Legends Spotlight: Matt Fish

June 20, 2016

Last Thursday the National Basketball Retired Players Association hosted the latest edition of its youth basketball and mentoring program called “Full Court Press: Prep for Success”. Several former NBA standouts were in attendance at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, including Matt Fish, Fat Lever, and Jim Paxson. The program travels all over the country to introduce kids to positive role models in both basketball and life. NBRPA writer Jon Teitel has spent time talking with many of the greatest players in NBA history and will share his interviews at LegendsofBasketball.com. Jon visited with Matt Fish about his role with the Full Court Press program and his work as publisher of “Rebound Magazine”.

What is your role with the Full Court Press program? Most recently we had a camp in Phoenix, where we assisted underserved campers through mentorship as well as teaching them the fundamentals of life/basketball.

What was your favorite highlight from the clinic? We served a large amount of students and had plenty of time at each station to teach and really make a difference, which was nice.

What is your coaching philosophy on the court? I enjoy making sure that the students enjoy a variety of topics from nutrition to NBA history. Jim Paxson was there so I made sure they remembered what roles Jim and his entire family played in the NBA. I wanted the kids to keep moving so I had them doing layup repetition and competition shooting. The younger kids are good listeners but you just have to do your best with the older kids!

What do you hope that the kids get out of this great experience? I hope that they have a bigger appreciation for the game of basketball and try to make wise choices in life. I believe that life mirrors sport: whatever you put into it is what you will get out of it. I try to remind them that the game of pro basketball did not begin with LeBron James, which gets lost among the younger generation.

What was your transition like from basketball player to retired player? There was no celebration for me like there was for Kobe Bryant: I understand that hardly anyone gets a celebration but it was still frustrating to see. I work hard to make sure people know that during their playing days there is a group in existence that has their best interests in mind after they retire. I went through a little depression after the cheering stopped: nobody in the real world cares if you can dunk a basketball or set a strong pick! I always knew the importance of education, which is why I ended up getting a pair of Masters’ degrees, and I still enjoy teaching others.

Why did you decide to join the National Basketball Retired Players Association? I am currently the president of the NBRPA’s Phoenix chapter so it is pretty endearing to me: I have been 1 of the most active members. It only cost me $150 to join and I got to fraternize with other retired players at the annual conference: it was cool to see some old friends. I am still trying to figure out how to help even more.

Being a part of the NBRPA with other legends of basketball, how beneficial is the organization to players who are embarking on life after basketball? They have a variety of different services in place so people get involved for a variety of reasons. As of late they have moved into a more positive direction: it is the only 1 retired players association recognized/funded by the NBA. I have used the programs to further my own education and it is a great way to create partnerships. It is key to have a group behind you: I hope they try to help some retired players get jobs.

In what ways has your involvement in the NBRPA helped you become an advocate to other retired players? If you can help even 1 person then you are doing a good thing. I know they are working hard on education and insurance, which certainly interests the membership. I think that there should be even more mentorship so that members can shadow the most successful retired players to see how they succeeded. If you do not leverage your opportunity costs then you can get stuck behind some 20-something kid who has more resources. There are only a few who have made it to the pinnacle of the sport.

You have accomplished so many things on the court, but what do you seek to accomplish off the court? I want to be able to use the platform that basketball has given me to make the biggest difference that I can possibly make. I want to maximize my abilities and will never sell myself short. I want to set the bar high and get as much out of myself as I possibly can.

In the 1989 CAA tourney title game at UNC-Wilmington you had a 6-PT OT loss to GMU: where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? That definitely was a disappointment. The one that I remember even more was during my sophomore year when I missed the front end of a 1-and-1 during homecoming with no time on the clock. It bounced off the front rim, then the back rim, then out.

You were selected by Golden State in the 2nd round of the 1992 NBA Draft and later played for Clippers/Nuggets/Knicks/Heat/Bullets: what is your favorite memory from your time in the NBA? I remember playing for the Fort Wayne Fury and getting fired after we were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Fortunately, I got picked up by the Heat and we made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to Michael Jordan and the Bulls. We had a great team coached by Pat Riley, and I got to backup Alonzo Mourning.

Take me through the legendary 1994 CBA championship series between your Quad City Thunder and the Omaha Racers:
You won Game 1 in double-OT after Tate George tied the game with last-second buckets at the end of both regulation and the 1st OT: where does that rank among the most clutch performances that you have ever seen? Tate might not be the most athletic guy in the world but he was a seasoned veteran, so it was nice to have someone out there spotting up for deep threes. He would get his feet set and just keep bombing in daggers. After growing up in Iowa and attending college in North Carolina, I was proud to head home to represent Quad City in front of my family.

After losing Game 2 in triple-OT on a late Bart Kofoed 3-PT shot, you won 3 straight on the road (including the final game in OT) to clinch the title: what did it mean to you win a title, and how exhausted were you by the end of that series? Winning that title was 1 of the highlights of my career. I was an integral part of the team all year long but my coach would pull me early from playoff games (just like Andrew Bogut this year). I was the only Caucasian on the team but it was fantastic because everyone on the team welcomed me. It certainly was a rollercoaster ride but we had Omaha’s number and thought that we would win it all. Back then the CBA was the 2nd-best league in the world so a lot of guys ended up playing in the NBA. There was some silly stuff in the CBA with guys getting traded at halftime and assistant coaches spending all of our per diem!

After getting a pair of Masters’ degrees you became the publisher of Rebound Magazine, the official publication of the National Basketball Retired Players Association: what kind of stories do you tell in the magazine, and which has been your favorite? I like to tap into human interest stories as well as read your own interviews. The Jack Twyman story sticks out as a good 1: talk about people who gave back. We send a digital version to some NBA season-ticket holders so they can enjoy it as well.