“Ball is life.” A mantra for many hoop heads, that phrase has come to represent the total devotion to basketball, whether it be watching, playing, analyzing, or taking part in any other aspect of the game.
No one better represents the way the sport can consume a person than professional basketball players. For many, the sport becomes interwoven with their identity, and really, how could it not? It takes a staggering amount of work to get to that level, even for the most physically gifted, and the pressure to maintain – and even increase – that level of commitment multiplies as the stage gets grander.
The risk, though, comes in having so much of oneself tied to such a singular focus. What if your body falters? Or, perhaps even worse, what if your mind does?
Larry Sanders knows the burden of being a professional all too well. After vastly outperforming his rookie contract with the Milwaukee Bucks, he signed a four-year, $44 million extension in 2013, and the ferocious rim protector seemed primed to be a principal reason to “Fear the Deer” for the rest of the decade.
After leading the NBA in block percentage in 2012-13, Sanders became something of a cult favorite among fans, spearheaded by his highlight reel blocked shots and sometimes-acrimonious run-ins with officials. ESPN NBA writer Zach Lowe referred to him only as “LARRY SANDERS!” in articles, and Sanders was once ejected from a game for awarding each official with an exaggerated thumbs-up gesture following a call with which he disagreed. But the 6’11 defensive star wasn’t thriving in the same way privately.
As fans, we want to believe we “know” a player based on what we see on the court. Sanders was a confident defender, constantly smiling but also quick to frustration when calls went against him. So, this must be his off-the-court personality as well, right? Happy, but a loose cannon?
“What do you really value in a person? Their honesty, their trust, their loyalty, their commitment…you can’t tell that by looking at someone jump around on TV,”
“YOU CAN SACRIFICE SO MUCH OF Y OURSELF AND BE LEFT WITH NOTHING AT THE END OF THE DA Y,” SANDERS SAID, ENCOURAGING FELLOW PLAYERS TO PUT THEMSELVES FIRST , AS WELL. “THE DA Y AFTER YOU WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP , YOU’RE GONNA FEEL LIKE THE SAME DA Y BEFORE… IT’S GONNA FADE.” -- Larry Sanders
Sanders says. And he’s right – we have no way of knowing what’s actually happening inside the heads of professional athletes, which is why it’s so important that those athletes put themselves first, even if it may not be glamorous to do so.
Sanders ultimately had to make that decision for himself, checking himself into Rogers Memorial Hospital for anxiety, depression, and mood disorders in February 2015, leaving the game he loved because he knew he needed to prioritize his own well-being above the fleeting accomplishments of the sport.
“You can sacrifice so much of yourself and be left with nothing at the end of the day,” Sanders said, encouraging fellow players to put themselves first, as well. “The day after you win a championship, you’re gonna feel like the same day before… it’s gonna fade.”
Iciss Tillis was always a lover of basketball, too, and her preternatural abilities only made it easier to get lost in the game. She was a high school All-American in Oklahoma, earning a scholarship at Duke University and eventually blossoming into a collegiate All-American there, as well.
She always had other interests, though. From an early age watching the O.J. Simpson court proceedings, Tillis knew she had a passion for justice. For a long stretch of her life, she put that interest on the back-burner, throwing herself into her basketball career (and doing so rather successfully). But she always felt the pull off the courtroom, wisely acknowledging to herself that hoops would not last forever.
Eventually, at age 30, Tillis hit the breaking point. She retired from basketball and immediately began to figure out how to kick-start her legal career, quickly enrolling at Texas Southern and distancing herself from the game, even as that distance pained her – and others around her. For instance, her mother had spent Tillis’ entire life closely following her daughter’s basketball career, and suddenly that connection was gone. But Tillis had to follow her heart.
“Walk in your path – or you’ll live someone else’s dream,” she says. Practicing law had been Tillis’ dream from a young age, and there’s a freedom in pursuing that, even if others may have wondered why she was walking away from the game.
Another of Tillis’ favorite axioms laments this transition period: “Athletes die twice.” She was – and still is – determined to make her “second life,” so to speak, just as fulfilling. Tillis is now a successful attorney for Jackson Lewis, and her unique perspective in the legal field has come in handy throughout her career.
Basketball is a beautiful game. It can give opportunities to people who may not otherwise have them, and the correlation between hard work and results is tremendously satisfying, even at levels far below the professional ranks.
Like any relationship, though, the one between a player and the game should always be mutually beneficial. The connection will be better and more rewarding if the player retains an identity and a healthy state of mind outside of the sport. For Sanders and Tillis, basketball – for as much as they truly did love it – became an obstacle to something else, and each one knew that the best approach for individual happiness was to walk away.
Ball can certainly be life, but it should never be at the expense of self, and players (and coaches, scouts, etc.) must never be afraid to realize the freedom and joy that can come from the rest of life, as well.
INSIDE THE METEORIC RISE FROM PL AYER TO EXECUTIVE
by CALEB FRIEDMAN
What do you do if the game no longer wants you back?
A severely underrated and under-reported aspect of athletic retirement is how often it is a “by default” decision. The legends who choose to leave the game get plenty of attention (think Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, etc.), but there are significantly more players for whom the phone simply stops ringing. These players pass on silently into the next phase of life, left to figure out a new direction in which to pivot.
Elton Brand dreaded the idea of falling into the latter group. Once on track for one of those “storybook retirement” situations – Brand was positively dominant for the first eight years of his career – injuries had robbed the former Duke star of his explosiveness before his mind was ready to move in a new direction. Basketball was still his passion, and more specifically, playing basketball was still what he wanted to do.
That distinction is crucial, because it wasn’t as if Brand had no options. The Atlanta Hawks, for whom he had just finished playing during the 2014-15 season, were keen on bringing Brand into the front office fold, offering him an assistant GM job under Hawks President and head coach Mike Budenholzer. Brand is no fool; he knew it was a tremendous opportunity, and he went through the process of exploring it, shadowing upper management and walking through the beats of a typical day in the life of a member of the front office. The work intrigued him, but his heart was not yet ready to close the book on his playing days.
I love playing ball. I want to hoop, Brand thought.
And so he respectfully declined the Hawks’ offer, opting to return home to Penn-sylvania, yearning to hear the phone ring one more time with the promise of a role he wanted to fill. It was an uneasy period, but Brand was happy to throw himself into his training and his family life. He relished the time he was able to spend with his family after so many years on the road, reveling in seemingly simple tasks like taking his kids to school. Family, as Brand says, is – and will always be – the most importing thing to him. Other opportunities came knocking, like being on television or an assortment of business ventures, but Brand wanted to lace up the sneakers, and he had the luxury and stability to decline anything that wasn’t exactly what he was looking to do.
Eventually, in January 2016, the right call came. The Philadelphia 76ers, deep in the throes of “trusting the process,” wanted a strong veteran presence to join the bench and help mentor the alarmingly young nucleus. It was a strong fit on both sides: the team liked the positive impact he had made on Atlanta’s roster, and Brand appreciated the thought of staying somewhat local and potentially easing into the front office work he had previously explored with the Hawks. The 76ers agreed to an arrangement that would give Brand a path to management, and he returned to the team he had spent four years with from 2008-2012.
It turned out to be a perfect match. The months spent with the fledgling 76ers gave Brand the transitionary phase he needed to adjust to the idea of moving into the front office, and the influence he had on players like T.J. McConnell (still with the 76ers to this day), Robert Covington, and Nerlens Noel helped those guys through one of the bleaker campaigns in NBA history.
And then the real work started.
After the season, Brand at last found himself ready to make the switch to an off-the-court role. The passion for the sport remained, but that last run with the 76ers served as almost a therapeutic period, freeing his mind to take a role as a player consultant for the organization.
He threw himself into the new gig, treating it like a corporate job and demonstrating to the rest of the front office that he wanted to be in management. He traded in his sneakers for dress shoes, his sweatsuit for a suit, and left the court behind. During his performance review after the season, head coach Brett Brown and general manager Bryan Colangelo told Brand they envisioned his role as more on-court, though they still offered high praise for his determination to learn the ins and outs of the off-court operation.
Brand knew where he wanted to be, though, intentionally position-ing himself as an off-court presence. “That was by choice,” Brand told the NBRPA. “I didn’t go on the court at all, I didn’t get one rebound. I’d suggest that for any player post-career: pick a lane, pick what you love and attack it.” With that clarity of focus on his side, Brand pursued a job opening with Philadelphia’s G-League team, the Delaware 87ers (now the Del-aware Blue Coats). His experience – and strong performance – in his prior consultant role made him a superb candidate.
“I loved the idea,” Brand said. “If I want to go be a GM one day, it was a no-brainer for me. I jumped at the opportunity.”
He earned the role, and suddenly he found himself running the day-to-day operation for a team barely a year after he was done play-ing. Gone was the luxury of the NBA, but Brand was ready for this new challenge, no longer yearning for the one more shot to be on the court. He embraced his new lifestyle in the grittier G-League, fondly recalling renting cars to scout players in places like Canton, Ohio, and Oshkosh, Wisconsin, or flying to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in a snow storm. Brand really valued the chance to gain valuable reps without the ever-present microscope of the NBA bearing down on him.
“The G League showed me I’d love to be a general manager if I got the opportunity,” Brand said. “Taking buses, it’s not glamorous, it’s not the NBA, but it’s still basketball. It was pure. It was still basket-ball.”
The experience he gained in areas like running his own draft and executing his first trades would quickly prove invaluable. Colangelo resigned his general manager position in June of 2018, and Brand, who had already been promoted to Vice President of Basketball Operations, leapt at the chance to fulfill his dream of being a GM.
Everything Brand had learned through his time as a mentor in Atlanta and Philadelphia, plus his tenure in charge of the Blue Coats and his laser-focused mentality, shined through in the interview process. He sold the ownership group on his vision for the team and its cornerstone pieces in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and his ability to communicate and connect with both the management team and the players made him a tremendous candidate.
“It was bigger than just me, the opportunity to be an ex-player and show we can fulfill and excel in these roles,” Brand said. “Being a lifelong learner and having a growth mindset, it was an opportunity to learn and grow and embrace a new challenge.”
Since taking over as GM, Brand has made several bold moves, including trading for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris and signing Al Horford as a free agent this off-season. But for the burgeoning new front office superstar, it’s about far more than just roster transactions. It’s about finding a new place for himself in the world of basketball, and perhaps just as importantly, finding an area of the sport that wants him, too. He has a tremendous platform to impact people in a positive way, and he does not take that lightly.
“My goal is obviously to win a championship for the city of Philadelphia,” Brand said. “(But) the broader goal is bigger than basketball, having these relationships with the players that they can come into our organization and make their dreams come true, and then when they leave the game have opportunities and have a great feeling about our organization. ‘The Sixers are a great organization; Elton Brand supports me as a mentor and a friend even if I can make a shot or not.’ It’s bigger than basketball.”
“IT WAS BIGGER THAN JUST ME, THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE AN EX-PLAYER AND SHOW WE CAN FULFILL AND EXCEL IN THESE ROLES. BEING A LIFELONG LEARNER AND HAVING A GROWTH MINDSET, IT WAS AN OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN AND GROW AND EMBRACE A NEW CHALLENGE.” -- Elton Brand
by PAT EVANS
As Drew Gooden reached his 10th year in the NBA, he realized he was invested in nothing outside the sport.
During the four years following that thought, Gooden continued to play in the league, rebuilding his off-the-court career to support his post-career life. Gooden went with an industry he knew well: restaurants. Specifically, chicken wings and the quick-service restaurant, Wingstop.
“From a customer perspective, I fell in love with the restaurant, it was something that pulled me in,” Gooden said, explaining how he decided to go with a chain for his first entrepreneurial endeavor. “You always hear the horror stories of opening a restaurant, the statistics of them being successful. So with the situation I was in, I thought I could beat the odds.”
As Gooden, who played for ten teams during his career, began looking into opening his first shop, he began the due diligence process, including chatting with Junior Bridgeman and Jamaal Mashburn, both of whom have become quick-service restaurant businessmen. They answered many of the questions Gooden had before opening his first Wingstop in Altamonte Springs, Florida, in 2012.
“Those two guys stick out amongst a lot of others because they own hundreds of concepts,” Gooden said. “I knew I loved wings, but I didn’t know the business concept. It was a first-time learning experience.”
After seven years in control of the store, Gooden said it’s one of the most successful Wing Stop locations. He’s now in negotiations to acquire another four Wingstop locations.
Along with his growing Wingstop empire, Gooden said his bread and butter is triple-net commercial real estate properties, including national tenants. He said once he began running a business, the idea of owning an asset and collecting rent on a physical property intrigued him. Now he owns commercial real estate across the southeast, in Napa Valley and the Bahamas and is always actively looking to add to his portfolio, particularly in regions that are growing and appreciating at a fast pace.
For him, Wingstop wasn’t the end all, be all, but a means to learn the ropes. As he learned the fundamentals, he began to wonder why he was paying rent.
“It was a learning tool, how to own, how to operate, create leverage and negotiate,” he said.
With his early business endeavors, Gooden also said it’s important to embrace mentors the same way early career athletes look at veterans in the game.
“You want to get all the guidance in the world,” he said. “I correlate as being a rookie, coming in you look at the veterans, the coaches, medical staff, to get you into a routine in the NBA to succeed. I surrounded myself with the same type of components in my business life.”
Gooden said it’s important to harness opportunities available during a professional athlete’s career.
“There’s a mass network of people that want to know you while you’re playing,” he said. ”When you’re retired, a handful are still interested, but most, you don’t build the relationships over time.”
“WE HAD ENOUGH DATA OF ATHLETES MAKING BAD INVESTMENTS, SO I WAS WEARY ABOUT JUMPING IN TOO SOON. AT THE SAME TIME, I WISH I WOULD HAVE, AS THE PLACES I WAS LOOKING TO INVEST IN HAVE APPRECIATED THREE-FOLD SINCE MY ROOKIE YEAR.” -- Drew Gooden
The stories of professional athletes making bad investments or going broke after their playing days echo through Gooden’s ears prior to starting his post-career endeavors. Some of that knowledge is why it took him until his 10th year to begin building his portfolio.
“It’s the coulda, woulda, shoulda,” he said on if he should have started sooner. “We had enough data of athletes making bad investments, so I was weary about jumping in too soon. At the same time, I wish I would had, as the places I was looking to invest in have appreciated three-fold since my rookie year.”
“It’s all a learning experience. And the blessing of playing in the NBA at a young age is you retire still young and there’s still lots of opportunities out there.”
He said there was a disconnect in financial literacy teachings in generations of the past, but it’s improving rapidly as more athletes talk about their successes and failures.
On the horizon for Gooden? Prior to the season, he signed new broadcast contract with NBCSports. He also recently finished his communications degree at the University of Kansas and is enrolled in an executive education program at Columbia.
And plant-based restaurants.
“Plant-based is here to stay,” he said. “There’s a huge percentage that wants to eat it, not many QSR serve it. That’s something I’m going to look at.”
by BEN LADNER
NBA legacy families have existed almost as long as the league itself has. Scores of former pro players have gone on to see their sons trace their paths to the league, and many NBA family trees stretch unimaginably wide. Rick Barry raised three sharp-shooting sons, Jon, Brent, and Drew) who played in the league, while Bill and Luke Walton each won two NBA titles in their respective eras. Matt Guokas Jr. won a championship with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1967 – 20 years after his father won with the Philadelphia Warriors in the league’s inaugural season – making the pair the first father-son championship duo in NBA history. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson followed their fathers’ footsteps to team up and anchor a dynasty. The list goes on.
Perhaps the biggest difference between today’s NBA offspring and yesteryear’s is the scope and intensity of the spotlight. Today’s high school and college players get more national exposure than ever before; grow up with an NBA legend for a father, and the limelight shines doubly bright. Those than manage to survive it, though, often go on to highly successful college and NBA careers given their uncommon luxury of learning the game firsthand from basketball royalty. As a new generation of young players attempt to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, these five names could loom large over the next era of NBA basketball.
Shareef O’Neal stands on the court during the 2018 Brand Jordan NBA All-Star Uniforms & All-Star Rosters Unveiling show on January 25, 2018 at CBS Studios in Studio City, California.
COLE ANTHONY UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA
Anthony isn’t the son of a Hall of Famer – his father, Greg, was an 11-year role player in the league – but he might make the best pro of any rising second-generation NBA player. At North Carolina, he filled the lottery pick Coby White’s shoes, Anthony is perhaps the most vaunted player joining the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. He possesses a rare combination of speed and power, using a quick first step, physical drives, and electric vertical explosion to constantly put pressure on the rim. He has outstanding vision in the pick-and-roll, already showing the ability to read and pick apart defenses on the move.
Anthony’s physical tools also make him a stout defender at the point of attack. He’s quick enough to slide with ball-handlers and his strong frame yields no ground to what would normally be punishing drives. The college (and eventually pro) game will pose a different physical challenge, one Anthony must meet in the weight room, but he has the build to remain one of the more physically imposing point guards at whatever level he plays.
BRONNY JAMES SIERRA CANYON HIGH SCHOO L
LeBron James Jr. is already an internet sensation. His highlights have been viewed hundreds of millions of times on YouTube and Instagram, and his basketball exploits have been publicly documented since his early middle school days.
Bronny isn’t and likely won’t be the basketball player his father was as a teenager – placing such expectations upon him would be wildly unfair – but may prove every bit the phenomenon LeBron was in high school. The younger James made news this summer for both his play on the court and his high school enrollment. With LeBron’s move to Los Angeles in the 2018 offseason came Bronny’s accompanying transfer to Sierra Canyon, a high school in Chatsworth (an L.A. neighborhood) that just so happens to be one of the country’s preeminent basketball programs.
There is (perhaps valid) speculation that the elder James might be prolonging his career in part as a means of becoming teammates with his son in four years, when Bronny would be eligible for the 2023 NBA Draft. Regardless of his dad’s influence, Bronny has a chance to pave his own path to the league. With an impressive combination of shooting, passing and athleticism, his game projects as one that will fit the changing NBA well. He is a better shooter than LeBron was as a teenager, though far from the physical force and play-making savant. With so many tools in his arsenal, the biggest determinant of Bronny’s success may simply be his physical growth. He already stands 6-foot-2 in his early adolescence; if he sprouts to the standard size of an NBA wing, he becomes a whole new force with which his opponents will have to reckon.
LeBron ‘Bronny’ James Jr. with his father LeBron James following the Ohio Scholastic Play-By-Play Classic on December 14, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio.
LeBron ‘Bronny’ James Jr. #0 of Sierra Canyon High School dribbles the ball up court during the Ohio Scholastic Play-By-Play Classic against St. Vincent-St. Mary High School at Nationwide Arena on December 14, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio.
ZAIRE WADE SIERRA CANYON HIGH SCHOOL
Wade, a lanky lefty, plays with much of the same smoothness, creativity, and skill his father did. Zaire is clearly a great way from meeting the Hall-of-Fame bar Dwyane set, but he does possess the craft and feel for the game to get his NBA career off the ground a few years from now. His three-point shot might be more developed than his dad’s was at the same age – if for no other reason than the increased importance of the shot in the modern game – and possesses every bit of scoring acumen and creativity you might expect from Flash’s son.
What pops about Wade’s game, however, is his passing. Not only is he able to thread dimes through tight crevices and pinpoint windows the defense can’t see, he’s a willing facilitator for his teammates. He seems to understand when and where teammates will be open, and how to deliver the ball in the most efficient manner possible. At the high school level, that allows Wade to play and feel the game at a different speed than his peers can.
A full three years older than James, Wade might currently be the better player (though likely not the better prospect) and could play a larger role on this season’s stacked Sierra Canyon squad. Still, Wade has yet to generate much buzz from college programs, as he doesn’t possess the same physicality or creativity as a scorer his father did at the same size. Wade’s upcoming senior season will serve as an important proving ground for his college outlook.
Zaire Wade #2 of Sierra Canyon defends against Prince Aligbe #10 of Minnehaha Academy during the game at Target Center on Jan. 04, 2020 in Minneapolis.
Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat exchanges jerseys with his son, Zaire, after the final regular season home game of his career at American Airlines Arena on April 09, 2019 in Miami, Florida.
SCOTTY PIPPEN JR. VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY
Pippen doesn’t garner nearly the fanfare that James or Wade do, nor is he as dominant on the court as Anthony and O’Neal are. But much like his father, Scottie, he is steady, solid and versatile, and has a viable path to the NBA nonetheless. Pippen, also a Sierra Canyon product, committed to Vanderbilt after a breakout performance at the Les Schwab invitational that earned him tournament MVP honors and figures to play meaningful minutes for the Commodores this season.
Standing at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Pippen plays quick and low to the ground, running his team’s offense with poise and opportunism. He sees the court extremely well, constantly scouting for passing windows, and has outstanding forward burst and vertical explosion. Like most every player on this list, he has excellent feel and a mind for the finer points of the game. While he prefers to distribute and facilitate, Pippen can capably shoot both off the catch and off the dribble – a weapon that has become more prevalent and necessary for lead guards in the Steph Curry era – though he could stand to become a more consistent shooter. Pippen lacks the ball-hawking defensive playmaking skills father had (the vast majority of defenders do) and lacks Scottie’s versatility due simply to his smaller frame. Still, Scotty shares both literal and basketball DNA with one of the greatest defenders of all time, and possesses some of the same instincts and athletic traits.
While Pippen doesn’t currently project as the same sort of prospect Anthony, O’Neal, or James does, it’s easy to see his upside and a viable path to the NBA, provided he plays up to expectations at Vanderbilt.
Shaquille O’Neal’s oldest son red-shirted his first year at UCLA due to a heart surgery that cost him the entire season, but entered the 2019-20 season healthy and prepared to play. While not as powerful or post-oriented as his legendary father, Shareef O’Neal is among the most skilled and athletically gifted big men in college or high school basketball and a potentially ideal combo big in the modern NBA. (O’Neal’s other son, Shaqir, is a lanky 6-foot-5 guard who shares many physical and athletic traits with Shareef.)
At 6-foot-9, 215 pounds, O’Neal is an electric finisher at the rim and an outstanding shooter for his size. As more and more big men are able to these days, he can capably handle the ball and create his own shot from anywhere on the floor, and he has the mobility and explosiveness to guard most positions on defense. Though he projects to play mostly as a power forward or center, O’Neal’s versatility could theoretically allow him to occasionally slot in on the wing – especially early in his NBA career, when he’ll likely spend most possessions with-out the ball in his hands. Still, there is far more to O’Neal’s game than the mere fact of his last name, and the rest of the basketball world could soon find out why.
O’Neal will take his talents to Louisiana State University, his father’s alma mater, next season.
SCOUTING THE NEXT WAVE OF COACHING TALE
by SEAN DEVENEY
Crunching numbers into the morning’s wee hours. Scouring game film until the sun begins to rise. Spending sweaty hours working with the team’s 12th man, trying to smooth out his footwork or his jumper or a new post move.
The bulk of coaching basketball is not about glory. It’s about the sweat and diligence that comes before those few occasional glorious moments, whether it’s on a pro bench or as head coach in a collegiate program. For five rising young coaches, all with the opportunity to move up in the NBA and NCAA, that work has been getting noticed.
JARRON COLLINS “I LEARNED THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING PROFESSIONAL”
Jarron Collins considers himself lucky. He was among the final players cho-sen in the 2001 draft, 53rd overall, a draft position that seldom yields a fruitful career. Collins never posted impressive numbers (he averaged 3.9 points and 2.9 rebounds), but he stuck around the league for 10 seasons.
That was, in part, because Collins started his career with the Jazz, a franchise that taught him how best to approach his time in the league.
“I was fortunate in that I started by career with John Stockton and Karl Malone, playing for Jerry Sloan,” said Collins, now an assistant with Golden State. “I learned the importance of being professional and doing things in that manner. Because your reputation will go places you will never go. You handle yourself appropriately, take care of your business, it may pay dividends down the road.”
That’s how it went for Collins, who spent the 2009-10 season with the Suns after eight years in Utah. He didn’t play much for Phoenix, logging 7.7 minutes in 34 games, but he left an impression on the team’s general manager at the time—Steve Kerr.
Five years later, when Kerr was named head coach of the Warriors, Kerr brought him on as the team’s player development coach. In his first season on the bench, Golden State won the NBA championship.
Collins was moved from player development to an assistant, but he says titles like that don’t matter much. All coaches on Kerr’s bench share duties. “On our staff, everybody is responsible for doing scouting and having a voice,” Collins said. “That’s one of the things I appreciate about Steve. He allows all his coaches to have a voice and do presentations and do walk-throughs when it’s your time. It’s like players do reps and get better that way, but coaches get reps, too, and you get better the more repetitions you do.”
That’s important for Collins, who has designs on running his own staff eventually. He interviewed for the Memphis head-coaching job last year and the Atlanta job before that. He did not get either, but he recognizes the value in the experience.
“Interviewing for head-coaching opportunities is always tremendous,” Collins said. “I am definitely very fortunate and appreciative of the opportunities to be in those rooms—it’s only going to benefit me down the road.”
REX KALAMIAN “THERE’S SO MANY INFLUENCES I’VE BEEN LUCKY TO HAVE”
Rex Kalamian was coaching at tiny East Los Angeles College, where he had recently played as a guard, in 1992 when he got a break, a chance to work in the NBA. There was a downside, though: the job was with the lowly Clippers, notorious penny-pinchers at the time. Kalamian’s assignment was on a game-night basis only, helping out coach Larry Brown and his staff.
Two years later, he was hired to be the team’s video coordinator under coach Bill Fitch, who liked his work ethic so much that he soon made Kalamian an assistant coach.
“I didn’t really know it at the time, how big that opportunity was,” Kalamian said. “It changed my life. Then Bill just became such a big influence in me staying in the league and learning how to coach.”
Things were tumultuous for the Clippers of that era, yet Kalamian remained with the team in some capacity through 2003, working for seven head coaches in that span. He finally left L.A., coaching Denver, Minnesota, Sacramento, Oklahoma City and Toronto over the next decade-and-a-half and working under the likes of George Karl, Scott Brooks and Dwane Casey, forging a reputation for player development work.
“There’s so many influences I’ve been lucky to have,” Kalamian said. “The guys I’ve worked for, they’ve all been Coach of the Year, they all are very accomplished coaches. I would say I’ve probably taken a little bit from each guy.”
Now, Kalamian has come full circle. He’s back with the Clippers, joining Doc Rivers’ staff last year as defensive coordinator. Under owner Steve Ballmer, the franchise has changed drastically in terms of culture and approach. But the biggest change is expectations: The Clippers are among the favorites to go to the NBA Finals. That could eventually lead to a head-coaching job, but that’s not where Kalamian is focused.
“The future is about the Clippers and what happens right now,” he said. “Trying to win a championship. To me that is the focus because teams that win, coaches that win, good things happen to them.”
NIELE IVEY “SHE JUST HAS IT"
Jaden Ivey is one of the top prospects in the Class of 2020, a guard for Indiana’s LaLumiere School. He has committed to Purdue but conceded that when it comes to the family hoops tree, he’s not the top branch. That still belongs to his mom, Niele Ivey—a star and national championship winner as a player, rated as one of the best assistant coaches in the NCAA while spending 12 years on Muffett McGraw’s staff at Notre Dame.
“Yeah, my mom is the one who motivates me,” Jaden said recently. “All the success she has had and where she is now, it’s what I want to do.” Niele Ivey made the leap last summer from the Fighting Irish bench to Memphis, to join coach Taylor Jenkins’ staff. The Grizzlies have been the biggest surprise team in the league, entering this season expected to finish in the cellar as the franchise undergoes a rebuilding program.
Ivey earned a reputation as a teacher at Notre Dame, both as a coach and in her time as a point guard who averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists from 1996 to 2001. Ivey played in the WNBA for five seasons after that.
When Ivey was inducted into Notre Dame’s Ring of Honor in 2016, former play-er Skylar Diggins said of her, “She led by example. If you didn’t know how to do this and that, ‘OK, let me see the ball. Boom-boom-boom-boom-boom-boom—that’s how you do it. She’d get out there and play with us, it was something you can’t really teach. She just has it.”
That hands-on teaching approach made her an ideal fit for the young Grizzlies, who had rookie point guard Ja Morant and star big man Jaren Jackson Jr., both just 20 years old—not much older than her son. This would be a group in need of teaching. That was one reason Ivey had interest in the job.
“Taylor, sitting down and talking with him about his vision, he’s really big on fostering a competitive, unselfish, positive environment for his players,” Ivey told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. “He’s very development-oriented.”
Turns out the development has happened quicker than expected. Far from the cellar, the Grizzlies are in the mix for a playoff spot in the West and Morant is the favorite for Rookie of the Year. As a fellow point guard, Ivey is playing whatever role she can in that.
“She’s given me some corrections with my game,” Morant said. “Getting to certain spots on the floor. And she’ll tell me I corrected it and she’s proud.”
LINDSAY GOTTLIEB “I AM REPRESENTING MORE THAN JUST MYSELF”
Of all the glittering elements on her resume, the biggest for coach Lindsay Gottlieb may be this: She’s been to the Final Four. Not as a player or as an assistant. No, Gottlieb got there as a head coach, when she led California to the Final Four for the first time in school history in 2013.
Not many NBA assistants have head-coaching experience in the NCAA and none, other than Gottlieb, have been to a Final Four. That was one reason that John Beilein, himself the former coach at Michigan, wanted Gottlieb on his staff when he took the job as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“She’s been a winner, her whole career,” Beilein said. “When you go to a place that hasn’t been winning and you change that, that says a lot about a coach.” Gottlieb became the league’s eighth female assistant coach last spring, leaving her mark as one of the most successful active coaches in the women’s game. She began her head-coaching career at 30 years old, guiding UC-Santa Barbara to a 22-10 record. Three years later, she got the job at California, where the Bears went 32-4 in her second season.
Her Cal teams won 20-plus games and reached the NCAA tournament in seven of eight seasons, and her overall head-coaching record at the end of last year was 179-89.
Gottlieb did not get into basketball to coach. She was recruited by Brown as a guard, but a knee injury limited her ability to contribute on the court. So she began helping her teammates from the bench. Her teammates at Brown nicknamed Gottlieb, ‘Coach,’ and by her senior year, she was a de facto part of Brown’s staff, serving as a player-coach.
Now, Gottlieb is helping to bring along the young Cavaliers. She concedes that there’s pressure attached to her position, but that pressure does not come from Beilein or any of the team’s players. It mostly comes from herself.
“I have seen it as, I am representing more than just myself,” Gottlieb said. “I want there to be more women coaches after me. So the decisions I make and the things I do, I have to look at it that way. It does add pressure. I want to be successful so that more women will get chances to coach at this level.”
BOBBY HURLEY “THE FIRE WAS THERE TO COACH”
It was the fall of 2000 and Bobby Hurley thought he might have one more comeback. The No. 7 pick in the 1993 draft and one of the most accomplished players in NCAA history, Hurley’s career had been limited after he nearly died in a car crash a few months after his league debut.
He’d had surgery to fix his ACL and was expected to try out for Boston. But the knee was still not right and Hurley, reluctantly, retired at age 29. It was difficult on him. Hurley tried to shift is focus. He got into thoroughbred racing, owning two horses he raced in New Jersey and Florida.
“I wasn’t able to retire on my own terms, to leave on my own terms,” Hurley said. “That was frustrating. So I needed to get away. It was not like I never watched—I was watching close, college basketball, the NBA. But I needed to have some other life experiences. Doing that gave me the time I needed to work through getting over the finish of my playing career.”
A decade later, Hurley returned to competitive basketball as a coach. He was from a family of coaches, starting with his father, Bob Hurley Sr., who won 26 state championships in 39 years coaching at St. Anthony’s High School in New Jersey. When his brother, Dan Hurley, got the head coaching job at Wagner in 2010, Bobby joined the staff.
“I just had an open mind,” Hurley said. “I was ready for a fresh challenge. I kind of knew deep down that I wanted to coach, that I always wanted to coach, it was such a big part of my life, watching my dad do it and seeing my brother do it. The fire was there to coach.”
From that modest beginning, Hurley has built a budding career. His first head-coaching gig came at the University of Buffalo, where he guided the Bulls to their first-ever NCAA tournament. He left Buffalo after that showing, taking the reins at Arizona State in 2015.
Hurley’s Sun Devils won 20-plus games the past two seasons, getting the school back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014. That’s been especially rewarding considering the way his playing career ended, considering the time off he needed to heal emotionally.
“I just have so much more appreciation for what the game of basketball has done for my life,” Hurley said. “Not having it for those years when I was not coaching or playing, there was a void there. Getting the chance to work with the kids I work with now, it has really replaced that void.”
NBA PLAYERS ARE INCREASINGLY STARTING THEIR MEDIA CAREERS WHILE THEY’RE STILL PLAYING IN THE LEAGUE
by CALEB FRIEDMAN
The summer of 2019 provided an NBA free-agent frenzy unlike any we’ve seen in a long time. Shortly after winning an NBA Championship and Finals MVP award with the Toronto Raptors, Kawhi Leonard signed with the Los Angeles Clippers. The team also signed Paul George, and Twitter be-gan exploding.
Bill Simmons, founder of The Ringer and formerly of ESPN and Grantland, considered the news as potential for furthering his family of podcasts.
In discussing the Clippers’ prospects with Leonard and George, Simmons suggested adding Andre Iguodala to the roster. The move, he claimed, would make basketball sense for Los Angeles, but also includes a self-serving reason for Simmons:he believes Iguadola would make a great podcast host for The Ringer, which is based on Los Angeles.
“I have selfish reasons for this one,” Simmons says on his podcast while speaking to Marc Stein of the New York Times. “I’m announcing it, it’s 11:25 here on the West Coast. If Andre Iguodola comes to the Clippers, I’m giving him a Ringer podcast.”
The Ringer, which is known for its podcasts, has experienced great success with player-driven podcasts, where players—as opposed to journalists or pundits with years of media experience—drive the conversation to give insight into the life of an NBA player. For publications and players alike, the relationship afforded by a podcast is mutually-beneficial; the publications get exclusive and informative details that all reporters covet, and current players get valuable media experience that gives them the reputation to jumpstart careers in media in their post-playing days.
“That’s the way of the future,” former NBA player Shawn Marion said of player-driven content. “A lot of times when you’re a fan, you’d rather hear it from a player perspective…Living and going through something is different than going through and watching it on TV.”
For instance, Quentin Richardson, a former NBA three-point champion who played 13 seasons in the league, hosts the Knuckleheads podcast with his former teammate Darius Miles for The Players’ Tribune. Richardson said being a current or former player helps build trust with other players early in interviews, which helps create an authentic and interesting conversation.
“It’s a small fraternity of us, we’re some of the only people who are privileged to the things we go through,” Richardson said. “So when I ask a Kevin Durant or a Dwyane Wade questions, we’re relating on a different level than our listeners can, and we’re letting them inside the locker room and inside what we think and how we see things.”
While established media publications often provide a ready-made framework and infrastructure for players to work in, some players are opt-ing to take a more entrepreneurial approach and start their own media entities.
LeBron James, for example, owns Uninterrupted, a digital video company that brings athlete-driven content to fans directly. Kevin Durant, meanwhile, owns Thirty Five Ventures, which has a media wing that produces original content across several online and social platforms.
Regardless of the exact form, NBA players are increasingly taking con-trol of their own content while still playing, which allows them to harness their current connections in the league and use them to build their media profile and personal brand. More than ever before, players are starting their post-playing careers while still playing, making the transition from playing to retirement smoother than ever.
In response to the changing media landscape, the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) has committed itself to providing programs and services to help Legends navigate the complex digital world. The NBRPA launched Legends Live to provide an outlet for retired players to have an online voice and contribute to the conversation on social media. Great importance is placed on assisting Legends in the digital space and the NBRPA is committed to expanding these opportunities in the future.
“A LOT OF TIMES WHEN YOU’RE A FAN, YOU’D RATHER HEAR IT FROM A PLAYER PERSPECTIVE…LIVING AND GOING THROUGH SOMETHING IS DIFFERENT THAN GOING THROUGH AND WATCHING IT ON TV.” -- Shawn Marion
THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF FORMER NBA COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN
David Joel Stern was born on Sept. 22, 1942. His father, William, ran Stern’s Deli in Manhattan, where David often worked as he grew up. He spent most of his childhood in Teaneck, New Jersey, which was the first Northern suburb to vote in favor of busing in order to support integrated schools. Such a background molded a foundation that fostered both an open mind and an open heart in David Stern.
After graduating from Rutgers University, Stern went on to earn his J.D. from Columbia Law School. His very first involvement with the NBA came during his time at Proskauer, Rose, Goetz & Mendelsohn, the firm that represented the league. After years of working alongside the NBA, Stern joined the in-house team in 1978 as general counsel under Commissioner Larry O’Brien. It was a time that saw the league severely lacking.
Just two years later, Stern was promoted to executive vice president and immediately started making waves. One of his first major decisions in the role was to implement a drug-testing policy, a first for any major sports league in North America. Additionally, salary caps were adopted in order to assist smaller market teams. This decision ultimately stabilized the league, priming it for future growth.
When Stern rose to the role of Commissioner in 1984, the NBA was falling behind the NFL and MLB in both broadcast numbers and revenue. The two other leagues were also in the midst of strategies that ultimately muted their players as individuals, rather than empowered them.
Stern did not believe in these same strategies.
Instead, Stern recognized the intrinsic value each player brought to the league, and embraced the opportunity to highlight the talent and popularity of the NBA greats that had come to grace the hardwood. He introduced the league’s licensing and sponsorship division, which led efforts to align NBA players and personalities with some of the top companies in the world.
His dedication to empowering NBA stars created a space where American basketball superstars were akin to their international football counterparts – both Jordan and Pelé were household names around the world. In turn, the NBA and the sport of basketball continued to rise to elite global recognition. The efforts Stern took to globalize the league are countless. In 1990, he spearheaded the first regular-season game of any major North American sport to be played outside of the continent. When it was announced that professional athletes would be permitted to participate in the Olympics, Stern jumped at the opportunity to put his stars on the world’s biggest stage, creating what we now know as the Dream Team. Under his supervision, seven new franchises – including two in Canada – were welcomed in to the league. Agreements were made to televise games in more than 200 countries, and NBA offices were opened in 15 new cities outside of the United States.
In 1997 Stern created the WNBA, which is now considered the pioneering league for female athletes in the world to this day as it is the longest-standing women’s professional sports league. In 2001, he created the developmental league, now known as the G League, as the NBA’s official minor league basketball organization. The new venture began with just eight franchises; in 2020, it will have 29.
Stern’s success in growing the NBA was built on a foundation of marketing genius. When he took over as Commissioner in 1984, the league’s television rights were sold for an average of $28 million annually. Over the course of his tenure, that number increased nearly 40 times over, to $930 million annually. David Stern was, simply put, well ahead of his time. He consumed the world around him – not just sports business. He understood the role sport plays in society, and recognized the broad reach it has in influencing every aspect of life. Perhaps no better example of this came in 1991, when Magic Johnson announced that he had been diagnosed with HIV.
Prior to the 1991-92 season, a routine physical delivered HIV positive results for Los Angeles Lakers superstar Magic Johnson. Stern, who was well-informed in nearly all facets, understood the disease much better than most of the general public at this time. Stern stood by Johnson, and supported the star throughout his announcement to retire and pursue his new mission of informing the world about the disease. Stern’s position helped advance the acceptance of people with HIV, therefore touching lives far beyond the basketball court.
Stern was not without his challenges, of course. During his time as Commissioner, he faced two lockouts (1998-99, 2011-12), both of which saw significant cancellations for each season. The infamous Malice at the Palace brawl saw Stern hand down the heaviest suspensions the league had ever seen. In 2007, the Tim Donaghy gambling scandal broke, sending the sports world reeling. Other obstacles, such as the poor reception of a player dress code, tested Stern’s leadership. Each time, Stern came back a stronger and more knowledgeable Commissioner.
David Stern was a fierce leader with relentless vision and unrefuted genius. He truly solidified the NBA as a global superpower, leaving behind a storied legacy for generations to come.
Because of David, amateurs can continue to hone their skills in the G League. Because of David, women can pursue their passion for the game professionally. Because of David, we have a league that represents far more than sport. Because of David, we can all proudly stand together to celebrate the game we love.
It’s Time to Look Deeper Because these Men and Women are More than just Athletes
When we look at professional athletes, we tend to see what we want to see. They are paragons of physical achievement, have jobs that pay millions of dollars, and have reached the absolute highest level of competition within their fi eld. For many of us, that sounds like a dream come true. But projecting happiness and personal satisfaction onto these individuals is unfair and often wrong. The job is not all bliss; the long seasons under the public microscope are a grind, and players deal with copious amounts of outside pressure and attention. They are people too, fully and unequivocally, and they face their own struggles every single day.
While using athletes as an example, it’s worth pointing out that parallels exist between physical and mental health. In both, specific injuries/illnesses can occur, demanding urgent and specific treatment. Additionally, the body and mind can both be trained to function at a more optimal level, helping to deal with stressful situations and bouts of extreme exertion. the former is obviously more critical and time-sensitive, but disregarding the latter ignores another potential path to complete mental health. At separate times, each can be vital to healing and peak mental performance.
Similar to a torn ACL or a broken arm, clinically-diagnosed mental illnesses require professional attention and care. Mental health issues come in all shapes and sizes. They can manifest through anxiety, depression, or numerous other debilitating symptoms, and they can result from a specific trauma or simply as a disease. They are potent, and they do not discriminate, impacting everyone, even the professional athletes that many people idolize. Take someone like Keyon Dooling, who reached the pinnacle of the basketball world, while playing 13 seasons in the NBA and learning a reputation as a respected, hard-working veteran. Dooling opened up about his struggles just over a year ago in a wrenching article in the Players’ Tribune, laying his demons bare for the basketball world and beyond to see. And he did so with a purpose.
By that time, Dooling had found some sense of healing, “I had done the work, you know, put in the time to work on getting better,” he said. Years of therapy and self-reflection helped him process an earlier trauma, and he was ready to be an example for others to follow. He was confident in his ability to be a healer and to show other athletes fighting their own mental health battles that they weren’t, and aren’t, alone.
Like many around the mental health community, Dooling’s ultimate goal is to normalize the conversation around mental health. Other players, like DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love, have recently come forward about their own struggles. Rather than being vilified as “damaged,” they have received support from players and fans alike. In May 2018, the NBPA established an official mental health and wellness program, expanding the resources offered to its athletes and acknowledging the very real need to make mental health a priority.
“I just want every player to be able to reach out to someone, and to have the kind of help they need once they do,” said Dooling, and his pivotal role in helping bring about change in the league exemplifies this desire.
Unfortunately, treatment for trauma is just one step, albeit an absolutely crucial one. More can be done, and longtime mental conditioning coach Trevor Moawad is adamant about the benefits that come from a trained mind: developing strong habits that can help empower people in stressful situations.
“The leagues [NBA and others] right now are checking an important box, but a lot more is needed, and it’s up to the teams to change it,” says Moawad. Mental conditioning is another step for individuals exposed to high strain to become fully mentally healthy, he said.
For example, one of his chief tenets is the importance of “neutral” thinking. It’s not the friendly fluff of constant positive thoughts (“I can do anything!”), but rather, a more matter-of-fact, practical approach (“I will give my absolute best effort”) that is realistic and controllable in all scenarios.
Moawad has worked with a wide variety of organizations – Alabama and Georgia football, the Memphis Grizzlies, and US Navy SEALs, just to name a few – and he believes more professional athletes could benefit from this type of training. Despite his stint with the Grizzlies in 2014-15, Moawad does not believe the culture around professional basketball is prepared to commit to widespread adoption of mental conditioning.
“Sports are way behind businesses. Executives are far more willing to embrace this type of change,” said Moawad.
He sets the responsibility on the shoulders of the coaches to commit to the rigorous, time-consuming process, and hopes that an innovative leader (or leaders) can make the difficult choice to ask their front offices for the means to invest in training the whole player. He’s sympathetic to the challenge teams face, acknowledging that the pool of effective mental coaches is quite shallow, but NBA franchises have the power/means to change the narrative over time.
Ultimately, though, no amount of training can defend against a devastating illness or traumatic experience like Dooling’s, and even the most mentally strong individuals can be subject to struggles. us, it’s worth reiterating the positive strides the NBA continues to make in off ering proper treatment to its players and creating a more supportive climate around mental health.
Slowly but surely, society is becoming more aware and accepting of open mental health discussions, and as part of that society, we must continue to normalize the conversation. That includes letting everyone know that they have options: friends and family that care about them, doctors who can help them discuss and deal with the challenges they’re facing, and fans that will understand and even appreciate their vulnerability. And it doesn’t stop there: learning and applying the benefits of mental conditioning can strengthen the minds of every single player, protecting against life’s constant struggles and challenges.
AN INSIDE LOOK AT WNBA LEGEND TAMIKA CATCHINGS
by BEN LADNER
These days, Tamika Catchings doesn’t wear her hearing aids quite as often as she used to. She might break them out for special appearances and events, but seldom does so within the rhythm of a typical day. That wasn’t always the case for Catchings, who was born with a hearing impairment that affected both of her ears and caused her to spend much of her childhood grappling with the physical and social consequences of compromised hearing. She faced ridicule at a young age for wearing aids that other kids didn’t have to; she was reluctant to speak in front of people because of the speech challenges that came with the hearing impairment. When, out of frustration, she tossed her hearing aids away in third grade, her parents refused to replace them, leaving Catchings to navigate the rest of her childhood without them.
“Every day was a challenge for me,” she said in an essay on ESPN.com in 2011, “There were plenty of days that I wished I was normal.”
Eventually, Catchings realized she didn’t have to be. She decided to tune out and outwork those that derided her, and used sports as her escape and motivation. As the daughter of former NBA player Harvey Catchings, she eventually gravitated to the basketball court (though she admits soccer was her first love). She earned a scholarship to play at the University of Tennessee under legendary coach Pat Summitt, who became instrumental to Catchings’ success as a basketball player and as a person. When Catchings arrived in Knoxville, still hard of hearing and shy of speaking, Summitt was one of the first to urge her to go back to wearing hearing aids as a means of embracing who she was.
“I think for her she was more of a visionary in kind of looking ahead,” Catchings said. “For me, being hearing-impaired, she was one of the ones that was saying ‘One day your story will impact thousands, maybe millions of people.’”
Summitt encouraged – even demanded – excellence from her players not only on the court, but in all their endeavors in life. “I think that she played a really important role,” Catchings said. “One thing that she always talked about was, ‘We’re not just going to be great on the basketball court, we’re going to be great in the classroom and great in the community, but I want great people.’”
After years of reticence, Catchings had fully found her voice by the time she graduated from Tennessee. Over two decades later – and three years after Summitt’s death – she still uses the coach’s words as guidance.
Since retiring, she has worked in media, player development, and basketball operations with the Indiana Pacers and Fort Wayne Mad Ants, and most recently was promoted to Vice President of Basketball Operations with the Indiana Fever. “I wanted to do something to impact players,” she said. “I think for me it was really cool to be able to see them all differently, from the W, to the NBA, to the G League, just being able to see even the operations side of things.”
While she leaves strategy and skill development to coaches and players, Catchings remains involved with Fever players’ off -court development. She helps players network with people around the league as a means of preparing themselves for life after basketball and set personal goals on and off the court. Most importantly, she encourages them to get comfortable being uncomfortable. “I feel like as basketball players, we’re so used to getting into our routines and getting into our rhythm that anything that kind of takes us outside of our box, we tense up a little bit,” she said. “And so trying to get them to understand you being uncomfortable sometimes is good, and that it allows you to kind of see things from a different light and from a different perspective.”
In 2004, while she was starring for the Fever in the WNBA, Catchings started the Catch the Stars Foundation, which offers basketball, mentoring, and educational programs for underprivileged children. During her career, she frequently spoke out on issues of civil and human rights and protested gun violence on multiple occasions. “I feel that each one of us has a responsibility to making the space around them better,” Catchings said. “Eventually, the ecosystem that we live in, all we breed and all we breathe is love. So how come we can’t do that, and how come we can’t teach that? I think it really starts with each one of us individually taking ownership of what we have.”
Catchings learned long ago that “taking ownership of what we have” can make a world of difference. Since then, her message has been heard loud and clear.
by JOHN FAWAZ
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE PLAYERS’ TRIBUNE, THE KNUCKLEHEADS PODCAST HAS BECOME A HIT WITH FANS AND INSIDERS ALIKE
Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson are grateful for all the praise they have received for their podcast, Knuckleheads. But the most meaningful feedback comes from those within the fraternity.
“One of the best compliments we got is from the head equipment guy for the Pistons, he’s been in the League a long time,” says Richardson. “He said, ‘Man, it’s the first podcast I can listen all the way through. It reminds me of how things are when we’re traveling, in the locker room, guys talking.”
“That’s the atmosphere we want.…Talk about some cool, fun stories that people don’t know about. See them in a different light.”
This isn’t new media, social media, or any kind of media to Richardson and Miles. It’s two friends (who have known each other since they were teenagers) shooting the breeze with a guest. Except those two old friends also happen to be former NBA players, and the discussion is the same as if no one was listening.
“That’s the best part of what we have going for us. We have regular talks,” Richardson says. “It’s little things here and there, if there was no camera or mic. We have normal conversations.”
And like their usual banter, basketball is only part of the conversation.
“It’s about good vibes,” Miles says. “Not concentrating on anything negative. We want to talk about journeys and stories.”
Miles and Richardson, who spent 13 and nine years in the league respectively, have had their own journeys, from Midwest childhoods to AAU to college ball to the NBA and the post-NBA life, the “what next?” phase that all players grapple with.
They came in together with the Clippers in 2000 and became fondly known as the Knuckleheads because of their on-court celebration involving two taps to the head with balled-up fists. (The salute originated at L.A.’s Westchester High School, whose players asked the duo to do it in an NBA game.) They captured the attention of Michael Jordan, and he and Nike showered them with glam and put them in an ad for Air Jordans. They hung out with hip-hop artists. Ahead of their time? You could say that.
They only played together for two seasons in Los Angeles, so their current gig is not wholly the result of any connections made then. No, this wasn’t even on their radar.
“It was something that we just stumbled into,” Richardson says. “I first did the story for e Players’ Tribune, the ‘Letter to My Younger Self,’ and that got a lot of response.
“Darius did his letter [‘What the Hell Happened to Darius Miles?’] a year later. Same type of response. We had a relationship with the Players’ Tribune and we had done a couple other things. What should we do next?”
How about a podcast from Richardson’s Orlando home featuring former NBA player Drew Gooden? Just a lark, a one-off . But they were hooked.
“Literally after we did it, we felt like it was good and we just went from there,” Richardson says.
Initially they booked guests based on two factors: players they knew, and the schedule for the Orlando Magic. Boston will play the Magic on this date. Boom! Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum are on. When are the Hornets coming to town? Let’s get Kemba Walker.
They knew they had a hit when after a few episodes, Kevin Durant called them. He said he liked what they were doing and wanted to come on the show.
“We spent two days with [Durant], gave me a whole new perspective and made me more of a fan,” says Miles.
“We didn’t have a plan to reach out to KD…we didn’t plan this,” Richardson says. “We didn’t know there was this whole iTunes pop chart. We were just doing it.”
by NANCY LIEBERMAN
It’s a great time to be a female in the game of basketball. Opportunities are all around us, and the WNBA is on the verge of major growth. The creation of the WNBA inspired hope – a hope that women can not only play basketball at the highest level, but can earn a good living doing so.
I have experienced this dynamic first-hand. I have witnessed how the game of basketball has become bigger, better and stronger for women. More importantly, I acknowledge the great opportunities still ahead of us. In order to take steps toward that brighter future, it’s time to take a step back and really understand the facts and expectations for the future.
First, we can’t continue to believe the myth that men are holding women back – it’s just not true. I was hired by men for every major job I’ve had. I was hired by men from the USBL. I was hired by men to work at Fox and ESPN. I was hired by men to be the first female head coach in NBA G League history. I was hired by men to be the assistant coach of the Sacramento Kings. Ice Cube took my career to the next level, making me the first female head coach in any men’s professional league when I joined the BIG3. I can go down a long list of men who wanted to help me succeed.
Furthermore, there is a healthy respect from male players toward women who play the game. I have never had an issue with men in the league respecting me, especially the players. It’s the outside world that says, “Wait, there’s a girl on the court.” They were the ones who didn’t think it was normal because they hadn’t built the camaraderie we had as players.
For these reasons, we cannot blame the men of the game, as they will only continue to push us toward a better future. I have so much respect for Adam Silver, who so badly wants the WNBA to succeed. It’s men like him who will help put us in the best positions to prosper.
In addition, we must look at the WNBA as a business through an unemotional and unbiased lens. If you want an accurate perspective, go back to when the NBA fi rst started in 1946. Players were making $10,000 when the league began. When I started in the WNBA in ’97, I was making $40,000, and the top salary was $50,000. The NBA helped put us in the spotlight instantaneously, but the onus is still on us. It’s not our birthright to have a WNBA. It’s not Skittles. Everybody doesn’t get one. It’s business. We still have to sell tickets and fill the stands, and sometimes that takes sacrifice.
We women are getting the opportunities to coach, learn, network and share, but we have to grind. In the name of gender equity, it’s nice to be thought of, but we still have to earn the right to be there and have to create the necessary relationships. The women currently in the league have busted their behinds to get there – nothing was handed to them. That’s what it takes to be a pioneer.
I, along with many other women from my era, have made sacrifices for what we have today. I’m not mad or jealous that I didn’t make the money that today’s players are making. I understood what it took and what I had to sacrifice to create a better future for the game. For five years I went to the NBA summer league on my own nickel. I invested in myself because I knew I had to be around the people who would give me the opportunity one day. If I didn’t believe in myself, why should anyone else?
Every player in the WNBA, past and present, is a role model, a barrier-breaker, a pioneer and a trailblazer. To hold that responsibility, I will ask this: are you willing to make sacrifices today so others can thrive in the future?
I feel a tremendous amount of humility and gratitude to have done something right for a game that changed my life on so many levels. What my greatest role model and friend Muhammad Ali taught me when I was younger was that there are two people in life: givers and takers. He inspired me to be a giver, and I encourage the rest of the young women currently playing basketball to be givers and make sacrifices to better the future of the game.
2019 LEGENDS CONFERENCE
After being selected fourth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002, Drew Gooden spent a whopping 14 years in the NBA, playing for teams all across the country.
During the unforgettable 2011 lockout, Gooden witnessed the unfortunate financial crises that fellow players found themselves in. This harsh reality made it clear to him that that was not what he wanted for his own future. The lockout ultimately provided him with an early glimpse of retirement, and the motivation to begin considering what his next step would be after basketball. The break in the basketball season also gave him a leg up, as he was able to use his free time to begin studying and preparing for what was ahead.
Gooden took time to asses a number of potential opportunities, and finally concluded that franchising would be most suitable for his next move. As an NBA vet, though, he was all too aware of the many failed restaurant businesses and franchises owned by other professional athletes. He was committed to not becoming another one of these bad business stories.
The power forward conducted extensive research for months on end on a number of companies that he felt would be good fits for his next move. What he found was that the popularity of chicken wings has sharply risen in recent years. His own affi nity for the food and Wingstop itself aided his decision to make Wingstop his primary investment. He began the outreach process to the company just like any other Average Joe would; nothing was immediately handed to him, and he had to make his case as to why he would be a good fi t for the franchise. His hard work ultimately paid off , and in 2012, Gooden signed an agreement to open four Wingstop franchises in Orlando, FL, his off season home.
During the 2019 NBA Summer Conference, Drew Gooden partnered with Wintrust to speak on the Franchising Forum. He shared his personal experience of franchising Wingstop restaurants, and provided notable advice to former players in the audience who are considering a similar path.
Gooden noted that the process is a long one, and that it’s easy to be discouraged. After all, it took two and a half years of work before his first franchise ever opened its doors. He spoke to the need for self-awareness and, just like on the court, the importance of building a strong team. He understands that many athletes have the habit of taking on responsibilities that should be delegated to other, but insisted that all great owners understand their own weaknesses and surround themselves with people who can effectively fill those gaps. He compares this to the idea of owning your own basketball team. If you’re the owner, you’re not also the general manager or the coach or on the bench as a player. For athletes like Gooden who are still in their playing careers (Gooden is currently playing in the BIG3), this advice is invaluable as a strong team must lead the day-to-day operations while owners are away.
The NBRPA is proud to have Wintrust as a dedicated partner, and encourages its members to utilize their resources for all of their commercial banking needs.
by BEN LADNER
Before the NBA’s popularity exploded to a point of national interest, before player contracts exceeded those of corporate executives, before stars could devote off seasons exclusively to training and vacationing, Dave Bing spent his summers working at a bank.
Coming out of college at age 22 and in search of a home, Bing had applied for a mortgage on a house, but was turned down after the National Bank of Detroit deemed his lack of credit history too risky for a mortgage. The following year, after Bing won Rookie of the Year and established himself as the best player on the Detroit Pistons, Bing had secured a mortgage from a different bank altogether. The first bank, however, didn’t forget about Bing, and reached out to apologize – and offer him a job.
“The relationship wasn’t sour,” Bing said, “because I was big enough, strong enough to say, ‘Look, they made a mistake. They now want to employ me.’ And I needed a job, because back then, obviously, we weren’t making a lot of money.”
Bing worked at the National Bank of Detroit for seven off seasons, and while he went on to play 12 seasons in the NBA, those summer jobs helped prepare him for what was in store once his basketball career ended. While many retired athletes dabble in business ventures via investments or partnership, Bing had dreamt of starting and operating a business long before he entered the NBA. His father, Hasker, ran his own bricklaying company in Washington D.C., and while Bing vowed never to work in that industry after Hasker suffered a life-threatening injury, he long hoped to emulate his father as a businessman. “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Bing said. “I saw what [my father] did, what he accomplished. I saw the struggles that he had.”
In spite of his own obstacles – namely his diminutive stature and impaired left eye – Bing excelled in both basketball and baseball at Spingarn High School in Washington, D.C., the same school that produced Elgin Baylor. After a growth spurt and an illustrious high school career, he earned a basketball scholarship at Syracuse, where he blossomed into one of the most dynamic guards in college basketball. He went on to lead the league in scoring and earn two First Team All-NBA nods in an era that featured Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West. Though his Pistons never ventured far into the postseason, the success they did have was driven mostly by Bing’s scoring and playmaking.
In 1980, two years after he retired from the NBA, he started Bing Steel, which supplied steel to automotive companies out of Detroit. In the two years between retirement and founding the company, Bing devoted himself to learning the steel industry, taking classes and studying other companies to prepare himself for this new venture. Bing Steel struggled in its first year, and with just four people on staff, took time to find its footing in the industrial world. By the company’s second year, however, it took on General Motors as its main client and turned a $4.2 million profit. In 1984 Bing was named the National Minority Small Business Person of the Year by President Ronald Reagan, and by 2008 the company had sold $300 million of materials, opened five different plants in Detroit, and employed over 1300 people – most of them African American. “I was an African-American entrepreneur,” Bing said. “I felt it was important to make sure I hired as many African-Americans from the city of Detroit as I could.”
Bing’s devotion to the black community became the basis for much of what he did after his NBA career, both in business and in politics. In a city whose population is over 80 percent black, Bing felt an obligation as a successful and prominent member of the community to serve and represent its people. When the city’s mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was removed from office in 2008 for committing perjury and obstruction of justice, several prominent members of Detroit’s business community – including Roger Penske and Tony Earley – identified Bing as Kilpatrick’s logical successor – at least for the remainder of the term. “They basically asked me to run for it,” Bing said. “It’s not something I [sought] out.” He deliberated for a few months before deciding to run among a field of 15 candidates – and won.
Dave Bing and Isiah Thomas speak at the half time jersey retirement ceremony for Chauncey Billups during the game against the Denver Nuggets on February 10, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. (Photo by Allen Einstein/ NBAE via Getty Images)
After completing Kilpatrick’s term, Bing was reelected in 2009. The latter portion of his tenure proved trying for Bing and his administration, and much of their work involved rectifying the mistakes of previous administrations. Still, in 2013, four years into Bing’s second term, Detroit fi led for bankruptcy – the largest city in U.S. history to do so. Despite an unceremonious ending, Bing learned and grew from what he called “the toughest four years of [his] life,” and maintains that he would do it all over again if given the choice. He also believes that his experience as an entrepreneur and NBA team captain gave him the necessary skills and background for a political career. As a player, Bing knew not only his own strengths and weaknesses, but those of his teammates, and sought to mesh complementary skills with one another. In both the business and political realms, he surrounded himself with people who possessed expertise in areas he didn’t.
“Picking the right people to be part of my team was very, very important,” Bing said. “It’s a people business, and you’ve got to make sure you give people the respect and the dignity to let them do their job.”
Howard stands at the podium, taking a deep breath as those in the room applaud
and cheer. About to speak, he stops. He bows his head and covers his eyes before
they begin to swell with tears – tears that embody the emotion Howard feels in
this punctuating moment for what has been a crazy few days.
around with his back facing the wall, taking a few final deep breaths to
joy,” he says.
understand the tears if you understand the place. Juwan Howard is back in Ann
Arbor at the University of Michigan, where he once captivated the country as a
player. This time around, Howard is donning a block “M” pin on his lapel – he’s
just been introduced as the head men’s basketball coach.
tell Howard is reflecting back to the journey that led him to this defining
moment in his career. He mentions the last time he had a press conference at
Michigan, where he was declaring for the 1994 NBA Draft. Howard touched on his
late grandmother and best friend and what they meant to him, before speaking to
the tradition and pride he has to coach his new players – his new family.
calls this his “dream job,” and tells the origin story of his path to Ann Arbor
more than two decades ago. Howard is raw and genuine, his words impassioned.
It’s clear just how much this all means to him.
Howard is home.
Howard sits at a table during Big Ten Media Day in Chicago, and he sticks out
like a sore thumb.
the only head coach without previous college coaching experience. The other 13
coaches in the Big Ten Conference average 24.5 years of college coaching
experience, and 12 of them have 15 or more years of college coaching under
there is Howard who took the Michigan head coaching job after he spent his
entire coaching career in the NBA from 2013-2019. After six seasons on the
Miami Heat bench under head coach Erik Spoelstra, Howard jumped at the
opportunity to return to his alma mater, despite frequently being a candidate
for NBA head coaching vacancies.
always been asked the question, ‘Will I ever want to coach college
basketball?’” Howard tells Legends Magazine. “My answer was always ‘One job, if
it became available. The University of Michigan.’”
core, the main part of Howard’s new job is comfortable to him. He has been
around the sport professionally for the past 25 years and around youth
basketball and AAU circuits through his sons. From a coaching and teaching
standpoint, Howard is confident his NBA experience will translate to the
It is all
the other stuff that is new and will take some getting used to, chiefly
recruiting. Howard is getting used to being on the phone a lot more to talk to
recruits, and that relationship-building isn’t something foreign to him. After
all, he was once at the other end of those calls as the recruited player.
rules and regulations will take some time to learn and understand,” Howard
says. In the NBA, for example, there is no limit on how often a coach can work
with players. At the college level, Howard can only work with players for a set
number of hours per day and week.
addition to his basketball duties of coaching and recruiting, Howard serves as
a face and ambassador for the school, which means meetings with alumni and
donors are also a major part of his job.
head coach in college, I’m not only coaching the players, but I’m helping run
an institution,” Howard says. “I have to choose my staff, hire those guys, make
sure I balance a budget. I’m like an Erik Spoelstra, a Pat Riley and Andy
Elisburg all in one.”
Howard makes the leap at a time when former NBA players are coming to college
seemingly in droves, with names like Penny Hardaway and Patrick Ewing also
returning to coach their alma maters. Success has been difficult to come by for
many of the former NBA players coaching in college, but there has been a clear
advantage in recruiting, particularly for Hardaway.
been a changing of the guard with coaches that have been around a long time,”
former NBA player and current Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse tells Legends
Magazine. “There’s a new wave of coaching. I think athletic directors are
thinking outside the box, just trying to find guys that can relate to this
generation of players…a lot of those guys are one-and-dones now coming into the
to that trend, Howard’s college teammate and current ESPN personality Jalen
Rose voiced his support on ESPN for Howard getting the Michigan job early in
the process, in part because of his ability as a recruiter.
be a terrific head coach,” Rose said. “He would be terrific at developing young
talent. He would own the Michigan market.”
Howard’s opening press conference at Michigan signified a symbolic beginning,
his first day of summer workouts was the real start.
then, when Howard walked into a gym with players to coach and a team to
prepare, that Howard finally felt he arrived.
that day, the first day of workouts, when it hit and sunk in. I’m the head
coach at the University of Michigan,” Howard says. “That was my epic moment, an
epic time of sinking in that ‘this is real now.’”
upcoming season will bring a number of firsts and milestones for Howard, who’s
ready to embark on his first season as a head coach. Now, as the season gets
going, and the initial emotions fade, everything turns to actual basketball.
prepares to lead a team for the first time as head coach, he thinks back to the
years he’s spent in and around the game, giving him a lifetime of experience to
fall back on. He knows he can do this.
this game before for many years, I’ve had a lot of success doing it at all
levels, high school, college and pro,” Howard says. “I’ve learned a lot, and I
know the game and I know I can coach the game.”