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Family, friends watching Central Valley native Gabe Vincent shine in NBA Finals run

Family, friends watching Gabe Vincent Shine in NBA Finals run
Family, friends watching Gabe Vincent Shine in NBA Finals run 03:05

STOCKTON -- Ben Vincent's had a good couple of months. The Modesto native was accepted into a medical residency program and then watched his brother live out a dream on national television. 

"You play NBA2K and you get mad when you can't talk to (Inside The NBA's) Chuck (Barkley) and Ernie (Johnson)," Vincent says "And it's like he's talking to Chuck and Ernie man...there he goes!"

There he was. His brother Gabe, hugging Shaquille O'Neal and joking with Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith. His 29 points on 11/14 shooting in Game 3 against the Boston Celtics earned him a seat on the biggest postgame show in the sport. A long and winding journey that started in the Central Valley had brought him to a place reserved for a select few that walk the planet. 

"That would probably be one of those moments that I'll never ever forget," he says. "There's many moments but that was a fun one."

"[We were] fanboying a little bit of just man it's so awesome to see a person who is not only a great person but a great basketball player get that opportunity," says Zac Zeyen, a coach at St. Mary's who was once a high school teammate of Gabe's. 

Vincent's story is a part of a greater narrative about the 2023 Miami Heat. A group of undraftables and cast-offs, wayward sons of the NBA who all fit a culture and are now four wins away from one of the most improbable postseason runs in the history of the sport. 

But to those that knew Gabe on his way up, he's far from an underdog. 

"He's a gutty guy," says Ken Green, who coached Gabe at St. Mary's. "He'll take charges, he'll scrap it up near the basket. He'll get loose balls and make big shots. He had laid the foundation for this dream of his to come true way back when."

"He was getting workouts in before school started, after school, after practice," Zeyen says.  

Vincent ended up at UC Santa Barbara but was sidelined in 2017 due to an ACL injury. He went through a coaching change and was undrafted in 2018. It was during that time that he was buoyed by his family, his brothers, and the grounding supports in the Central Valley. 

"To be able to be a sounding board for him to be able to get things off his chest was an honor and I was happy to have been there for him," Ben says.

After the draft, Vincent came home to Stockton and signed with the Kings G-League affiliate. As if he never left, the 6'2" guard was getting buckets with the numbers "209" across his jersey. And from there his ascent truly began. 

Within a year, Vincent had received a call-up to play for the Nigerian National Basketball Team. Gabe and his brothers hold dual citizenship as Nigerian and American citizens and the decision to join the team was easy. Under current Sacramento Kings head coach Mike Brown, Vincent helped lead the D'Tigers to an improbable upset of Team USA and qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

It was after the clinching game that Ben got a text from his brother and a confirmation that he was about to enter a new era as a basketball player. 

"After he finished his last game in Nigeria, they qualified for the Olympics they had just beaten China," recalls Ben. "I had just gotten a phone call from him 'I'm so proud of you, you guys did great!' And he said 'I belong. I'm one of those guys.' And he came back and had one heck of a season, won most improved player and now he's back in the NBA Finals with Miami Heat. "

Vincent returned to the G-League and won Most Improved Player before signing with the Miami Heat in 2020. Now, in his second NBA Finals with the organization, he still hasn't forgotten his roots and what he means to the community. 

"There were athletes that came before me that I looked up to and am still close with and I'm fortunate enough to be the one that's in the limelight to represent the area the best I can and I'm excited to represent Miami as well and get this title," Gabe says. 

And when he comes home, he is a larger-than-life figure in Stockton. 

"Gabe came back last year and he wanted to do a clinic," Green says. "Invited anybody from Stockton -- didn't want it to be just about St. Mary's -- and gave up his time for three hours. And took as many pictures and signed as many pictures as possible and that's Gabe."

"A lot of the kids talk about playing 2K with him and it's crazy to see," Zeyen mentions. "You never would've thought that and I think that's been pretty cool."

Whether the Heat win or lose, Gabe Vincent has entered the public consciousness far beyond the Central Valley and the city of Miami. But to those close to him, it's an affirmation of the work he's put in as well as the kind of man he is. And to his older brother, who will be in the stands for the first four games, it means everything to see Gabe succeed in his passion.

"It's very very surreal," Ben says. "You're very emotional. You get very proud. You're extremely happy for him that this is his time. This is his moment."

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