Interview with Terry Cummings

Admittedly, I far prefer speaking with former athletes than current ones. Not only are they more likely to speak what is on their mind as opposed to upsetting the proverbial apple cart on their respected team or league, they have reached the stage in life where they are more likely to reach objectivity on their careers.

Terry Cummings 1It isn’t that I don’t love talking about statistics and moments, as I certainly do, and a good chunk of this website is dedicated to looking at just that, but discussing how an athlete evolves in their life in ways that don’t reflect on a stat sheet is often the greater story. Once that story finishes, the transition from “athlete to civilian” can prove to be the greatest challenge that any athlete, especially a superstar in their profession can face.

Still, I have always despised the perception that all athletes are one-dimensional beings with the inability to think of anything other than themselves or their chosen sport. More often than not, that is the perception that we thrust upon them, and as it is their athletic exploits that garner the most press, and often their only press. This is not necessarily wrong, as that is their job and what put them in the public eye in the first place but when I had the opportunity to talk to one of Basketball’s true renaissance men, there was no way I was only going to chat with him about what he only did on a basketball court.

Terry Cummings had many callings in life, though unlike most professional Basketball players who grew up as a youngster in the inner city of Chicago, he envisioned being one of the first African-American superstars in the sport of Hockey. A gifted athlete who shifted his focus to Basketball following a growth spurt, Cummings only played two years of High School Basketball before being heavily recruited by DePaul, where he was part of one of the top teams in the nation during his entire three year stint there and would in his debut season in the National Basketball Association saw him winning the prestigious Rookie of the Year Award as a member of the San Diego Clippers.

Although that was a major accomplishment, at the age of 21, he had already achieved so much more. As one of thirteen children from a poor home, Cummings chose to broaden his horizons and look beyond the poverty and slums of his Chicago home, but did so in a way that was limited to athletics, which although was his natural gift, was not what he chose to be defined by.

At the age of 16, Terry would become a Presbyterian Minister after receiving the calling of the church early in his life. Only a few years later, he would become a self-taught musician and would channel those talents into music producing and formed his own company (Cummings Entertainment Group), which developed many of the themes, and background music that you have heard on BET, and he has now his own Ministry in Georgia where he was been the Senior Pastor for the past seven years.

Terry also put out two albums, which showcased his original music that had a definitive R&B and Soul feel.[i] We were able to discuss his career in Basketball, Music, Business and his Ministry and although we did not discuss philosophy, our chat took on so many philosophical overtones as we discussed not only the state of the game of Basketball and his approach towards life. I hope you all enjoy reading this half as much as I enjoyed conducting it.



Terry Cummings 2I read in another interview that Basketball was not your first love and that it was actually Hockey.

“Yeah. The Blackhawks at the time were big even in the black neighbourhoods. We built our own nets out of 2x4s and with wire. We would travel to the white or the Hispanic neighbourhoods to play, usually where someone would freeze a yard. We would play until we got tired.”

Did you have a favourite player?

“Back then with the Hawks you had Tony Esposito in the net, you had Stan Mikita, Dennis Hull; you had all of these cats who were physical. They played a different style of Hockey than they do now. They were allowed to get away with more. I was a Tony Esposito fan mostly. At the same time I liked Dennis Hull and his brother Bobby a lot.”

So your first aspiration was to play Professional Hockey?

“Yeah. First Hockey, then Baseball. Then by the grace of God one summer I grew from 5’8” to 6’4” an I was done with Baseball and Hockey.”

You’re lucky. I’m still at 5’8”!

“(Laughs) I picked up the difference!”

It’s also been documented that you only played two years of High School Basketball. It was around this time that you found the church. I thought it was a misprint when I read this but you have been a Minister since you were sixteen?

“Yes. That’s when I received the call.”

Was this around the time when you discovered Gospel Music?

“Not as a musician. Just as a listener. The church I grew up in was a Pentacostal denomination and a lot of the Gospel Music there was R&B in nature. I had to learn Gospel Music, because prior to that I grew up on Motown. That was from my dad’s side of the family, they were all into Motown; Marvin Gaye, Al Green, all that stuff.”

Musically speaking, Marvin Gaye seems to be a huge influence of yours.

“Yeah, I love his music, his style, everything. If you look at the culture of Marvin Gaye, he had a church background and you could see it in his music a lot of times. You can hear a lot of church style from him vocally.”

So, hypothetically speaking, if you were to choose three albums if you were stuck on a desert island what would they be, other than your own of course?[ii]

“One would be Beethoven. I really enjoy symphonic music, as that is the most cerebral music you can listen to. Of course, I am a Marvin Gaye kind of guy, and there would have to be Motown. I know I didn’t mention Gospel Music, as that is the music that really touches your soul.”

Gospel is the root music of all Rock and Roll from the early 50’s.

“Rock and Roll, Jazz, Jive, Blues all derived from some sort of Gospel. All of the early artists, all of their roots come from some sort of church.”

You were a big star at DePaul. Growing up in Chicago was it an easy choice to go there?

“It wasn’t hard at all. It was still like being home and close to family. I had already had my first son at seventeen, so when I went to DePaul he was already almost two years old. I wanted to be close to home where my mother and father was, they were still alive then. I am one of thirteen children; I have six brothers and six children. Chicago was where we had our roots as a family. It was great for me to be home.

I took a visit to (the University of) Iowa with Lute Olson[iii] and then before I went to Vegas, I decided to stay home and go to DePaul.”

When you say Vegas, you mean UNLV with Jerry Tarkanian?[iv]

“Yeah.”

Oh, I didn’t know that you even considered UNLV. Coming out of DePaul, in your draft class, there were three guys who were expected to go 1, 2 and 3, but it was not certain what the order would be; yourself, James Worthy and Dominique Wilkins. You went number two going to the San Diego Clippers. Did you ever think how things could have changed had you gone number one to the Lakers? As you were a Power Forward, and the Lakers had Kurt Rambis, conceivably, that was a potential destination for you.[v] Was there ever a time when you thought that it would have been better for you, had you been chosen by the Lakers first, or do you feel that you were meant to go the Clippers at number 2?

“I think that depends on what you mean by best. I’ve been out of the league since 2000, and in fourteen years you have a lot of time to think about ‘would of, could of, should of’. I think for me the best thing that could have happened was for me to be the man (going to San Diego)[vi]. If I would have went to the Lakers things would have been different, playing with Magic (Johnson) and I would have learned the game at a different pace, but would it have made me a better man? I don’t know. I think what makes a better man, and it is like playing cards…when you get dealt a hand that may be bad, it is making the most of every hand you get. It is the best hand at the table at that time, and that is what I do in every part of my life.

Coming out of High School and College, there was still a lot of things I didn’t understand about Basketball. I just loved playing the game. I had a big heart for playing and winning and wanting to be the best at the game. The logistics of the NBA and NCAA, I didn’t understand. It took me awhile to get. By the time you get up to the NCAA level, by the time you get up to the NBA level, you got to find yourself with a team that wants to keep going up.

I played eighteen years in the NBA and didn’t get to the Championships, you know? Those things, when you look back at them become more important to you in your decision making process. Had I been a position, or had I the clarity as far as how the system ran and the fact that in my first year in Milwaukee that I had such a great year and I thought that every year was going to be like that, and that I would be back to that place again for years. That is something that some people take for granted. When I look back at it, I realize that some people are fortunate. Miami (Heat) had an opportunity three years in a row to play for a championship; maybe it will be four. That doesn’t happen. I look at Portland that had good teams in the 90’s and didn’t win. In Football, the Buffalo Bills, and their Quarterback, Jim Kelly went all those years and didn’t win. I don’t know if its best to go and not win, or having not won and not even cared! (laughs).

I do know that every athlete has a heart and desire to win a championship, but I think a lot of us mature in how we view it. For me, my championship became to help build character into the young guys coming into the league because I felt like I had so many accolades, Rookie of the Year, All-NBA; a lot of things. Those trophies do matter, but in the bigger scheme of life they don’t. If you build up one person’s character and change their life, then you have done more than that trophy is worth. That became my driving force after awhile. I realized that this was why I was given the opportunity to play professional sports was so that I could mentor others.”

Going from San Diego to Milwaukee, my understanding that is that the Bucks were your choice because of a dream you had. Do you remember the dream to this day vividly?

“Yes. In fact I was just being interviewed a few weeks ago and I brought it up. I remember (in the dream) running up and down the court in a Milwaukee Bucks uniform. It was either that or Boston, and I knew it wasn’t Boston, because I did not have really good vibes about it. I knew it was Milwaukee, and when I went to the owner (Donald Sterling)[vii] he initially told me that he wouldn’t trade me because I was his franchise player. I told him that when he did trade me to trade me to Milwaukee.

We (the Clippers) had actually moved from San Diego to L.A. in what was my third year in the League. I went to training camp I think actually only one day but I didn’t do anything because I was determined to get out of San Diego. That night I got the call that I had been traded to Milwaukee. I was so excited! I danced on my bed, I shouted, that was my championship! It was nothing against the city of San Diego, but I just didn’t like losing.”[viii]

Losing must have been new. When you were with DePaul, you were on some pretty powerful teams. I think half of your collegiate career you were on a team that was ranked number one in the country.[ix] You may not have won the NCAA Championship, but in a “one and done” tournament the best team doesn’t always win. Still, going from that level of winning to that level of losing, it had to be frustrating to lose on a regular basis. Dating back to the Buffalo Braves, the Clippers for years were not very good, and notoriously has not been known as the best run team.[x]

“(San Diego was a) great city. The fans were supportive for the most part. But I lost five games in three years in DePaul and I lost more than that in my first two weeks in San Diego.[xi]

No athlete worth anything ever wants to lose. Still, at least it was a rewarding year in one way, as you won the Rookie of the Year, and if you were drafted by the Lakers you would not have seen as many minutes.[xii]

“No, possibly not, but then again I may have. No one really knew how good I was but me. I knew what I was capable of and part of my skills would have shown more because they played a wide open game. That’s what I did all summer long in Pro-Ams against other pros since I was sixteen years old. Ball handling skills, jump shots, running the floor, defending against smaller guys, and a lot of that I got to do in Milwaukee, but not as much as I would have gotten to do if I was with the Lakers or with Atlanta. They were more open court teams. In Milwaukee, we were more of a half court team.”

Did you ever tell the two people you were traded with about your dream? And if you did, did you receive good natured ribbing from them during the winter months from the cold climate? Like did Ricky Pierce ever say to you “Because of you, I’m now freezing my ass off?”[xiii]

“(Laughs) No. But I’m sure they read about it, because it was in the paper a lot. I believe that every place you go, it’s not about you, and I think that my career was not necessarily just about me. This is the wisdom you get when you get older is that what are you doing in your life should have a greater cause. To me, there is no greater cause than God. I believe that he has the last say so on everything. I can look at my life, I know that what I have accomplished was by the grace of God and through a lot of hard work.

I also realized that you have to go in a positive direction, and you have to grow up too. I look at my career and I did not know that people considered me to be a head case in the NBA. I had not played for many coaches in my life, and they never said to me that I was a head case and that I couldn’t be coached. When I got to the NBA there were a few coaches who said that about me, and that really affected me but as I grew older I realized that there is a big difference between a head case and being un-coachable than being a man with an opinion.

You can’t just tell a man, or tell a woman anything when they know how it’s supposed to be done, especially if you were doing it before they got there and it works. I do think that part of growing up is learning that everybody’s perspective is somewhat different. Every time a new coach comes in, no matter how good a player you are or were they want to do something different for them. A lot of times it involves ‘turning down’ what you do to level the production so that in his mind others can become better, and you try it!

It doesn’t always work because all the players that come up with the hype in College are not suited for the NBA style of play of game. Some players just aren’t good enough to play the game.”

I found an old YouTube clip, which featured you singing the National Anthem before a Bucks game.[xiv] Was that the first time that you did that before a game?

“Oh, I was scared to death! I mean, I’m not afraid of anything, but I was so afraid! It was a big game on National Television against Detroit and it was the first time I ever sang in front of people period, and I did it a capella. I just focused in on the mic, and the first half of that game I couldn’t have thrown the ball in the ocean standing right by its side. I mean, I missed lay-up after lay-up; I bricked it this way, I bricked it that way. Coach finally came up to me, Don Nelson at halftime and said ‘Would you calm down and just play?’ I said to myself I’m never singing before the National Anthem before a game again! I had a great second half!”

I think where I want to segue from that, is that in part of the same YouTube piece it showed you in the recording studio learning the engineering aspect of the music business. Where I’m going with this, is here you are in Milwaukee, a star player, I think you were already voted a Second Team All Star, which personally I think is a bigger deal than going to an All Star Game. Being named All-NBA is such a massive accomplishment, I think.[xv] Having said that, you were already a Minister, you were at the top of your Basketball Game, but here you are exploring another avenue. I understand also that you taught yourself how to read music. It appeared that you even in your early to mid-20’s, you had already envisioned a life outside of basketball. To me, it shows a lot of foresight. Was it even before you got into the NBA, that you were thinking about your post NBA life?

“I always thought about it. My teachers in High School, my peers in College at DePaul always talked about how you have to other things to fall back on. For me, I looked at it from a point of purpose. I can’t play Basketball all of my life. Since I can’t play Basketball all of my life, what is my purpose? In 1982, I knew that I wanted to change the music industry and empower the people within the music industry. In 1982, I didn’t write music, or play or was directly in the music industry. I had to learn how to read and write music. I had to learn how music worked. I had to learn how to make myself more than an anomaly.

What I did is that I worked in music publishing first. One of my first publishing companies was a company called Dream Song Productions and we managed the writing for a lot of different Gospel Artists to make sure they got paid. Most of them did not have the financial wherewithal, so I hired a little Jewish girl who was an attorney to make sure that they got the money they deserved. We made sure that everyone got taken care of.

I grew past music publishing and went into jingle writing, intro/outros, for Black Entertainment Television. In the 90’s, I would write (music) for three or four of their shows, even while playing ball. People said to me, ‘That’s a nice hobby’, but that wasn’t a hobby, that was my business. It was part of my dream and vision. That was it in a nutshell for me.”

From Milwaukee, you moved over to the San Antonio Spurs. You mentioned earlier that you really enjoyed mentoring younger players. Did that happen very early in your career?

“Yes. By the time I got to Milwaukee I understood. I was doing it (mentoring) in High School and College, and by the time I got to Milwaukee it was already a settled veteran team. We mentored and sharpened each other. By the time I got to San Antonio, they brought me in to make it lighter for David (Robinson) and Sean Elliott.[xvi]

I took David Robinson, Sean Elliott, Avery Johnson; all of those guys I took them under my wing. I showed them the league and I showed them the light too. I showed them integrity. We were all friends then, and we are friends now. We don’t talk as much as we used to as our lives have gone in different directions. That to me has always been a major thing: to walk the walk and the talking do it for you.”

I think what is also inspirational about you is that in a sport that was commonly associated with cocaine use in the late 70’s and 80’s[xvii] , and now there are perceptions that the modern NBA athlete is not one that, how should I put it, moralistic. You were known as someone with high morals and integrity, and I was wondering if that was difficult for you to be an environment where that was going on around you.

“Drugs are not the worst thing that can happen to you in professional sports, because your ego can be a drug. It can be more detrimental than any cocaine or alcohol. When your ego becomes bigger than who you are; what you do, than you don’t truly understand why you have been given the opportunity to do it.

You can only do it so long and every athlete and that goes for every businessman and lawyer and politician as well. When you step outside of the limelight and become a common man, you are a civilian in many people’s eyes. The truth of the matter is that you become common. That is very difficult. In many ways it is like the post-war syndrome and those guys coming back from battle in wars. Ours was more mental than emotional because we were raised all our lives to believe that we were the ‘stuff’. We were treated like a God. If you did not humble yourself to understand that you were not a God. You are just doing things that are amazing people, and doing things that people enjoy and really like and appreciate.

You cannot get it twisted and I think that media, social media around the NBA, College and High School Basketball has really placed players and the game under a high level of scrutiny and has also pushed them into the forefront of publicity in a way that they can never live up to, which is the problem of mass media. When they start to promote you and market you, nine times out of ten you will never be able to live up to the hype. It’s just too much; it’s just too awesome. They make you too awesome that you can’t be yourself.”

Another thing that really impressed me when I reflect on your career is that after you suffered that devastating ACL injury[xviii] you came back to the NBA, and obviously injuries of that nature take their toll. You accepted a role, actually you embraced the role of being a role player as opposed to being a star. A lot of players in your situation struggled with that, and some thrive in that. Currently, I look at Vince Carter who for years was the man in Toronto, but has done a great job in Dallas coming off the bench; which was a role that many, myself included, did not think he could ever feel comfortable doing.[xix]

In other interviews you mentioned that it was not that hard a transition for you to go from a starter to coming off the bench. Do you think the fact that you embraced it so well, helped extend your career? I mean you had a very longer career than ninety-nine percent of all players.

“Yeah. It was difficult at first. But when I looked at it from a different perspective; when I was younger I was taught that when you have a major life decision, step away from what you do and what you are doing. See it from another play.

For me, I tore up my knee. It made it easier (to decide). I was out of the game for almost a whole year, rehabbing my knee the whole year. I realized over the course of that time that I would no longer be the man. So what I did is that I came to grips with that. It was that quick and easy. I realized that I was just as valuable to a team that needed someone like me as a role player as I was as the man. I was more experienced. I was more settled, and I was more comfortable with who I was. So, it became very easy for me in that regard to know I was coming off the bench, but I was coming off the bench with the “man” mentality.

I thought I was a decent defender in my years before but as I watched the tapes before I tore my knee up, I realized that I played hard but I didn’t defend. Too many times, my defender got past me more than he should. The last eight years of my career I focused on defence and rebounding. When I got on younger teams where they could not do what they needed to do day in and day out, I could take over a game or two where I would average 20 points or 15 boards, and then when the young cats come around I would go back to being a role player. I think it’s easier to be a role player than the man. Far easier. I enjoyed it. I tell people that I had far more fun at the end of my career than being the ‘man’.”

Terry Cummings 3I think that attitude is what kept you in the NBA so long. There were many people who were the ‘man’ who couldn’t do that. Allen Iverson comes to mind. As his skills declined, he couldn’t accept a reduced role, and he might have cost himself a few years in the NBA.

“Yeah, and he would have helped some teams, and probably still can.”

When you were talking about mentoring other players on the court, did they come to you off the court as well, in a social capacity? I would assume they did, as did you not perform the service at one of your teammate’s wedding?

“Yes I did for Sean Elliott. I did that in Arizona.”

That has to make you feel good as a person that you were constantly sought out for advice.

“It does. And they trust you that you are not going to partial to them or others. Everyone I played with always knew that about me. They knew if I gave them my word to do something that I would keep my word even if it hurt me.”

I would imagine, and this is just an assumption; that if you were able to go from top guy to role player, that it was easy for you to go to NBA player to the civilian world. I am guessing this as when you retired, you already had all of these outside endeavours. Was a part of you saying; ‘Now I can be a full time Minister, now I can be a full time family man now, I can be a full time musician/producer. Was that transition pretty easy because of it?

“Not really, because you got to get basketball out of your blood and you have to find what it is you were supposed to do. What happened for me was that my mother wound up passing. She passed in November the year I retired and it took me about three years to get over her. I retired in 2000, she passed and three years later I moved to Atlanta. I spent those first three years away from the NBA in darkness. The doctor said to me if I didn’t know you any better I would think you were depressed. I just didn’t go anywhere for three years. I would go out once in awhile to make appearances in such but I didn’t do anything with the league. After awhile what I found playing in the league so special was that my mother was always there. When my mom died and I retired, there was nothing left in the tank anymore. The inspiration was gone. After living in San Antonio for fifteen years, I moved to Atlanta.

In 2003 I started developing my business again. I had shut it down for a few years. I took a break from every thing. I’ve never really done a whole lot with the (National Basketball) Association since I left, though I’m better suited for it now. What I did do is go right to work on my entertainment company. I did a movie for Spike Lee[xx] called Love and Basketball where I was reading for the father’s part, but I wound up playing the bartender.[xxi] I did some other television and film stuff too, but I lost the desire for it all. What I needed to do was find myself, which I needed more than all that other stuff.”

I believe in your production company now, one of your biggest clients in BET?

“Yes. That is the one I do the most work for.”

The work that you’ve done, it was mostly theme songs for their programming, bumpers, intros/outros?

“Yes”

I’m curious, when you go into BET Studios, do some of the younger people recognize you as a former NBA star, or do they just know you as the music producer?

“A lot of them know me for the music, and earlier as a ball player but what I would do was record the music from my studio at home and what they would do is send me the video with notes of what they were looking for, or what they would like to hear and they I would put the video up on screen and create it from scratch.”

Are you watching Basketball a lot again?

“I love the NBA during this time of year. I love playoff basketball, tournament basketball. It’s hard to watch it sometimes during the whole season, because it is not the level that I have grown accustomed to, but being out of the game, I’ve learned that this is the best that the NBA has for now. When you watch it, you have to watch it that way, and now how it was in the 80’s and the 90’s. This is the NBA where it was in 1979 rebuilding itself. It is recreating its image to find out who the NBA is. The NBA has done a better job marketing itself; it is off the chain. The rest of it has to catch up with it. When you market a product the way they do and the way others do; when you put so much money and time into it, it is impossible for the athlete to live up to it.

Playing Basketball is not just about playing Basketball. It’s about your personality, it’s about your heart condition, and what I mean by that, it is about the way that people perceive you.”

We’re also in the social media age. You watch a game on television and automatically the world is aware of everyone’s opinions; including the players themselves. The microscope on athletes now is so intense; it has to be one of the biggest differences in the sport today from the last time you played. This goes from LeBron James to someone in the D-League, if something great or terrible happens, it is huge on social media for twenty-four hours.

“Yeah, it sucks, because there is nothing in this world that important. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all that stuff; it is like there is nothing left that is sacred. That is probably the biggest difference media wise between the then and the now. It took a little longer for information to get around. Everything gets there a little quicker than it did before, and because of that there is little to no time to correct what you did wrong.”

As you are watching the game today is there any player that you look at that reminds you of the way you used to play, or is there anyone you just enjoy watching?

Blake Griffin from the Clippers. I think our games are a lot alike in terms of my rookie year, with the exception that he is starting the game with a jump shot now. I can’t just lead with a jump shot! (laughs) Blake is still just earning the game, and in a few years when he figures it all out, and I hope he doesn’t get burned out…I’ve met him. I’ve met his father. He’s a great kid; he carries himself real well. I think when you get as much publicity as our young athletes do it’s very difficult to be humble and focus all the time. You get so much stuff thrown at you constantly and I think he does a really good job from what I’ve seen.

I think he’s the closest, and the kid that plays for Indiana, David West. He plays a lot more like I did. I like his game, I like how he is physical, how he can make jumpers, how he can post up and run the floor. I like how he plays the enforcer, much like I did most of my career. There are only a few of them like that in the league. The way they call the game (now), you can’t have too many players like that from the old school. There is a different look to it now.”

I want your take on this. Many people criticize the modern NBA, saying that players are too close now, so that there is not that old school hatred isn’t there.[xxii] Players don’t often say that they really hate another team, or their players anymore. It is easy for us as fans to criticize as we haven’t stepped into that bubble, but animosity, or even rivalries aren’t what they used to be.

“I think a lot of that is the league itself, and how they dealt with the players and forced the players to be close. In the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, you had two groups of players. You had those 25 to 30 players that the Association really promoted, and then you had everybody else, who unless they promoted themselves would not be featured that much.

Nowadays, it is all one melting pot, because they now realize what happens to one, happens to all. When it comes time for the CBA or collective bargaining that is when they found out that they have to stand together. A lot of it boil over and that somewhere around the mid-90’s the league went through a change where it got rid of a lot of veterans, and a lot of them had to go overseas to get the big money, because what the league was offering to them was the minimum contract. This was for people who would make $150,000 to $200,000 and would carry these teams because they paid multi million dollar contacts to players who couldn’t carry those teams, or could not lead them. The era was that because you paid them all this money and made them the face of your franchise when they were incapable of leading themselves out of a paper bag, not because they weren’t good, but because they were young and they did not know the lifestyle; not just in Basketball, but that of the NBA.

They did not know that the NBA is a demonstrative business; it is a political business, and the understanding of the true science of the game. They pretty much did what any child would do with a new toy.”

Recently the new NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver discussed raising the age limit to 20 to enter the NBA. This essentially could force players to play in College for two years, or they could do what Brandon Jennings did, and go play overseas. You played three years, though that was the standard at the time. As someone who probably could have gone to the NBA a year earlier had the option been present to you. For example, I look at a player like LeBron who I don’t think a year or two of College really would have benefited his game.

“Right.”

It certainly could help some players, and there have been those who probably could have benefited from it. The argument that always comes up is that a College Player is receiving a free education, but certain players are missing are potentially missing out on potential income. Still, as we discussed, the European League can be an option, though that is not often taken.

“It was available back then. Going back to your original question, the players talk more, but it has allowed things to happen, like KG (Kevin Garnett), Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to come together to win championships[xxiii] and Miami to do what they did. That could not have happened during my time. Most of the guys (in my day) do not talk as much as these young guys do. That is good, because it keeps the league honest. What most fans don’t get about is that they might be offended by the choices that some of these athletes make, they are not offended when these same athletes get traded when they don’t want to be; when they want to be a part of that franchise.”

It reminds me of the movie, North Dallas Forty. Did you ever see that?

“Yeah”

I am thinking of that scene where John Matuszak’s character says to the management about how when he calls it a business, they call it a game, and vice versa.[xxiv] I am getting my quote wrong, but I think you know what I am referring to, how it is a sport and a business and the two intertwines in a way that is difficult to decipher.

“Yeah! Someone is getting paid to do this. They can afford to pay you a million dollars, then you got to see them making at least twenty to one hundred times what you’re making. We were not getting what you’re making now with the collective bargaining. Back then, the original collective bargaining agreement only allowed for $500,000 worth of revenue and the league was cleaning up, and it was hiding money. When we did the first suit against them in about ‘93/’94 they resolved to quit the suit and just pay the fee, which was by then 15,000,000. The reason they resolved to do it was because the attorneys on our side kept digging up more and more stuff on them where they were making money.

I mean they hadn’t figured out at that time that the owners were making money on the signs, on the boxes, and they were not sharing that. It was not part of the collective bargaining. We had to go on strike to make it a part of it. What the public needs to realize is that the owners are not the most honest people. They are not necessarily liars, but if you don’t bring something out in the open, nobody will do anything about it. The athletes decided to do something about it and make their own choices for their future. I wish I had done that a little bit more to be honest with you. That is why you can’t really be jealous or envious of what has transpired with these younger athletes.

Going back to your original question; if you think you can do it, who are we to say that you can’t play at this level? I think legally, there is no way in the world that you are going to be able to stop people if they really want to put forth the effort to play.”

However in Football, Maurice Clarett tried that (to sue to enter the NFL early) and it didn’t work out.

“Yeah. What you are alluding to is how things clash. Sport is not just sports. Music is not just music. Film is not just film. Everything comes down to the same rudimental values of life. We still have to pass through the political process of life. If you get a good enough attorney, it’s over. It doesn’t matter what the establishment says. Whether it be the NBA, the NHL or the MLB. If it comes down to political influence or even law, it’s over.

If they want to up the age of the NCAA, they have to do the responsible thing and make sure those athletes are taken care of. I really do think that they have cheated these kids. They think that because they have given these kids a scholarship that they have done them a great service, but the truth is that these Division One schools is that the scholarship is paid in full before these kids hit their Freshman Year. Television contracts, Global and National, merchandising of all kinds, and all the other things that come with it pay for those scholarships in full.

That’s not a good enough argument for scholarships and for all that student athletes do. The truth of the matter is that all the student athletes are not created equal.”

That’s a good point. In Canada this year, one of our national sports channels acquired the rights to broadcast Kansas Jayhawks games because Andrew Wiggins from Toronto played there. How much money did they pay for that, and how much money trickled to Wiggins? I am assuming nothing.

“Absolutely.”

Terry Cummings 4That had to be a major financial transaction. In Canada, this had never happened before where a channel broadcast the games of a NCAA team.

“Right. But those dollars translate to money that goes to the schools. It doesn’t just build up the Basketball Program, but it builds up the academic side too, so it’s foolish for any executive in the NCAA level to say that we gave them a scholarship.

You can’t look down at it, because scholarships have a value too. Let’s just suppose that we look at the value of a scholarship as opposed to how many nationally televised games they play, or how many they win or how much money you make as an institution off of them. I believe at the end, if you just take the basic common street knowledge, and let’s just say that we don’t have to bring in economics.

To me it ain’t no different; I grew up on the inner city streets of Chicago, and it ain’t no different than being a pimp. I mean the pimp offers something to the prostitutes and he offers protection and some pimps go as far as to take their money and offer them the opportunity to be able to put the money away so that when they decide they don’t want to work the oldest profession known to man anymore, then they still have a bit of a kitty set aside. They can go on with their lives and do whatever else they want to do. The NCAA doesn’t do that beyond the scholarship.

I know that’s very simplistic but that is my perception of the NCAA. They have taken a stance that is old and has not transcended to the now. I think all along in all faiths, even scriptural faiths biblically have to transcend to the now. Everything has to grow. I believe that everything has to grow. I believe that everything is written for us to look at it as an example, also to build on a foundational truth. Once a foundation is laid flat, you can build on it. That means that you can extend the life of it more than what it started out to be.

Most of our educators and our legislators, and those high up in politics, sports or religion, they all desire to stick with what they know. It is easier than trying to be true visionaries.”

In regards to your point on the NCAA, it makes me think of Chris Webber. He was one of the first College guys that people were really capitalizing on his image and his likeness with the “Fab Five” in Michigan. I remember watching the 30 for 30 documentary where someone was talking about how Webber looked into a store seeing his name on a Wolverines jersey, where meanwhile if a fan wanted to take him out for a Big Mac at McDonald’s, he could lose a scholarship.

“Yes. Let alone or call his mom on her birthday. They don’t provide those services. Colleges that are trying to do right have to sneak behind doors and do this as if it was ‘Watergate’ or something. The thing is that these are services that should be provided for these young people.

First of all, the NCAA signs these kids to a four year scholarship and taking them away from their mother and father and their culture and their community. When mom and dad allow you take their son, they are under the impression that you are going to be responsible for them; that you would do for them the same thing that as a mother or father that they would do for their sons or daughters, but the NCAA says we will only do so much.

I understand that you have to have boundaries because you can’t overshoot the mark with this either. Yet at the same time, I think they haven’t an honest boundary for these kids. I am not talking about minorities; I am talking about all of them.

I don’t think you can just look at it from the perspective of an inner city kid who are coming and don’t have much. I don’t think that there is one rule that will fit all. You have to be smart enough. This is the governing body of the National Association of College Athletes. After all these years they should be smart enough to come up with something better than what they came up with in the last few weeks. They are basically in the same fundamental place that they were 10, 15, 20, 30 years ago which is not acceptable.”

Another thing that has changed a lot too is how truly International the game has become. It certainly was in your day too, but the glut of non-American talent seems to rise every year.[xxv] Did you have any European teammates?

“I did. That was about the start of it too. It certainly wasn’t as big as it is now. There were guys like Detlef Schrempf[xxvi] that I played against. Golden State had a few, L.A. had Vlade (Divac); there were a few.”

It is almost expected now that an NBA team will have at least one non-American. For a while, the Toronto Raptors had so many, that they were called “Team International” by a few of their fans.[xxvii] We also just had our first openly gay NBA player in Jason Collins.

“Which is a really interesting thing. I don’t think that it should matter, I really don’t. I don’t think that being gay is much of a major thing to the league. If you compare what occurred when the first African-American player came into the league, it was not the same statement. You’re not hiring a gay player; you are hiring a player to play Basketball.

This is not about being prejudiced towards homosexuality, but I think you have to be very careful when you start to promote certain things at certain levels. When you cross those different lines, the latter end can be something that is very tumultuous and can be very devastating to the very players and I pray to God that when they expose themselves to the world as to what their beliefs are, that they are doing this from a consciousness that this will not all be good.

This is not me saying that what they are doing is not good. Straight man, gay man, straight woman, gay woman; there are always repercussions for the choices that you make, but when you are a minority those choices cut deep.”

For you as an African-American, and I am going back to your early days dreaming of being a Chicago Blackhawk, there are now a few African-Americans in the National Hockey League. In fact, one of the top picks of the last NHL draft was Seth Jones, the son of Popeye Jones.[xxviii]

“Right. I did follow that. There have been more players in Hockey in ethnic background. We know that there haven’t been a lot in the past, or even now, that there haven’t been as many African-Americans in Hockey, because as we know, a lot of African-Americans don’t follow Hockey.”

If you look at the Montreal Canadians, their top player is P.K. Subban, who is African-Canadian, who won the Norris Trophy[xxix] last year and was a member of Team Canada, which won the Gold Medal at the Sochi Olympics. Also, like Basketball, Hockey has become more Europeanized, which is good for the sport overall.

Let’s say, hypothetically that you were the NBA Commissioner. What changes, if any, would you make in the NBA? Or, changing the question up, what would you like to see different as a fan in the next ten to fifteen years?

“Well you know, as a visionary, you have to think what you want the league to be five years, or ten years from now. For me, I would mix the best from the old and the new, and to do what I could to make it more competitive.

The most competitive time for the NBA literally is this time of year. When you have broken down everything, in the 80’s there were so many competitive teams.   There were so any teams in the East and West that were capable of winning a championship.

I think I would take the best of the 80’s, the 90’s, and the 2000’s and take the best from that; those who were historians who understood the game and played the game. In the 80’s, we became stars, and in the 90’s began to understand the social media aspect of the game, and in 2000’s that group put it all together. This group now has to a better job now of bringing in the next group along with some kind of foresight of what the league should be. It is not just up to the commissioner, but to the players as to how they want to form into it.”

How can your fans follow you?

http://www.cummingsentertainmentgroup.com is my entertainment website. My ministry website is http://hope-egeneto.com, and people can go there. It will be seven years pastoring in November.”

Congratulations!

“Thank you sir!”

Terry, thank you so much for your time!

“My pleasure.”



[i] Here are some links to some of Terry’s vocal performances: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v96YmS6nTQchttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKOB416A9j4
[ii] Admittedly, this question was inspired by one of our blogger’s columns: DDT’s Desert Island Playlists.
[iii] Olson had just come off a season where he finally turned the Iowa program around. They finished in first place in the Big Ten Conference that year.
[iv] UNLV made the Final Four in 1977, but missed the tournament the following five years. For chronological purposes, Cummings entered College in 1979.
[v] With all due respect to Rambis, statistical history shows Cummings as the better player in a career comparison.
[vi] Terry isn’t lying. In his rookie year in San Diego, he led the team in Points, Rebounds and Minutes per Game.
[vii] It needs to be noted that this interview was conducted BEFORE TMZ and later Deadspin.Com exposed the racist diatribe of Sterling, hence I did not ask him about this issue.
[viii] In Cummings’ first season with the Clippers, the team went 25 and 57. His second and final year as a Clipper, saw the team only marginally better at 30 and 52. The team would not have a winning record until the 1991-92 Season.
[ix] The lowest AP ranking that DePaul had while Cummings played there was 13. They entered the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed each year he was there too.
[x] Again this interview was before the comments of Sterling.
[xi] San Diego would not win their first game that season until their eight contest of the year.
[xii] James Worthy, who went number one in that draft, played 11 Minutes less per Game than Cummings in their rookie year.
[xiii] Cummings was traded with Ricky Pierce and Craig Hodges for Junior Bridgeman, Harvey Catchings, Marques Johnson and cash, in what proved to be another foolish trade by the Clippers. Cummings would have his best statistical seasons in Milwaukee as would Pierce and Hodges. Pierce would win the 6th Man of the Year twice in Milwaukee. As for the players the Clippers got, Bridgeman was 31 at the time of the trade and would only be in the NBA another three seasons. Catchings was 33 and only had one more season left in him. Johnson was still a good player and made an All Star team in his second year there, but he suffered a severe neck injury that effectively ended his career after playing only three seasons in Los Angeles.
[xiv] This is the YouTube Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7a3hZ4raBg
[xv] Seriously, it is way bigger. All-NBA reflects what you did for an entire season and has less “roster” spots.
[xvi] Cummings was traded there in May of 1989. Robinson and Sean Elliott were in their rookie seasons in 1989.
[xvii] To be fair, so was Baseball.
[xviii] This happened over a summer Pro-Am game in Chicago in 1992.
[xix] Full disclosure. I am a Raptors fan, and NEVER wanted to cheer for Carter after the way he left Toronto. I have to say, watching him in this selfless role has changed a lot of my perception of him, and many other Canadians feel that way too.
[xx] Spike Lee was one of the Producers.
[xxi] That role went to Dennis Haysbert, best known as President David Palmer in 24 and Pedro Cerrano in the Major League series of films.
[xxii] It was not that long ago when Kevin Durant was criticized for being an off season workout partner of LeBron James as an example.
[xxiii] The first year that Garnett, Allen and Pierce got together, they won a Championship with Boston in 2008.
[xxiv] This is the scene I am referring to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6mpHW3SMcc
[xxv] The best example of this in the 1992 Dream Team which everyone expected to run through the competition, which is exactly what they did. It was arguable the biggest “lock” in Olympic history. Twelve years later, Argentina won the Gold Medal. The Americans are still the favorites to win International competition, but it is far from the given it used to be.
[xxvi] He was also his teammate for 45 games in the 1996-97 Season.
[xxvii] Well, at least by me!
[xxviii] Popeye Jones had a twelve year career in the NBA.
[xxix] The Norris Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL’s top Defenceman.
Last modified on Friday, 09 September 2016 13:49
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