with no license driving a car rented by a shady agent, having marijuana and a gun, and eventually being dismissed from the basketball program would be enough for someone to learn from their mistakes. But the saga continued after he got into a fight with a high schooler playing basketball on July 6.

Mailey would not acknowledge the severity of her son’s errors. She puts on a brave face. She downplays the criticism, but underneath I think there’s a lot more concern.

“I’m sure I’m not the first parent whose kid has been in some trouble,” Mailey said. “I don’t necessarily look at him as being in trouble with the law. I think the media kind of sensationalized what was going on. There’s a difference between a police report and an incident report. When you run the two things simultaneously it gives a different connotation as to exactly what was going on.”

Perhaps, but does it really matter whether he is behind bars? He’s made a series of poor decisions that would cost any other citizen their credibility in the eyes of employers, or pretty much anyone else.

Mailey admits that when Hairston first told her he wanted to play in a McDonalds All America game, her first reaction was that he should pursue his dreams but also have something else to fall back on in case it didn’t work out with sports. I feel for her. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a son who was a Division I athlete, not to mention seeing his name in the paper every day. Hairston is a basketball player to us, but he is also the boy Mailey raised for 18 years. I have to believe there is pain deep down, even if she hasn’t expressed it.

She talks to her son almost every other day, and has also stayed in touch with Roy.

“The only think I can say about the University of North Carolina is that it was great for PJ. He learned a lot there and under the tutelage of coach Williams, and I can’t even begin to say enough how good of a person coach Williams is. He has stood behind PJ and beside PJ through all of the things that went on at North Carolina and I can truly say that if I needed anything I could call him up and ask him and he would genuinely try to help if he could.”

Hairston is fortunate he has basketball to prop him up for now, but what will he do after the NBA? There’s no guarantee it will work out there, and if it doesn’t he’ll have to confront his past and find another way to contribute. He’s young. He has time to turn it around, but that has to start with the realization that there is life beyond basketball. He may ultimately earn his degree, and when that time comes I’ll give him credit. But he has a long climb.

Mailey is in an interesting position.

She is a representative of the City of Winston-Salem who does important work in dealing with government officials at all levels. She has a son who has become both famous and infamous, but who she loves and is incredibly proud of. She has two other children, one of whom is 14 and according to her is “ten times better than PJ,” at basketball. She told me there are a few things she think she’ll do differently if he ends up playing college ball. When I asked her what kind of legacy she thinks Hairston will leave, she struggled to find an answer.

“It’s hard to look at your children and say what their mark will be. My goal is to make sure when he’s sitting in the same seat I’m sitting in, maybe at 40 and looking at his own children, he can say he progressed and did positive things along the way.”

We can only hope he does as much good for her as she did for him. !

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