This episode continues our coverage of the 1986-87 NBA season. We encourage your interaction. Feel free to suggest specific games, moments and events from within the season, for us to cover in future episodes of the series. Thanks for taking the time to listen to the show. If you enjoy the content, please share it with your friends!
Tune in to hear this and plenty more, as we uncover some hidden gems from the NBA’s golden era.
We cover a wide range of topics. You’ll soon learn why Adam is a true Phoenix Suns ‘Super Fan’. When he was a young boy, the Suns were Phoenix’s only professional sports team. We chat about the 1976 season and the Suns’ improbable first trip to the NBA Finals. That 1976 team was lovingly referred to as the ‘Sunderella Suns’. Earlier this year, Tom Leander released a fantastic documentary – of the same name – devoted to the 40th anniversary of that iconic squad [Part I | Part II].
Our main topic of discussion, focuses on how the Suns franchise was rebuilt from the ground-up, throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, culminating with their 1993 NBA Finals appearance. We cover some of the off-court issues that plagued the team during the 1980s, then discuss the tragic death of promising Suns center, Nick Vanos. Plus, Adam has a great story about the 1988 NBA Draft and the aftermath of the Suns selecting Dan Majerle. It wouldn’t be a conversation about the Phoenix Suns, if we didn’t chat about Tom Chambers‘ insane jam over Mark Jackson.
In November, 1990, Adam sat next to photographers, near the basket support at Memorial Coliseum, to watch the visiting Chicago Bulls – who went on to win the 1991 NBA Finals – take on the Phoenix Suns. He talks about his unique view and memories of that game. The Suns continued to strengthen their roster and all the pieces fell into place, when they traded for Charles Barkley, not long after the 1992 NBA Finals. We talk about the 1993 post-season. Phoenix narrowly escaped a first-round humiliation to the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. Paul Westphal boldly predicted the Suns would win in five games, which they did. We then discuss the 1993 NBA Finals and how the Suns worked their way back into the series, after losing their first two (home) games at America West Arena.
As per usual, the conversation is scattered with humor and plenty of insight. A must-listen, for die-hard NBA fans, regardless of the team you support.
High School: William E. Grady Career and Technical, New York
As a young boy, Rolando moved from Panama to New York. We discuss his successful transition to a new country and how he managed to learn – then master – a second language, all from just the age of eight.
To this point, Rolando’s sporting love was football (soccer). After two years of struggling to find others who shared his love of the game, he began to take an interest in basketball, courtesy of his soon-to-be mentor, Ted Gustus. What followed was a transformation from “a kid who couldn’t play…a kid who was throwing the ball away”, to being named one of the city’s top high-school players. Perseverance, passion and focus was paramount. Three times (seventh, eighth and ninth grade) Blackman was cut from his high-school team, before making his breakthrough and fast becoming one of the state’s finest players.
College: Kansas State University
Years: 1977-78 – 1980-81 | Coach: Jack Hartman
We chat about Rolando’s decision to attend Kansas State University. He had upwards of 200 offers from schools across the country. For three of his four college seasons, Rolando was teammates with friend of the show, Ed Nealy. As a junior, the Wildcats made it to the NCAA Tournament, before bowing out (second round) with a two-point loss to eventual champions, the Louisville Cardinals. Individually, Blackman had a fantastic season, being named Big 8 (now Big 12) Player of the Year and 3rd-Team All-American.
Following his junior season, Rolando was invited to the Olympic trials (May, 1980) in Kentucky. Upwards of 50 nations – USA included – boycotted the (July) Games, protesting the Soviet’s invasion of Afghanistan. Whilst researching for my conversation with Rolando, I discovered that (his) Team USA participated in exhibition games – dubbed the ‘Gold Medal Series‘ – against teams of NBA stars, culminating in a match-up against the 1976, gold medal-winning U.S. Olympians. Rolando reflects on the trials, the exhibitions that followed and the moment he realized he was one of the nation’s elite players.
As a senior at Kansas State, Rolando’s buzzer-beating, second-round heroics, helped advance his Wildcats, deep into the NCAA Tournament – ultimately making a trip to the 1981 Elite Eight. It’s widely agreed that his game-winner versus Oregon State – along with U.S. Reed and John Smith’s same-day buzzer beaters – solidified the term, ‘March Madness‘.
Coaches: Dick Motta, John MacLeod & Richie Adubato
Rolando joined the expansion Dallas Mavericks, after just their first season in the NBA. They went 15-67 before he entered the scene. The team improved markedly in his first-two seasons with the Mavericks. He talks about the transition from being a college standout, to steering a fledgling team in the NBA.
I refer to my conversation with another friend of the show, Dale Ellis, when I ask Rolando to recall the franchise’s first (series) victory in the 1984 NBA Playoffs. It culminated in a crazy finish to the fifth-and-deciding first-round game versus the Seattle SuperSonics. The game was played at Moody Coliseum, due to Reunion Arena’s already-existing booking to host a WCT (tennis) tournament. Dallas won the game in overtime, not before both teams were ushered back from the dressing rooms, to play out the final second on the clock – which didn’t start, the first-time around. The game is known as ‘Moody Madness‘.
Rolando Blackman’s passion for life, is perhaps best demonstrated in the 1987 NBA All-Star Game. In the final three seconds of the fourth quarter, down two points, he drove strong to the hoop, as a contingent of Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan tried to stop him. A foul was called, just before the time expired. Blackman stood alone, needing to make both free-throws, to force an overtime session. Rolando details his mindset on the final moments of regulation, the ensuing shots from the charity stripe and how he dealt with the countless distractions – most notably, Magic Johnson‘s attempts to limit Isiah’s incessant trash-talking. As you may expect, we also deep-dive into Rolando’s famous exclaim – “Confidence, Baby, confidence!” – one of the NBA’s most-memorable moments ever.
2017 marks the 30th anniversary of that game. Rolando also discusses his opinion of Tom Chambers‘ All-Star Game MVP honors. Speaking of All-Star Games, we chat about the 1986 contest, played at Dallas’ Reunion Arena. Rolando talks about being the Mavericks’ sole on-court representative.
It wouldn’t be a conversation about the 1980s Dallas Mavericks, if we didn’t cover the team’s battles against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Mavericks extended the World Champion Lakers, to seven games in the 1988 Western Conference Finals.
From 1988 through 1992, the Mavericks were coached by John MacLeod and then, Richie Adubato. The franchise began a decline that would bottom out, the year after Blackman left the team. Rolando candidly discusses the series of events which led to the franchise’s lowest era to date.
Seasons: 1992-93 – 1993-94 | Team: New York Knicks
In June of 1992, the Mavericks traded Rolando to New York. Instead of playing for Dallas’ 11-71 (1993) squad, he was a member of the mighty New York Knicks – a franchise set to seriously challenge the Chicago Bulls’ quest for a third-straight NBA title. We chat about Rolando’s move to New York and his thoughts on the trade.
The 1994 season is one of my all-time favorites. The league was in transition, with the then-retired Michael Jordan, playing baseball. The Houston Rockets and (Blackman’s) New York Knicks were poised to make the leap to the NBA’s elite. After disposing of the New Jersey Nets in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, en route to the NBA Finals, the Knicks went to seventh-and-deciding-games, in the next-three series – versus, Chicago, Indiana & Houston. Rolando shares his thoughts on the end of his NBA career, plus, talks about his decision to finish his playing days with international stints in Greece and Italy.
After retiring as player, Rolando would return to Dallas. In the early 2000s, he was a Player Development Coach for the Mavericks. These were crucial years in the development of future Hall of Famer, Dirk Nowitzki. Rolando talks about how closely he worked – and scrimmaged – with a young Dirk.
Within the decade, Rolando also coached internationally. In the 2006 season, he was an assistant coach to Avery Johnson, as the Mavericks made it to the NBA Finals. We discuss his future ambitions within the sport of basketball.
In 2000, the Mavericks retired his famous #22 jersey. Then, in 2007, Kansas State retired his #25 jersey. In 2015, Blackman was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
I ask Rolando – though it’s almost a certainty we’d know what he’d pick – to recall “The Game I’ll Never Forget”. Our conversation concludes with a quick chat about the significance of his jersey numbers.
High School All-American, NIT Champion, Film Producer & Actor, Nigel Miguel.
High School: Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks), California
As a child, Nigel moved from Central America to California. We talk about his role models as a youngster, before transitioning into his high-school career, where, as a senior, he led his team to a 19-5 record, en route to winning the Del Rey League Championship. He was named a 1981 McDonald’s All-American, in the famous class that included Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin. He discusses the tremendous opportunities that afforded him, including a crucial role in the USA’s gold-medal win at the 1981 Albert Schweitzer Tournament (often referred to as the Mini-Basketball World Cup, or Junior Olympics).
College: University of California Los Angeles
Years: 1981-82 – 1984-85 | Coaches: Larry Farmer & Walt Hazzard
Nigel played four seasons at UCLA. As a freshman, he was teammates with future Utah Jazz great – and friend of the show – Mark Eaton. In his sophomore season, Nigel’s Bruins made it the NCAA Tournament. He talks about the joy of making it to the tournament, coupled with the disappointment of a first-game exit.
In his junior and senior years, Nigel paired with all-time great, Reggie Miller. Prior to his last season with the team, Walt Hazzard – a player on John Wooden’s first NCAA Championship team – took the helm as UCLA coach. We discuss his lasting impact on Nigel and the team.. Miguel ended his Bruins career in style, scoring an equal game-high, 18 points, as UCLA won the 1985 NIT Championship, at the famed Madison Square Garden.
Date: June 18 | Location: New York | Pick: 62 (Round 3) | Team: New Jersey Nets
We talk about the lead-up to the draft, including team interviews that Nigel undertook, and, his one-on-one workout with the legendary Jerry West, on the court at the Great Western Forum.
CBA / NBA career | Years: 1985-86 – 1986-87
Season: 1985-86 | Team: La Crosse Catbirds
Coach: Ron Ekker
After being the last player cut from the New Jersey Nets’ training camp, Nigel signed with Wisconsin’s new CBA franchise, the La Crosse Catbirds. He talks about his fondness for that season, where he was named to the league’s All-Rookie team, averaging more than 17 points per game. Miguel was runner-up to future NBA All-Star, Michael Adams, for Rookie of the Year. The Catbirds made it to the 1986 CBA Championship series, before losing out to (former podcast guest) Ed Nealy and his Tampa Bay Thrillers.
Continued interest from the New Jersey Nets (and L.A. Lakers), led to Nigel’s return to (Nets) training camp, in anticipation of a roster spot for the 1986-87 NBA season. He talks about the seemingly-innocuous ‘tweak’ of his ankle, during a lead-up game. That quickly led to an inner-monologue: “My foot is on the ground…but I don’t feel anything”. He’d fractured his heel bone and damaged his Achilles tendon.
NBA veteran, Buck Williams, helped Nigel put his injury into context – offering suggestions on how to overcome the disappointment of having his professional career, seemingly reach an abrupt end.
Entertainment: Commercials, television, movies and more
After commencing rehabilitation for the 1987-88 NBA season, Nigel lost the desire to compete at the highest level, making a conscious decision to pursue other opportunities. His love for the entertainment industry, went as far back as high school – he attended classes with peers who had connections (family and otherwise) with the entertainment industry.
Miguel’s attorney helped connect Nigel with an agent and key members of the entertainment industry. Not long after, Dennis Hopper – recognizing the former-Bruins player – struck up a conversation with Miguel. Within an hour, Nigel was offered his first movie role, in Colors (1988). Future roles included the TV series, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper (1992) and movies, White Men Can’t Jump (1992), Blue Chips (1994) and the iconic Space Jam (1996), where Miguel appears on-screen and off; he was Basketball Technical Advisor.
We chat about his crucial involvement in the behind-the-scenes running of the legendary Jordan Dome, where Michael Jordan took part in amazing pick-up games – including Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson, Dennis Rodman & Jack Haley – during production of the film.
Nigel also details what it was like to be Michael Jordan’s ‘body double’ for seven years.
Mitchell reflects on his outstanding high school career. From 1987 to 1989, he was named the Southern Section Small Schools Division, Player of the Year. In 1988, he led Oakwood to the (Liberty League) Division Championship, notching an astonishing 47 points, 19 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks, in his team’s 61-60 victory. We talk about his 1988 quarterfinal game, where he tallied a staggering 50, of his team’s 55 points, in an eight-point win (55-47).
In November of 1988 – in the early-signing period ahead of his senior year at high school – Mitchell signed a letter of intent with the UCLA Bruins. He discusses how heavily he was recruited and what led him to ultimately choose the Bruins.
Mitchell also talks about his 1989 (Third Team) All-American selection.
College: University of California Los Angeles
Years: 1989-90 – 1992-93 | Coach: Jim Harrick
At the time of recording our conversation, Mitchell ranked sixth all-time, in total games played (130) for the UCLA Bruins. Whilst researching for our chat, I discovered that in the last warm-up game (November, 1989) prior to his freshman season, Butler’s Bruins played against my fellow countrymen, the Australian Boomers. UCLA defeated the Aussies, 80-68, at Pauley Pavilion.
Mitchell played in the NCAA Tournament, in each of his four seasons. We chat about his freshman campaign, where he made it to the Sweet Sixteen, against Duke – the eventual National Finalists (who lost to UNLV). As a sophomore, Butler started almost every game, before the Bruins were upset by Penn State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. We discuss how close Mitchell came to transferring from UCLA after that second season. UCLA made it to the Elite Eight, in 1992, before losing out to Calbert Cheaney and his Indiana Hoosiers. Though it was a disappointing end to the season, Mitchell won his team’s Player Improvement Award, due to his all-around play and positive mental attitude. As a senior, he was named team captain and also enjoyed (arguably) his best season as a Bruin, with 9.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. We cover UCLA’s near-upset of Michigan’s Fab Five, in a classic, second-round overtime game, in the 1993 NCAA Tournament.
Individually, Mitchell’s best NBA seasons were his first two in the league, averaging almost eight points and three rebounds, in just 19 minutes per game. We cover his first stint with Washington and links to Australian legend – and former podcast guest – Andrew Gaze. Butler twice scored an NBA-career high of 26 points. Mitchell describes the feeling of being ‘on fire’.
Thanks to a tip-off from great friend of the podcast, JimMcIlvaine, I ask Mitchell about his acting career. We briefly discuss his roles in Blue Chips (1994) & Rebound: The Legend of Earl ‘The Goat’ Manigault (1996). Mitchell talks about his involvement with Space Jam (1996), however, his scenes were ultimately cut from the movie.
Season: 1996-97 | Team: Portland Trail Blazers
Coach: P.J. Carlesimo
Prior to the 1997 season, Washington traded Mitchell (along with Rasheed Wallace) to Portland, in return for Harvey Grant and Rod Strickland. We talk about Mitchell’s thoughts on the deal. Butler made it to the playoffs for the first time in his NBA career – playing limited minutes in a four-game series loss to the L.A. Lakers. He talks about how it felt to be part of a playoff team.
Mitchell signed as a free agent with Cleveland. Barely a month into the season, he suffered significant neck and shoulder problems, leading to surgery. He talks about the impact the injury had on his career, and how he dealt with news that he’d miss the rest of the season.
Following the lockout-shortened 1999 season, Butler wouldn’t return to the NBA until the 2001-02 campaign. During that gap in his NBA résumé, he headed overseas and played in Lithuania, before returning home and playing in the American Basketball Association (not related to the original ABA, I should add).
Season: 2001-02 | Team: Portland Trail Blazers
Coach: Maurice Cheeks
Mitchell returned to the Trail Blazers franchise, signing as a free agent. He discusses what it was like to be back in the NBA and how his second time with the team, differed so much to his 1997 season.
Prior to his final season in the NBA, Mitchell was a key member of the Continental Basketball Association’s (CBA) Yakima Sun Kings. His team won the 2003 Championship. He reflects fondly on his time in the league.
Season: 2003-04 | Team: Washington Wizards
Coach: Eddie Jordan
Butler closed out his NBA-playing career, returning to suit up for the Washington Wizards. We chat about his final season, what opportunities presented themselves and whether he could have played on, beyond 2004.
Mitchell featured in a number of Top 10 Plays on NBA Action. I asked him to choose his favorite move and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
I ask Mitchell to recall “The Game I’ll Never Forget”. In a first for the podcast, he shares three-memorable games – one each from high school, college and the NBA.
We discuss Mitchell’s career in basketball since he retired as a player. He’s been involved in various roles, most recently, accepting a position as a sports agent at Jackson Management Group (owned by Phil Jackson‘s son, Charles).
Our conversation rounds out with a quick chat about the significance of Mitchell’s jersey numbers.
Kansas State Wildcats standout and 10-year NBA veteran, Eddie Nealy.
[Note: whilst mostly known as ‘Ed’, I refer to him throughout, as Eddie]
High School: Bonner Springs, Kansas
Eddie’s father was his high school basketball coach. He describes what it was like to have his dad calling the shots. The main focus was an emphasis on developing the fundamentals of his game. This would prove vital, as Nealy’s longevity at the highest level was due in no small part, to his tireless work ethic and mastery of hustle.
College: Kansas State University
Years: 1978-79 – 1981-82 | Coach: Jack Hartman
Nealy was a two-time Academic All-American, largely recruited by two schools – Yale and Kansas State. He talks about the reasoning behind his decision to play for the Wildcats. We also chat about a major role that he played in a fantastic game, in his freshman season. He hit crucial free throws to seal victory in the closing seconds.
Eddie’s Wildcats made it to the NCAA Tournament, in three of his four college seasons. In 1981, they advanced to the Elite Eight. I ask Eddie to talk about some key memories from his time at Kansas State, which also included an oversea tour to Japan, prior to senior season. Nealy left college with averages of 10.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. For three of those seasons, he was teammates with the great Rolando Blackman. We cover his recollections of teaming with the future, four-time NBA All-Star.
Date: June 29 | Location: New York | Pick: 166 (Round 8) | Team: Kansas City Kings
We talk about Eddie’s draft-day whereabouts and how he first heard the news that he was an NBA draftee. He also reflects on what it meant to be selected by his home-state team.
NBA / CBA career | Years: 1982-83 – 1992-93
Seasons: 1982-83 – 1984-85 | Team: Kansas City Kings
Coaches: Cotton Fitzsimmons, Jack McKinney & Phil Johnson
Along with (former podcast guest) Eddie Johnson, Nealy played all 82 regular-season games in his rookie season. He recalls some memories from his first year in the league.
The following year – his first trip to the post-season – Eddie’s Kings lost to eventual NBA Finalists, the L.A. Lakers. Nealy talks about his experiences playing the might of the L.A. Lakers.
After missing most of the Kings’ (1984-85) training camp, Eddie was released, signing on with the Continental Basketball Association’s (CBA) Sarasota Stingers – for part of the 1984-85 season – before signing as a free agent and returning to the Kansas City Kings, in late February, 1985. Following the Kings’ off-season relocation to Sacramento, Nealy was released by the team. He returned to the CBA and was a member of the 1986 CBA Champion, Tampa Bay Thrillers, led by Bill Musselman. Eddie fondly recalls his experiences playing in the CBA.
Seasons: 1986-87 – 1987-88 | Team: San Antonio Spurs
In mid-July, 1986, Nealy signed as a free agent with the San Antonio Spurs. He played with the team for two seasons. These days (2015), Eddie resides in Texas. We talk about his playing days in San Antonio and what it could have been like to play with David Robinson. Eddie also reflects on some former San Antonio teammates.
Season: 1988-89 | Teams: Chicago Bulls / Phoenix Suns
Prior to the 1989 season, Nealy signed as a free agent with the Chicago Bulls. He played 13 games in his first stint as a Bull, before Chicago traded him to Phoenix (mid-December), in exchange for Craig Hodges. Eddie talks about the move to Chicago and how he responded to hearing news of a trade to the Valley of the Sun. He also recalls a great story from the Bulls’ practice court, involving him and Michael Jordan.
In October, 1989, Phoenix traded Eddie back to Chicago. He was a Bull for the second time. We discuss what he was thinking, when he learnt he was headed back to the Windy City. Nealy played a pivotal role in Chicago’s playoff run. We reminisce about Game 4 of the 1990 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals – Chicago at Philadelphia. Eddie had a terrific performance, scoring 9 points and pulling down 9 rebounds. Jordan torched the Sixers for 45 points. Nealy and Jordan were interviewed by Jim Gray (CBS), post-game.
Season: 1990-91 – 1991-92 | Team: Phoenix Suns
Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons
Before the 1991 season, Eddie signed with Phoenix as a free agent. He played with the Suns for two seasons – an exciting team, with a very-promising future. We talk about his return to Phoenix.
Season: 1992-93 | Teams: Golden State Warriors / Chicago Bulls
Nealy was waived by Phoenix (early November, 1992), signing with the Warriors, later that same month. He played 30 games in Golden State, before – with the help of Don Nelson – they traded him back to Chicago, for his third stay as a member of the Bulls. After the regular season, the Bulls placed Eddie on the inactive roster. We discuss his memories of the 1993 season, his involvement with the team and how he felt, watching from the sidelines – particularly, when John Paxson launched his famous three-point shot that sealed Chicago’s 1993 NBA Championship.
I ask Eddie to recall “The Game I’ll Never Forget”.