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His reason for leaving?

“Just watching them play and then not playing like 40 minutes a game. No disrespect to the players in Beijing, but I was just looking at the game like, ‘If y’all want to win, why not put me in?’ “

After an All-America campaign in his only season at Maryland, Francis was chosen with the second pick in the 1999 NBA draft. He averaged 18.1 points and 6.0 assists a game over the course of his nine-year career, appearing in three All-Star Games, two Slam Dunk contests and sharing Rookie of the Year honors with Elton Brand in 2000.

“The Franchise” played for eight different coaches, traveling from Houston to Orlando to New York to Portland and from there to the waiver wire. He wound up back in Houston, where he made only 10 appearances before season-ending knee surgery in 2008.

“I had tendinitis my whole career,” he explained. “Jumping and dunking like I dunked for 10-12 years at my height … it’s eventually going to take a toll on you, and I knew that.”

Between contracts and buyouts, Francis earned $103.5 million during his time in the league. Even when he was sidelined in 2008, Sports Illustrated pegged him as the 22nd highest-earning athlete in the United States. Without playing a single minute, he made $20.3 million — more than Carmelo Anthony (No. 25), Tom Brady (No. 28) and Albert Pujols (No. 34).

Francis was arrested for public drunkenness at Los Angeles International Airport last October. Then on July 23, TMZ.com reported that he has been accused of sexually harassing one of the artists signed to his record label. The singer, 20-year-old Shauna Simien, alleged that the two were discussing details of her contract when Francis “groped” her between her legs. Simien said that she filed a police report in May 2010 but that no charges have been filed, according to the report.

“It is what it is. You know, I can’t really do too much about it,” Francis told TMZ.com last week. “I’m with my wife so, if she don’t believe it, whatever anybody else said is he said, she said.”

From basketball to the boardroom

“Lifeguarding,” Francis tweeted in July along with a picture of his children, Brooklyn, 5, and Doppie, 3, swimming in a backyard pool. Playing time was only part of the reason he decided to leave China; having to raise two kids in a foreign country was another.

“Of course, my daughter, I love her the most,” he said, “but my son, I look at him like me.”

Francis grew up in a low-income household with his mother, Brenda Wilson, and three siblings. His biological father left the family when Francis was just 6. Then at 18, his mother lost a bout with cancer, forcing Steve and his 5-year-old sister to move in with their grandmother. He dropped out of high school, stopped playing basketball and, as Langley put it, “lost his way.”

“I was in a daze, man, forever,” Francis said. “I don’t even know if I still ever woke up from it. Experiencing that … it was hard.”

Today, Francis spends his time juggling a number of business opportunities, but his foundation is at the top of the list. Founded in 1999, it funds a number of community outreach programs and fundraisers in Washington and Houston. Its cornerstone is the Brenda Wilson Scholarship, which has distributed more than $350,000 in college scholarships in the past eight years.

“You know, sometimes you hear from some of these people who go on to be successful, and they kind of forget where they came from; that was never Steve’s philosophy,” Langley said. “He has always come back home to Takoma Park, and he has always been supportive of the community.”

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