[Editors Note: this is the second part of our interview with basketball great Len Elmore. In this section, Elmore talks Kobe, LeBron and how Jeremy Lin got it right.]
KW: Rod Williams says: In your day, the NBA only drafted college underclassmen as hardship cases. I think what is overlooked in the success of Jeremy Lin is that he had stayed in college which afforded him an opportunity to study the game while his mind and body matured.
LE: The term “hardship” was a fallacy and a work of art, since there was no filter through which the league would determine whether or not someone was really a hardship case. You wouldn’t believe how many guys from middle-class backgrounds left school early because they wanted the money. That being said, I do believe staying in college for 4 years obviously allows one to develop fundamental skills. What’s lost on so many of the young kids who come out early nowadays with tremendous athletic talent, with what the pros call a big “upside,” is that they still need to develop the fundamental base in order to build into an extraordinary talent. As extremely talented as Lebron James is physically, he still lacks certain fundamentals that might be exposed when his body starts to betray him, if ever. The flip side of that is Kobe Bryant who is so fundamentally sound. He’s more of an anomaly.
KW: That might because he was taught by his dad who played in the NBA. Did you go up against Joe Bryant back in the day?
LE: Yeah, I played against Jellybean.
KW: Rod was also wondering what you thought of Secretary of Education and Harvard Alum Arne Duncan’s recent performance in the NBA Celebrity Game?
LE: Unfortunately, I missed it, but my wife and younger son watched it and they were impressed. Arne was a great player in college. As a matter of fact, I was in law school at the same time he was playing for Harvard as an undergrad. I got to scrimmage with him a little bit back then, since I was trying to stay in shape during my retirement. So I know firsthand just how good a player he is. He still plays with President Obama, and I’m sure the game of basketball remains his first love.
KW: What does Jeremy Lin mean to the NBA?
LE: He’s a terrific story for the league at a time it’s trying to recover its fan base and viewership in the wake of the lockout. He’s generating a lot of excitement and bringing new people in who might not have been following the NBA. But whether this level of excitement will last, remains to be seen.
KW: Lowery Gibson says: Mr. Elmore, you played at a time when the game was bigger that the sum of its players, even with the superstars of your time. He asks: does the sport still feel the same to him?
LE: In all honesty, I’m not nearly as much of a fan of the NBA as I was maybe 10 or 15 years ago, or certainly as I was when I was a player. It’s become more entertainment focused, and less focused on the purity of the game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just not my cup of tea. One of the reasons why I enjoy college basketball a little more is because of its team orientation as opposed to individual orientation. I’ve always been taught that basketball is a team game and greater than the sum of its parts. So, Lowery, you hit on something.
KW: Patricia Turnier: A lot of kids think that they can become a superstar athlete without an education. Very few are aware of the financial problems many pros encounter after they retire. You managed successfully to have other careers after your NBA days. How did college prepare you for your post-graduate career? What message do you have for today’s youth about financial security?
LE: Getting a well-rounded education and developing a love of learning that hopefully will continue to last my lifetime certainly helped prepare me to understand what’s coming at me in this world and to adapt. I can’t say there was one thing in particular that helped prepare me for life beyond basketball except for the exposure to college and that laboratory, if you will, that allows us to learn who and what we are, and to be able to utilize that knowledge in real life. I’m concerned that young people today, far too often, abdicate their responsibilities of learning and adapting and give that over to people who may not always have their best interests at heart. And without a well-rounded education, they get into trouble if they don’t have the skills or the resources to overcome the issues that present themselves. That’s a big problem today. I also recognize that when I played, we didn’t get paid anything close to what these guys get paid today. So, I knew, despite playing in the NBA, that I would have to prepare for another career or vocation for when my playing days were over, in order to maintain relevancy. I didn’t want to become known for what I used to do.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
LE: I see a person who has achieved many goals that he set for himself, and who didn’t allow a few setbacks to interfere with his love of life. And I see a person who is a good husband and a good father, and who will hopefully leave a legacy for my sons to be the same.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
LE: How my mother and father stressed education and always made sure we had a place to study and books to read.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
LE: I’d like to be remembered as somebody who persevered, who in many ways overcame, who recognized the importance of giving back, particularly to our youth, and as someone who tried to reach back and to catapult the next generation beyond him.
KW: Well, thanks again for the interview, Len. Much appreciated.
LE: Thanks, Kam. Take care.
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