Having set up a couple of visits in the summer of 1990, Finley's first trip was to Wisconsin – a visit that ended up cultivating him into a leader, an all-star and a model representative of what the university is all about.
"Once I got here, I just fell in love," Finley said. "I remember going to a football game and hanging with the football players. It felt like I was already here and part of the university. At that time, I felt kind of special. I went home and thought about it and felt this was the right place for me. I think I made a great and right decision."
After being given so much by the Wisconsin basketball program and the university, Finley, a two-time NBA All-Star and a former Wisconsin All-American, is giving back to Wisconsin by establishing an endowed scholarship to benefit minority student-athletes.
"It was a big deal for myself, my foundation and the university itself," Finley said of the scholarship. "I just felt this was a small gift of me giving back to a university that has been so instrumental in my life as a basketball player and as a man.
"The university was very instrumental in the person that I had become today. The guy that you see today has a lot to do with my four year experience here at the university."
His scholarship, named the Michael Finley Foundation Scholarship, will be awarded annually to an African-American student-athlete at Wisconsin. The principal gift, which was not announced, of the endowed scholarships is not spent, but invested so a portion of the earnings are available for scholarship support each year.
"This is truly an outstanding and very generous commitment," Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez said in a statement. "While we appreciate the financial support provided by all of our supporters, it is especially meaningful when one of our own former student-athletes makes an investment in our program."
Finley played at UW from 1991-95, a time that coincided with a re-birth of Wisconsin basketball. As a junior, Finley led the Badgers to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 47 years, laying the groundwork for what Wisconsin basketball has become: a program that has made 13 straight NCAA Tournaments, consistently competes for conference championships and usually finds itself ranked in the AP Top 25.
"I am not surprised," Finley said of UW's success over the past two decades. "When I was here, it was the start of a good thing. I think we got a little bit of national publicity of the teams I was a part of the 90s. It went on with getting the coaches in, Coach Ryan, Coach Bennett before him and Coach Barry Alvarez becoming the AD had a lot to do with the success and the publicity of the athletic department and the university."
Finley averaged at least 20.0 points per game in each of his last three seasons and is one of just two players in school history to score more than 2,000 career points. Finley was a two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection and three-time Associated Press honorable mention All-American.
"During my four years here, we had to go through many adverse situations from different coaches, to losing games to losing seasons," Finley recalled. "I was able to hone my leadership skills, have the guys look up to me in times of adverse situations and be that leader. I've carried what I've learned through those situations through my NBA career with different teams (and) through other business ventures that I've been a part of. My foundation as a leader definitely started here."
A first-round draft pick of the Phoenix Suns in 1995, Finley was named to the NBA's All-Rookie Team in 1996. He earned All-Star selections in 2000 and 2001 as a member of the Dallas Mavericks. That was during a stretch of five-straight seasons where Finley averaged at least 20.0 points per game, including the 1999-00 season. In his sixth season in the league, Finley played all 82 games and set career highs in points (22.6 per game), minutes per game (42.2), rebounds per game (6.3) and assists per game (5.3).
During his 15-year NBA career, Finley played for the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics. His finest moment came in 2007 when Finley helped the San Antonio Spurs win the NBA title, starting all 20 playoff games and averaging 11.3 points per game during the championship run.
"It was the icing on the cake, so to speak, when it comes to NBA professionals," Finley said. "Coming into the NBA, everyone thinks at some point in their career that they are going to win in a NBA title or get on that stage to compete for one. There's a lot of great players in this league that don't have an NBA title, and I was fortunate to be a part of a great team with a great coaching staff that gave me that opportunity."
Semiretired after the 2010 season, Finley, who currently lived in Texas while waiting for the lockout to resolve itself, finished his 17-year career with 17,306 points, 4,804 rebounds, 3,245 assists, averaged 15.7 points and shot 44 percent from the field.
"I am still going to work out, stay in good shape … it's just the way I am," Finley said. "If somebody does call to join a team, I'll be physically ready to join them."
His endowed scholarship isn't Finley's first venture into philanthropy. Founding the not-for-profit Michael Finley Foundation in 2003, the group's sole purpose is supporting organizations with the common goal of supporting children and their families to reach their fullest potential through education, entrepreneurial mentorship, and other programs that emphasize improving the quality of life.
"I am using my foundation to all the areas I wanted to give back to all the areas that I've always wanted to give back (to)," Finley said. "The University of Wisconsin is just one step in doing that, but we're planning on other local and national charitable events to get publicity to the foundation and give kids the chance to fulfill some of their dreams."