Legends Spotlight: Bob Bigelow

October 17, 2016

Last Saturday the National Basketball Retired Players Association hosted the latest edition of its youth basketball and mentoring program called “Full Court Press: Prep for Success”. Several former NBA/WNBA standouts were in attendance at the YMCA of Greater Boston including Bob Bigelow/Wes Matthews. The program travels all over the country to introduce kids to positive role models in both basketball and life. NBRPA writer Jon Teitel has spent time talking with many of the greatest players in NBA history and will share his interviews at LegendsofBasketball.com. Jon visited with Bob Bigelow about his role with the Full Court Press program and the best way for kids to get into youth sports.

What did you do at last weekend’s Full Court Press clinic? There were 4 of us (me/ Dwight Davis/Adrienne Goodson/Wes Matthews) so we divided the court into 4 quadrants and worked with the kids on a specific set of skills.

What was the best part of the clinic? It was great to watch the smiles on the kids’ faces. I have done at least 7000 clinics during my lifetime but this 1 is a bit different than the ones I did 25-30 years ago. I try to narrow down the age group and the # of kids in the gym at 1 time. You simply cannot teach basketball to 8-year olds and 17-year olds in the same way at the same time.

How do you try to connect with the kids on the court? That was easy because they broke it up by age group. I do different things depending on the age of the kids. When we had the young ones we did relay races…so that they would sleep very well that night! They got to dribble while skipping or running backwards. For the older kids I focus on more specific ball-handling/dribbling skills.

What do you hope that the kids get out of this great experience? The clinic itself is only 1 piece of it. I am in the gym the whole time but I know that they rotated throughout classrooms at the YMCA. You try to make sure that they are moving around and getting some tidbits from us along the way.

What were the best/worst parts of going from an active player to a retired player? It was hard because I was only 25 when I retired from the NBA in 1979. I did not start playing basketball until I was in high school so my entire “career” was only 12 years long. In my era not a lot of us played organized basketball because it just was not offered to us, but we played a lot of pickup basketball. My body grew into the game along with my mind: you do not need to get your kids into sports at age 2 or 3.

How did you end up as a National Basketball Retired Players Association member? In 1991 Dennis Coleman (the 1st executive director of the NBRPA) invited me to his law firm here in Boston to discuss the formation of the group, so I was 1 of the charter members when they founded it. It went through some fits/starts but I have been here since the beginning. I have been incredibly inactive, unlike people like Dwight who have been very active. They have really made some strides during the past 5 years, especially in the area of health care.

What is the biggest benefit of being a part of the NBRPA along with other legends of basketball? The programs they put together are very important and the current players’ union that is led by Chris Paul have been incredibly generous. The benefits certainly outweigh the minuses and I am solidly in their corner.

How do older players serve as advocates to younger players? The average salary when I retired was about $100,000/year and 4 decades later it is around $6-7 million. There are enough of the 50-80 year olds like me who are still alive, but it will be interesting to see what happens down the road when the current players who have made $50-100 million begin to retire.

You played college basketball at Penn: what made Hall of Famer Chuck Daly such a great coach, and what was the most important thing that you ever learned from him? As a college player I found that he had a very interesting way of coaching at an Ivy League school. I do not think that I was ever on a Penn team that was not ranked in the top-25: it was a different world back then. The Big East was not founded until after I graduated: had it existed back then, I think that I might have gone to a school like BC/Villanova instead. Daly and I became close friends after we both left Penn. He understood the academic underpinnings of a place like Penn: he was a very well-prepared coach so there was nothing we saw during a game that surprised us.

In the summer of 1975 you were drafted 13th overall by Kansas City (1 spot ahead of Joe Bryant): did you see that as a validation of your college career, or the realization of a lifelong dream of reaching the NBA, or other? It was nice and the money was good: it was the high water mark of my NBA career. I was stuck behind Scott Wedman, who had a very good pro career.

You played a few years for Boston/San Diego/Kansas City: what is your favorite memory from your time in the NBA? Being drafted #13! I basically spent a lot of time on benches watching games from a good seat. The Kings flew myself and my mother out to the draft after I had already signed a contract with them at my agent’s office in New York. When they announced my name someone in front of me at Kemper Arena turned around and said, “Who the heck is Bob Bigelow?” and my mother proudly announced “WE are the Bigelows!” My Penn teammate Ron Haigler was drafted in the 4th round even though he had a better college career than me.

In 1978 you played for the Carolina Lightning of the All-America Basketball Alliance and led the team with 22.7 PPG: what is the secret to being a great scorer, and how did you like having Mike Dunleavy as your teammate/coach? It was like the name of the league in the “A League of Their Own” movie with Madonna (the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League)! Some student from the south actually called me about a couple of months ago because he is writing a paper about esoteric sports leagues. Mike was my closest friend in pro basketball: he called me 1 day and told me to come down to Carolina and he would play me 44 minutes/game…so I jumped in a car and drove right down from Boston! We rented a house with the Dunleavys (Mike’s wife Emily is 1 of the sweetest women ever), had a quick scrimmage, and then began the season. We played a game against a team of former Pacer legends like Roger Brown/Mel Daniels: they were so old by then that I had about 16 layups against them. I would run the court and knew how to move without the ball, so Mike would just bring the ball up and then pass it to me. I drove back north after the season ended after 10-12 games: I got to my parents’ house 1 day before the Blizzard of 1978 dumped 6’ of snow onto their property: it took me 4 hours to shovel their driveway. Mike just got hired to coach Tulane, which surprised me because he has not been a head coach since 2010.

How has the youth sports culture changed over the past few decades, and what advice do you have for parents of young basketball players? My sons are 29 and 24: by the time both of them were 10 they already had more trophies then I ever earned during my entire career! 99% of all the games I played before age 14 were organized by kids, whereas 99% of the games played by kids today are organized by adults. When I was young we played for ourselves, and now it is the adults who are competing through their kids. I recommend to parents that they “let go and lighten up”, which is very hard to do. My rule of thumb is that by age 12 you should have been exposed to 3 team sports and 3 individual sports: call it the “cookie store” theory where you get to try a little of everything and then see what you like the best. Genetic athletic ability is overrated: it is really hit or miss. Height has a coefficient of about 85%: if your parents are short then you are probably not going to become a 7’ center. There is far more nature than nurture: you have to let your kids discover their own passion, not yours.