Legends Spotlight: Harold Keeling

April 2, 2018

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 Central Gwinnett High School in Atlanta including Dale Ellis/Harold Keeling/Charlie Bell/Reggie Johnson. 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 Harold Keeling about his role with the Full Court Press program and his favorite memory from his time in the NBA.

Harold Keeling

What did you do at last weekend’s Full Court Press clinic? We had almost 100 kids and it was a very good camp. I worked with the kids on passing drills, the 3-man weave, etc. After a day of drills we ended with full-court games and it worked out really well.

What was the best part of the clinic? I think the best part was the organization: we had 5 former NBA players and 7 other counselors so it was very organized. We talked to the kids about the time when we played in the NBA/overseas.

How do you try to connect with the kids on the court? That is what I do! I own 2 group homes for kids who do not have parents and we play basketball all the time. I have known since I was young that I wanted to work with kids: I hold a camp every summer for 60-70 kids.

What do you hope that the kids get out of this great experience? The camaraderie of getting to meet with/play against other kids. They learned some new drills and different aspects of the game. When you meet a former player who you know from playing Xbox it is a neat experience. It was a very happy environment for everyone.

What were the best/not-so-best parts of going from an active player to a retired player? After playing basketball your whole life, entering the “real world” it is a big transition in terms of time. When I played basketball I just had to worry about showing up for a few hours each day to practice/games, but with a real job there are a lot of hours between your start time and your stop time. We also got a lot of things when we were players like sneakers/meal money, but now we do not get as many free things. It is a financial change and a mental divorce from what you have been doing your entire life. It is almost like a good friend of yours who always provided you with happiness has died. When it is over it takes some time to get back to an even keel mentally. Our egos change after playing basketball for so many years, so the faster we readjust the better our lives can be.

How did you end up as a National Basketball Retired Players Association member? I had heard about it and 1st got started around 2011/2012 when I went to the All-Star Game. I played with Dale Ellis on Dallas who worked for our local chapter and he invited me to jump on board. We now have 1 of the better chapters in the nation.

What is the biggest benefit of being a part of the NBRPA along with other legends of basketball? I like seeing all the guys I used to play with/against. My wife and I attend All-Star Weekend every year and we get to see people who I have known for the past 30 years. It is good to see guys who you battled against year after year: now it is easier to just give them a hug!

How do the older players serve as advocates to the younger players? It works better sometimes than others but talking to the guys about life after basketball is important. Sometimes they learn more about what they should NOT be doing rather than what they should be doing! The NBA has changed over the past several years and things have really come around thanks to Commissioner Stern/Commissioner Silver: there is so much more media now and there are so many more players coming to the US from overseas. I remember when Argentina beat us during South American competition: I was amazed that they were better than us…until they beat the US in 2004! Brazil/Canada/Puerto Rico also had great players/teams: the international game has really come around.

In your final game at Santa Clara, Mark Gustin made 2 FTs with 3 seconds left in a 3-PT 3-OT win by Fresno State: where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? I fouled out but assumed that we would still win the game and that I would get to break Kurt Rambis’ career scoring record in our next game. When we finally lost it was a brutal reality.

In the summer of 1985 you were drafted in the 3rd round by Dallas (3 spots ahead of Michael Adams): did you see that as a validation of all your hard work, or the realization of a lifelong dream, or other? I had hoped to get drafted a little higher. I made the 1st-team at the Aloha Classic along with 4 future pros like Detlef Schrempf/Joe Dumars/Terry Porter/Xavier McDaniel…but I became the 1st player to ever receive that honor and then not get drafted in the 1st round.

You played 20 games in the NBA: what is your favorite memory from your time in the NBA? It was fun to hang out with my fellow young Dallas teammates like Derek Harper/Sam Perkins. It was also nice to see other guys who I had met at the Chicago pre-draft camp who were doing well on their own teams.

You later played in several countries including Venezuela (where you won several championships): what is the biggest difference between basketball in the US vs. basketball overseas? The international rules were different so I went from averaging 2 PPG to 30 PPG. They also blamed every loss on the American players no matter how well we did: there was much more pressure on us. There were 2 Americans on each team and the only other guy I could count on back then was the other American guy, but I am sure that it is different now.

You played for Venezuela in 2001 South American Basketball Championship (Tournament of the Americas?): what was it like to face start like Manu Ginobili (Argentina) and Anderson Varejao (Brazil)? It was very impressive to play against guys like Nene/Leandro Barbosa who were great players. I did not think that any player overseas would be better than me after I had been in the NBA but some of them were really good.