Like Father, Like Son: Coltrane and Ellington Chu Curtis
Like Father, Like Son: Coltrane and Ellington Chu Curtis
- Words Lawrence Schlossman
- Date June 20, 2017
Back when the NBA Playoffs were just hitting their stride, Grailed was lucky enough to link up with one of the coolest father and son duos we know, Coltrane and Ellington Chu Curtis. The Team Epiphany founder and his 5-year-old son took us on a tour of their amazing Dumbo apartment, shot some hoops and walked us through Ellington's basketball card collection. Afterward, in honor of Father's Day, we sat down with Coltrane for a candid and revealing conversation about what it's like being a father in 2017. Check out our chat below and then shop a curated selection from both Coltrane and Ellington's closet for charity. We also encourage everyone to donate directly to Prep for Prep.
All proceeds from the sale will benefit Prep for Prep.
Photos by Chris Fenimore.
How excited are you for the NBA Playoffs right now?
Ellington: Really! I’m so excited!
Does your dad let you stay up late to watch the games?
E: Eh, sometimes.
Do you fall asleep sometimes when the games are on?
He’s pretty engaged?
Coltrane: Yeah, we fight about bedtime. And what do we do? What do we do when you can’t watch the game?
E: We tape it.
C: Do you watch them tomorrow? Do you watch them before? When do you watch them generally?
E: At breakfast.
At breakfast? So you’ll watch basketball at breakfast the next day?
I saw you playing on your iPad. What was that? It looked super fun.
E: NBA Live.
NBA live? So he’s not a 2K guy?
C: No, not a 2k guy.
When you’re playing NBA Live, what team are you? Who’s your squad?
C: He creates his own team.
E: Golden State.
So who’s on your team right now?
C: Who are the best players on your team? Name ten players that would be on your team.
E: Lebron, Kyr—
C: [Cuts him off] Okay, I’m mad at you for that, but go ahead.
E: Kyrie. Carmelo, Kristaps, Dwyane Wade…
You’re halfway there.
E: I’m thinking really hard. Steph! Kevin Durant, Klay, John Wall.
E: Isaiah Thomas!
Boom! There’s ten. Are you a big Knicks fan like your dad?
Is that your number one team though?
E: Yep. My second team is Lebron’s and then the Warriors.
C: WHAT? I’m not talking to you tonight. And you’re making dinner for yourself, buddy. Remember those courtside tickets I was getting you? We’re not sitting there anymore. We’re nosebleeds from now on.
E: But I like Lebron!
C: Really? How many pair of Lebron sneakers do you have?
C: How many pair of Kyrie’s you got?
C: And how many pair of Steph’s do you have?
So you guys are a Nike family strictly?
C: Yeah, I’m very excited that Nike now has the deal for NBA jerseys.
How many jerseys do you have, Ellington?
E: I don’t know.
C: Okay, in that case, I’m going to give all of them away then. How many do you have?
C: And you know what’s funny? Is how jerseys are making a cyclical approach. It’s like cyclical in culture. Like when we were wearing Mitchell & Ness jerseys and they were super big and old school, and now they’re coming back for kids like him.
I want to know how often do you and your dad watch basketball live.
C: How many times do we go to games? What games did we go to?
E: New York! Knicks games.
C: Where do we sit?
EC: The front.
I’m going to assume that means courtside [laughs].
C: And who did we see recently?
Was that cool?
E: I met Carmelo two times.
Two times? I’ve met him zero times so that’s pretty impressive. What is he like?
E: He’s nice.
C: Did he remember who you were?
C: Did you remember who he was?
[Laughs] So you big-dogged Carmelo Anthony?
C: Strong-armed. He beasted him.
Are you going to be a basketball player when you grow up?
E: [Clapping enthusiastically] Yes. Yes. Yes.
What’s your backup plan?
C: If you’re not going to be a basketball player what are you going to be?
E: Uh, nothing.
I like that attitude!
C: Mommy loves that. But guess what, brother? You’re out of here when you’re 18. Mommy wants him to go to NYU. Whose team are you on mommy’s or mine?
E: Both of them...[Ellington exits]
C: Good answer.
Are you guys going to do anything special for Father’s Day?
Generally we role in packs. When you parent, you co-parent, you parent by community, so a lot of times when we hang out, it’s really about our community of parents.
People in the neighborhood? Other professional connections?
Well, it’s interesting because it’s like you’re acquaintances with people, then you have kids together and you realize you have more in common than the people who are your acquaintances or your best friends because you have kids together and this common interest.
It’s like soldiers in combat.
Yeah, and in my situation, it actually brought me closer to people that I should have been closer to before because we share the same values, but now we have so much more in common: We don’t sleep the night well, we wake up super early, you know.
You’re all miserable [laughs].
We’re all miserable. We cringe when we have flights over four hours. It’s just common ground, things we can relate to. For Father’s Day, I generally hang out with my brood of dads. It’s like Dao-Yi and his son. It’s my man Tyson and his son Cassius. My man Matt, his son Caden. My man Phil, his son Teddy. You start thinking about all these different dads and these units and thinking about how important it is to be a dad, how important it is to be in their life as a role model, but also it’s the most fun you can ever have. Every time I think about deadbeat dads—and I think about them being selfish about being deadbeat dads, and I think about selfishness in general—I actually come back to the idea that really the most selfish thing you can do is be with your kid because you get so much back from it. It’s tough for the first 6-9 months, but after that, they give so much more back to you that I couldn’t imagine not having Father’s Day with my squad and our kids. Cause those are my kids.
The whole “it takes a village” saying...
It takes a village, and it takes a truckload of money. It is not a cheap endeavor.
Outside of you and Ellington’s mutual love of basketball what else do you guys bond over? At least right now because obviously things change with kids real quick.
When he was 4/5, it was all about cars, and if anyone knows anything about me it’s that I’m about my cars. Well, I mean, I’m about my family, my company, and my life, but when you start getting to things that don’t have a value in the afterlife, then I’m really about cars. Also, basketball and my watches. But starting with cars, if you ask him about any car, from you know, a block away, he can tell you what it is by the headlights. We’ll go to the big auto shows, that’s really cool.
So this kid is sitting courtside and waking up in new Bugattis?
Right. He woke up in a new Bugatti, I woke up in reality. But he knows the difference between ad DB5 and a DB9. He’s about that life. And then basketball came about, and I love the fact that he loves basketball, and we watch together and he understands the game. But the one thing about basketball and him is that I just want to make sure he has a good time ‘cause I just know that he thinks he might make the league, but he ain’t grew up like I grew up. You know what I mean? I’m in Bed-Stuy. I’m in South Jamaica, Queens. I’m playing basketball from sun up to sun down, like I’m not allowed back up in the crib. That’s how I played basketball. He’s not really growing up like that. I just want to make sure the game of basketball for him is always fun.
What were you like when you were his age?
I mean, I would think we’re quite similar. I’m an only child. He’s an only child. When you’re an only child, you grow up a little bit faster, you understand language, so therefore your mouth gets you in more trouble than you can actually understand. Growing up, I went to the best schools my parents could provide from me. And from an early age on, he’s been in the best schools we can provide for him. Obviously, you want to do better than your parents, but my parents did a great job and [my wife’s] parents did a great job.
They set a high bar.
Yeah and I think we’re trying to like, you know, leap over that.
I mean, Ellington is already fluent in Mandarin so I think you’re on the right track.
He writes characters, speaks the language. You know, he’s talking smack behind my back to his mom. And they are having this whole life behind my back. And it’s the worst. He also has his love for Spanish. The fact that he’s trilingual at 5 is something that we want to maintain because it gives him the best opportunity to win in the world.
He’s already a global citizen and doesn’t even know yet. What’s it like raising a kid in the city?
I would say it’s the only way I know how to be raised. We’ve had friends that have moved to Cali, moved to other places, and I think their quality of life on paper is better. It’s better for them, better for their families, not necessarily what’s right for ours, you know?
It’s totally a subjective thing.
Yeah, maybe you live a bit more active life out there, being outdoors is more year round or whatever, but I think for kids like Ellington, who is growing up very privileged, I think New York City allows us to make sure he has as much grit, as much hustle and as much interaction with people as possible. It’s all teaching him how to be compassionate.
It’s learning empathy by osmosis just being around so many different types of people.
But he’s very much aware of what he has and what other people don’t have. Like the other day, we were at the office and we walked passed this guy who was asking for food and Ellington asked if we could give him some food since we had extra, so we went up to the office, came back down and gave him food. But that was his idea. If you’re walking train to train, bus to bus, block to block, this is the kind of thing you’re going see, but in other cities, you might not get a chance to really connect with people. At least in New York City, I already know what trouble looks like since I’ve been there. I mean, you gotta be honest to how you grew up, you gotta be honest to your environment, you gotta be honest with your homies and how they grew up, and the community. But you try to teach your children values. I think the first thing is having respect for your mom. I think if you love your mother you’ll have the ultimate respect for women. I think it’s very important for him to be in a household where I work, his mom works and that’s how it is going to be. You’re going to grow up in a household where you’re going to earn your own money, earn your own keep.
How do you balance it all? Being a dad and someone who owns his own company and runs this crazy operation?
I think it’s important to understand how I got to where I am. My wife and I both grew up kids of entrepreneurs. We grew up in our parents business, so when people look at our company they’re like, “Wow. 80 people, all these clients, you’re doing great!” The challenge for me is that I want this to be here for the next 20, 30, 40 years.
Is it something you think you could pass down?
Not necessarily. I think that’s a dream, but I think an attainable goal is making sure that he grows up within the company. I think it’s super important that you maintain a quality of people.
Back to the idea of Ellington’s privileged upbringing, I think it’s great that you fully acknowledge it.
100%. I look back at the earliest arguments that my wife and I got into, it was his education, public vs. private. You know, I went to public school, then private, then back to public. And I went to a private college. If I have the paper, I’m going to do what best for him. What else am I going to do with it? Just put it in the bank?
Investing in him is actually the best investment.
It’s the best thing ever, watching him flourish.
What was it like when you guys found out you were pregnant? You don’t strike me as a nervous guy...
I’ll be super honest, I wasn’t even thinking about having a kid.
Did you want to be a dad?
That wasn’t something I even thought about. It wasn’t something I thought I would be good at. It was just something that never even crossed my mind. My dad passed away like four years ago, and I would say the only reason why he was like living was for and through and about me the same way I’m with Ellington. But I never even thought about it. In New York City, it’s difficult enough to have one girl, be true, be honest and you’re already kind of fighting to get through that. My wife and I have been together for 15 years, married for 10. It took us forever to [conceive]. Well, not forever. We didn’t have one of those true horror stories, but I just had the lowest sperm count in the history of sperm counts. It was a whole situation. We had to look at the clock and you start timing when you have sex then it becomes mechanical. We had to work at it. We had to work at him, and you know, I wouldn’t have any other way because now I have a whole new meaning for life.
It really changes everything.
I know why I get up in the morning. I know why I can make hard decisions. Because I know what I’m doing and I know how important he is. And I just want him at the epicenter of my life.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to an expecting father or a new dad?
No matter how much money your make or no matter how much stuff you own, time is truly the greatest luxury of all. What I’m trying to do now is be healthier, slow my life up. The best advice I can give to any dad is slow up. Don’t rush things. They grow up very fast.
Savor every moment...
Yeah, it’s like everyone knows at the office, I’m out at 6:30. I don’t give a fuck what’s going on. Back in the day, you lived at work and went to dinners and parties every night, and then you get up in the morning and drag you drunk and high ass out of bed and go back. Eventually you’re like, “What kind of quality of life is this?” I just want to slow things up and be present. I’m not trying to be twisted, I’m not trying to be high, I’m not trying to be drunk. I just think, a lot of us nowadays, you know, are part of an industry where alcoholism and drug abuse is rampant. It’s the norm.
You don’t want to miss a single moment.
I don’t want to miss a moment. And sometimes you come home from a dinner and you get up in the morning and you’re groggy or twisted a little bit from the night before and it’s this feeling of failing him. He ain’t worried about you and your hangover, you know? He’s worried about where his dad is and doing our normal thing. It really puts it all in perspective, man.
When you look in the mirror and see this version of yourself, do self-identify as a father now? Obviously, there are all these other things. You’re an entrepreneur. You’re an African-American male. You have all these things you can identify with, but in your heart of hearts, is being a dad number 1 now?
I just want it to be remembered for giving it everything I had as a father, that I laid it all out for my son.
That’s the real legacy?
There are still conversations I wish I had with my dad. There’re still things I wish I could have done with my pops. There are just so many things I didn’t get a chance to do, even though I did do so much with him, so for [Ellington] I just know it’s a race against the clock. You know, it’s a race against this timer of life that you’re not in control of.
Does that ever feel frantic?
I think for me it’s frantic at times. I think if anybody really understands running their own business, understand travel, you know, it’s funny because other people at the company are having babies and they know see why I travel the way I do. If I go to LA you don’t gotta book a hotel for me because I’m going in on the 6AM flight and coming back on the 11PM. I’m on a redeye.
That’s a different type of hustle and commitment altogether.
That’s the other thing. You learn how to rest. I’m working on my yoga, my meditation, so I really understand how to put my mind and body at rest. So when I’m resting I’m actually truly energizing my body. I’m going to the gym again. I’m dropping these extra 10-15 pounds and it’s all because I want to be there for him. If I’m there for him, it’s like fuck the Range, fuck the crib, fuck watches, it doesn’t matter.
It’s all superfluous.
It has no meaning. Oftentimes, people misconstrue things in the world of social media. That’s why I’m very careful of what I’m posting, what I’m doing, what I’m saying, because 90% of what I’m doing I’m with him. Hopefully others get the message too to see what’s important.
You want to set a good example, show that anybody can do it.
It’s the only way that I know. When you really think about it, I own my own crib, I drive my own car, I have my agency, a beautiful family. What more do I need? That’s it. Stop there. I thought fulfillment was popping bottles in clubs in Miam or a Ferrari. But fulfillment is really about the opportunities you can provide for the next generation. I should have gotten serious a lot earlier in life, so having another one was an option to me. I grew up an only child, so I never knew what it was like to have a brother or sister. He is the sum of my life, my wife’s life, and I couldn’t imagine not having him. When my dad passed away, the only reason I got through it was because I had him. I think that the hardest part in life right now is that now he’s not growing up with my wife’s dad, he’s not growing up with my dad, and those are the two most impactful people in our lives. But it’s great to have his mom as an incredible role model. She’s been able to mold the person that he is. I think we live in such a fucked up world with horrible role models and political people, but he still gives us hope.