Rolando Blackman: the Legend of Panama

By Esteban Abed at Interbasquet (Argentina)

With the celebration of Latin Nights in the NBA, we review the career of “Ro”, a key figure in the 80’s with the Dallas Mavericks and the first Latino player in the history of the league to have his jersey retired.

Rolando Antonio Blackman was born on February 26, 1959 in Panama City, capital of the Republic of Panama. Years later, his family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where Rolando spent his childhood.

Between 1977 and 1981 the Panamanian played for the University of Kansas State, becoming the third highest scorer in the history of the Wildcats with a total of 1844 points (averaging 15.2 points per game) and currently occupies the ninth spot on the all-time assists list  - 320 (2.7 apg).

He had the highest honors during the 1980 when he was named top player in the Conference (formerly the Big Eight Conference, today known as the Big Twelve Conference), which also earned him All-America honors.

A Nationalized citizen, he was selected to the USAB men's basketball team to play in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but the U.S. boycott, in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, prevented "Ro" from having his Olympic experience.

The following year, Blackman was selected ninth overall in the first round of the NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks -  where he shone for 11 seasons.

The 1.98-meter shooting guard averaged nearly 20 points per game playing for the Mavs, in 6 of the 11 seasons, led the team to the playoffs, reaching the first Conference Finals in Dallas history in 1988, sweeping 4- 0 to Houston Rockets in the first round. In the semifinals they beat the Denver Nuggets 4-2, but fell in the Conference Final 4-3 to the Los Angeles Lakers.

He was a 4 time All-Star (1985-87 and 1990), notching a total of 71 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists in those All-Star Games.

In 1992 he was traded to the New York Knicks, where he played 2 seasons and despite not having the individual success shown with the Mavs, Blackman reached his second Conference Finals in 1993, falling 4-2 against the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

In 1994, Rolando played in his first and only NBA Finals where he came very close to getting the championship ring.  The Knicks led the series against the Rockets 3-2, but Houston's prevailed 84-86 in Game 6 with a masterful Hakeem Olajuwon (30 points, 10 rebounds) covered John Starks on the last play, avoided overtime and forced a Game 7, where Houston would again beat Houston New York (90-84) and go on to be crowned NBA champions for the first time in its history.

Blackman continued his career as a basketball player in Europe, playing the 1994/95 season for AEK Athens in Greece. The following year he arrived at the Italian Lega, winning 2 titles with Olimpia Milano in that same season (Lega 96 and Italian Cup). The last year of his career as a professional player he played in France, with CSP Limoges.

In 2000 he returned to the Dallas Mavericks, where he served as Don Nelson's assistant.

In that season, the franchise immortalized him by retiring his number 22 jersey, becoming the first Latin American player in NBA history to have his jersey number retired.

Personal records in the NBA.

- 17,623: the total number of points with which he ended his NBA career between Dallas and the Knicks, averaging 18 points per game with a 49% effectiveness in shooting from the field, 84% in free throws and 34% from 3-point range.

-16,643: is the total points playing for Dallas, ranking second in franchise history behind Dirk Nowitzki with 31,560 (6th highest scorer in NBA history).

-865: Number of games he played consecutively in the NBA (all with Dallas between 1981 and 1990).

- 715: total steals in his 13 seasons.

- 46: On March 12, 1986 most points in a game with 46, in a 120-127 Dallas  loss against the Sacramento Kings.

-11: On February 22, 1987, he had his most assists in a  game with 11, in addition to recording triple-double (25 points, 10 rebounds) in a 95-121 victory over Golden State Warriors.

- 5: Number of times he finished with 11 rebounds: vs. Indiana Pacers (1983), Houston Rockets (1983), San Diego Clippers (1983), Denver Nuggets (1984) and Phoenix Suns (1986);

- 5: most steals in a game, vs. Atlanta Hawks in a 110-117 Mavs victory.