While many of the greatest basketball players of all-time were multi-dimensional on the court, Marvin Roberts is multi-dimensional in life. Sure, he was a solid pro for seven seasons in the ABA and NBA from 1971 to 1977, but Roberts refuses to be pigeon-holed as a one-trick pony. Be it basketball, business, acting or baseball, Roberts has rich knowledge and real life experience to apply and share.
“My mantra is a quote from Bill Russell: ‘Basketball is what I do, not who I am,’” said Roberts, who today serves as Treasurer for the NBRPA’s Board of Directors.
With interests and experiences varied enough to make a Renaissance man jealous, Roberts is a walking contradiction for anyone that looks at basketball players in just one light. It started that way for the Brooklyn native at an early age.
“I didn’t grow up dreaming about being a professional basketball player – baseball was my first love,” Roberts said. “(Getting into basketball) was almost a classic story of a 6-foot-4 kid walking down the hallway in school and the coach asks him to play basketball. I was a pitcher on the baseball team first.”
A lifetime New York Yankees fan with fond memories of visiting Yankee Stadium with his father, Roberts gave basketball a try at the urging of his Wingate High School coaches and gradually drifted away from baseball as his hoops game grew to match his sizable frame. Roberts’ basketball career began in earnest as a high school sophomore, and – despite dealing with fluid on his knee as a junior – he developed rapidly and made several all-New York City teams as a senior.
Grown to 6-foot-8, Roberts was fully entrenched as a hardwood star and had multiple scholarship offers to play collegiately. An upstart assistant coach – Dale Brown, who would later lead LSU to Final Fours as a head coach – caught Roberts’ fancy and lured him 2,000 miles west to Utah State University.
Roberts’ game simply exploded in Logan, Utah, where he earned All-America honors in three seasons. He led Utah State to two NCAA tournament berths and burst onto the national scene with 33 points and 16 rebounds against eventual National Champion UCLA in the Elite Eight of the 1970 bracket.
“I had a pretty big offensive game against UCLA,” said Roberts, understating his explosive performance.
Roberts averaged 22.3 points and 12.9 rebounds per game in his Utah State career. He parlayed those big numbers into opportunities in both the ABA, where Denver drafter him in the second round, and NBA, where Detroit selected him in the third round.
Roberts chose Denver and the ABA, playing for Hall of Fame coach Alex Hannum. Playing for Hannum would start a trend, as Roberts played for three additional Hall of Famers – Larry Brown, Hubie Brown and Jerry West – in a professional career that spanned across five teams in seven seasons. Each coach gave Robert valuable knowledge he would apply to life after basketball.
“Hannum was a task maker in terms of discipline,” Roberts said. “He was a tough guy, a Marine, and I’ve applied that discipline to carry out assignments in corporate America.
“Larry Brown is an educator,” Roberts continued. “I learned fundamentals from him and if you understand the fundamentals of your job, you can be successful.”
Roberts called West a perfectionist – so much so that his coaching might have suffered for it prior to moving on to a wildly successful front office career.
“You can argue that no other pro athlete has had the success on the court and in the front office that Jerry West has,” Roberts said. “He wasn’t a great coach because he didn’t have the patience with us making mistakes. From Jerry West, I learned that in corporate life you need to compete and have to be the very best.”
Of Hubie Brown, Roberts said he learned to prepare for tasks with the intensity of a military general and intellect of a college professor.
“I learned about planning and being detail-oriented from Hubie,” Roberts said. “When I listen to him on a broadcast, I STILL learn from Hubie.”
Armed with wisdom from these four men, Roberts applied their lessons to his charismatic personality after finishing his career with the Los Angeles Lakers and Amaro-Harrys of Bologna, Italy in the Italian Basketball League. And that’s when his life story gets really interesting.
Roberts returned to school and finished his undergraduate degree in Los Angeles. In the meantime, he applied his talents to Hollywood and worked as an actor. Roberts earned his Screen Actors Guild (SAG) card, as well as his American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) card, and appeared in the blockbuster hit movie “Airplane” (albeit in a non-speaking role) that featured his former Lakers teammate, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Hollywood connections helped lead him to an opportunity as a game show contestant on The Joker’s Wild (Roberts says he knows “a little bit about nothing”), and – indirectly – to a corporate connection with McDonald’s.
“I told the host, Bill Cullen, I was making a transition to real life from basketball,” Roberts said. “A woman from the McDonald’s Corporation in the audience heard that and helped lead me to a job with McDonald’s. I went through the whole program, got a degree from Hamburger University, and became a human resources supervisor for McDonald’s in 1987.”
After several years working for McDonald’s, Roberts went back to school and earned his master’s degree in career counseling from California State University, Los Angeles. Armed with additional knowledge and life experience, Roberts returned to corporate America with another powerful company – FedEx – and today serves as Regional Human Resources Manager for FedEx based out of the Atlanta area. He is responsible for locations in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast United States where he works with service center management on HR-related matters.
Roberts – ever the walking contradiction – seems perhaps more pleased with his success in corporate life than basketball.
“I worked for two global icons that are the best at what they do,” Roberts said. “Basketball doesn’t define you; it describes what we did for a living.”
And living is what Roberts does best.