Kinston & Reggie Bullock
We caught up with him during the Nets' first round playoff series versus the Bulls and had a discussion covering everything from his early days in the league, to his decision to attend Carolina, as well as his thoughts on why so many good athletes come from his hometown of Kinston, N.C.
What is the key to your longevity in the NBA?
I love the game first and foremost. I love the competition. Eating right, and all those good things, like working out in the offseason, preparing for the grind of an NBA season. I love to play and that's been the key to my success, and I never really stopped. In the offseason, guys sometimes take too much time off, and I've always played the summer leagues. I make sure that in August and September when it's time to gear it up, that I really ramp it up and I think that's how I've been able to stick around.
Was it OK to take a limited role this season?
You have to be realistic. Over the course of time you have to adjust. That's another key to having longevity in this league. It is to be able to adjust. You're not going to be able to have the same role you came in with, getting all the touches, and being a facilitator for most of the time. Now my role is just to take my spot minutes and make the most of it.
When you first came into the league, who was your mentor?
My rookie year it was Vernon Maxwell. I think he was a guy that really showed me how to play the two-guard position. I played a small forward at Carolina, and had to come in and learn a new position. He was one of the best at defending the position, and I think I learned a lot of the nuances of how to try to guard the position from him. When I moved over to Detroit, I was able to play with some real pros in Joe Dumars, Rick Mahorn, and Grant Long. Those were some of the guys who showed me how to be a true pro, how to bounce back after tough games, and always staying ready.
Your second year, you teamed up with Allen Iverson. What was it like playing with him?
We were both kind of shooting guards. It wasn't the best time for either one of us in our careers. We lost a lot. It's not something I look back at with fond memories. But once I got to Detroit, that's when my career started to take off; when I was really able to showcase my skills. The early years in Philadelphia, getting drafted was exciting, but I don't really look at that as a time in my career that I care to remember. Starting in Detroit, and then Dallas, those were my best years.
In one of your more memorable games as a Detroit Piston, you scored 57 points versus Chicago. What was that like?
I remember coming in and getting into a really good rhythm early. One of those nights that everybody dreams of. Everything that you let go dropped into the basket.
Next you went to Dallas. What was it like playing for Mark Cuban?
I love Mark. He's a great owner. It's ironic that you say Mark Cuban. He saw me struggling in a few games recently, and sent me an email. "I've seen you struggle, but I know you always come back strong." It's just those types of things. He lets me know. He's one of my favorite owners of all time.
There are so many good athletes from Kinston, like Cornbread Maxwell, Charles Shackelford, yourself, and now Reggie Bullock. Why is it that so many ball players come from there?
You haven't even named them all. It's a small town, but we take our basketball seriously. I think it starts at an early age. We've always had good mentors, and guys that took guys and tried to teach them the game early. Probably, at seven, eight years old, is when I started playing organized basketball. There are always people in our community that took the time to sponsor teams, and be a part of basketball there. So that's why you see a lot of guys have success coming out of that area.
What are your impressions of Reggie Bullock?
I think he has a chance to be a really good pro. He's a guy that can defend; he can rebound the ball. Obviously, he's a shooter, and there's no shortage of having somebody that can shoot the ball at the next level. I see him as a Shane Battier type. A guy that can really work his way into being a big time defender in this league, but at the same time, if you don't key on him, he can knock down shots. He has the ability to put the ball on floor a little better than Battier, but I think if he can find a way to carve out that kind of niche, he'll have a heck of a career.
Sounds a lot like Danny Green.
That's the same type of path. He came in as a second round pick. Hopefully, Reggie is able find his way into the first round, but if he doesn't, he'll work his way [there.] He knows what he has to do to continue to improve. He has a really high ceiling. I think he's going to be a much better pro than you ever saw him be at Carolina.
Tell me about your decision to attend Carolina.
It came down to really Coach Smith. Everywhere else that I was being recruited they were promising me the world. He didn't promise me the world. He just told me that if I came in and worked, that I would play. I loved that approach. I didn't feel like I wanted to be given the ball from day one, and all the things that people were telling me. It's hard to tell Dean Smith no when he says he wants you. To sum it up, when I had my in-home visits, [then Michigan coach] Steve Fisher and those guys came in early that morning, and my mom had donuts and coffee for them. By the time Dean Smith came in that afternoon, she was cooking pork chops and cabbage and yams. She never told me where she wanted me to go, but from that date on, it was a subtle hint.
What are some fond memories of your playing days at Carolina?
Definitely going to the Final Four; even the ACC Tournament, and winning the Most Outstanding Player as a freshman. Being only one of three players to do that, including great players like Sam Perkins and Phil Ford. Those were the highlights, but at the same time, enjoying my time with Rasheed [Wallace] and Jeff McInnis. Guys I'm still close to, such as Donald Williams. Just being able to forge those relationships. Twenty years later we're still really, really close.
What are some things that maybe people don't know about Rasheed Wallace?
There's a great guy. Because of his technicals, and his antics on the court, people lose sight of how great a teammate he is. You poll any of the guys who played with him, they would probably tell you he is one of the best teammates you could have, as far as a guy who has superstar talent, but always wanted to share and be selfless. That, and the fact that he is as frugal as possible. I think he might still drive the same Bronco that he had in college. [laughs]
Why was it important for you to come back and get your degree?
It was a promise that I made to my Mom, and a promise to Coach Smith that when I left early, I would come back and get my degree. I just didn't want that to be lip service. I really enjoyed my time at Carolina. I enjoyed going back in the summers and being with my classmates. Just being a regular student. I actually enjoyed school more going back, because I was so focused and locked in during the two years I was there. The first years in Philadelphia, we weren't making the playoffs so I had plenty of time to get back into school and then get back [for the NBA season.] I built a house in Chapel Hill. I moved back there. They were good times for me.
Your favorite place to eat in Chapel Hill?
We can't talk about the Carolina days without mention of the UNC-Duke rivalry. Tell me about the famous double overtime game [February 2, 1995; UNC 102 – Duke 100]
I thought we were going to blow them out, because it was a down year for Duke. But they came storming back and really made a game of it. We found a way to win it. It's fun, because every time Duke and Carolina play I get to see that highlight. I get a chance to see myself with hair [laughs.] So that's always pretty fun. I think that dunk has gone down in history as one of the better dunks of the rivalry. I enjoyed being a part of that rivalry.
How does that rivalry extend into the NBA?
It goes beyond just the NBA. Carolina hates Duke, and Duke hates Carolina. Nothing is ever going to change about that. We tolerate each other. But I don't think you see too many Duke and Carolina guys going out to dinner too often.
Lastly, I have to ask you about your relationship with Dean Smith, and what he's going through right now.
Coach is someone who really cared about everybody. He cared about all the guys who played for him, not just the star players. He was a true father figure to me. When I first got into the NBA, and having been thrust a wealth of money at me, he was always checking on me. Here I am a millionaire, and I'm still getting calls telling me to watch my spending, and watch things like that. He really has a genuine interest in guys' careers. Not only guys who go on to play in the NBA, but the walk-ons who are working in corporate America. He still keeps in touch with all those guys. One of the best things I can remember about him is he can always remember people. That's why the fact that he has dementia is the toughest thing for me to deal with, because I had a friend who came up and met him in high school. He was just on an unofficial visit. Three or four years later, Coach Smith walked right up to him and said "Hi, Alan." He never forgot a face and never forgets a name. I wish I could do that.
Steve Leventhal, a 1982 UNC graduate, is the owner of SRN Broadcasting. He covers sports in the Chicago area.