Legends Spotlight: Don “Slick” Watts, Talvin Skinner, James Donaldson, Jack Sikma

July 26, 2016

Don “Slick” Watts
Last Thursday 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 Warner Pacific College in Portland, OR, including Slick Watts/Talvin Skinner/Craig Ehlo. 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 Slick Watts about his role with the Full Court Press program and winning the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 1976.

1. What is your role with the Full Court Press program? As a retired player who is a member of the NBRPA I have a commitment to go out to the community and give back, which is truly an honor. The most recognition I ever received was for community service: when people look up to you it is important to honor that excitement. Coming from a small town I was always excited to see great players like Lenny Wilkens/Jerry West and felt good when people would reach out to me.
2. What was your favorite highlight from the clinic? It was a lot of work but whenever you get tired the kids pick you up. I woke up at 4AM and drove 4 hours from Seattle because I do not believe in being late: I showed up early and had 4 hours to sleep in my car until the clinic started at noon! The kids tried to do the best they could and before I even noticed I was not tired anymore.
3. What is your coaching philosophy on the court? I just make sure they have fun for 2-3 hours and instill the belief in them that there is nothing they cannot do. Not all of us went to UCLA or were #1 picks: even if you are not an MVP like Steph Curry you should believe in yourself. It seemed from all the hugs/handshakes at the end that they really appreciated it.
4. What do you hope that the kids get out of this great experience? Just confidence and the knowledge that people care about them. I tell them to Google me if they have a “machine” (which is what I call computers!). In life we all have to pick each other up: when I got to meet legends like Muhammad Ali it helped pick me up. I try to inspire them to do the best they can with their homework: everyone here puts an emphasis on education, not just sports. The #1 question we get is “Did you play against Michael Jordan?”
5. What was your transition like from basketball player to retired player? I hate to brag but I am a great representative for retired players: I do not just talk the talk but I also walk the walk. I got my degree so I can buy a glass of milk (or something stronger) on Fridays and relax the rest of my life because I had a good education. I taught for 37 years after retiring so I did not have as many stones in the road as some other players did. If I die tomorrow my son will be okay due to all of my hard work.
6. Why did you decide to join the National Basketball Retired Players Association? They have a great program where they reach out to all the former players and provide assistance to those who need help. There is nothing more enjoyable than going to the All-Star Game every winter and telling old lies to each other in the hotel lobby: it is a lot of fun! It warms my heart and bring tears to my eyes: 1 of my old lobby friends was Moses Malone and we would just talk and people-watch. I save my nuggets for the meetings when I get to see the other guys.
7. Being a part of the NBRPA with other legends of basketball, how beneficial is the organization to players who are embarking on life after basketball? If you are relatively young and are searching for the right fit they can help with resume writing/contacts/sponsors/etc. They give you the network you need for the rest of your life. I just turned 65 and hope to be around for a while.
8. In what ways has your involvement in the NBRPA helped you become an advocate to other retired players? I have all the phone numbers/emails for everyone so I can stay in contact to organize fundraisers and help out each other’s foundations. I advise all of the players to stick with it because nobody can beat Father Time.
9. You have accomplished so many things on the court, but what do you seek to accomplish off the court? The thing I brag about the most is my ability to treat people the way I want to be treated. I came from nowhere and wanted to be like the UCLA kids but even after becoming an All-Pro I still did not feel fulfilled. Now that I am not playing I get so much love from my students who tell me stories about when I talked to their parents decades ago. There is nothing more important in life than giving back. My son says that the reason I still look young is because I keep working with kids.
10. You were nicknamed "Slick" because you were 1 of the 1st NBA players to shave your head: who gave you the nickname and how do you like it? I tried to put tape on my head and they called me names that I did not like…so I shaved my head and they started calling me Slick. Years ago Jordan was being interviewed on TV and said that he shaved his head to look like me: I have watched that tape 1000 times! I love it: Charles Barkley/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have even tried to copy it to make themselves look younger.
11. After going undrafted in 1973 despite being an NAIA All-American at Xavier University of Louisiana, your college coach Bob Hopkins asked his cousin Bill Russell (coach/GM of the Seattle Supersonics) to give you a tryout and ended up signing you as a free agent: were you surprised that nobody drafted you, and what was it like to play for 1 of the greatest players in the history of the sport? In a way I was surprised because I thought that I was hot stuff, but after seeing an alphabetical list of everyone in the draft I was worried that I did not get picked because my name started with a W! Bill called everyone “boy” and told me “Boy, you can play”. He was a tough coach but was also fair. He told us to play hard and think about only basketball for 48 minutes. Jordan might have been the best player but nobody worked harder than me, so I did not have a problem playing for Bill even though he was so intimidating. He thought he was a basketball god…and deservedly so. You see kids today jumping around after winning 1 title: imagine doing it 10 or 11 times: it makes you think that you can fly! I respected him a lot but after I signed a contract I stopped being scared.
12. You had 9 STL in a game in both 1975 & 1977 and your 2.2 career SPG remains in the top-10 all-time: what is the secret to being a great defender? I was quick and had great anticipation. Everyone gets beat sometimes: Walt Frazier once told me that I tried to make too many steals. I did not understand at 1st, but his point was that I should lay back and wait until the score was 98-all with 20 seconds left to steal the ball. The secret is planning, like how Curry can make his set-shot on offense: once it leaves his hand he has nothing to do with it.
13. In 1976 you became the 1st player to ever lead the NBA in APG (8.1) and SPG (3.2) in the same season: how were you able to balance your offense and your defense? Coach Russell told me that if I got out there and thought that I was Jerry West he would sit me down. I scored 39 PTS against Washington 1 night and he said it was the worst game I had ever played. The next night I only took a few shots and had a lot of AST and he said that was the kind of game he liked to see me play. He said “shooters shoot and rebounders rebound: do what we pay you to do.” Fred Brown did most of our shooting and we had plenty of rebounders, so I just listened to the Big Fella! We were talking earlier today about the modern player: when you make more than the coach you can intimidate him, but back in our day the coach was in charge.
14. That same year you also received the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for your outstanding service to the community: what did it mean to you to receive such an outstanding honor? That is the 1 I tell my grandkids about and have in my trophy case. I cared about people and helped them during my glory years. I did more than 200 speaking engagements and all I got was steak/potatoes, but I enjoyed it. 40 years later people will tell me that they remember me coming to their church/school: now that it over I feel great about it. I joke with my grandkids because Russell Wilson gets so much pub in Seattle, but back then I was the guy on all the buses/buildings!

Talvin Skinner
Last Thursday 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 Warner Pacific College in Portland, OR, including Slick Watts/Talvin Skinner/Craig Ehlo. 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 Talvin Skinner about his role with the Full Court Press program and winning a WNBA title.

1. What is your role with the Full Court Press program? I just got back with the Association. For players from the mid-1970s we are starting to reach retirement age so we just try to give back our knowledge to the younger generation. I was talking to Michael Harper and told him to hire a financial planner to lay out a portfolio for him: in fact, do not get just 1 guy but preferably 2-3 so you can buy a home/send your kids to college/etc. My dream started in high school: I focused on what I wanted to do, worked 35 years for Boeing, and now I have a 401K and a pension.
2. What was your favorite highlight from the clinic? I have not done 1 in a while: we worked on shooting/passing/ball-handling/layups. I was in charge of passing and showed them different ways to pass the ball. The younger kids worked on bounce passes and the older kids worked on entry passes into the post. During lunch I volunteered to sit with the kids and told them that I would give them $100 if they could guess what I did after the NBA. They must have spent 15 minutes making wrong guesses: when I told them that I worked on building airplanes they could not believe it. You cannot just walk into the NBA: there is a process.
3. What is your coaching philosophy on the court? My philosophy is based on just teaching the fundamentals and eliminating all of the fancy stuff.
4. What do you hope that the kids get out of this great experience? I think they had fun with it but I think they really appreciated when they made a mistake and I told them to do it again. When they slowed down and got it right I could tell that they were starting to hear me.
5. What was your transition like from basketball player to retired player? The 1st year was very difficult for me. I am from a small town where there is not a lot to do so I had to kick myself in the butt to get a job. I applied for a job with Boeing and they took a chance on me.
6. Why did you decide to join the National Basketball Retired Players Association? Now that I am retired I do not have that much to do. The 1st stage of my life was great but what better place to start the next stage: play some golf and talk to other players?! I would like to be a mentor to younger players: you cannot buy love/peace/happiness.
7. Being a part of the NBRPA with other legends of basketball, how beneficial is the organization to players who are embarking on life after basketball? I think the Association needs to help guys by giving them a support system of other players who they can call to see how they handled certain situations and get some feedback. It would give them focus/guidance and it just might click.
8. In what ways has your involvement in the NBRPA helped you become an advocate to other retired players? Michael is 1 of the only ones who has reached out to me so far but I would be happy to serve that role with other players. Wisdom comes with age: it is easy to do things when you are young/gifted but as you get older you need to gain some perspective on legal/financial matters. Now is the time when you really need to save your money.
9. You have accomplished so many things on the court, but what do you seek to accomplish off the court? I just want to be a mentor and help the younger players be better men. People like LeBron James/Chris Paul/Carmelo Anthony/Dwyane Wade took a major step at the ESPYs with their decision to step forward and speak their minds. If we can all get together with our leaders and have a dialogue it would be great. The combination of money/wisdom/power can make a big impact on getting it right. Until we do that the problem is not going to go away: we have to face the problem head-on, make some changes, and hold people accountable. Being a police officer is a dangerous job but there is no excuse for some of the stuff we have seen recently. What is going on in our world: can we fix it 1st? We will not get this opportunity too many more times and it might not be pretty: you have to reach kids while they are young.
10. In 1974 you helped Maryland-Eastern Shore become the 1st Historically Black College or University to ever play in the NIT: how big a deal was it at the time? I read an article the other day about Em Bryant, who made the point that the NIT used to be a bigger deal than the NCAA tourney. I grew up with Oliver Purnell, who recently coached at DePaul, which is where Em went to college. It was huge at the time and I think people still do not understand how an HBCU school could be ranked in the top-20 of D-1 basketball. We led the nation in scoring and had 4 starters get drafted, so I think that is what I am proudest of.
11. You were selected by Seattle in the 3rd round of the 1974 NBA draft (3 spots behind George Gervin): 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 a stepping stone/plateau to change my life. Had I not been drafted I do not know what I would be doing at this stage of my life: it was major.
12. Your Afro from the mid-1970s was listed among the top haircuts in franchise history: what made it so popular? It was all about Dr. J: everyone wanted to be like him! Everyone thought they were R. Kelly and believed they could fly.
13. After retiring you later were hired by the Seattle Storm to be a player development specialist: how did you like working with Lauren Jackson, and what did it mean to you to win a WNBA title? Lauren was a great athlete mentally and physically. She is the toughest competitor I have ever seen in women’s basketball: if I had to start a team I would take her or Cynthia Cooper. They gave me a chance to pass along some of my passion and share the difference between men’s and women’s basketball. I learned a lot from Anne Donovan about how to be a coach and the nuances of how everything worked. I love the WNBA and wish they could get more money: if we are going to be fair then their salaries need to be increased.

James Donaldson
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 Rainier Community Center in Seattle, WA, including Jack Sikma/James Donaldson/Vester Marshall. 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 James Donaldson about his role with the Full Court Press program and being a NBA All-Star.

1. What is your role with the Full Court Press program? I was 1 of the retired players there working with around 100 middle-school age youngsters: we were all excited to be there.
2. What was your favorite highlight from the clinic? The classroom breakout sessions we had were very engaging because the kids had so many questions. We shared a lot of information with them and they would be encouraging/quizzing each other: it was very interactive.
3. What is your coaching philosophy on the court? We try to get them to focus on what they want to accomplish, including passing/shooting/dribbling drills. When I was that age I could not always stay focused so we just try to be patient and stay positive.
4. What do you hope that the kids get out of this great experience? I have done this for about 30 years in the Seattle area so now I have young men/women who come up to me to thank me for the advice I gave them during the past decades. I hope they hold onto a few nuggets of wisdom that they carry with them during their adult lives.
5. What was your transition like from basketball player to retired player? Mine was relatively straightforward because I had been planning for it about a decade before I retired in 2000. I had a bad knee injury during my career and realized that I wanted to start a physical therapy company. The Donaldson Clinic is still going strong today: after I retired I got more fully involved with it.
6. Why did you decide to join the National Basketball Retired Players Association? I looked around and saw so many retiring players who were struggling with their own transition. We all think that we can play 10-20 years but the harsh reality is that the average NBA career only lasts 3 years. Most retired players are not prepared to enter the job market and connect with people who can help you: those are skills that you have to learn. I work with the guys as a role model and try to mentor them.
7. Being a part of the NBRPA with other legends of basketball, how beneficial is the organization to players who are embarking on life after basketball? If the player is open to receiving information and understanding that he/she will be making a big transition, then the NBRPA is the perfect place to be. We offer resume training, speaking opportunities, etc.
8. In what ways has your involvement as a board member in the NBRPA helped you become an advocate to other retired players? I have been a board member for about 4 years now. I get to work with some of the other players pretty closely including Joe Pace, who was actually at the clinic yesterday. After his career he had a variety of problems, but being able to reach out to him and let him know that we could help was important. I took it directly to the leadership of the organization and voted to grant him a complimentary membership so that he could take advantage of all the benefits. He is so appreciative that he is no longer forgotten.
9. You have accomplished so many things on the court, but what do you seek to accomplish off the court? I am still involved with my clinic and hope to keep it going for a long time. I am proud of our involvement in the community in the Seattle suburbs: we hire dozens of employees who keep everything going. I am getting ready to publish another book: my previous 1 was about inspiration but this 1 will be more about basketball. I do a lot of professional speaking engagements so I am always on the circuit talking about my life after basketball. The general public often thinks that we just live happily ever after and are astonished to learn that is not always the case.
10. Your college coach George Raveling told you that he could not hold your hand 24-7, which ended up being key to your success as an athlete: how does the player-coach relationship in college compare to that in the pros (if any)? In the college ranks there is more of an opportunity to work with the players you are coaching, but in the NBA you are expected to be a professional and have your own affairs in order as a grown man. I encourage all young players to go to college: not as a 1-year pit stop but a 4 or 5-year journey of being a student-athlete and connecting with so many of your peers.
11. In 1985 you led the league with 63.7 FG%, which remains 1 of the highest percentages in NBA history: what is the key to being an efficient shooter? I was a big/strong guy playing down low so the key for me was knowing my limitations and not shooting more than 10’ away from the basket. I never attempted a 3-PT shot during my career because that was not 1 of my strengths.
12. In 1988 you were named to the Western Conference All-Star team but ended up losing to the Eastern Conference in Chicago (MVP Michael Jordan scored 40 PTS in 29 minutes): what was it like to have Pat Riley as your coach and Magic Johnson/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/James Worthy as your teammates? It was like being in heaven for a day! 1 of my own Dallas teammates was also there (Mark Aguirre) and we got great insight into Coach Riley’s genius. He had a great way of inspiring his guys to take on the world: I even played 1 year for him in New York as a backup to Patrick Ewing.
13. You made the Western Conference Finals with Dallas that spring but lost to the defending champion Lakers in 7 games: how do you learn what it takes to win a title, and what is the secret? There is no certainty that you will win the Finals even if you are the defending champ: we just saw Golden State lose to Cleveland this spring, and there is no guarantee that the Cavaliers will make it back next spring. As you get closer to winning a ring it takes dedication and a little bit of luck. We were right there with the Lakers until the 4th quarter of Game 7, which is why it was amazing to see the Bulls win 3 titles in a row on 2 separate occasions during the 1990s.

Jack Sikma
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 Rainier Community Center in Seattle, WA, including Jack Sikma/James Donaldson/Vester Marshall. 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 Jack Sikma about his role with the Full Court Press program and winning an NBA title in 1979.

1. What is your role with the Full Court Press program? I participate in clinics in Seattle: it is a fabulous outreach opportunity for the NBRPA to team up with police/leadership groups and share our knowedge.
2. What was your favorite highlight from the clinic? The energy the kids have is amazing and they love basketball: there were a lot of good players on the court today.
3. What is your coaching philosophy on the court? #1 is to have fun. Activity leads to a healthy lifestyle and I try to be open with the kids.
4. What do you hope that the kids get out of this great experience? To see guys who had an opportunity to experience life in the NBA is really great. I was once where they were so I try to make a connection with the community.
5. What was your transition like from basketball player to retired player? I got away from the game for a number of years: we had a young family and established ourselves as part of the neighborhood. I was involved in real estate and enjoyed it but always felt like I could give something back on the coaching level if the opportunity presented itself, which it did in 2003. My kids got a kick out of me getting back into the game.
6. Why did you decide to join the National Basketball Retired Players Association? Common experience with the other guys was key, plus opportunities to provide/receive the support of others. I am very happy with the direction in which we are going: there are opportunities to do so much more.
7. Being a part of the NBRPA with other legends of basketball, how beneficial is the organization to players who are embarking on life after basketball? I would hope that it is a natural transition for guys who are retiring. It is more about receiving benefits over time: as you get older the benefits are greater.
8. In what ways has your involvement in the NBRPA helped you become an advocate to other retired players? I participate when I can and try to catch up with people to see what is going on in their lives. There are times when you look for ways to help each other out 1-on-1. I am a former NBA player and very proud of it: to become more effective we just need to think about ways to help each other.
9. You have accomplished so many things on the court, but what do you seek to accomplish off the court? I want to raise my family and be productive in the community. I also try to live a healthy life.
10. You averaged a double-double during each of your 4 years at Illinois Wesleyan, where you were named a D-3 All-American in 1977: how were you able to make such a smooth transition to the NBA by being named to the All-Rookie Team in 1978? I was fortunate to land in a good situation. Even though I did not get to start right away I was able to get on the floor about 20 games into my rookie season and our team just gelled. I loved to practice/compete and our whole roster/coaching staff was pretty young. I had a good coach/mentor in Lenny Wilkens, and Paul Silas also played a large role in my improvement as a player both mentally and physically. I always felt confident but it was a unique situation for me.
11. Take me through the 1978 Finals against Washington:
a. The 7-game series had an unusual 1-2-2-1-1 scheduling format that took 18 days to complete: what was it like to be in a playoff series that took the longest total # of days to finish in any sport? I was unaware of that, but it probably had to do with the fact that neither team was predicted to make it that far that year. We had to play 1 game in the Kingdome but as a rookie I did not know anything different: it was an exciting time.
b. In Game 7 Dennis Johnson shot 0-14 FG as the Bullets had a 105-99 win: how difficult is it to win Game 7 of the Finals on the road (it was not done again for almost 4 decades until Cleveland beat Golden State last month)? That was probably the toughest loss that I have ever experienced. You have to make some shots and get the loose balls. Game 7 can come down to just 1 or 2 plays, but it would have been all the more devastating if we had not been fortunate enough to win our own title the following year.
12. In the 1979 Finals you grabbed 17 REB in each of Games 3/4/5 to help the Sonics beat the Bullets and capture 1 of the very few men's pro sports titles in Seattle history (the Metropolitans won the 1917 Stanley Cup and Seahawks won the 2014 Super Bowl): what did it mean to you to win a title, and what was the reaction like around the city? The city was crazy at the time, even the year before when we lost. It is such a challenge just to get to the Finals. The dream is to reach the NBA but to make the Finals in your 1st year with a city that is going bonkers for you is great. We were disappointed the 1st time and exhilarated to finally get it done the 2nd time: it was a great ride.
13. In the final seconds of Game 3 of the 1987 Eastern Conference 1st round with Milwaukee you had your shot blocked but you jumped up/caught the ball in mid-air/made a line-drive shot in a 2-PT win on the road over Philly: where does that rank among the most clutch plays of your career? I was posted up underneath the basket and was able to lay the ball right back in. On the 2nd shot I got smacked right across the face and asked referee Jake O’Donnell about it. He said, “You made the shot, just go back to your bench!” It is still playoff basketball but different than the Finals.
14. You led the league in defensive rebounds in both 1982 & 1984 and your 10,816 career REB remains in top-30 all-time: what is the key to being a great rebounder? It came relatively naturally to me but I tell young kids that you have to maintain vision with the ball to predict where it will come off the rim: you need good timing/reaction skills. Our scheme in Seattle was “bend don’t break” so I was never in a bad position to get involved in rebounding. We stressed the fact of giving our opponents 1 shot: we had Gus Williams, who was 1 of the fastest players in the league, so we just wanted to get the ball and give it to him as soon as possible. He would often finish a fast-break with a layup himself before the rest of us had even crossed half-court.
15. In 1988 you led the league with 92.2 FT% and you also had over 200 career 3PM: how were you able to be such a great shooter despite standing 6’11”? My premise was to be a turn-and-face shooter: I did not take a lot of jump-hooks. When I stepped out my defender would have to come out on me, which might lead to a dribble-drive around him and a better shot. It is tough to draw fouls and then not be able to convert so I felt that I needed to get to the line and then take advantage. I worked hard on it: focusing on the target, trying to relax, and just repetition. FTs are a big part of the game: the league is even changing its rules because some big guys just cannot make them. I was never a poor FT shooter but improving my FT% was important to me. Del Harris was my coach in Milwaukee and he tried to pull our big men away from the paint. I proved to him in practice that I could make some 3-PT shots, and toward the end of my career he put some sets in to give me the opportunity to shoot some threes: by then I was pretty comfortable at it.