Written By | Gayle Kurtzer-Meyers
Raphael does not wait for success to find him. Instead, he goes out and makes a path.
In basketball, the athletes are always trying to get in better shape. The spotlight is always on the people playing the game or training and hitting the gyms every day. However, the spotlight does not show the people and trainers behind the scenes who play a significant role in helping these individuals succeed.
Similar is the case with Raphael Edwards, a trainer who has worked with some of the biggest names in basketball and is involved in many other projects but is rarely on people’s radar. Raphael’s story is a triumph, consisting of a long, arduous journey from rags to riches.
Raphael Alexander Edwards, often known as ‘Rah,’ was born on November 13, 1975, in Brooklyn, New York. Growing up in Brooklyn, Raphael did not have the easiest childhoods, raised by a devoted single mother who always tried her best to give her children everything. She worked long hours to ensure there was always food on the table, clothes for her children, and a roof over their heads.
However, living in a small two-bedroom apartment, along with extended family, was tough for Raphael. Moreover, his father wasn’t in their lives either, which made things challenging for a young Raphael. But, his older brother Gill intuitively stepped in to fill the role of a male figure in his life. Gill took Raphael under his wing, which was not easy but necessary for Raphael. He needed a lot of guidance and positive influence.
Especially during the 1980s and 1990s, as Raphael entered his teen years, New York was experiencing some of the highest crime levels. But, of course, it can be hard to escape the influence of such an environment facing you down each day.
The situation at home and the streets full of danger eventually lead Raphael into survival mode. He quickly fell into a product of the environment. He momentarily became involved with the harsh, negative side of making it in a tough city during a violent time. However, fate had other plans for this boy.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Raphael picked up a love for the basketball sport as well. It didn’t start that way, though. Initially, his brother Gill is the one who got him interested in the sport. Gill knew that Raphael needed something positive to focus on, so he kept pushing Raphael to try basketball. But, at first, Raphael couldn’t get the hang of the game and wanted to quit.
“I was terrible. I wanted to quit and cried out with revenge. My brother, mom, and God never gave up on me. They believed in me when I did not believe in myself.” -Raphael Edwards-
However, his brother and mother continued to encourage him. They believed in him and recognized his talent even when he did not see it in himself. Even today, Raphael admits that his life would have turned out very differently had he not taken up basketball. His future would have spiraled into a negatively permanent direction.
With his determination and devotion, he finally learned to play basketball. After that, Raphael couldn’t get enough of it. He would always be moving from one place to another, trying to find the next best player he could beat. And just like that, as he was playing basketball in Wingate Park one day, his love for the sport changed his entire life.
In 1994, when Raphael was just 18 years and playing basketball, as usual, he came across an unpretentious older gentleman who claimed he could make Raphael into a better player. At first, Raphael dismissed the guy, thinking how could this random person help him.
However, for some reason, Raphael Edwards decided he would give the man a chance. After all, he didn’t have anything to lose, and what was the worst that could happen? Nevertheless, Raphael’s instincts were right, and that one decision, along with the unwavering love and support from his family, turned his life into the classic rags to riches story.
That older guy turned out to be Teddy Vann, a Grammy award-winning writer, producer, songwriter, visionary, philosopher, and an all-around great leader. Teddy saw something in Raphael and wanted to help him make something out of his life.
So, he decided to take him under his mentorship. Teddy not only helped Raphael become a better basketball player but also taught him important life lessons, how to carry himself with pride and dignity, and how to train the mind and the body.
The two became close friends, and even though Teddy Vann passed away in 2009, his impact on Raphael continues today. Ultimately, it was thanks to Teddy that Raphael Edwards was able to kick start his basketball career.
Raphael certainly had the skills. Playing all over Brooklyn and New York, he had picked up considerable skills. He went to junior college in Texas and won the regional championship. Then, however, he got kicked out of school and had to wait out a whole year before resuming school.
That one year was quite complex, and he had to work hard to pick up his grades. However, with discipline and perseverance, he could do it and attend East Carolina University next year. Ever since he was young, Raphael was the leading scorer or rebound in his team.
Therefore, it came as no surprise when he went professional and started playing in basketball teams in the U.S. and abroad, such as in Finland, France, Hong Kong, Dubai, and more. He was a part of several American Basketball Association (ABA) teams and played basketball professionally for over a decade.
Raphael has worked with some big brands during his career as well. For example, Nike endorsed him, and as a result, he was a part of Nike commercials and ads, along with other big names like Snoop Dogg, Vince Carter, and Lebron James. He even toured Japan and Taiwan as part of Nike’s freestyle basketball team.
Later on, Raphael became the Nike Director of Basketball Camp Operations. He was responsible for recruiting key team members and managing 35 basketball camps in eight cities with almost 2,000 school children in China. It was also from this experience that Raphael got the idea of giving back and helping struggling athletes back home with his SAND project.
When his professional basketball career ended, Raphael found himself out of a job. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do. He tried out for the Knicks, he missed the cut the first year and was ready to make the squad the following year but that was when the NBA lockout occurred. There were strict restrictions in place. Teams could not trade, sign, or even contact players. So, even though Raphael had tremendous talent, the lockout prevented him from joining the league.
A disappointment of this magnitude might have discouraged ordinary players from pursuing their dream. But Raphael had tenacity. He would not let this stop him from achieving all that he planned to accomplish in life. Instead, he faced the challenge head-on and used it as a strength builder and went on to have a successful career playing basketball professionally for international teams.
At this time, his good friend, Allan Houston, reached out to him for help. Allan wanted to try out for the league but couldn’t stay in great shape. Looking at Raphael’s form, he asked him to train him. Thus began Raphael Edward’s career as a trainer. Raphael has worked with all kinds of people as a personal trainer.
He has trained celebrities, social elites, and many other people. Some of the famous clients he has worked with include rising star Brandon Ingram, Ty Lawson, Al Harrington, Jerry Stackhouse, and many more. As a result, he is often called a celebrity trainer and considered nothing short of a celebrity himself.
What makes Raphael so different from other personal trainers is his unique approach to the job. He doesn’t believe in a diet per se but instead follows an eating plan and rigorous workouts. Moreover, he believes training the mind is just as important as training the body, and therefore, includes a lot of motivational content in his training.
Besides his ongoing training work, Raphael is involved in many other projects as well.
Raphael has had a strong entrepreneurial drive, too, as he started Streetgodz LLC in 2005. The company focuses on creating competitive performance-style sport centering around basketball. It combines dance and music with the sport to create a unique and extreme freestyle basketball sport.
Moreover, it is the first company of its kind to hold international events. The company has worked with Red Bull, EA Sports, participated in the Michael Jordan All American Basketball game in 2008, the NBA All-Star weekend event in 2010, and more.
SAND training project
Another notable project of his has been the SAND Training project. SAND stands for Superior Athletic Natural Development. As mentioned earlier, Raphael got the idea when he was involved in the Nike training camp.
Later on, he would visit parks in New York or other areas and witness young kids playing basketball but with the wrong technique. Similarly, he came across several promising young athletes with potential but didn’t have the financial means to go through professional training.
He recognized the potential talent in all these young kids but knew they needed financial assistance for professional training and guidance from a mentor they could relate to personally.
That’s why he came up with the SAND training project, set up a fundraiser, and started holding four to five-week camps to help train these young individuals and give back to society.
“I wanted to give kids high level, elite athletic physical and mental training for free. It is one way of paying forward all the support that was given to me.”- Raphael Edwards-
Due to his extensive experience in basketball and fitness and athlete training, Raphael has also taken part in some production projects. For example, he played a crucial role in directing two Beats by Dre commercials.
Moreover, in 2015, he took part directing and choreographing the basketball scenes for the Antes De Euro basketball commercial for Tony Parker. He played a similar role in Draymond Green’s ‘Tell me when to go’ commercial.
Raphael has dabbled in some literature work as well. He wrote the riveting book STAR: One Will Always Shine Brighter, about two inner-city boys who love basketball but go down very different paths. Raphael does enjoy writing non-fiction stories and has the writing ability to suck readers inside his stories.
The not-for-profit SAND Training project is not his only philanthropic project. Raphael also regularly works with and donates to the charitable organization, It’s From the Sole, which aims to collect and provide shoes to the homeless in New York and other cities. Furthermore, Raphael also participates in summer basketball camps at Xaverian High School for local boys and youth groups.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” — Theodore Roosevelt-
The Cape Town Tigers
Raphael’s vision is not just limited to the U.S. but spans globally. His most recent project is the Cape Town Tigers, where he is an owner.
After gathering some investors, Raphael put together a team, known as the Cape Town Tigers, to participate in the Basketball Africa League (BAL) and many other international events with NBA Africa.
There’s no doubt that basketball holds a lot of popularity worldwide, and this is especially true for Africa as there are as many as 13 NBA players from the continent.
That’s why Raphael founded Severus LLC with a group of co-owners to develop the Cape Town Tigers into a professional basketball organization. According to Raphael, for the Cape Town Tigers to be a part of the BAL is nothing short of a breathtaking opportunity.
They believe that through their organization, they will bring about many positive changes in the basketball community and the continent.
Furthermore, they plan to build the sport from the ground up with a lot of investment into infrastructure and by promoting economic development.
Moreover, South Africa, and Cape Town, is the ideal place to do this. Cape Town is the second-most-popular tourist destination and one of Africa’s wealthiest cities. It had an economy worth $37 billion in 2019 and is all set to grow even further.
The team has already played a few matches and exceeded expectations. According to Raphael, they plan on becoming the ‘face of the BAL.’
Moreover, the organization believes in using the sport to bring positive change to the continent by introducing basketball expertise, business acumen and promoting philanthropy aligning with NBA Africa’s goal for the continent. That’s why former president Barack Obama has also joined NBA Africa as a strategic planner to help advance the organization’s efforts.
Raphael Edwards has gone through a typical rag to riches story, but the man is anything but ordinary. Instead, he is a hard-working, humble, and disciplined individual who is always thinking about improving himself and giving back to the community.
Raphael also enjoys snowboarding, training for MMA, free-diving, and if his social media profile is anything to go by, he loves dressing to the nines too!
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle-