Sam Perkins ranks 19th all time in games played (1,286) and 55th in minutes (36,598). The sleepy-eyed, sweet-shooting forward/center known as “Big Smooth” played at least 80 games in nine different seasons and played all 82 three times.
He’s been retired for more than 13 years, finishing with Indiana in 2000-01 after divvying up his 17 seasons between Dallas, the L.A. Lakers, Seattle and the Pacers. At 53, he’s not especially prone to “back in my day” crankiness, but he does wonder why a workload of 82 games seems too much for NBA players and their coaches in recent seasons.
Cleveland’s LeBron James talked last month about the benefits of playing fewer games, if the NBA would ever curtail its schedule. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has made it part of his calling card – along with taciturn quarter-break interviews – to rest his veteran stars numerous times during the regular season. But Perkins hasn’t been persuaded.
“Huh. I didn’t really have a problem with 82 games,” Perkins said during a Google+ Hangout with SportsBlog.com. “I thought once you got the format and they rolled it out for you, that’s what you had to do. And on top of that, we had to practice three hours a day, two times for two weeks [in training camp]. So I don’t know how much [more] grueling it is now.”
One gripe with which Perkins does agree: The heavy slate of back-to-back games, which grind on the players and may lead to shabbier basketball on those second nights. Or in the Spurs’ case, multiple absences from the lineup.
“Back-to-backs take a lot out of you, whether you’re a veteran or a young cat. That will tend to mess with you a little bit with injuries,” Perkins said.
Perkins, a teammate of Michael Jordan‘s at North Carolina who was drafted immediately after him in the 1984 Draft, spends time traveling as an NBA ambassador these days. He went to China with the Brooklyn Nets and spent part of the summer “hanging out” with Team USA at the FIBA World Cup in Spain. Perkins serves on the board of Special Olympics and has been preparing for the Games in L.A. next summer.
Last week he and former NBA player Cedric Ceballos traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, for the Beyond Sport global summit and awards. One of that organization’s initiatives, Perkins said, was a program in Cambodia to eradicate land mines, making fields safe for kids to play.
But he seemed happy to spend time Friday answering questions via his iPad about his NBA career on a variety of topics:
On his notoriety as an ahead-of-the-curve, perimeter-shooting big man: “I know coaches did acknowledge the reason why they hate me so much is because all their players now try to shoot the three instead of staying inside. … Back then, Coach [George] Karl, Coach [Mike] Dunleavy and all these guys, they wanted to open up the game. So they said, you might need to work on your shot after practice. I didn’t even think about it, but shooting 3s with Byron Scott and all the guards, it just got better. … Guys, when I see them from different teams now, that’s all they know, that I shot 3s.”
On the 1984 U.S. Olympic experience: “It was grueling. Bobby Knight had us down in Indiana … and we went three times a day. I had never seen anything like it. Guys you had heard about finally meeting, and everybody was wondering ‘Who are you? What are you going to do?’ It was our first time meeting if you didn’t play then in college. Charles Barkley, Chuck Person, Antoine Carr, Xavier McDaniel. We just had an all-star crew there. … Bobby Knight was a different coach from Coach [Dean] Smith and what I was accustomed to. You had to pay attention because, as you know, Bobby Knight wasn’t one to play with.”
A player he modeled his game after, growing up in New York: “I saw the Knicks a lot. Willis Reed. Dean Meminger. Walt Frazier. Earl Monroe. These are the guys that I always wanted to be like. Because they played hard, they played together.” Perkins also mentioned ABA legends Artis Gilmore, George Gervin and Connie Hawkins – whom he actually saw play on the playgrounds in Brooklyn – as influences.
The NBA players with the best hair and best nickname: “I would have to say [Anderson] Varejao. No, no, I take that back. Joakim Noah. And favorite nickname? It’s got to be Kobe [Bryant]. ‘Black Mamba.’ “
Favorite teammate: “Chris Mullin, Detlef Schrempf and James Worthy. They were solid.”
His advice to current players about life after basketball: Line up internships in fields that interest them in the offseason. And network. “You definitely have to prepare while you’re playing. They tell you when you come into the league to try to meet as many people as you can – open doors to different avenues. It helped a great deal. And trying to have a positive persona for people to [be attracted to].”
The prospect of NBA franchises in international markets: “The new spot everybody’s thinking about is New Delhi, India. India has the potential of having the NBA there. They have the money, they have the infrastructure. And even though we may not think of India as an NBA country, it is probably one that can sponsor the NBA. It’s fascinating to see the hype for NBA basketball. … The place I would have liked to play would definitely be Spain. It’s a place where I hear a lot of guys go over there, they practice a lot but they don’t play as many games.”
Perkins also participated in a lightning round of word association:
SuperSonics? “Best team I ever played on.”
Michael? “Good teammate.”
Big Smooth? “I think of Byron Scott. He gave me that name.”