Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Willis’

NBA, NBPA and NBRPA join forces for cardiac screenings


VIDEO: Hall of Famer Bernard King was an unstoppable force on the basketball court

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The wake-up call for Bernard King came the morning after the 2015 Naismith Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

The night before he’d spent a good hour talking with fellow Hall of Famer and former teammate Moses Malone about everything but basketball. It was a joyful time, King said, a chance for old friends to catch up on one another’s lives after the game.

But before King could open the door on his car as he headed to the airport that next morning, he received the news that Malone had died suddenly, yet another member of the NBA family gone way too soon.

That’s one reason why King was one of 25 retired NBA players to take part in a cardiovascular screening for local NBA alumni Saturday at Philips Arena, a program sponsored by the Hawks in conjunction with the NBA, the Players Association and the Retired Players Association.

“We’ve lost a lot of guys over the last couple of years,” King said, “Moses, Darryl Dawkins, Jerome Kersey and before that Pat Cummings, just to name a few. And a lot of these guys have died of heart attacks. So I think it’s great that the league, the players association and the retired players association are joining forces to try and figure out why that is and what we can do to adequately provide for everyone.”

Malone died in September of a cardiovascular disease, a month after Dawkins died of a heart attack. It’s the loss of those close to you, King said, makes the reality of the situation even more real for he and his fellow retired players.

“It certainly hits home,” he said. “These are guys you’ve competed against and played with or against for so many years. I sat with Moses for 90 minutes at the Hall of Fame just laughing and joking about everything you can think of going back to our days playing together in Washington. We didn’t even talk about basketball. Before I could even get in the car the next morning Meadowlark Lemon, who we just recently lost, and Artis Gilmore stopped me and asked if I’d heard about Moses. I said, ‘what are you taking about? I was just with him last night.’ And they told me he’d died last night. So yes, it’s disheartening that anyone would lose their life like that, whether they were a professional athlete or otherwise. The bottom line is, too many guys are dying at too young an age.”

That’s one of the main reasons the cardiovascular screening program was initiated, said Joe Rogowski, the NBPA’s Director of Sports Medicine and Research. The first one was held in Houston in December. Saturday’s event included Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, Hawks Vice Chairman Grant Hill, who was instrumental in the event being held at Philips Arena, as well as more recently retired players like Tony Delk.

“This is fantastic,” Delk said. “I’m 42 and very conscious of my health now that I’ve stopped playing. So when I heard they were offering this program free to retired players, I made sure to get my name on the list. When you’re playing, you take so much of this for granted, you’re talking about some of the best-conditioned athletes in the world. But none of us is immune to the issues that come with getting older.”

Rogowski worked in the league for a decade and said that the NBPA’s executive committee was discussing player health and retired player’s health during a meeting and idea for the screening program came out that exchange. It was placed on a high-priority list by the executive committee and fast-tracked for this season.

The NBA and the NBRPA jumped on board immediately when informed about the program, Rogowski said, and now that they have the Houston and Atlanta screenings in the books, there is much more to come.

“It’s been a truly collaborative effort,” he said. “From the NBPA, the NBRPA and the league to all of the specialists we fly in from all over the country to the teams, both Houston and here in Atlanta, for allowing us to set up shop and use the space in the arenas. It’s the same group that goes from city to city. And were thankful we’re doing it, because we’ve found some things that need to be addressed. And this is just the first step in a long-term process that will help us address the needs of the players, past, present and in the future.”

Rogowski cited the program’s mobility as one of the crucial elements to the success of the first two screening events. It can travel and reach the retired players in a place that is familiar and comfortable for them.

“I consider this a golden opportunity,” said King, 59, who has lived in the Atlanta area for over 15 years. “You have the finest experts here, health-wise, to check you out and ensure that your body is okay and functioning the way it should be. Those opportunities don’t always present themselves to you after you are done playing, so I made sure to get my name on the list before it filled up, because it was first come first serve.”

T-Mac Living Dream Beyond First Round

SAN ANTONIO — This is the way it was always supposed to be for Tracy McGrady — conference finals, clock running down in the fourth quarter, ball in his hands and the crowd buzzing at the thought of what he might do.

With T-Mac, anything always was possible, and nobody knows that better than the Spurs who were once on the receiving end of 13 points in the final 35 seconds on one mind-boggling night in Houston. Now though, with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili riding out the conclusion of a 20-point Game 1 blowout on the bench, McGrady is far outside the center ring under the big top. He’s more part of the cleanup crew that walks behind the elephants.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “It’s great to be part of this terrific organization and guys around here. I’m living the dream right now.”

Which says something about dreams or McGrady or both. For about a decade, T-Mac was a headlining NBA star whose name could be mentioned in the same breath with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and the rest — except in the springtime when reputations are forged.

For all of the improbable 3-point shots he made, high-rising slam dunks he threw down, thread-the-needle passes that he delivered right on the money, what McGrady could never do was win a single playoff series.

He had the numbers, but never the pedigree of a winner as he went 0-for-every postseason situation he was ever in, his teams on which he was the leader blowing 3-1 leads in Orlando and Houston and another pair of 2-0 leads with the Rockets. What’s more, every stop along the way in a different NBA jersey always would up with much recrimination, little remorse and the microfracture knee that led to his trade out of Houston signaled the end of his relevance as a star or even starter.

Until he sat on the San Antonio bench, mostly in street clothes for the 4-0 sweep of the Lakers, McGrady was the only scoring champ in NBA history to never make it out of the first round of the playoffs. Now T-Mac is in the conference finals, albeit in a drastically different role — the equivalent of playing for spare change and nostalgia as part of a rock ‘n roll oldies tour.

He has appeared in four games of the playoffs for a total of 17 minutes, shot 0-for-4 and hasn’t scored a point. Yet the fans at the AT&T Center are loudly cheering on that bid for his first bucket as a Spur.

“It’s great; a great feeling to know you have 18,000 people supportive of me and wanting to see me do well,” he said.

“I didn’t notice it the first time I got in, but people were telling me about it — ‘Did you hear the reception you were getting every time you touched the ball?’ — but, no, because I’m so locked in when I got it.

“But I got in [Sunday] and really noticed. It was something special.”

It’s not lost on McGrady that he entered the NBA in the same 1997 Draft with his new teammate, Duncan, though their roles, of course, are now vastly different.

“I came to terms of my situation and I got it,” he said. “It wasn’t in the cards for me to continue the health like Kobe and some of my peers I competed against when I was playing at the highest level. It just wasn’t in the cards for me. I had to go through a lot of stuff to realize the opportunities that I had. Things happen for a reason. The man above takes us through things we sometimes can’t understand but, later on in life, we realize some of the stuff we had to go through.

“This is a promotion for me. For so many years I tried to compete and take a team out of the first round. It just didn’t happen. Then I had to go through some things with my injury that were frustrating but I’m sitting at home – and I live by faith, not by sight – and [coach Gregg Popovich] called me out of the blue and here I am.”

Popovich reached out just before the start of the playoffs, 1 1/2 months after McGrady finished a season with the Qindao Eagles of the Chinese Basketball Association, in what could be the latest chapter in Pop’s very own personal outreach program to unfulfilled NBA veterans:

— In 1999, ex-Blazers star Jerome Kersey hooked on with the Spurs and won the only championship of his 17 NBA seasons.

— In 2003, former Hawks All-Star Kevin Willis set down in San Antonio and claimed his only NBA title in 21 seasons.

— In 2005, it was Glenn Robinson, well past his “Big Dog” days as a No. 1 draft choice and superstar in Milwaukee, who came off the bench in the last of his 11 NBA seasons to win it all with the Spurs.

— In 2007, it was ex-Maverick All-Star Michael Finley’s turn as the 16-year pro won the only ring of his career.

It seems each championship season the Spurs have brought an old pro along for the ride. Now it’s McGrady in the ceremonial seat in his 17th season.

“It’s possible,” said T-Mac, “I can be a champion before I leave this game.”

When a guy gets out of the first round, he dreams bigger.