Jerome Williams, known to many as the Junk Yard Dog, earned his nickname during his stint with the Detroit Pistons. His teammates coined him ‘JYD’ for his hard work ethic and willingness to do a lot of the “garbage” jobs, such as rebounding, playing defense, setting strong screens and the other basic fundamentals. Since the conclusion of his playing career, Jerome has used that same mentality to promote the importance of education to the country’s youth via his Shooting for Peace program.
initially began his own service project called Jerome’s Youth Development (JYD)
Project, has long been an advocate for helping young people reach their highest
potential. After starting the National Basketball Retired Players Association
(NBRPA) Las Vegas chapter and outreach to the local community, Williams
immediately saw the parallels between the NBRPA’s community initiatives and
those of the JYD Project, and decided to pair the two together. Today, that
marriage is known as Shooting for Peace.
“The efforts on
both sides were focused on professional and retired athletes going out and
serving the community,” said Williams. “Because doing so really requires a
brigade of players, I knew it was the perfect time to bridge the two
initiatives. The result is a program that serves a multitude of young people in
a significant way.”
Peace has since grown into a nationwide tour and includes several different
facets that aid students. Benefits include digital education services,
scholarships from notable HBCUs, and school visits from the Legends themselves,
which include a Q&A panel, poetry and essay contest, and a game pitting the
Legends against the school team. Last year, NBA Legends made stops in various
chapter cities, including Las Vegas, Boston, Harlem, Philadelphia, New Orleans,
Toronto, Miami, Oakland, and more.
It is no secret
that students who go on to earn a college degree are more likely to lead
productive lives in society. Jerome Williams is no stranger to this fact. He
has worked harder than most to achieve his dreams. In fact, Jerome paid his own
tuition at a junior college to earn his Associate’s degree. He went on to
receive a full scholarship from Georgetown University, as well as several other
certifications in his professional life. His passion for this work is clear and
reflective of his own personal values.
“I believe that
kids today need their education now more than ever,” says Williams. “We take
great pride in showing them how the Legends of the game and a good education
encourage all members — from the
NBA to WNBA to the Harlem Globetrotters —
to get involved with Shooting for Peace. No matter what their professional
playing careers looked like, each and every one of them started at the same
place: school. All of these stories, especially those that include hardship,
are necessary for students to hear.
“By hearing directly from Legends, these young people learn that while they can be an athlete, it is being a student-athlete that is really most important for lifelong success.”
A special thanks to all of the chapter presidents for their leadership with Shooting for Peace. This program would not be what it is today without them.
by Sean Deveney
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – It was a night for the overlooked, the underrated and the trailblazers whose contributions to the game have been too obscured by history.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame held its induction night this weekend and welcomed a field of new members that included center Vlade Divac, a pioneer of international basketball who was drafted from Yugoslavia by the Lakers in 1989 and went on to become the first player born and trained outside the U.S. to appear in 1,000 NBA games.
The group also included one of the WNBA’s first stars, Teresa Weatherspoon, as well as defensive stalwarts Sidney Moncrief and Bobby Jones, unique face-up center Jack Sikma, championship coach Bill Fitch and five-time NBA All-Star Paul Westphal.
Divac opened the night with a speech that set the tone for the entire collection of inductees, speaking about his love for the game and emphasis the game puts on selflessness.
“I believe love gives you the power to share your best self and to inspire others,” Divac said. “Love liberates you the power to make the impossible possible. Just like in life, when you play basketball you have to give in order to receive. On the court you are not just making moves alone, you are also giving your physical and mental strength, your passion, your talent, your trust in your teammates. This way, the power can multiply and the whole team wins. Basketball is the opposite of selfishness.”
That resonated throughout Symphony Hall. Also inducted on Friday were Al Attles, who has been the face of the Warriors franchise for six decades—as a player, a coach and a franchise ambassador. Attles, chosen as a contributor, witnessed Golden State’s most recent dynasty, but was also on the floor as a point guard back when the team was based in Philadelphia in 1962, when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game.
But, asked about the game earlier in the week, Attles was quick to point out that even Chamberlain’s dominating individual achievement had a team feel to it. “Well, I always remind people that we won the game, that’s the first thing,” Attles said. “The other thing is that Wilt tried to come out of the game. He did not want to score 100.”
Also inducted were Chuck Cooper, the first black player to be drafted by an NBA team; Carl Braun, a five-time NBA All-Star who played 13 seasons from 1947-62 and coached the Knicks briefly; the all-black Tennessee A&I teams (now Tennessee State) of 1957-59, which traveled to national tournaments, challenged segregation and were the first team to win three straight championships at any collegiate level; and the women’s teams of Wayland Baptist University (1948-82), who won 10 AAU championships and once won 131 consecutive games.
The honor was probably overdue for both Moncrief, who made five All-Star teams and won the first two NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards, and Sikma, who made seven All-Star teams and averaged 15.6 points with 9.8 rebounds. Sikma was also instrumental in bringing the 1979 NBA title to Seattle in his second NBA season.
But Sikma was best known for developing a step-back, face-up shot that became known as the “Sikma move.” It has regained popularity in the modern NBA, with fewer back-to-the-basket centers, but Sikma said it started mostly out of necessity—he grew 10 inches in his final two years of high school and arrived at tiny Illinois Wesleyan, as he described it, as a, “6-11, 195-pound specimen.”
Sikma recalled that, in his first Summer League game after being drafted by Lenny Wilkens and the Sonics in 1977, he had the misfortune of going against Moses Malone, who as already established as a star center. Because players can’t foul out in Summer League, Sikma said Malone wound up with 30-something points while Sikma had 10 fouls.
“The owner was there,” Sikma said, “and asked Lenny, ‘Is that our first-round draft pick?’”
The night was highlighted by the speech from Weatherspoon, whose passion for the game remains palpable even 15 years after her retirement. Weatherspoon won a gold medal with Team USA in 1988 and played overseas for 10 years before the advent of the WNBA. She created one of the great moments in league history when, playing for the New York Liberty in the 1999 Finals, she launched a buzzer-beater from beyond halfcourt that went in for a Game 2 win.
Speaking to her two brothers and three sisters seated nearby, Weatherspoon said, “I never had to look outside my family for my heroes. … I was well-protected, well-watched over and I hope that you know that everything about you, I watched. I took it from you, I took your perseverance, I took your consistency, I took your dedication, I took your determination, I took it and I ran with it. And I hope that I made you tremendously proud.
“We’ve gone through a lot together, we’ve done a lot together, we fought together. Tonight, we go in together.”
She went in, indeed, with a well-rounded group that finally got their due. It was a celebration of the hard-working stars, the players and coaches who often gave up the notoriety and big headlines to sacrifice for winning.
As Moncrief put it, “I take great pride being inducted into this Hall. But as I was trying to think of, what do you talk about? It’s not really about me. It’s not about a speech. It’s about the game of basketball. The game of basketball that has changed everyone’s life in this room.”
Have you heard of Chasity Melvin? If not, wake up!
Melvin is the epitome of what it means to dream big.
Her saying, “you can’t dream big enough” has carried her through a career
spanning more than 20 years, 12 as a professional in the WNBA. Originally from
Roseboro, North Carolina, Melvin attended North Carolina State University,
where she led the program to its first Final Four appearance during her senior
season in 1998. Following graduation, she was selected 11th overall in the 1999
WNBA draft and spent time with the Cleveland Rockers, Washington Mystics and
“I was reminded of that growing up in a small town,”
Melvin said of her ‘dream big’ saying. “I know what it’s like to set a goal,
achieve it and realize my dream.”
Melvin retired from professional
basketball in 2010 and was faced with a crossroad. Her desire to return to the
game in a coaching role was initially faced with some resistance. Her lack of
true coaching experience and available positions in the WNBA made it hard for
Melvin to make a seamless transition to the coaching ranks upon graduation.
“When I initially retired, people didn’t want to hire
me because I didn’t have enough coaching experience,” Melvin said. “For me, I
played for eight different coaches in my 12-year WNBA career. I played for a
lot of different systems and NBA coaches. I felt like I had enough experience
that should’ve given me that first opportunity.”
Enter the NBA Assistant Coaches Program (ACP).
Through the NBA ACP, former NBA and WNBA players interested in coaching at the
collegiate and professional levels can gain real experience and mentorship from
the game’s best coaches.
“It was a great avenue for me to get in front of people
who could get me to where I needed to be,” Melvin said. “I needed that
experience to get an opportunity and the NBA ACP gave that to me.”
Through her participation in the NBA ACP, Melvin
realized that there might be more opportunities outside of coaching women. “It
gave me the idea that maybe I could coach on the men’s side,” Melvin said.
“With the limited opportunities on the women’s side, this just made sense.”
Within two months of completing the program, Melvin
landed her first full-time coaching role with the Greensboro Swarm in the NBA G
League. As an assistant coach, Melvin was able to use her personal experiences
during her professional career to relate to the players. “I’ve been part of the
professional game. I was in their spot at one time,” she said.
“It meant everything to get this opportunity,” Melvin
said. “For me, it was both challenging and rewarding at the same time. To be
part of helping these guys realize their dreams was special. I know what it’s
like to set a goal, to play pro and achieve that dream.”
Melvin found immediate success by leveraging her unique
journey and playing experiences. Her insightful perspective and first-hand view
of the game allowed her to gain the most out of her first season with the
“At the end of the day, I learned that basketball is
just basketball. Same plays, special situations, scouting. It’s all the same,”
Melvin said. “I know the level of confidence you need to have to succeed at
this level. I’ve done it. I’ve experienced it. And it gave me great pride that
I could share those experiences and help these guys further their careers.”
The opportunity also gave Melvin a new perspective on
the G League and the opportunities it can create for players. While she
continues to dream big herself, she is now able to share that message with
“It’s not just about moving up to the NBA,” Melvin
said. “It’s also just as much about securing a great opportunity overseas to
support themselves and their families. There are so many opportunities these
guys can get from playing in the G League and so many awesome memories to be
made. Outside of the basketball court, I could relate to these guys more on a
personal level. That is where I’ve succeeded the most.”
Husband. Father. Mentor. Investor. These are just some of the many words that describe eight-year NBA veteran Eddie Gill. But before his basketball career took him all across the globe, he was just a kid from Aurora, Colorado who went on to overcome immense odds to realize his dream of playing in the NBA.
After high school, Gill enrolled
at the College of Eastern Utah, where he played minimal minutes and was given
few opportunities. The decision to transfer the following season to Salt Lake Community
College proved to be a game-changer for Gill. He would go on to average more
than 16 points and six assists per game.
After a standout season, Gill tested his skills at the D-1 level. He
transferred to Weber State in 1998 and went on to play two full seasons for the
Wildcats. MVP of the 1999 Big Sky Conference Tournament and named to the
First-Team All-Big Sky Conference, Gill leveraged his college successes into a
career in the NBA G League and eight seasons in the NBA, and spent significant
time overseas for teams in the Greek Leagues and Continental Basketball
Association. But, after a career spanning the globe, he still felt most at home
“When I knew retirement was a
real possibility, I asked myself ‘what’s next?’” Gill said.
Gill turned in his jersey in 2011 but couldn’t stay away from the game
for long. He started a youth skills development program in Indianapolis called,
“All Out Training”. Through the program, he led after-school initiatives for
kids that focused primarily on exercise and training.
“The NBA has a number of youth
initiatives. Working in camps, clinics and schools,” Gill explains. “Through
all these initiatives, I developed a passion for working with kids, especially
on the court, regardless of their skillsets. Not everyone wants to go to the
NBA — some kids just want to be able to play better on the playground! That’s
why I started ‘All Out Training’.”
What Gill didn’t know at the
time was that his youth training program would be an avenue for another career
option. One afternoon, Gill began talking with a father of one of the boys in
the program. The man had a successful career in wealth management and Gill was
intrigued. Fast forward to today and Gill has been active in the financial
management and investing industries for years.
“Networking is tremendous in any business,” Gill says while reflecting on
his past. “It doesn’t mean you’re trying to get something out of someone,
you’re just building a relationship. You never know what you could do for
someone or what doors they can open for you. That’s what happened to me.”
Gill began hiring more coaches
to run All Out Training while he pursued his new goal of becoming a financial
advisor. He also knew that, through his time playing professional basketball,
he could be a great resource for other athletes looking to do the same thing.
But it wasn’t as easy as asking his new friend for a job.
“I had to do some serious
studying to get certified and licensed,” he says. “To be 34 and studying ...
that was a different experience than the first time around. It was hard!”
Gill worked for it and turned
into an incredible success story in the process. He has moved up in the ranks
as a financial advisor, while simultaneously juggling All Out Training and
pregame/postgame analyst work for the Indiana Pacers.
One of the most rewarding
aspects of Gill’s life is helping younger players through the process. The
biggest piece of advice he offers to current players is that basketball won’t
last forever. Even if you have a great playing career, 15 years or so is still
a short amount of time to make a lot of money. And then what? If you stop
playing at 35 years old, then you still have 65 years of life left.
“Plan for your future,” he says.
“Don’t just save, but think about what you want the rest of your life to look
like. Your community involvement. Your next career. Think about it now.”
Gill’s final piece of advice?
Get out of your comfort zone, and never be the smartest person in the room.
“When we’re comfortable, we’re not making progress. In order to be a
better basketball player, we had to be uncomfortable; the same holds true
beyond the court. Surround yourself with high achievers, and don’t be the
by John Fawaz
Haywood v. NBA. 1971. For a
time it seemed more like Spencer Haywood against the world.
Booed in every
arena but his own in Seattle. Protests filed by numerous NBA teams, including
one by a franchise that had tried to sign Haywood. Sued by the ABA. Injunctions
served during warmups. The Cincinnati Royals kicked him out of the arena, and
into the snow. Opposing players delivering elbows to Haywood’s jaw. And those
were the polite objections.
“There were some serious threats,”
Haywood says. “Booing was ‘nice.’ People would try to entice me to fight
because if I punched somebody, the whole case would blow over.”
The controversy entered the realm of
farce when Chicago, after losing to Seattle, demanded $600,000 for the
diminution of the Bulls’ playoff chances and for the injury to All-Star Chet
Walker. Imagine how much money the Bulls would have asked for if Haywood had
actually checked into the game.
Haywood’s offense? He wanted to play
in the NBA, and he didn’t want to wait until he was 22 years old, as the League
“The NBA was not accepting of the idea,”
Haywood says, putting it mildly. “They said you have to wait two years [or] you
can go play in Belgium.”
An unstoppable 6-foot-8 forward with
a unique skill set, Haywood led the U.S. team to the gold medal at the 1968
Olympics at the age of 19, and then averaged 32 points and 22 rebounds per game
in the 1968-69 season while playing for the University of Detroit. For Haywood,
the youngest of 10 children of a single mother worn down from a lifetime
working in the Mississippi cotton fields, college was a luxury he just couldn’t
Haywood went to the ABA, which
enacted a hardship exception in its bylaws that allowed its teams to sign
players who hadn’t completed their college eligibility. Hysteria ensued. The
end of civilization was near, so it was said, or at the very least the end of
college athletics. All censure, of course, was couched in terms of concern for
Haywood and other student-athletes.
The ABA proved to be no friend,
either. After Haywood won the 1969-70 ABA MVP Award as a rookie, the Denver
Rockets gave him a new contract worth $1.9 million. Or so they said.
“I signed it without legal counsel,”
Haywood says. “I got a raise from $50,000 to $75,000, and they would put
$10,000 a year into the stock market, and when I get to age 55, I start drawing
from that money if it’s there.
“And the agreement inside the
agreement said that I would have to be employed by the truck line that owned
the Rockets until I was 70 years old.”
Haywood hired an agent (Al Ross),
and when he and Ross tried to renegotiate a clearly unfair contract, the
Rockets’ owner told them to get out (peppered with a racial slur). Play for
Denver or don’t play at all because the NBA won’t touch you.
Schulman, a lawyer and the outspoken managing partner of the Seattle SuperSonics.
NBA Commissioner J. Walter Kennedy warned Schulman to steer clear of Haywood.
But he couldn’t. Schulman wound up signing Haywood in December of 1970.
“Sam said, ‘I will give you the same contract you signed in Denver, but all in cash,’” Haywood says. “I got money, and I can play. I will do whatever Sam wants.”
The courts agreed. U.S. District
Judge Warren Ferguson issued a preliminary injunction allowing Haywood to play
for the Sonics. The NBA appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the
injunction in a 7-2 decision on March 1, 1971. Fewer than two weeks later,
Ferguson granted Haywood’s motion for a summary judgment declaring the NBA rule
invalid because it violated antitrust law.
As Schulman said later, “It was a
matter of principle. I couldn’t see any logical reason for keeping a man from
making a living.”
And the sky did not fall. In the
decades that followed, veteran players did not lose their jobs to younger,
cheaper players. The opposite occurred, as the influx of talent allowed the NBA
to expand. College basketball became bigger than ever. In the NBA, revenue
soared. All those extra years created tremendous wealth for NBA players and,
more importantly, gave them more control over their lives and careers. Haywood
v. NBA ended a system that benefited everyone but the players.
Haywood, who was inducted into the
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, is proud of his role as a
Pioneer. But as he said in his induction speech, “Now remember guys, I had
game. It’s not like I just did this Supreme Court thing. I had some serious
by Sam Smith
“I long to hear that you
have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I
suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the
ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not
put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men
would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to
the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold
ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
Abigail Adams’ letter and reminder to John Adams of the Continental Congress on
eve of American Revolution, 1776.
It was certainly
revolutionary in 1997 when the National Basketball Association committed to
advancing the women’s game. Sure, there had been basketball leagues for women,
and the college space was vibrant with famous programs like Immaculata and
Delta State. Women played in the Olympics as an official sport in 1976 after
the Title IX law in 1972, and many found participation outlets in Europe and
Asia. But there seemed no sustainability in the United States, the birthplace
of basketball, the land of the free and the home of the brave and where all men
— and women — were supposedly created equal.
David Stern and
the NBA were determined to finally remedy the great inequality with a
commitment that today makes the Women’s National Basketball Association the
most stable and successful women’s professional sports league in the United
States. The fact that the change comes under the aegis of the National
Basketball Association is both predictable and appropriate. As many will
recall, it was the NBA that first introduced all-African-American starting
lineups to professional sports along with African-American management and
ownership, easily making it the most progressive sports league in the world.
“The WNBA has been a change agent,”
agrees Carol Blazejowski, basketball Hall of Famer and former NBA official.
“It’s changed a lot of societal views. It has become a platform for women to
feel a sense of pride and upward mobility, and to feel that they can achieve
bigger and better things in the sports community, to be viewed as athletes and
not separated as women or men. It has allowed us as individuals who are very
capable of playing the game of basketball to serve as role models, and to offer
all we can to the sports landscape.”
“There have been some bumps, some successes
and failures,” continues Blazejowski. “It’s still going to take some time and
patience. Society always accepted the male athlete, and it was a struggle [to
be accepted] when I played. But that stigma has changed and it’s a rite of
passage now, understanding that opportunities in sports are as important to
your daughter as much as to your son for so many reasons — the chance to earn a
scholarship, boosting self-esteem, and everything else that comes with playing
Tamika Catchings, a 15-year WNBA
veteran who is now an Indiana Fever executive, figured she would follow her
father and play in the NBA.
“Watching my father play (for four
NBA teams) sparked interest in me being a professional basketball player and
wanting to play in the NBA,” Catchings admitted. “We didn’t have the WNBA at
that time. This is the generation that has grown up having an opportunity to be
a part of something that is so much bigger than them, a league designed
specifically for us. My goal was to be in the NBA, to follow in his footsteps.
That really was the only thing I knew about. I didn’t even really understand
the fact that women didn’t play. We had Annie Meyers and Lynette Woodard and
the Harlem Globetrotters. I felt my dad did it, so I could do what my dad did.”
There are three- and four-sport
athletes, and then there’s Ann Meyers, a seven-sport athlete in high school and
the first female scholarship athlete at UCLA. Meyers actually did play in the
NBA, albeit in preseason with the Indiana Pacers.
“I wouldn’t have done it if they
were not serious,” Meyers says. “Yes, publicity was involved. But my whole
intention in life was why was this any different? I like to think (I got
Forget the glass ceiling; what
needed to be shattered was the barrier to that glass backboard.
“We had actually commissioned a
study some years earlier about what might be possible with respect to women’s
basketball,” Stern said in an interview for the Retired Players’ Association.
“I thought the time to do it would be in 1992 coming out of the Olympics,
especially if the Americans won the gold. But they didn’t. They finished third
and got bronze and it sort of went on the back burner.”
“Val Ackerman was working in our
office and was a fiery advocate, as was Carol Blazejowski, and gradually (with
Adam Silver) we began to develop a plan and we said, ‘OK, we could do this.
We’ll do it coming out of the Olympics in ’96.”
Thanks to advocates like Ackerman
and Blazejowski, the setback didn’t stop the birth of the new league.
“Val was totally intent on making it
a dignified and authentic basketball experience,” Stern recalled. “The only
thing I remember putting my foot down on was the ball. We agreed generally it
would be smaller, but went back and forth on the color. I said if you never want
to sell a WNBA ball, make it the same color as the NBA ball. We went with the
oatmeal and orange, which has become a symbol of the league.”
Though the league is still not where
it needs to be economically, there is no denying the quality of play is far better
than anywhere in the world. It’s difficult to watch a WNBA game and then wonder
why NBA players don’t consistently compete as intensely.
“Watching it is quite
extraordinary,” says Stern, who still is active on several major U.S. boards
and business ventures. “I remember when we started off and said this is the
best women’s basketball in the world. But I would say the game is a factor of
three times better.”
“We didn’t even know that some of
these women existed because they were playing in countries you didn’t even know
had basketball,” Stern added. “And so as it continues to grow, there will be
increased revenues, salaries will be increased and from outside I would love to
see these salaries and the revenue supporting a salary structure that allows WNBA
players to play only for their team and not have to go to a foreign country to
earn a maximum amount of money. But they only go there to earn that because
they are WNBA players. They get their fame, reputation and celebrity from
playing in the WNBA.”
WNBA players make about 20 percent
of the NBA minimum salary in a league, of course, that generates substantially
less revenue. Almost two thirds of WNBA players play during the winter outside
the United States. It makes for a long year and creates heightened risk of
injury. Seattle Storm star and league MVP Breanna Stewart suffered a torn
achilles in Russia last April just before the start of the 2019 WNBA season.
There are no one-and-dones as there is a four-year college rule for eligibility
with a maximum salary slightly above $100,000 with some bonuses. WNBA players
opted out of their collective bargaining agreement to negotiate additional
economic terms after the 2019 season.
“The reality is
people misconstrue this message,” she says. “It’s not about making the exact
same amount of money NBA players make, or men make in general. We simply need
to open people’s eyes to the fact we spend more than half of the year thousands
of miles away and we don’t want to do that. We want to be able to play in our
home country, in front of our friends, in front of our family and fans and be
able to make a salary that will allow us to sustain an offseason. The reality
for a lot of women is it would make sense to not play in the WNBA and just have
the summer off and play overseas. But then we completely eliminate the idea of
having a league here if all the best players aren’t playing in it. So we have
to fight and give our all and our best to try to grow this league and stay
committed to what Nancy Lieberman and Carol Blazejowski and all the players who
came before us did and not let that die. They worked so hard for this thing to
get going. We all love this game of basketball and we would be doing them, and
honestly us, a disservice.”
Comparatively speaking, the WNBA is
in its infancy. Twenty-two years into the NBA, boxing and track were still more
popular and lucrative sports.
“It’s not going anyplace. It’s a smaller
league and an unusual season. But as the game improved we learned a few things
and that it isn’t just about mom and daughter. It is about dad and daughter and
dad and son and mom and son going to enjoy a good basketball game. I’m not
going to say the WNBA would have had an easy time without the NBA support
because that’s not so. So it is something about which I am very proud. I think
we did the right thing and we made the choices we had to make. In retrospect
some might not have been the best choices, but they were the best choices made
with a purpose and desire to provide a place for women to go after they finished
college to move onto the next level of a great sport.”
“Now kids are going to NBA games and seeing
female referees, female executives, and they will grow up thinking it was
always that way, but it wasn’t,” says Stern. “We came from a more humble place.
If you want to engage the world in a single conversation, sports is the way to
catalyze that conversation.”
The WNBA has come a long way, and
has a long way to go, but they’ve got game.
by Sarah Mellema
25 years ago. Vin Baker, the highly
prized prospect out of Hartford, was picked eighth overall in the 1993 NBA
Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. Today, the league is celebrating the legacy of
this great man, his incredible career and most importantly, his rise back to
the Bucks after finding himself in a low place that many wouldn’t have expected
him to bounce back from.
The 6-foot-11 power forward averaged
28.3 points per game at the University of Hartford, fourth in the country, and
finished with 2,238 points, a school record that still stands. During his final
year, Sports Illustrated named Baker “America’s Best-Kept Secret.”
In 1993, Baker was drafted to the
Bucks, and he continued to dominate. He played in four All-Star games, earned
an Olympic gold medal and nearly $100 million over the course of his NBA
career. But he masked one dark secret: a dependency on drugs and alcohol that
eventually cost him his basketball career, his fortune and almost his life.
At first, Baker never let the
alcohol interfere with his game. That lasted until around 1996 when he recorded
his best game ever as a pro after smoking marijuana before the game, and he
quickly convinced himself that he played better under the influence.
He was soon traded to the Seattle
SuperSonics where he averaged just under 20 points per game. Not bad
considering that while playing for the Sonics, Baker was drinking before, after
and sometimes during games. Eventually, he was almost always drunk or hungover
during games. Baker was traded to Boston, then to the Knicks, the Rockets and
the Clippers. His bank account hit zero, his properties foreclosed, and by
2006, Baker was out of the NBA.
“We all eventually have that moment
of truth, when it physically leaves us,” says Baker. “The fans stop cheering.
The game goes away. Then we have a moment of reality about what comes next. It
eventually goes away for every player. For me, that moment came abruptly. It
was ‘what’s next’ before I was ready to be finished.”
His substance abuse continued after
retirement as he tried to forget what might have been. Baker’s first few
attempts at sobriety centered on the hope of becoming an All-Star again. He’ll
tell you now that those attempts failed because he still needed to humble
himself. He needed to start over from the beginning and rediscover himself, not
just in his career, but in every facet of life.
“Life dealt me a hand, and I had to
reinvent myself with it,” Baker says. “I went to Seminary for a few years in
New York, and I was able to find comfort in religion. It was interesting being
back in school. I had to sit in class and really think about who I wanted to
With a newfound humility, Baker was
able to put his pride aside and make a phone call that would change the
direction of his life once again. His former boss, Howard Schultz, who had
owned the Sonics when Baker played in Seattle, not only took his call, but he
helped Baker come up with a plan. Part of that plan was for Baker to serve
coffee at another business Schultz managed: Starbucks.
“From school, to seminary, to
Starbucks, I was slowly reinventing who I was,” Baker explains. “My identity
from college and more than a decade after was all about the game of basketball.
I was forced into a place where I had to think about my life as opposed to just
basketball because it was taken away from me. At some point, we all will have
that. Life will deal us something, big or small, where it’s not just about
basketball, and the priorities in our lives will test us. The priority for me
became life, and focusing on things that I needed to improve on as a human
What really got him through that
time was humility. Baker didn’t have any real agenda other than working on
himself. He went into the management training program at Starbucks, which not
only forced him to show up to work dependably, but it also meant — just like
with his job in basketball — that he put on a uniform.
He was forced into a life outside of
basketball, and he’ll tell you now, it was the best thing that could have
happened to him.
Humbling himself enough to serve
coffee to his former teammates and fans was just the beginning for Baker. He
also had to regain his financial freedom, and watch every dime he spent.
“Working at Starbucks, my paychecks
looked very different than with the NBA,” Baker says. “The interesting part is,
I didn’t really watch my paychecks with the Sonics, but as soon as I got a $900
check a week working full-time at Starbucks, I started paying attention. I was
starting over in all aspects of life, and watching every dime I spent was part
of that. A $100 million lesson was a hard one to learn. But the awesome part
about it? It was a lesson!”
Baker’s path back to the Bucks
didn’t just end there. The NBA didn’t just “let” him back in. Even as a former
All-Star and Olympian, he had to work for it, which humbled him even more. That
path for him included working for FOX Sports Wisconsin, volunteer coaching,
then assistant coaching with the Texas Legends of the NBA G League.
“I had to get to a humble place and
find myself, and once I experienced that humility, getting back around other
players was the easy part,” reflects Baker.
While he was working for the G
League, Baker started to notice a different style of basketball. The game had
changed in just a handful of years, but his newfound humility helped him
continue to move forward.
“I had to learn
the game through a different lens,” Baker explains. “Not only was the game
different from my playing days, but I also had to see basketball from the
perspective of a coach. I had to work hard to get to where I knew I could be,
and it wasn’t easy.”
This meant setting aside his pride
day after day, in big ways and small. In coaches meetings, he pays close
attention because a lot has changed, and he’s ready and willing to learn from
the other coaches. If a player Googles his story, he sees it as a beacon of
“They know the struggle I’ve
overcome,” Baker says. “They see that I was an All-Star, but they also find out
what I’ve been through. It’s important for me to lead by example and be the
best person I can be. If I see a player struggling, it’s my duty to help him
through it and tell him exactly what he needs to do on or off the court. If
I’ve overcome what I’ve overcome, someone else can certainly overcome his
free-throw slump. We can consistently have hope in any aspect of life.”
Baker considers it a miracle that
he’s back in the NBA. He’ll tell you now that when he was serving Grandes,
Talls and Ventis, he was not expecting to ever make it back. He was there to
make a living. And it made him appreciate every step.
“I’m better as a person now than I
was when I played in the NBA,” Baker says. “Obviously I’m not the athlete, like
the kids remind me every day, but I’m better as a person. I have tremendous
opportunity here. It’s incredible. Being a coach happened as soon as I realized
and accepted that basketball was over for me.”
Baker has shared his story across
different platforms, including writing his own book titled, “God and
Starbucks.” He now lives to inspire people who may have lost a bit of life
along the way.
“Life is all
about lessons,” Baker shares. “Some of them are about ethics, some are big,
some are large. My big life lesson hurt. It was expensive, but I learned it.
Now I want to share it with other players so they don’t go down the same path.
The problem isn’t when people make mistakes — it’s when we make mistakes and we
don’t share our lessons. Or when we see other people making mistakes, and we’re
too embarrassed to reach out and help them.
“At first, I said ‘why me?’ Now I
say, ‘why not me?’ It’s my story, and it’s my duty to share it.”
by Ben Ladner
For many young National Basketball Association (NBA) players, a rookie contract represents an immediate flow of cash into bank accounts that might once have been empty. The allure of a second contract, and a third, opens up a theoretical wellspring of disposable income to be spent, lent and flaunted. But if not managed properly, that wellspring can dry up — often faster than players could have ever anticipated.
Some, however, like Caron Butler, saw those contracts as investments from
day one. While many of his peers blew money on cars and clubs, he took a longer
view of his career and the rest of his life. Having come into the league with
two young children and a family to consider, Butler mostly eschewed night life
and frivolous spending in order to take care of more important matters. “My
perspective on life was just so much different,” Butler said. “Whereas guys
went out and did certain things, I wasn’t trying to spend that type of capital
on having fun because I was already thinking about, ‘I’ve got two mouths to
feed forever, and I have to make sure they attend college.’”
During his youth in Racine, Wisconsin, Butler experienced firsthand the
consequences of hanging with the wrong crowd. He began selling drugs as a
teenager, had the first of five kids at the age of 14 and was arrested more
than a dozen times before being incarcerated at 16. “I embraced the wrong
things,” Butler said [on the Ballers With Babies podcast] in 2018. “But I was
what I was exposed to.”
To position himself for a more stable future, Butler surrounded himself
with people who could help him make responsible financial decisions and plan
for the future when he came into the league. “I just had really smart people
around me,” Butler said. “People that just exposed me to the right things and
the right people.”
That group included Butler’s agent and lawyer, Raymond Brothers, his
financial adviser and his business partner. They helped him maximize his
earning power in the NBA and protect his money throughout his career. As a
player, Butler attended financial literacy classes offered by the NBA Players
Association and took advantage of relationships with active and retired players
alike. Today, he’s reaping the rewards. Butler has curated a wide range of
investments, including stakes in Graduate Hotels and Juice Budz, which have a
combined 18 locations. Additionally, he and fellow NBA players Anthony Tolliver
and Steve Blake were among the first high-profile people to invest in the
social media app Arbit, and Butler invested in DeltaHawk Engines, an aircraft
engine manufacturer based in Racine, last year.
Butler also remains active in both his home community in Racine and the
NBA fraternity. He, Grant Hill and Jerome Williams were recently named to the
NBA Retired Players Association’s Board of Directors, where Butler helps
empower current players and assists them in planning for their post-playing
careers. As a recently-retired, former NBA All-Star who transitioned smoothly
from the court to the media, Butler is a recognizable model for players on how
to remain active after retiring and a resource for players like Bradley Beal,
Eric Bledsoe and Spencer Dinwiddie, who have reached out to him for advice on
managing careers and their wealth after retirement. “The NBA is an amazing
platform to be on,” Butler said. “But at some point, everyone will be a retired
player, or an ex-player. And you have to have some type of strategic plan about
how you want to exit and go on to the next phase of your life, because you will
say goodbye to the game at some point.”
In today’s age of heightened player agency and athlete-controlled media
endeavors, many of the NBA’s brightest stars aren’t waiting to retire before
entering the media field. Players have begun exerting more influence over their
perception among fans, often via independent entities that give them complete
autonomy over their message. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Steph
Curry all have their own media companies, while an increasing number of players
are speaking through The Players’ Tribune or Uninterrupted. “Guys are starting
to try to control their content as much as possible and tell their own
stories,” Butler said. “I think that’s the new wave.”
Butler has joined that wave, too, getting involved in a variety of
platforms and mediums to share his perspective on topics inside and outside the
realm of basketball. He has worked as a sideline reporter and studio host for
Turner Sports for the last two years while regularly co-hosting a radio show
and a podcast. Mark Wahlberg is soon to produce a movie based on Butler’s
memoir, while Butler himself is heading up a documentary titled “The Green
Dream” on racial inequality in the cannabis industry and justice system. He has
taken full advantage of his platform and his voice, and like so many NBA
players in 2019, he’s doing it from a perspective only he has.
“I think it’s important that if you’re going to
tell a story,” Butler said, “you should be able to tell your story the way you
by Brad Shulkin
A true pioneer in women’s basketball, no one has had more of an impact on the women’s game than Sheryl Swoopes. Her accolades are undeniable. A dominating force throughout her entire career, Swoopes would go on to become the first woman signed to the WNBA, a three-time WNBA MVP, an Olympic gold medalist, and an NCAA and WNBA Champion.
“When I look back on my playing career and I
look at where I am today, I just remember saying, ‘Is this really happening? Is
this real? Is this true?’ And as much as I was excited about it, there was a
part of me that said, ‘This is going to be a challenge because now there is a
lot of pressure.’”
These accomplishments for Swoopes,
which helped elevate her status among the league’s best, didn’t come without
“I take a lot of pride in who I am
and what the WNBA represents. To be a part of the league back in 1997 and to be
the first player to sign was a lot of pressure for me. But it was pressure that
I welcomed because I looked at it as an opportunity to go out and really market
the league and try to show people that women can really play this game.”
Since the age
of seven, Swoopes’ love of basketball was overly apparent. A rising recruit out
of Brownfield High School, Swoopes initially decided to attend in-state
behemoth, The University of Texas. But apprehension quickly set in and Swoopes
made the decision to leave the school and enroll at South Plains Community
College to be closer to home. She went on to become a two-time All-American and
All-Region selection at South Plains. After two successful seasons, Swoopes
transferred to Texas Tech, where she went on to win an NCAA Championship in
1993. She is one of only three Lady Raiders to have her jersey retired by the
team. Still to this day, Swoopes holds many school and national records,
including the single game and single season scoring records. A culmination of
her tremendous season at Texas Tech, Swoopes went on to be named the 1993
Naismith College Player of the Year.
After college, Swoopes turned to USA
Basketball in 1994 before joining the WNBA in 1997. During the WNBA’s inaugural
season, Swoopes was recruited to play for the Houston Comets. Swoopes was the
first woman to be signed to a WNBA contract and right out of the gate, made her
impact known. During her tenure with the team, Swoopes accumulated over 2,000
points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and more than 200 steals. Her play made her
the first three-time WNBA MVP and the first three-time WNBA Defensive Player of
“When I first started playing
basketball at the age of seven, I set goals for myself and said, ‘Yes, I want
to play in the Olympics. Yes, I want to meet Michael Jordan.’ And all of those
things happened. And when I started playing in the WNBA, honestly I never went
into the league saying I want to be MVP this many years. I want to win four
championships. All I said was I wanted to be successful and, at the time, I
didn’t really know what that looked like or what that meant.”
joined the WNBA back in 1997, the league’s growth has been undeniable. This
past season, the WNBA saw a 36-percent increase in viewership in adults age
18-49, a 29-percent jump in men in that age group and a 50 percent increase in
women. But more than the growth of the viewership has been the growth of the
women who play the game. What has excited Swoopes the most is seeing the
current generation of players use this growing platform to influence the greater
“It’s so incredible to see how far
the league has come. I know there is still a lot of work to do, but to see the
talent level and how much these women are embracing the challenge of continuing
to compete and putting the women’s game on the map. It says a lot about who
they are and what they represent. I love the fact that you have younger players
today that are in the league that are stepping up, not just on the court, but
they are using their voices for a lot of very positive things.”
As she sits here today and reflects
on what has been a truly historic career, Swoopes is left with no regrets. She
put everything she had into the game she loved and is left with nothing but
pride and a sense of relief when discussing her accomplishments.
“I can honestly sit here today and
say I accomplished everything I ever thought I could accomplish and then some.
I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would have so much success on the
court with basketball and that basketball would allow me to go to so many
different places and meet so many incredible people and really change my life.
That’s exactly what the game did for me.”
by John Fawaz
It’s the question asked by every
professional athlete. At some point, everybody hangs ‘em up. Only then do they
begin to consider the next chapter of their lives.
Jamal Mashburn had that all worked
out well before he retired from the NBA in 2006. You can learn a lot riding the
“I got a chance to see the train
transition from blue collar, working class to white collar, business suits,”
Mashburn says, remembering his days riding from his Harlem home to a Catholic
school in Manhattan. “I had aspirations to find out what was in the briefcases
and do that.
“Riding that train, I had to figure
out how to carry that briefcase.”
Mission accomplished, although in
this era the briefcase has been replaced by a smartphone. Mashburn, who turned
46 in November, has amassed a business empire that includes restaurants, auto
dealerships, a marketing agency, real estate development, juice franchises and
tech investments, just to name a few. He is living the life he envisioned as a
youngster, well before his NBA dreams.
“I looked at basketball as a way to
meet a lot of people and get an education so I can carry that briefcase,”
Mashburn says. “Those train rides gave me a lot of inspiration.”
Basketball and business were
“parallel dreams” and every step of his journey had to further both ambitions.
Never stop learning on the court, in the classroom and, most of all, in
everyday life. Never stop aspiring.
“If you’re the best player on your
team, you need to find a new team,” Mashburn says. “I’m a true believer in that
you grow from others’ experiences as well. Always in basketball and always in
business, I’ve transitioned well because I am a constant learner.”
The subway introduced Mashburn to a
different environment, but back home in Harlem he was like any other kid,
playing sports with his friends. This being New York, playground basketball
ruled. But Mashburn was a pudgy youngster and not the most skilled player. The
only way to change that was to practice. For that he needed a ball, and the
neighborhood had just one. Seriously.
“I never owned a basketball. When I
was growing up in the projects in Harlem, it was more like a community
basketball,” Mashburn says. “He who left last had to secure the basketball.
Lights out at ten, I would always be the kid out there playing by myself.
“That’s how I honed my skills, how
to bargain. I don’t think I ever gave up the basketball. I was the guy who was
out there first and the one who stayed latest. I had to figure out a mechanism
to keep that tool.”
By his teen years, Mashburn showed
promise, though his weight remained an issue. Big for his age, he regularly
played against older kids. He realized that this sport was also a business (“I
had value because I could play the game”) and he asked a lot of questions. He
wanted to absorb as much information as possible. Nothing has changed.
His high school
years were centered on basketball. Even then, with AAU and summer camps, there
wasn’t much of an offseason. But his education continued, both in a traditional
and nontraditional sense. Though his parents separated when he was 11,
Mashburn’s father lived nearby and they saw each other almost every day, while
his mother, Helen, exposed him to a different side of New York with trips to
museums, restaurants and other cultural activities. As he said, she gave him
what he needed, not necessarily what he wanted.
Maybe the biggest lessons came when
she took him to collect rents as part of her bookkeeping job. They discussed
her work (“my mother taught me debits and credits”) and his future. She wanted
Jamal to be able to tell her anything, even things she didn’t want to hear.
Don’t count on a career in the NBA, she cautioned. Get your college degree. Be
ready to do something else. She needn’t have worried.
“My mother always said, ‘Have
something to fall back on,” Mashburn says. “I pushed back. ‘I don’t want to
fall back on something. I want to fall forward.’”
More importantly, he had no
illusions about the dreams of sports glory. His father, Bobby, had been a
boxer. His decade in the ring included a fight at Madison Square Garden and
bouts against Larry Holmes and Ken Norton, two future heavyweight champions.
“I saw my father, and the other side
of being a professional athlete and not having any fame or riches,” Mashburn
says. “He never got a chance to live out his dream. I wanted to take a
By his senior season of high school,
Mashburn had dropped the pounds and became one of the city’s top players, a
small forward who could knock down outside shots. College coaches, assuming
that he would be leaving early for the NBA, mostly talked basketball during
their recruiting pitches. Mashburn’s priorities were different. He wanted a
college that was the right fit. Yes, he might leave early if it made economic
sense, but he wanted a school that would help him achieve his ultimate goals.
As he says, it was all part of “investing internally by making the right
decisions and developing a business plan” for life, a process he began at age
“I had to figure out what college I
wanted to go to,” Mashburn says. “Did it match up with what I wanted to
“A lot of coaches who were
recruiting me didn’t take me seriously.”
One coach who did take Mashburn
seriously was Rick Pitino, who coached at Providence before taking over the
Knicks in 1987. The two had developed a rapport during summer hoops camps in
New York. Before Mashburn’s senior year of high school, Pitino left the Knicks
to take over at Kentucky, which was quite a distance — literally and
figuratively — from Harlem. The Wildcats were on probation, so if Mashburn
followed Pitino, he wouldn’t be able to play in the NCAA Tournament his first
year. A program in the Atlantic Coast Conference or Big East seemed the most
likely landing spot. But coach and player clicked, and Mashburn signed with
“He always allowed me to use my IQ,
either on the court or off it,” says Mashburn. “He had an open-door policy that
I used, more than others, to go in and express concepts and ideas. And he
promised he would tell me when it was time to leave [for the NBA].”
Mashburn compiled a solid freshman
season (1990-91) at Kentucky and then emerged as one of the top players in the
nation in his sophomore year. He led the Wildcats to the Final Four, and nearly
to the 1992 NCAA Championship Game by scoring 28 points in an NCAA Semifinal
Game. But, in one of the greatest college games ever, Duke dashed Kentucky’s
hopes when Christian Laettner hit a game winner at the buzzer in overtime.
After that loss, Mashburn was
invited to California as part of a group of college all-stars assembled to play
against the original Dream Team. When he returned from the scrimmages, Pitino
called him into his office and told him it was time.
“He said, ‘This is going to be your
last year here,’” Mashburn recalls.
As a junior, Mashburn was the
Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, and he led the Wildcats to the NCAA
Final Four before another overtime loss ended their title hopes. Mashburn, who
had already announced his intention to turn pro, returned to the coach’s office
at season’s end.
“Remember how you want to carry the
briefcase?” Pitino asked. “You’re going to sit down and hire an agent and hire
a business manager.”
So began the interview process.
First, Mashburn chose an agent after speaking with several candidates. Then it
was time to select a business manager, but that proved more difficult. They
offered him investment ideas and portfolio management. In other words, a life
of leisure after his playing days ended.
“What happens with athletes
sometimes is that people don’t think you have a vision beyond playing,”
Mashburn says, recalling the process. “Only one [Rick Avare] listened to my
vision of carrying the briefcase.
“I told him, ‘I want to step into a
live, active business after I play in the NBA. I need you to teach me
everything in finance and accounting that you know.’ Eventually he morphed into
my business partner.”
Mashburn entered the 1993 NBA Draft
as one of the top prospects. In those days, players who stood 6-8 and could
shoot threes were rare. Dallas selected him fourth overall, after Chris Webber,
Shawn Bradley and Penny Hardaway.
averaged 19.2 points per game in 1993-94 to lead all first-year players and he
finished third (behind Webber and Hardaway) in the balloting for the NBA Rookie
of the Year Award. The next season, Jason Kidd joined the Mavericks, combining
with Mashburn and Jim Jackson to form the “Three Js.” Dallas, which had won just
24 games combined in the previous two seasons, improved to 36-46 in 1994-95.
Mashburn averaged 24.1 points per game to rank fifth in the NBA. The Mavericks
future looked bright.
At the same time, Mashburn and Avare
began planning for life “once the ball stopped bouncing,” as Mashburn puts it.
He connected with Chris Sullivan, one of the founders of Outback Steakhouse,
and used some of his shoe contract money to purchase a franchise. He would go
on to acquire 38 Outback Steakhouses before selling his interest in 2018.
describes that initial investment as the catalyst for the ventures that
followed. During the next 20 years, he bought and sold fast food franchises and
a printing plant, started and sold a venture capital firm, and invested in real
estate and tech companies. Mashburn currently owns 90 Papa John’s franchises,
three locations of a fitness company and five auto dealerships (he says he has
learned the most from those businesses). He joined Jonathan Sackett to open the
Mashburn Sackett advertising agency, and he is beginning to develop hotels.
While his financial endeavors
flourished, he experienced ups and downs on the court. A knee injury limited
Mashburn to 18 games in 1995-96 while the Three Js clashed. By 1997, all three
were out of Dallas, with Mashburn going to Miami in a midseason trade.
Mashburn would play three and a half
seasons (1997-2000) with the Heat and four with the Hornets (2000-02 in
Charlotte and 2002-04 in New Orleans). He averaged 21.6 points per game in
2002-03 to earn All-NBA Third Team honors. But his knee, worn down by
repetitive injuries, limited him to 19 games in 2003-04 and finally forced his
retirement in 2006.
“It eventually stops. What do you do
now?” says Mashburn, who averaged 19.1 points per game in 11 NBA seasons. “What
did you learn from the experience that you can use in the new life? What don’t
you need that you can get rid of?”
Mashburn applied his basketball
lessons to his new life. Preparation, preparation, preparation. Don’t let the
ball dribble you, you dribble the ball. As you become better as a basketball
player, you become better at moving the ball.
“I’m very selective on things that I
do, and I am very methodical in my approach. Very parallel in how I played,”
Mashburn says. “To me, that was the secret sauce. Prepare and the game takes
care of itself. Got to have good people and teammates around you. I prefer
myself to be a teammate, to let other people flourish.
“I like to be around people who have
lived their dream and can also express it and teach it.”
Though Mashburn made a bid for the
New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) in 2012, owning an NBA franchise is likely
not in his future. The value of franchises has soared to the point that it
doesn’t make business sense (“the return is all in appreciation”). But he
remains connected to the NBA and the game. Players seek him out, and he is
happy to help.
“I do get approached quite a bit for
information,” Mashburn says. “They ask how I did what I did and how do I
continue to do it. It’s a lot of fun to share my stories.”
“When I was coming into the NBA, the
League and Players Association would bring in guys who made mistakes. They
would preach about ‘Don’t do this.’ I always wanted to hear the story about the
guys who made the successful transition.”
For the veteran players who are
pondering retirement, Mashburn reminds them that they have the tools. They just
need to be repurposed.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,
like the work they did to get to the NBA, but it’s more of a lifestyle change,”
Meanwhile, his son, Jamal Jr., is a
junior in high school and one of the top guards in the nation. Like his dad, he
is eyeing a parallel track — he wants to play in the NBA and be an attorney.
Soon he will have to pick a college. Those recruiters better do their homework.
The Mashburns have a lot of questions.
Next up, we welcome 1982 NCAA Champion & newly elected Board Member of the National Basketball Retired Players Association Sam Perkins to the All-Access Legends Podcast for an exclusive interview in Legends Magazine. In the interview, “Sleepy Sam” as he frequently goes by, touches on his days at North Carolina, playing alongside Jordan & Worthy, his greatest achievements and his greatest story to date, how he got his nickname. All that and more on the #AALegendsPodcast.
Q: What was it like to play on the 1982 National Championship team at North Carolina and play alongside some of the greats like [Michael] Jordan and [James] Worthy?
“I speak about this all the time because everybody asks me about that team,
everybody seems to think that, that was the greatest college team of mankind.
But just being there, playing for Dean Smith and the guys you mentioned, it was
an experience. We didn’t know it was an experience until after we left there,
but while we were there, we had a good time. We played together with the teams
that came after us. I think the best part about playing at Carolina and playing
at that time was teams just kept coming after us. We had a bullseye on our back
and we took that as a challenge all the time. Practices were always
competitive. It was just four years of growing up and Dean Smith was one of
those guys to keep us in check.”
Q: What was the greatest lesson that you learned in college?
A: “I think it’s all the lessons that
I learned from Coach Smith. Coach Smith was one of the most down to earth
coaches that was really concerned about his players. He recruited guys from
different backgrounds and different places to mesh. And one of the things I
took from that was just getting to know people that I’ve never experienced
before. As it went on, I talked to a lot of guys about religion, their beliefs,
why they believed in this and that. I think one of the things that coach taught
me was to do something different every day or try to get to know somebody that
you would never think about knowing. He had us doing reading, things of that
nature, and that’s how I got more knowledgeable about people. And that’s one of
the things I always liked about Dean Smith because he was so versatile in his
approaches that he made you think about things. And that kind of a quality is
what I take with me trying to get to know people, and always assessing things,
and putting yourself in other people’s shoes and things of that nature.”
Q: So you leave North Carolina aFter four years and went on to have a 17-year career in the NBA. Going back to when you made the transition from the college ranks to the NBA, what was the greatest learning curve or challenge?
“Well the biggest challenge was the practices because
you thought every coach was like Dean Smith. You got a wakeup call as soon as
that first day came to practice. I think basically from what I tried to do in
17 years is be consistent. That was a challenge for me, to be consistent
throughout my games. To try to do something that would be best for the team.
And as I look back, I wish I was more aggressive in the ways of playing but you
know we had guys on the team who could score, who was this and so on and so on
and you were just a role player. But at the same time, I was just trying to be
consistent and not worry about anything else. And that’s what I tried to do
from Dallas to LA, and all the way to Indiana.”
Q: Where was your favorite place to play and why?
“It’s a tossup. I would have to say, because I got acclimated in
Seattle, that I would say Seattle, because I was in the community doing a lot
more. I was in Los Angeles and I like that team too, but I wasn’t there long
enough to get acclimated. As soon as I got traded, I wanted to do a lot more
things there community service wise. But I think Seattle was the one because I
was there the longest. We had a group of guys that were different and I enjoyed
playing with. We had great chemistry.”
Q: How did you get your nickname?
“So I’ll try and make it short. I was with the Lakers, and Byron Scott was
always a clown. There’s always a clown on the team, so let’s say Gary Payton on
Seattle, it was Mark Jackson on the Indiana Pacers, or Dale Davis. On the
Lakers it was Byron Scott. He was naming everybody because Magic had a name, it
was of course Magic, James had Clever, Vlade wanted to be The Magician because
he wanted to pass like Magic. So here comes me, and I’m always, not lethargic,
but I’m always taking my time to get places from point A to point B. Whether
Point A or B is around the corner or down the street I’m the same speed. So I
was late for practice, I got there later than I wanted to at the Forum. And
you’re supposed to be in the circle at 9:45. If you’re not in the circle at
9:45, you get fined. So they saw me running by around 9:38 to the locker rooms,
I had to pass the court to get to the locker room. I got dressed and they were
betting that I was going to be late and fined. So I got dressed and it was
about from 9:38 to 9:43-9:44 and I didn’t run, I was walking to the circle. I
said I’m going to get there regardless, but when 9:45 came I was in that circle
so Byron Scott was like, “Here comes Sam, look at him, he’s all smooth,” and next
thing you know that took off like, “He’s walking smooth.” And they’re all
laughing at me because here I am at 9:44, any rookie, anybody else would be
breaking their neck to get to that circle, and I was just walking so casual
like I had nothing to worry about. That’s how the name started, and then when I
got to play for Seattle, Kevin Calabro put “Big” in front of it because I was
shooting 3’s, and that’s how the name came. That’s how it all started.”
by Sam Smith
Just because things are the way they
are doesn’t mean they were destined to be so.
Just because NBA players have the
richest guaranteed contracts in American team sports, unlike NFL players, or
have so much flexibility in their economic relationships, unlike NHL players,
doesn’t also mean it was inevitable. It occurred mostly because a valiant group
of determined men, the modern revolutionists of basketball as I refer to them
in my new book, Hard Labor, demanded economic equality and social liberty with
racial camaraderie during the most turbulent times in American society.
They were the 14 NBA players led by
NBA legend Oscar Robertson, along with individual pioneers like Spencer
Haywood, Gail Goodrich and Rick Barry and labor titans like Larry Fleisher, who
challenged the guardians of the game, the owners of NBA teams and the league
itself. These gutsy NBA guys went to court and Congress despite threats to
their livelihoods. They did so for their successors knowing none of them would
personally benefit from the risks they took to their own careers.
And there were consequences.
Robertson lost his job as a national TV commentator for NBA games. Chet Walker
felt forced into retirement after averaging 19.2 points his final season. Joe
Caldwell was kicked out of basketball under the guise that he had led astray,
of all people, Marvin Barnes. Not all suffered or were punished, for sure. But
how was it that Oscar Robertson, one of the best minds ever to play the game,
never got a coaching, advising or management chance with any team? Coincidence,
Consider those times in the 1960s:
NBA players had roommates and washed their own uniforms, local medical people,
often veterinarians, were hired to do the pregame taping. There were 20 or more
preseason games, two teams traveling together on buses barnstorming through
states, playing every night for weeks. And then starting the 80-game season.
Airplane travel was, of course, coach, and players would pile into a taxi to
get to the game from the hotel. No team bus like today. The team would
reimburse the players. Tommy Heinsohn recalls asking for, say, $3.50 and
Auerbach saying it cost him $3.25 from the same hotel, so that was all Heinsohn
was getting in reimbursement. Philadelphia owner Eddie Gottlieb used to hire a
bus to take players to East Coast games, like in New York. He’d sell tickets to
fans for the unused seats.
This was also the time of the great
migration of black players to the NBA cities, the stars of the game that raised
the sport with Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson.
In effect, the playing field was raised as the NBA became the vertical game the
public grew to love.
reverberated with the Vietnam War and Civil Rights overshadowing most
everything else. Professional athletes contending for their “rights” was hardly
a subject of much sympathy. So serious sports magazines published stories of
whether the game was being ruined by too many blacks. Anonymous quotes
proliferated similar to when Jackie Robinson started with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
These brave NBA players also would not back down.
once sat out a regular season game when he could not be served at a restaurant
with teammates. And this wasn’t the 1940s. This was into the 1960s. Lenny
Wilkens was starting for the St. Louis Hawks. His picture was featured with the
other starters in the window of a popular restaurant across from the arena.
Wilkens was not allowed to eat there with white people. The league would
arrange preseason for team hotels to allow blacks, but Celtics players related
how the hotel marked “c” in the register to denote “colored” and asked to split
roommates because whites and blacks shouldn’t share a room. Also, so the white
guests could know on which floors the black guests were staying. This was
“sophisticated” Los Angeles. Black players often would use a white teammate as
a beard just to get a taxi, the white guy standing outside to flag down the cab
and then the black guys rushing out to get in. Yeah, you think a taxi is
stopping for us? NBA players? Big deal.
There was a quota system then in
which white players replaced white players and blacks replaced blacks, and that
teams assigned black players to be rebounders and defenders so the team would
not have to pay them as much money. After all, those “role” players scored
less. It was the story of the St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks and how the appeal of
Pete Maravich to the white South may have short circuited a dynasty. Dunking
was at one time even banned in the NBA to level the playing field for white
What these players did in the Oscar
Robertson suit is mostly lost to the ages, recalled like Yalta, something
important, but everyone is a bit fuzzy on the details. But what the Robertson
suit did was, effectively, create the modern NBA, allowing for the combination
of the rival leagues with the ABA. Effectively marrying the conservative NBA
with the liberal ABA, boardroom ethos merging with street ball excellence,
inviting the rest of geographical America into the game with small cities from
throughout the country. It was surgery that introduced a special sort of
doctor, like Julius Erving. But not until NBA players themselves began an
evolution to legitimate free agency and the ancillary working benefits, which
translated into respect and an eventual partnership that has the NBA
flourishing today like no other American sports league. Owners then, of course,
screamed ruination of the sport if players could choose where they wanted to
Those players dragged the NBA into
court and Congress, where none other than Sam Ervin of Watergate fame was
astounded by the way the NBA had been doing business so inequitably. Those
players led by Robertson challenged the collusion between big business and
government that got the NFL a specious antitrust exemption in a back room deal
with Louisiana senators in exchange for an NFL franchise, the New Orleans
Saints. Long before Curt Flood was making his heroic stand at the cost of his
Major League Baseball career, these NBA progressives were demanding equality in
the marketplace of ideas as well as finance. Didn’t they deserve the same
rights as any working American?
Like the old
American Football League, the ABA came along mostly as a ploy to join the NBA.
The AFL owners pulled it off with that wink deal in the U.S. Senate. The NBA
owners were stanched by the Robertson group that grew from the first players’
association in sports headed by Bob Cousy and then handed off to Heinsohn and
then Robertson as the NBA players’ symbol of the equality being demanded in the
boardroom and playing field.
They first got the attention of the
owners in a unified boycott threat of the 1964 All-Star game, the first
scheduled to be nationally televised. The Lakers owner threatened to throw
Baylor and Jerry West out of the league. I was able to relate those stories
along with the shaky travel of the era when the NBA had its “Sully” moment of
the Lakers plane with Baylor on board crash landing in a snowstorm without a
scratch to anyone, along with the amazing story of the greatest sports
friendship of all time, Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes, the latter a LeBron
James of his era struck down in his prime. The Celtics dynasty would not have
been quite so if not for Stokes’ illness.
This was a time when Wilt and Bill
Russell continued their rivalry in the summers, traveling around to parks and
playgrounds, literally picking sides for games. Earl Monroe almost jumped to
the ABA, but when he visited the Indiana Pacers the players all were armed with
pistols because they said there was so much KKK activity. Think the game is
fancy now. Robertson plaintiff Archie Clark was doing crossovers, and Don Kojis
the back door lob dunks in the 1960s. Russell had a famous chase down block in
the Finals in the late 1950s.
Equally forgotten or unrealized is
this creedal nature of sports, so dismissed with the anti-immigrant tenor of
these times. Plaintiff Tom Meschery was from China and was forced to live in a
Japanese internment camp during World War II. He might have been considered a
chain migration and under attack now. Bob Cousy’s mother brought him to the
U.S. when she was pregnant, and he spoke French much of his youth. He might
have been under siege as an anchor baby. Heinsohn came from a German family and
was mercilessly harassed as a “Nazi” during World War II. The father of
plaintiff Bill Bradley’s wife was a Luftwaffe pilot. She became a respected
author and university professor educating so many Americans. These immigrants,
coming in legally or because their worlds were under siege because that’s what
America stood for, became the people we learn from and cheer for.
My book, Hard Labor, wasn’t just
about a tug of war for money. It is the rich and detailed story of these
pioneer revolutionaries of the game and their amazingly rich era both leveling
the economic field they played on and enhancing the stage where we all came to
enjoy the greatest athletic performers in the world. My inspiration for the
book was the plight of so many of these players from that era, who stepped
forward for their peers and the game. None benefited personally from their
endeavors. They just believed in fairness and a voice. My hope is the players
of today, so wealthy beyond their ancestors imaginations, realize, accept and
understand just how they arrived at the place where they are. Those players did
step up in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement with extended medical care
for all veterans, a big time first step. But there is a greater debt to repay.
As the kids yell in the playground when the ball escapes to the other side, “A
by Sam Smith
Jerry Stackhouse didn’t have to coach in the NBA’s developmental G League. After all, he was Jerry Stackhouse! You know, the guy from the University of North Carolina who was once the next Michael Jordan, a two-time All-Star and scoring champion, a guy who once dropped 57 points on Jordan’s old team and whom Michael later traded for in his own effort to build his then Washington Wizards, a guy whose NBA salaries totaled more than $80 million. Heck, Stackhouse’s fellow coaches on the staff of the Toronto Raptors even told him he didn’t need that G League gig, the end of the private planes with the surf and turf dinners and the five-star hotels to discover not only hotels and restaurants he never knew existed, but cities as well.
But ask Stackhouse about some of his
favorite places and he’ll mention Portland, Maine. Who knew? Not him.
“The G League,” says Stackhouse,
“took me to some places and cities I really have enjoyed and otherwise never
would have seen. You’ve always got to open your mind and open your eyes.”
reason why Stackhouse became one of the top NBA coaching prospects, though less
for his illustrious playing career — which, of course, has played a part — but
at least as much for understanding about life after basketball and that you
better be prepared. Stackhouse was the guy even as a Raptors assistant coach
who spent afternoons sprinting outside. Yes, in Toronto. You know, stay a step
ahead, literally and figuratively.
Stackhouse’s life after basketball
happens to be basketball, but it wasn’t necessarily going to be that way.
Perhaps a career in media, or business, both of which Stackhouse pursued with
the same passion and desire he did as a player who scored more than 16,000
points over an 18-year NBA career. But what Jerry understood perhaps best in a
career that saw him as a shooting star and primary scorer and then reserve and
journeyman is that because there’s life other than basketball you have to
prepare, be versatile and be a team player, the qualities that produce success.
These are traits which will carry
you in the NBA and well beyond.
“A lot of times you get locked into,
‘I’m a basketball player and I am going to be a basketball player forever.’ But
it doesn’t work that way,” reminds Stackhouse. “The ball stops bouncing for
everybody, and as soon as we can focus on interests we have and find the same
passion you have for a game, the better you are. I was able to do that.”
“It can’t just be about money,”
Stackhouse adds. “You were in the one percent of competitors and talents in the
world and then you’re done. You’ll be surprised how quickly the phone stops
ringing. Everyone welcomes your call when you are playing. When you are not … I
felt I’d done well to say I could just skate around in my driveway or play
golf. But, man, what a boring life after being at the highest level of
competition. You need passions to push you.”
It’s why Stackhouse’s story, though
from the stands looks somewhat routine as a former player pursuing NBA
coaching, is more a model for players and guidebook for their future. It’s the
unusual alchemy of desire and planning that both makes for a better basketball
player and more complete life story.
Not all NBA players become
multimillionaires, and some who do don’t do a good job remaining one. But what
they all have in common is an elite talent driven by competition and ambition.
It shouldn’t be the end of the story at 35; perhaps only a beginning. After
all, there’s another entire life to live.
“Jerry sets a great example for so
many of us,” says Adrian Griffin, a teammate of Stackhouse’s on the 2006
Mavericks team that lost to Miami in the NBA Finals. “It’s such a difficult
transition when your career is over. It took me about five years before I
finally landed on my feet emotionally, mentally and psychologically, to accept
my playing days were over, and it was time to make that full commitment to
transition to life after basketball. When you’re young, you think it will last
forever. Having basketball on your resume is not good enough in the corporate
world. You have to start building your resume when you are a player, like Jerry
did, start thinking about life after and what skills you need to accomplish
that. They stop caring that you were a basketball player. They want to know
what you can do to help their team. You have this false reality as a player
that you played at the highest level. It means very little if you are not
willing to add those skills on top of your accomplishments. How can you bring
value to an organization? And you also need something to motivate you to get
out of bed. It’s a long life after basketball.”
It’s what Stackhouse somewhat
counterintuitively understood even when he was at the pinnacle of his NBA
It was about eight or nine years
into his career, and the 6’6” guard with the severe gaze and uncompromising
expression was on his way to the top. Stackhouse with the Detroit Pistons led
the NBA in total points at a fraction under 30 points-per-game. His
preternatural strength of mind and character combined with exemplary skills
quickly elevated him among the elite in the game. His Pistons were on the way
to a division title the next season, though Stackhouse was soon on the way to
join Jordan in Washington. Jordan wanted to get somewhere, and he wanted a
rugged veteran like Stackhouse to help him.
Stories of Stackhouse’s toughness
are legendary around the NBA. He didn’t suffer fools or phonies, sometimes
violent encounters with teammates or rivals like Christian Laettner, Kirk
Snyder, Allen Iverson and even Shaq dot Stackhouse’s resume. Stackhouse even
drew a suspension in the 2006 Finals — really questionable and probably aimed
more at owner Mark Cuban’s referee baiting — for hitting Shaq too hard. Who
really ever went after Shaq? Stack never backed down.
It was about standing your ground,
making your way and relentlessly looking for an edge, and Stackhouse understood
that about his basketball career as well.
He’d been a prep and collegiate
star, though not quite the next Jordan.
“I was flattered, but at the same
time I’m not even a guard, can barely handle the ball,” said Stackhouse about
the early Jordan comparisons. “I could run fast and jump high. But I played
power forward in college. I had to learn the game as pro. I became an off guard
in a couple of years. There were so many good guards. I had to work for that.
And then there were so many different dynamics. Iverson came in the next year
and they were more into his aura, so I was traded to Detroit. I couldn’t get
upset. We progressed to All-Star the same time.
“Then with MJ and with the breakup
(of Jordan leaving), being seen as the guy they chose over Jordan,” Stackhouse
adds with still a shake of his head. “An unbelievable dynamic and then onto
Dallas, stuff going on with Shaq, being a starter and accepting the sixth man
role. You have to keep redefining yourself.”
Stackhouse understood innately that
such flexibility was vital in continuing a productive life; you can’t always be
the star of the corporation. The trains keep moving.
Stackhouse left North Carolina after two years, he worked summers to get his
degree. He also understood, though he treasured his time at North Carolina and
his relationship with coach Dean Smith, that basketball scholarships and
education often were mutually exclusive activities.
“In college, you’re more player than
student,” he acknowledges.
He tried some
media training programs and real life experiences, the Retired Players
Association’s coaching program, even Harvard Business School classes.
“We miss a lot of things being
dedicated to playing,” Stackhouse notes. “I wanted to have a more formal
presentation to the business side. I felt like even with as much basketball I
knew, I was missing out on 15, 16 years of business protocol. We’re still
living in our own world in the NBA. It’s different than most business models,
how we collectively bargain, how we go about our business. I needed to
understand how Fortune 500 companies are run.”
Initially for Stackhouse, like a lot
of former players, he figured it would be a media job. Hey, just talk about
basketball. He could do that. He did that every day. But Stackhouse also
understood there was more to the world; just like there was more to playing.
So he began asking midway through his playing career to do guest appearances on TNT broadcasts.
“It was giving me reps in front of
the camera,” Stackhouse explained. “I became a regular on NBA-TV with guest
appearances. I wanted to stay close to the game, and I always liked to mentor
the younger guys even when I was a young guy myself. I’d see guys coming in and
gravitate to them. I didn’t have a lot of that mentoring when I was in
Philadelphia. It was a really young team and I missed out on that. So I wanted
to make sure I shared information. That carried on to the end of my career as I
got older and was on better teams. The coaches allowed me to be more an
extension of them and have that type of role.”
Griffin said during that 2006 Finals
Stackhouse even initiated a team curfew that wasn’t mandated by the team.
on accepting a journeyman life even with potential starring skills to the
Bucks, Heat, Hawks and back with Avery Johnson in Brooklyn in 2012-13. He knew
he wasn’t going to be asked to run the corporation. Even the top CEOs often
learn the mail room as well. With Brooklyn a devised last stop, Stackhouse
figured it was his training for coaching. He’d already started his own AAU team
with his son and felt he’d found his calling after the radio and TV work.
“I enjoyed going on radio and TV,
but it wasn’t something I wanted to do all the time,” Stackhouse said. “You
have to try things to find your passion. My real passion was basketball, being
on the court, teaching, coaching. It’s just who I have been.”
The NBA is like
life, things don’t always go as planned. Johnson was fired. But Stackhouse
still felt he was ready. “I thought I’d go right into coaching like J-Kidd
(Jason Kidd) and Fish (Derek Fisher). In hindsight, I have to say no way. It’s
why the G League has been so great for me.”
completes the circle not only for who Stackhouse is but the road he’d always
chosen. That success in life is about learning, knowledge, sacrifice and
preparation. That it was important to be flexible and supportive, to be tough,
demanding and confident while also supplying something to complete the whole.
It was the story of his nearly two decades in the NBA that now has him prepared
to be a teacher and a mentor and still fulfill his life’s passions and desires.
“Nowhere could I go and get the
chances for trial and error,” says Stackhouse. “I’m fortunate and blessed to
have been a part of the (Raptors) organization. I had aspirations to be a head
coach. I made no bones about that. ‘OK, you want to do it, here.’ It’s a blank
canvas. I’m able to prepare my schedule, do everything a head coach does as far
as managing a team, dealing with the medical staff, training staff, analytic
staff, front office. I’ve gotten so much better.
“From being a star player to the
last guy on the bench, I’ve been there,” says Stackhouse. “So I can tell what’s
going on with these guys. I’ve seen those mannerisms 1,000 times, a spoken
kinesiology. And then I can build those relationships and they understand you
care and then I can challenge them and speak with candor to help them get
better all for the betterment of the team. Everyone has a role to play, from
the player to the popcorn guy. He also has to feel if that popcorn is not
popped right, we might not win. I needed to build those management skills.”
Jerry Stackhouse, now 43, has taken
a circuitous route that’s proven to be a direct line to his future. Like all
the great guards, it’s not just about the shot. It’s about keeping your head
up, looking ahead and making the right play before it’s too late.
recently accepted an assistant coaching position in the NBA with the Memphis
Grizzlies. He joins coach Bickerstaff’s bench, which also includes Nick Van
Exel, Chad Forcier and five other assistants.
There were many new and familiar faces around Charlotte during the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend. More than 150 former NBA and WNBA Legends met for the NBRPA’s yearly event, which celebrates the growth of the league and its players.
The NBRPA kicked-off the weekend on Thursday evening with a champagne reception at the host hotel. Upon arrival, the members mixed and mingled with each other and the NBRPA Board of Directors joined the reception following their meeting with NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver.
On Friday morning, the Legends Lounge opened to the masses and the buzz and excitement around Charlotte was evident. The NBRPA’s key partners were on full display, including Spalding, Tissot, Budweiser, Pepsi, Cheurlin Champagne, Wintrust, NuEnerchi and many others. The lounge also featured a live DJ and basketball court, which became the central hub for members and their families throughout the weekend.
The NBRPA team planned and executed its first annual Legends Media Day at NBA All-Star Weekend, which took place on Friday. The team hosted 10 national media outlets and coordinated more than 50 interviews for 25-plus former players. Following media day, the NBRPA held a Welcome Party at the Ivey's, which included a toast from Isiah Thomas and Spencer Haywood.
On Saturday morning, David Thompson and Paul Westphal were honored at the Legends Breakfast with Athletes In Action. Both legends were called upon for their exceptional integrity, service, professionalism and character both on and off the court.
Following the Legends Breakfast, the NBRPA hosted a full-court press: prep for success clinic for 30 youngsters, in conjunction with Jr. NBA. In addition, the NBRPA Chapters held several community events throughout the weekend, including the Shooting For Peace program which provides encouragement and guidance for students of lower socioeconomic status. The chapter presidents also visited five local high schools in Charlotte, speaking to over 1,000 students about the importance of education and life experiences.
The festivities carried over into Saturday night, where approximately 200 legends and guests came to "hit the links" at Topgolf Charlotte. The night was filled with great energy and excitement while the Slam Dunk, Three-Point and Skills competition were played at the Spectrum Center. From basketballs to birdies, this event was a highlight of the weekend.
Rounding out the weekend was the Legends Brunch on Sunday morning. Muggsy Bogues, Glen Rice, Alonzo Mourning and Dell Curry were all honored at the Brunch, which took place at the Charlotte Convention Center and aired later that afternoon on NBA-TV. Hornets Chairman and Charlotte native Michael Jordan made a special appearance at the event and gave special recognition to the 150-plus Legends in the room and the legacy and impact they continue to have on the game.