Posts Tagged ‘LaRue Martin’

NBA ‘Legends’ Host Clinic For Hoops, Life

CALUMET PARK, Ill. – For the kids who participated in a clinic of basketball and life skills Saturday in south-suburban Chicago, the mere fact that they were in a gym and a classroom all day meant the event was successful at its most fundamental level.

“You take away the opportunity for the kids to be recruited by the gang members, who are out there recruiting every day. So now they’re in here with us,” said Marco Johnson, a 29-year veteran of the local police force and representative of the Police Athletic League.

More than 100 at-risk youngsters took part in the event, hosted by the National Basketball Retired Players Association in conjunction with the National PAL and the National Urban League. Former Chicago Bulls and NBA players such as Bob Love, Dave Corzine, Jeff Sanders, Kenny Battle, Emmette Bryant and Casey Shaw logged eight hours or more at the Calumet Park Recreation Center.

The clinic – one of 14 already staged or coming to cities across the country – rotated young players through various skill stations, with enough classroom time to address some of the more pressing issues in their daily lives, ones they might not talk about if not for all the fun and star power Saturday.

“The biggest part is, give the kids hope,” said Chris Hill, president of the NPAL. “We’re going into communities where there’s a lot of violence, a lot of drugs and alcohol and a lot of bad education. We’re trying to let them know there’s a way out. The way to get them here is to bring in athletes.

“Once they get here, we also let them know there’s more to life than what they see every day.”

Seven-foot giants such as Corzine, Roger Brown and LaRue Martin aren’t part of the kids’ everyday scenery. “The size automatically gets their attention,” said Johnson, a sturdy man with a wide smile and, though he kept them holstered for this event, a mean stare and a backup scowl. “But what’s amazing is, a lot of these kids know the history of the game. One of the little kids was like, ‘Is that Bob … Bob … Bob Love?’

“I said, ‘How’d you know that?’ ‘My dad told me about him.’ “

Some of the NBRPA “Legends” who volunteered were done playing before some kids’ parents were born. Still the name recognition was high, especially those who crossed paths with a Michael Jordan Bulls’ team. And with basketball’s prominence in many of the youngsters’ worlds, the former players’ stories resonated.

“I was talking to my son,” Johnson said, “because they showed on TV the other night that LaRue was ‘the worst [No. 1] pick ever.’ I said, ‘You tell me, would you rather be the worst draft pick in the NBA or no pick in the NBA?’ My son was like, yeah, I guess you’ve got a point.

“If these kids perservere, they will make it, whether it’s in sports or something else.”

Corzine, who played 13 seasons in the NBA, is back at his alma mater of DePaul as an assistant athletic director working in community outreach. He and Brown offered instructions on post play, while finding ways to stress ambitions beyond basketball.

“The earlier we can get the message to kids, the better,” he said. “Without being too much of a dream buster – everyone’s entitled to pursue their own dreams – so many people focus on the ones who make it and are successful. They’re a very small percentage  but they’re the ones everybody sees.

“The value, really, of athletics is physical fitness, healthy lifestyles – people take that for granted. Anything they can do to stay active is important. But also, you want them to be able to translate those skills they learn into what they can use academically and eventually in a career, as far as working hard and teamwork and being persistent, having integrity for the people you play with and work with. All those skills are transferable to their lives.”

Said Battle, who is supervising seven of the 14 clinics: “A kid knows, if he’s part of a sport or an organization, there are rules and regulations. I guarantee you, every one of those rules has educational value, where you have to maintain certain grades, you can’t be involved with a gang, you can’t be bringing trouble to the youth center or an organization.”

The NBRPA, NPAL and the National Urban League already has hosted events in San Diego, Charlotte, Detroit and, for tornado victims, in Oklahoma. Upcoming clinics are scheduled in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Orlando and Miami.

The messages from week to week largely remain the same. But the audience changes, so the impact stays fresh.

“We were in North Carolina this past week and Chris Washburn came in,” Hill said of the NBA’s third draft pick in 1986, a notorious bust undermined by drug addiction and behavioral issues. “We had no idea what he was going to say, and he got up and said, ‘Listen, I made $4 million a year. I didn’t do things right. I was homeless – eating out of garbage cans. I ended up using drugs. I went to jail. Then I went to prison. But I made my way out because I rebounded back to what I learn. Now I own my own business, but look at what I went through.’

“This was the message he said to kids. We’re trying to stop them from going through that.”

Particularly those who never get that far, yet learn to cope without ever bouncing a ball in college or the pros.

LaRue Martin, Antoine Walker Show Value Of, Need For NBRPA

CHICAGO – The tall man in a business suit peered intently through his reading glasses as he read aloud the proclamation from the Illinois governor, celebrating the National Basketball Retired Players Association for its relocation from New York to the Windy City.

In a swank restaurant at Navy Pier, in front of many former NBA and ABA players and well-connected members of the Chicago business community, LaRue Martin got to the part in the formal document about the NBRPA’s mission to help players “transitioning to life after basketball.” Very briefly, he looked up and broke that fourth wall.

“I’m a good example,” the 62-year-old Martin smiled, before quickly resuming his task on Gov. Pat Quinn’s behalf.

Fact is, LaRue Martin is a great example. Most basketball fans who know of him at all think of Martin as some sort of failure, based on his status as one of the NBA’s most notorious draft “busts.”

Back in 1972, fearful that they wouldn’t be able to cut a deal that would keep Bob McAdoo out of the ABA, the Portland Trail Blazers used the No. 1 pick on Martin. He was a skinny 6-foot-11 center out of Loyola in Chicago, underdeveloped both physically and in his skills, in what was a spotty draft class.

Martin lasted just four seasons, averaging 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds in a sketchy 14.0 minutes over 271 games. He became the punchline to some unfunny draft jokes and was the precursor in Portland to other big-man disappointments (Bill Walton ultimately, Sam Bowie, Greg Oden).

Now, though, Martin is a successful, prosperous businessman, a community services manager for United Parcel Service and, as a UPS public-affairs executive, a man who has rubbed elbows with governors, senators and even the President.

“Being a No. 1 draft choice, getting that big zero on your back, you are a marked man,” Martin said cheerfully Thursday after the luncheon. “My career was up and down. They called me the worst draft choice in the nation, and that bothered me. But I had the opportunity to move on and get into the corporate world, and I’ve moved on ever since.”

A few minutes earlier in the program, before Martin spoke, another tall man in jeans and a sport coat moved through the room. At 6-foot-9 and probably 50 pounds beyond his playing weight of 225 pounds, there was no sneaking to his spot near the front for Antoine Walker. He scooted along, shook a few hands on the way, then took his seat, a new face open finally to what the retired players association is all about.

Walker, 36, is best known as another sort of bust: he blew through more than $110 million in NBA career earnings through bad decisions and investments, abused generosity, lavish spending and gambling. He was only 31 when he played in the NBA for the last time, coming off the bench for Minnesota in 2007-08. By May 2010, amid flirtations with a comeback that led to a humbling stay with the D League Idaho Stampede, Walker filed for bankruptcy, citing $12.7 million in debts and just $4.3 million in assets.

He was a man-child out of Kentucky, another Chicago native drafted high, No. 6 overall in 1996. Walker averaged 17.5 points and 7.7 rebounds across 12 seasons. He won a championship ring with Miami in 2006, played in three NBA All-Star games and still ranks among the top 25 in NBA history in 3-pointers made and top 100 in minutes, field-goal attempts and offensive and defensive rebounds.

Fact is, Antoine Walker is a great example of why the NBRPA has value for both current and soon-to-be retired players. He was, by most standards, a terrific success in the NBA. He is very much a work in progress now, though.

“That probably hit me six, seven months ago, when I was trying to figure things out,” Walker said after the dining room cleared. “Because even if I do go back and play basketball, my window is going to be very short. It’s not going to be playing four, five, 10 more years. So it’s very important I get started with the next phase of my life. I’m just starting now.”

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