Share story

HOUSTON (AP) — Houston rookie Gary Clark had a special cheering section Saturday night against the Los Angeles Lakers as a contingent of people from the small North Carolina town where he grew up, including Pirates pitcher Chris Archer, attended the game.

Clark and Archer were both raised and went to high school in Clayton, North Carolina, a town of just more than 21,000 people about 20 minutes outside Raleigh.

Archer is about six years older than Clark, but has watched his career since the Rocket was a freshman in high school and made a point to catch at least one of his games every season since. After watching him work at Clayton high school, he continued to follow his career at Cincinnati in his four years playing for the Bearcats.

Clark said his relationship with Archer has been an important one and that seeing his success as a professional athlete inspired him and many other kids in their community.

“For him to be the first superstar out of little ol’ Clayton it kind of like opened up kids’ eyes around the community that hey if you find something you love and you do it really hard and you’re passionate about it you’ve got an opportunity,” Clark said.

Before Clark’s college career was up, Archer told the power forward that wherever he ended up this year he’d continue the tradition of coming to watch him play. Clark went undrafted out of Cincinnati but signed a free agent deal with the Rockets this summer and the Rockets saw so much promise in the 24-year-old that it contributed to them parting ways with Carmelo Anthony.

Clark appeared in his 32nd game on Saturday night, but his minutes had been limited until center Clint Capela sustained a thumb injury earlier this week that required surgery. With Capela out for up to six weeks Clark’s playing time has increased and he got his first career start on Wednesday night against the Nets.

Archer beamed when talking about witnessing Clark grow from a high school freshman to an NBA player and proudly wore his No. 6 jersey as he hosted about 20 other Clayton natives in a suite at the game. He’s thrilled to have another person from Clayton playing professional sports and said they discuss what their success means for the kids back home.

“Something that he and I talk about quite often is what we can do with our platform in our own hometown,” Archer told The Associated Press. “That’s the coolest thing, inspiring people to follow their dreams and become whatever they want to become, not necessarily just athletes but one of our close friends here is a doctor, we have multiple business owners. It’s a small town but I think Gary and I are a product of great people and we hope to inspire people to continue to achieve their goals.”

Even though they’ve been friends for years, Clark still seemed wowed that Archer went out of his way to support him with this trip.

“When you’re able to see someone that you actually knew when you were a young kid and looked up to and now you’re in the same position as him and it’s like you’re making Clayton proud and making other kids in Clayton think they have an opportunity to get to this level, too,” Clark said.


More AP NBA: and