A Q&A with Rucker Basketball honoree Emmette Bryant

August 1, 2013

Chicago native, Emmette was drafted in the seventh round out of DePaul in 1964 by the New York Knicks. After four seasons in New York, Bryant went on to play for the Boston Celtics for two seasons and was a key member of the 1969 NBA Champion Celtics. Bryant scored 3,722 points during his NBA career and ended his career with the Buffalo Braves in 1972. Immediately after his playing days, Bryant became an assistant coach; one year at Columbia University and two years with the Seattle Supersonics under Bill Russell as Head Coach. Bryant then went on to work for the State of Washington for the next 30 years and later became the Recreation Director at Mission Creek Youth Camp. Bryant is a member of the DePaul University Sports Hall of Fame, ChicagoLand Sports Hall of Fame and Rucker Professional Basketball Hall of Fame.

Bryant recently spoke with Shantonie Derrick to talk about his newest honor, his career, and life after basketball.

Congratulations on being honored by Rucker Basketball in NY. What was your initial reaction to hearing about this honor and what does it mean to you?

I’m always pleased whenever anyone reaches out to me and wants to honor me in any way that they feel obligated to do so. I’ve always felt that the folks in New York embraced me and gave me a lot of recognition and props for having participated in the tournament.  Having played in the league and won a championship with Boston, while I was participating in the tournament, brought the tournament a lot more recognition and I also received an award for that.

Each year they have a festival called Harlem week and this honor is in conjunction with some of the festivities going on during Harlem week. I don’t know specifically what the honor is for since I’m already in the Hall of Fame twice, beyond recognition for being a participant in the Rucker pro tournament.

Growing up in Chicago is as hard now as it was when you grew up, how did that struggle prepare you for college, the NBA and life after basketball?

It was a reality check. You’re not given anything and nothing can be taken for granted. Most of the things that happened to me were by chance. I didn’t set out to be a NBA ball player. I wanted to be a school teacher, a gym teacher specifically because the people who influenced me growing up were my gym teachers. They had the power to say who could come in the gym, how long they could stay, they would open up the gym and close the gym; I thought that was really neat. I thought that was someone I would like to become, but then I found out in order to be a gym teacher you have to go to college. Well how do go to college? You can be smart enough or very good in any number of sports to get to college and that’s how I got to college. Before I got to college, I found out you had to be a HS graduate. I didn’t graduate from HS I dropped out so I had to get my GED. After I got my GED, I found out that having a GED wouldn’t necessarily get you into college because you didn’t have the pre-requisite courses so I had to go to a junior college. I went to the junior college and accomplished a great deal and looked good so colleges offered me scholarships as a result and that’s how I ended up at DePaul playing basketball and as they say the rest is history. I did well at DePaul, I graduated, and was to become a teacher, but didn’t because I went to the league.

I wouldn’t recommend my particular road to the NBA to most kids because there were a lot of variables involved. I didn’t go straight through high-school, straight to college and then straight to the league. There were several detours and each time I took a break from the normal scheme of things that became a part of who I ultimately became in terms of dealing with adversity and tough lifestyles in general. I’m the sum total of my experiences, everyone is, but I had a very different life than most guys that grow up and go to high-school  and college etc.  By the time I got to college, I had already been in the Air Force for four years and gone to a junior college another year so I was much older than the average freshman in college at that time. I wouldn’t say it’s harder or easier, but I wouldn’t recommend doing all the things I did to reach your ultimate goal in life.

You are a member of the 1969 Boston Celtics championship team. How did it feel to win a championship and play with all the greats that were on that team?

We were the defending champions too so that was a back to back deal. They also won it in ’68 and I was on the ’69 team that defended that title. The biggest thing was the expectations. We weren’t expected to win, we weren’t the favorites, but we set a goal towards winning another one. It wasn’t totally expected though because all those great players I played with were on their last go ‘round. We barely made the playoffs. We finished in 4th place. We didn’t have home court advantage in any series that we played. There were a number of firsts that we accomplished on the way to the championship in terms of not having home court advantage, losing opening games and coming back to win the series. For instance, in the championship series we were the first team to lose the first two games of a seven game series in a NBA championship and come back and win that series. Since we did it two other teams have done it - The 1977 Portland Trailblazers that Bill Walton played on and the 2010 Miami Heat who lost the first two games to Dallas and came back to win that series.

What advice do you have for aspiring ballers and people in general?

My message to kids generally is to set realistic goals with a time frame and seek advice from people that you trust. Not necessarily your crew that you run with because you might be the best player in that group and whatever you say they will agree with, but someone you trust -  a parent, older brother, teacher, counselor, principal etc. Get other opinions and then use that to factor into your own situation and decision making.

What are you up to today?

I try to work out everyday. My wife and I go to the rec center at DePaul every day, we shop for fresh seafood and vegetables and we cook a healthy meal. After that I look at emails to see what I have to accomplish that day. We work with the Police Athletic League and another association called Stomping out Drugs and Gangs. Between all the events and our personal work out schedule our days are generally full.

From 2007-2010, you served as a Board Member for the NBRPA, how was that experience and how has the NBRPA evolved in your perspective since then?

It was a good experience because I think I got a chance to have some input from a “lower-profile” player’s perspective. I wasn’t a super star or all-star that made millions of dollars so a lot of my concerns differed from the guys who came along later and made a lot more money than the players in my generation.

The Association is still evolving. It’s still becoming so that remains to be seen ultimately, but it is evolving and that’s a good thing - it’s evolving in a positive manner.

As VP of the NBRPA Chicago Chapter, how would you say your chapter is doing and what advice do you have for other chapters?

We’re going great guns because we have some hard working members, a core group of folks who know how to get things done.  Ultimately, other chapters can see what we’ve done and then ask for our advice, but it would be a bit premature to offer advice right now because we’ve just gotten formed ourselves and are in the process of getting our fundraiser together. It’s a bit soon to tell people to look at what we’ve done because we haven’t done it yet. We can have this conversation again later on after the event and then I’ll have a lot more to say in that regard.