Legends Spotlight: Lee Nailon

June 21, 2017

How did you get involved with the Big3 League? Through a mutual friend [Eddie Robinson] who called me and asked me what I’ve been doing since last time I stopped playing ball. I just told him that I’ve been training kids and finishing up my degree.
I think this was like five or six months before it even launched, he was like, “Do you think that this is something you’d want to do?”
“Well, I have not played or did any type of basketball workouts in a while.”
“You know you’ve got like six months to get in shape or whatever. You should think about it and give me a call back.”
So I called him back a week later, and I was like, “I think I want to do it.” And he said, “Ok, so I’m going to put you on the list for tryouts.”

How do you think that a three-on-three league will be received by NBA fans this summer, especially coming off of the NBA Finals and craving more basketball? Well actually, you know [three-on-three basketball] is kind of big overseas. So to be honest I look at it kind of like soccer overseas and how they brought it over here [in the United States]. It’s a new brand of basketball and I think the U.S. will start to pay more attention as it grows and gets more well-known names playing for the TV deals to make sense and to get the most out of it. I think this is something that a lot of kids should watch because three-on-three basketball, when I was growing up, was the way to learn how to move, cut, pass and play together. So I think it’ll help the younger kids learn more about playing together, don’t settle for threes so much and move the ball and move your bodies too. So I think it’s a new brand of ball and but everything’s a process and I’m just happy to be a part of the first one, and hopefully more to come.

What does it mean to get to play team basketball again on national television? Playing in the NBA is the highest of high, so of course I kind of miss playing on TV just because it brings more; it’s like another crowd to the game. Once you know you’ve got a TV game, everybody gets up for that game and there’s just more competitive juices flowing in you to compete and do well. The TV deal was another side that I had to take in consideration. FOX is big on sports so it’s good for the brand too, and they were the first to jump on it. I think it’s going to take off. Ice Cube, he’s a big part of it. From spending time with him, I think he really thinks that this is going to be something for years to come.

The Big3 Combine was just held in April. Were there any players that you were particularly impressed with? To be honest, over half of the guys were in shape. It kind of shocked me. It really put me back into being a professional athlete again because I’m like “Whoa!” I wasn’t naive to come in like “Oh, everybody is going to be out of shape.” But I didn’t think that many guys still played at that age. So it kind of shocked me, impressed me, and woke my competitive side back up to really take this more seriously than people are thinking it’s going to be.

Were there any specific players that come to mind about how in shape or how prepared they were? Cuttino Mobley looked good. Stephen Jackson looked good. Kenyon Martin looked good. Ricky Davis, Rashad Lewis, the list goes on and on. All the guys that are actually on the teams and a few other guys that didn’t make the team, unfortunately, were in shape. But that’s why I think it’s going to be a good league because all of the guys are not just coming for the money or to get on TV. These guys want to win. I think it’s going to be a great time for fans and for us.

There’s also going to be legendary players that are going to be the coaches on the teams. Dr. J is going to be your coach for Team Tri-State. Were any of these legends ones that you idolized grew up idolizing? There’s not really one because growing up in Indiana we just liked basketball. I’m from South Bend, Indiana, so the Bulls was my team in the Michael Jordan era. But I like the Pacers; I just like basketball. So for me it’s not just one person, I just like being around greatness. I’m going to see if I can just pick their brains and see how they feel about different situations for my career going forward, as far as being a coach and having more knowledge for the game.

You were taken with the 13th pick by Team Tri-State, and Jermaine O’Neal and Bonzi Wells are going to be the captains. What’s the team dynamic at this point? Have you guys started practicing or meeting at all? Yeah we’ve been talking and we’ve met a few times. Really, it’s not that we have a certain way we want to play. I think it’s more of match ups and who we’re playing [against] and schemes; how we play different guys. Like I said, all the guys are taking it seriously and everybody on my team is in shape. If we had a game tomorrow we could play, you know? So that’s the good thing about it.

You played for 7 different teams in the NBA as well as overseas for about 8 years; do you feel like you have something to prove in the Big3 League? To be honest, I just never thought I would play against my coworkers again. So for me it’s a blessing that I get to play again. Every time I step on the court, I always want to prove something to myself and the guys that I’m playing against or with. I just like competing at a high level and to me, the Big3 is the highest level so far.

You’ve played in Italy, Israel, Russia, Lebanon and Puerto Rico; your overseas career is pretty extensive and very impressive. What did you learn about yourself both as a player and as a person in that time overseas? Man, to never take what you have for granted, to make the most out of your opportunities, and be humble and be thankful. When I was over there it really opened my eyes to – I mean when you’re in the NBA, you get naive and say “I can go somewhere else and do this, do that. Forget this, forget that.” But at the end of the day once you’re in a different situation, and I didn’t say overseas was bad, but the NBA is the NBA. So when you get taken out of that situation, it really humbles you and it make me want to work harder just to get back to where I was.

Was there a favorite country in particular that you liked to play in and live in? Israel was probably the best country; I could live there for the rest of my life. It’s more Americanized. They love Americans. They didn’t look at anybody like they were different from themselves; they looked at everybody the same.

You had a standout career at TCU, and in Week 6 of the season the Big3 is coming to Dallas to play. What does it mean for you to get to come home and play in front of that fan base again? The most important thing I remember [from playing at TCU] were the fans, how every night we played there it was sold out. It was just packed! I watch it now and it’s not like how it used to be so I always was so thankful and grateful that the fans were always on my side and they always believed in our team. But I’ve always had the dream to either coach at TCU or coach in the NBA; these are my two goals. I’ve always wanted to be a coach, I always want to give back to kids and help as much as I can. So it will definitely be a pleasure to play in front of my old fans, just have fun, show them a good time and show them that I’ve still got it.

That was a perfect segue into my next question. Where are you at in your life as far as coaching and other endeavors? Right now I’m finishing up my degree; I’ll be finished within the next couple weeks or so. Since I’ve been doing that I’ve been training kids and coaching AAU ball. I coach the AAU team YGC36, the Marcus Smart team. But all I’ve been doing really is training and conditioning my mind and just trying to stay on the path that God gave me. I believe that he wants me to give back to kids and help kids reach their ultimate goal. Whether that’s college or at the professional level. That’s all I want to do and that’s all I’m about really. I just love coaching, love smelling the gym, love being around it. It’s just crazy how as a kid I never thought I would be a coach, but as you grow and you play and do something for your whole life, it just turns you into a whole different person; on and off the court.

How has the Retired Players Association impacted your life in terms of trying to attain those goals and help shape where you’re at right now? When I was in the NBA there wasn’t a Retired Player’s Union. If there was, it wasn’t loud. But it’s good for a person like me to play in the NBA for seven years and then go overseas for the remainder of my career; a lot of the guys tend to forget who you are and what you did. So for me it’s a way to build another platform to show the world, my coworkers and colleagues that this is something that I’ve been doing, this is what I’ve been working towards to get to this level now. This program has just helped me build my platform even more. I’m so thankful and grateful that you guys reached out to me to even be a part of the family.

That’s what we’re here for! I’m going to get you out of here with this last question. What’s the best advice that you have ever received in your career? If you work at something hard enough it can happen. Never give up on what you think is right for yourself and for your lifestyle. If you believe that’s what you’re supposed to do, then put your all into it. If not, then don’t do it. If you feel like you can’t put a one hundred percent into something, then that’s probably not something you love to do. I put one hundred and ten percent into everything that I do as far as basketball, training and giving back, so I know for a fact that this is what I want to do.

And that’s why we’ll be watching you ball all summer long in the Big3 Tournament and we can’t wait to watch you play. Balling baby, here we come! To a city near you!