Shelly Clark… That was the guy I said I’d never be like. I met him my first year in the D-League when I was 23 and he was what seemed like 80. I told myself I would never be some old fogey nearing 30 in the D-League trying to get a call up. But here I am, a couple of gut punches and seven years later, playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBADL. Ah ha! But looking for a call up? Because, I mean… Isn’t that what everyone plays in the D-League for? Either a call up or for the money, right? Well, being a Petroleum Engineer grad from the University of Texas-Austin (the best university in America), I asssure you money is not my inspiration. At least not the factor bringing me back to a league I simply never fathomed playing again in.
The funny thing is, a call up is the last thing on my mind. So why the D-League, oh former No. 4 pick of the first NBDL Draft? (If it weren’t so sad it’d be comical). The dangling carrot, mon frere. And I fell for it again. I was in the zone. Making good money with a plan to make more in my country of origin, Nigeria. With the NBA dream behind me and a new tendon connecting my quad to my patella, I had a drawn-out plan to save $1 million, retire from basketball and get into African biz. Hey, I never wanted to be like Mike. I just wanted to get one day in the league to say I did it. I wanted to be like George Weah, or Gaddafi. (OK, maybe the latter was a bad example, but he is an African pimp).
Anyway… Nooooo, I had to listen to the, “Gabe, go for it one more time,” “You just need to play the 3,” “show ’em you can shoot the ball,” “Lose some weight” blah blah bl… Wait. Never tried losing weight. Never thought it mattered. But after long self deliberation, I turned down 300K-plus contracts (with some help from outside advisors) and chose to take an invitaion to vet’s camp with the Bobcats after losing 50 pounds of muscle to prove how much I was dedicated to being on that team. Do you have any idea how hard it is to lose muscle? I was 271 pounds and 8 percent body fat on May 21. Today I am 228 and less than 5 percent body fat. I got as low as 221 while in Charlotte. It is one of the reasons the NFL is so much different from the NBA. Or I should say the NBA is so much different than every other pro sports league? There is simply no equation for playing in the NBA for those who are not, well, freaks. You know the 7-foot-3 spartans who can dunk with their nostrils? That kind of guys.
For the 6-foot-7 tweeners, I got news for you. Ready? Listen to no one, listen to everyone, play really really really hard and pray for a lot of luck. Because I’ve done it all. Answered every question, perfected every drill, learned to play ambidextrous, and taught myself to shoot the cliche’d pee-pee out of the ball. But sans luck… And your up poo-poo’s creek.
Honestly, though, I have no regrets. And bitterness went out the window with the birth of my son when I was 24. I just have a lot of rhetorical questions. (That means questions for which the answers are obvious.) For example… Why did I tolerate all that I did? I mean… If you don’t know, rookie free agents get treated like the red-headed kid trying to sneak a piece of the drumstick during Thanksgiving. It’s not really a big deal when you’re the youngest as I was in Detroit and Houston. But when you’re 29 and in camp being told how to play by guys six years younger than you when you have played everywhere against every type of competition – not to mention the fact that I played four years of college ball – it tends to get a bit tiresome. Or being yelled at for shooting the ball too much in a preseason – I repeat, preseason game – by a 10-year vet as if you were stealing his lunch money. Is it just me or should he even care? Believe me, for every knucklehead insecure millionaire (well… millionaire?) yelling at the rookie free agent for not passing him the ball with three seconds left on the shot clock, there are tons of vets who either truly want you to achieve your dream or just don’t care.
I have had the pleasure of meeting and associating with people who were incredible individuals and that far outweighs the negatives of losing money and/or the rare occurrence of being looked down on by someone who might be your intellectual minor or just simply your minor. Chauncey “Dome” Billups (gotcha, Chaunce), cooler than a polar bear’s toe nails. Jerry Sloan was so polite I almost wanted him to shout at me. I mean a Hall of Fame coach telling you good morning and using your first name before practice? Byron Scott. I heard he was cocky before I met him and after meeting him… He has every right to be. That man is 45 and looks like he’s 25. He can dunk without flexing a toe and I bet he can outrun every player on the Hornets today. (That is not a knock on the Hornets, but to describe to you the type of person he is. He was the first one in the gym working out. That takes a type of discipline rarely seen. Not to mention he’s a winner, coaching and playing).
Anyway, the list goes on and on. I could talk about just one of the great people I’ve been in contact with in the NBA and it would be a whole blog. So I’ll save them and savor them in future blogs. That’s the best I can do as a “wannabe” on the outside looking in. As for now, I have to get on the road. Houston to Mission, TX is a five-hour drive and we’ve got practice tomorrow… Oops, today. I don’t really consider it practice. It’s more like babysitting now.