Martin Anderson’s first slam dunk as a toddler was on a Little Tikes hoop in front of an audience of one – his mom.
Now he plays in sold-out arenas around the world.
At just 21 years old, Anderson is entering his fourth year as a professional international basketball player.
“I’ve been overseas for three years now,” the Federal Way native said. “All you’re thinking as a kid is playing in the NBA, you’re not thinking ‘I’m going to go to Spain and play.’”
After graduating from Decatur High School, Anderson attended Brown University in Rhode Island and Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, but neither schools were the right fit, he said.
Upon returning to Federal Way, a friend of his was also just returning from an overseas stint with a basketball team in Japan and encouraged Anderson to try his game on courts in different countries.
So, he began searching for any and all opportunities to play abroad, the first of which led him to Spain. He played on four different teams over the course of two years in Spain, then continued to play on teams in Italy, Germany and Mexico.
In early November, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard, headed to Windsor, Ontario in Canada to play a season for Windsor Express.
“If you don’t make the NBA, you head overseas,” he said. Anderson has previously received training invites from a couple NBA teams that double as workouts and as an interview for the team. In September, Anderson trained with the Phoenix Suns and last year trained with the Dallas Mavericks.
It’s possible to make a living out of pro-sports and although overseas salaries vary, Anderson said players can make anywhere from $20,000 a year to $10,000 per month depending on the country.
“It feels like a good step in my career,” he said about choosing Windsor for the possible talent exposure it may bring.
Spain brought him teammates-turned-lifelong friends. Italy was his favorite place for sightseeing. Mexico showed unconditional love to the players and reset his perspective on gratitude, he said.
“I’m making it sound like a great lifestyle, but it’s hard,” he said about spending months away from family and friends. “It’s lonely. I’ve been on teams where I’m the only one who speaks English. I’ve never had a coach who spoke English in Europe.”
While Anderson picks up bits and pieces of the foreign dialects, the language barriers combined with the timezone differences is isolating, he said.
“I’m missing holidays, birthdays, my little nephews growing up,” he said. “You come back a year later and a lot has changed, even the city looks different.”
But Anderson said the sacrifices are worth it.
“I’d rather do this than anything else in the world,” he said. “My peace is on the court, it’s just my passion. It doesn’t feel like work to me most times.”
In his sparse free time before Windsor, Anderson trained high school student-athletes as a way to give back to his local basketball community.
“It’s always fun to do that because I wish I had somebody to do that for me when I was younger,” he said.
He wasn’t a top pick or a shining star in high school and many coaches overlooked him as a player, he said.
“Nobody else had the vision, but I did,” he said. “I knew I could make it.”
Joshua McLeod, Anderson’s AAU basketball coach for the Emerald City Pioneers, remains a longtime friend and mentor.
“He was the first coach I had in high school that let me just play,” he said. “That’s when I started gaining confidence in myself, because of him.”
So, Anderson worked relentlessly to achieve what he knew he was capable of. His workout and training schedule to prepare for Windsor was demanding, getting up at 3 a.m., at the gym by 5 a.m.
Anderson is on the court from 5-8 a.m. with his main trainer, Cartiea French Toney. Then lifts from about 9 a.m. to noon with his strength coach, Tim Manson. Most nights he’ll head back to the gym to play basketball and then repeats the process all over again.
“How am I going to pass you if you’re already ahead of me and we’re working out the same amount of time,” he said. “The only way I can pass you is by doing more. So I always think ‘Gotta do more.’”
A few bad performances in overseas games could send you right back home, he said.
“You always have to fight for your job. It’s never secure,” he said. “Because there’s a million other dudes working for the same thing, working for the same spot.”
Inspiration also comes from witnessing local players make it big time such as Jamal Crawford, Isaiah Thomas, and Nate Robinson, Anderson said.
“Obviously I’m biased,” he said with a laugh. “Gotta represent the hometown.”
His parents, Guy and Sharon, attended every single one of Anderson’s games growing up, he said. They, along with his three siblings, continue to endlessly support him – even from hundreds of miles away.
Dreams are only a result of determination, persistence and effort, he said, but everyone’s path is different and there is no surefire way to make it to the top.
“I want to make the NBA, that has been my goal since I was a kid, but really it’s whatever God has planned for me,” he said, noting he plans to complete his business degree via an online university. “Not many people get to do what they love, so I’m really blessed in that way.”
Anderson’s season with Windsor Express begins with a home opener Saturday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m.