NBA great Scottie Pippen was a late bloomer in basketball, and he almost did not go to college. Fortunately, his high school basketball coach, Don Wayne, came through in a big way for him. Coach Wayne telephoned Don Dyer, an old friend and the head basketball coach at the University of Central Arkansas, a small school. He explained that he had a prospect for him. The prospect—Scottie Pippen—might not be good enough to make the varsity squad, but he had been the student manager of the high school football team. Therefore, why not find some money for him to go to college? Maybe he would play varsity basketball and maybe he wouldn’t, but he could be a part-time practice player and the student manager of the team. Coach Dyer was willing to help a player who had been recommended by an old friend, and he found a work-study position that would allow Scottie to go to college. Of course, Mr. Pippen quickly stopped being the team’s student manager and started playing in games as a valuable substitute, and as a sophomore he really started playing well. Of course, he joined the Chicago Bulls and along with Michael Jordan helped lead the Bulls to three NBA championships in a row.
NBA star Kobe Bryant played basketball for Lower Merion High School (located in Ardmore, Pennsylvania), which became state champions in his senior year. During his junior year, Lower Merion High School had a good basketball season, but the team lost to Chester High School, 77-50. In the rematch between the two schools, the Lower Merion High School players all wore the number “27” on their warm-up jerseys—the number of points they had lost by in their previous game with Chester High School. This time, Lower Merion High School won, 60-53, and kept on winning until they earned a state championship. Later, Kobe became a Los Angeles Laker right out of high school. On July 11, 1996, at Los Angeles Airport, a man looked at Kobe’s height and knew that he must be a basketball player, so he asked for what team he played. Kobe almost replied that he played for Lower Merion High School, but then he smiled and said, “ I guess I’m a Laker.”
NBA star Vince Carter is both hard working and humble. When Mr. Carter was an NBA rookie, Celtic great Larry Bird said, “If Vince works on his shooting a little bit, he could be unstoppable.” Although Mr. Carter was already known for his dunks, he worked on his shooting. In the off-season, he took 1,000 shots a day. He says, “Some days, I took 1,500.” Also in the off-season, he played some pick-up ball in a basketball camp for teenagers. After he dunked over a 16-year-old kid, the kid proudly said that he would cherish the moment forever. Mr. Carter was once asked if he thought that sometimes his ego was too big. He replied, “Sometimes, if I have a really good dunk in a game, I’ll go home and watch it in the highlight shows.” By the way, when he was playing basketball in high school, he flew so high when making dunks that he acquired the nickname “UFO.”
Michael Jordan really loved basketball; in fact, his contract had a “love of the game” clause that stated that Mr. Jordan could play basketball in pick-up games on the streets or wherever else and whenever he wanted. Of course, he was good at the game. One defender said about him, “All I saw were the bottoms of his shoes.” When he was playing for the Tar Heels, he was often called for traveling. Mr. Jordan’s coach, Dean Smith, studied game film and discovered that Mr. Jordan was not traveling—he was simply so fast that referees thought that he was traveling. Coach Smith sent a videotape that showed Mr. Jordan’s moves in slow motion to the referees, and after viewing the tape the referees stopped calling Mr. Jordan so often for traveling.
Basketball player John Stockton played point guard at Gonzaga University, a Spokane, Washington, Catholic school whose most famous graduate was Bing Crosby. When the Utah Jazz drafted Mr. Stockton in the first round, he was unknown, and he wondered what the Jazz fans would think. At draft time, Mr. Stockton was in NBA draft headquarters in New York, and he spoke with someone who was on the telephone with a person at the Salt Palace, where Jazz fans had gathered. Mr. Stockton asked, “Are they booing?” The man with the telephone replied, “They’re not booing. They’re all asking, ‘Who?’”
Hakeem Olajuwon was a great star in the National Basketball Association, and in his native Nigeria, he was also a great handball champion. He played both basketball and handball at Lagos State, and he played both sports in the national sports festival. In fact, in the national sports festival, an ambulance was his transportation from the handball court to the basketball court because his coaches wanted him to be able to play both sports. Wise move. Lagos State won the gold medal in both sports.
Dr. Harold Carlson, coach of the University of Pittsburgh basketball team, once felt that the referees in Morgantown, the home of the West Virginia Mountaineers, were making way too many calls in favor of the home team, so he vigorously protested the calls, shouting, “That burns me up.” Unfortunately, he said that one too many times, and a Mountaineer fan poured a bucket of water on him, saying, “That should cool you off.”
The most dominant basketball player who ever lived is probably Bill Russell, who led the Boston Celtics to 11 NBA Championships. But even he was not that good when he started out. As a third-string center on the JV team at McClymonds High School in Oakland, CA, he suited up for only half of the games. According to Mr. Russell, “We had 15 uniforms and 16 players, so another guy and I split [the use of] the 15th uniform.”
Garry Payton of Seattle was once dared to shoot a basket during a game by a defender. Mr. Payton shot, made a 3-pointer, then told the defender, “That’s why I make $12 million.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved