NCAA Championship finalist, NBA / CBA veteran and broadcaster, Michael Holton.
High School: Pasadena, California
Michael was a great player in high school. As a senior (1979), he averaged 27 points per game. He discusses his fondest memories of playing high school basketball. Fifteen years later – when Michael entered the coaching ranks – he’d reunite with his high school coach, George Terzian. Michael also talks about his decision to sign with the UCLA Bruins.
College: University of California Los Angeles
Years: 1979-80 – 1982-83 | Coaches: Larry Brown & Larry Farmer
Michael was a starter as a freshman and was named the Bruins’ outstanding first-year player. He recalls his initial fear of perhaps not being good enough to succeed on the next level – that fear was quickly allayed. After winning only eight of the first 14 games, the Bruins caught fire at the perfect time; steamrolling through the 1980 NCAA Tournament, all the way to the Championship Game versus the Louisville Cardinals. For perspective, here’s the list of teams that UCLA defeated and some of the big-time players Michael encountered:
In the 1980 Championship game, UCLA lost 59-54. The Cardinals were littered with future-NBA players: Darrell Griffith, Derek Smith, Rodney McCray & Jerry Eaves. Michael reflects on that amazing run to the final.
Holton’s freshman season was the senior year for Kiki VanDeWeghe – who went on to star in the NBA, notching-up seven seasons of 20-plus points per game in the 1980s – Michael talks about the importance influence of the Bruins’ junior and senior players.
As a sophomore in 1981 (outright) and junior in 1982 (tied with Ralph Jackson), Michael was named the Bruins’ Outstanding Team Player. UCLA made the second round of the 1981 NCAA Tournament, but missed the post-season in 1982. Former guests and friends of the show, Mark Eaton and Nigel Miguel, joined the Bruins around this time, too. Michael talks about the transition from (coaches) Larry Brown to Larry Farmer.
As a senior, Michael was named captain and led the team in free-throw percentage. His college career ended (1983) with a second-round exit to the Utah Utes. After reaching the title game as a freshman, Michael contrasts his feelings about exiting the tournament early (as a senior).
Michael’s opportunity to play in the NBA would have to wait one season. After Golden State waived him (October, 1983), he signed with the Coquis; the Continental Basketball Association’s (CBA) newly-minted expansion franchise. The Coquis made it to the playoffs, before bowing out to Phil Jackson’s Albany Patroons in the semi-finals.
Coaches: John MacLeod / Bobby Bowman (CBA) / Stan Albeck
In late September of 1984, Michael signed with the Phoenix Suns as a free agent – joining former Bruins teammates, Mike Sanders and Rod Foster. Holton recalls the step-up from Puerto Rico to the Suns. His Suns met the would-be NBA Champion, L.A. Lakers, in the first round (0-3) of the 1985 Playoffs. As he displayed throughout our chat, Michael has a great sense of humor, regaling his first taste of playoff basketball.
After a 0-4 start to season, Phoenix waived Holton. He returned to the CBA and played a key role – scoring 13 points – leading his CBA All-Star team to a 110-108 win over defending champs, Tampa Bay, in Florida. That was February 11, 1986. Michael details the wonderful background behind his meeting with the Chicago Bulls’ VP of Operations, Jerry Krause, moments after the aforementioned CBA game. Holton signed the first of two 10-day contracts with the Bulls – he’d later sign with the team for the rest of the season.
Michael Holton joined the Bulls franchise at a fascinating time in its history. Michael Jordan had broken his foot in just the third game of the season; he hoped to make an on-court return before season’s end. Holton’s future with the Bulls was largely dependent on Jordan’s injury rehabilitation. He shares unique insight into his early interactions with not only his new teammates, but his practice-court battles with a young Air Jordan.
We discuss the details behind this incredible promotional poster – Raging Bulls – that Michael appeared on.
When Michael was left off the Bulls’ (1986) post-season roster – to make way for Jawann Oldham – he accepted an offer to play overseas for the Great Taste Coffee Makers, in the Philippine Basketball Association. He enjoyed considerable success in a short span – including two 40-plus point games.
Michael signed as a veteran free agent with the Blazers, in August of 1986. He joined the team for its Summer League games in Los Angeles. In one of those games, he scored 37 points against his former team, the Phoenix Suns.
The Trail Blazers’ Mike Schuler, replaced the legendary Dr. Jack Ramsay. In his first season (1987) at the helm, Schuler led the Blazers to a 49-33 record – the best effort for a Portland team since the 1978 campaign – and won Coach of the Year honors.
Holton’s second season with the Blazers resulted in an even-better regular season (53-29). His responsibilities also increased significantly as he became a trusted part of the rotation. Michael discussed his increased role with the team and some of the all-time Blazer greats that he played with, including Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter.
Seasons: 1988-89 – 1989-90 | Team: Charlotte Hornets
As one of the (Blazers) players left unprotected for the (June 23, 1988) NBA Expansion Draft, Michael was picked by a new franchise – the Charlotte Hornets. He was selected sixth by the Hornets (12th overall), who alternated picks with the other new franchise – the Miami Heat. We chat about the build-up to the Hornets’ NBA debut and how the city at-large, immediately fell in love with the new franchise.
The new franchise’s amazing fans ensured that Charlotte Coliseum would be packed to the rafters. The Hornets led the league in attendance in eight of its first 10 seasons – they were in second place, the other two occasions.
Holton started at point-guard in Charlotte’s first 60 games and arguably had his best NBA season in 1989, averaging 8.3 points, 6.3 assists and one steal per game, in just over 25 minutes per contest.
Michael required back surgery prior to the start of the 1990 season. After an 8-32 start, Coach Harter was replaced by Gene Littles. He steered the team to an 11-31 finish, as the Hornets ended the season at 19-63. Holton only managed 16 games in total and didn’t return to the court until late February (1990). He talks openly about his recovery from surgery, watching from the sidelines as the team really struggled, and the franchise’s expectations of his return. Three days shy of the start to the 1991 season, Charlotte waived Michael.
Michael finished his playing career with stops in the CBA. First, with the Tulsa Fast Breakers and then, the expansion Tri-City Chinook. He reflects on how his on-court career played out, including his last attempt to make it back to the NBA.
Michael transitioned into coaching, not long after retiring as a player. Following stints in high school and two seasons with Oregon-based colleges, he returned to UCLA – this time as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. The team enjoyed great success (1996 through 2001). Michael talks about what it was like to return to the Bruins, almost 15 years after he left the school as a player.
We also talk about Michael’s tenure as head coach at the University of Portland. He left the Pilots in 2006, after five seasons. He shares his thoughts on leading the team and highlights from the journey. NBA great, Terry Porter – Holton’s former teammate on the Blazers – was recently named head coach at the University of Portland. We briefly talk about the task ahead of Terry, as the upcoming season approaches.
These days, Michael works for the Portland Trail Blazers’ broadcasting team. Recently, he teamed up with his former (UCLA and NBA) teammate, Mike Sanders, for a camp in the Czech Republic – part of the Michael Holton Basketball Academy. He talks about the importance of giving back to the community.
I ask Michael to recall “The Game I’ll Never Forget”. Our conversation concludes with a brief discussion about the significance of the jersey numbers that Michael wore throughout his career.
People mentioned in this episode, include: Sidney Green, John Paxson, Kyle Macy & Gene Banks.
Editor’s note: sign-up for the monthly newsletter – receive exclusive details on upcoming podcast episodes and future, high-profile guests to appear on the show.
I appreciate all feedback, FB Page ‘Likes’ and iTunes ratings / reviews.
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.
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”.
Mike discusses his multi-sport childhood and his decision to focus on basketball. His path to the NBA began at Clifford J. Scott High School. We chat about his tremendous tenure at George Washington University, where he starred academically (Criminal Justice) and athletically. Mike led the Colonials in scoring and rebounding, in each of his four seasons with the team. Between his junior and senior seasons, he participated in the 1984 US Olympic Trials at Indiana University. He shares his memories of those famous trials. We also talk about Mike’s relationship with Patrick Ewing, who played for the Georgetown Hoyas, just miles away from the George Washington campus.
We talk about the 1985 NBA Draft, one of the most talent-laden in the history of the game. The Chicago Bulls selected Mike in the third round (69th-pick overall). Following a season overseas (Italy), Brown returned to the Bulls, and played the 1987 and 1988 seasons with the team, alongside Michael Jordan and (a young) Scottie Pippen.
I also asked Mike about his memories of this famous move – he didn’t disappoint.
In June of 1988, the expansion Charlotte Hornets, selected Mike in the Expansion Draft, trading him to the Utah Jazz, for Kelly Tripucka.
The next five years of Mike’s career (1989-1993), were spent in Utah. The Jazz advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 1992, and we talk about the opportunities that opened for Mike, both on and off the court. He talks fondly about his time with the franchise and being teammates with John Stockton and Karl Malone. We also discuss the 1992 Olympic Games, where Mike traveled to Barcelona to watch four of his teammates (Jordan, Pippen, Stockton & Malone) win the gold medal for Team USA.
After the 1993 season, Mike was traded to Minnesota, in exchange for Felton Spencer. He talks about the adjustment of leaving a winning culture in Utah, to a franchise that was still searching for its identity. The last few seasons of Mike’s career, were with the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns. He also returned overseas for a second stint in Europe.
Mike also reflects on some of the great coaches he played for, including Doug Collins, Frank Layden and Jerry Sloan, to name a few.
Since his playing career ended, Mike has been involved in coaching at various levels, and is currently working for the NBA, in a player-development role. We round out the conversation, talking about Mike’s (Las Vegas) radio show, The Embracing Project and finally, his gold-medal success at the World Masters Games, here in Australia.
We didn’t get to cover this, however, it’s very cool and definitely worth a look. Mike is clearly a fan of vintage cars.
Little-known fact: Cedric was a ball-boy at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Ceballos went on to star at Ventura College, before playing his junior and senior seasons at Cal State Fullerton – where he was scouted by Jerry West – averaging better than 22 points & 10 rebounds per game.
Cedric discusses the 1990 NBA Draft, and his flurry of emotions, waiting to hear his name called. He was selected 48th overall, by the Phoenix Suns. Ced talks about his transition from college, and learning the game from veterans like Tom Chambers, Eddie Johnson & Dan Majerle.
Our conversation also uncovers the fascinating truth behind Dee Brown‘s victory – punctuated by his memorable, pumping-up of the Reebok shoes, and ‘Blind Dunk’ – in the 1991 Slam Dunk Competition.
Cedric won the 1992 contest, finishing with his famous ‘Hocus Pocus’ jam, dedicated to Magic Johnson. Few people know, that Cedric & Dee competed in a college dunk contest, at the Orlando All-Star Classic. 25 years later, prepare to hear the inside story that will change most of what you know about the history of the NBA’s 1991 Dunk Contest.
We break down the 1993 season. Paul Westphal was named as coach, the Suns traded for Charles Barkley and Cedric led the league in field-goal percentage (57.6). Phoenix steamrolled the league, en route to 62 wins and the number-one seed in the Playoffs. The Suns survived their first-round series against the upstart Lakers, with an overtime victory in the fifth and deciding game.
Injury hit Cedric at the worst possible time. He broke his foot during the 1993 Western Conference Finals; missing the NBA Finals against Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Chicago Bulls. He talks about the emotions of supporting his team from the sidelines.
We cover Cedric’s trade (September, 1994) from Phoenix to the L.A. Lakers, where he enjoyed NBA-career highs in scoring, rebounds and assists. Ceballos was named an All-Star, however, an incident with Dikembe Mutombo, days prior to the 1995 All-Star Game, led to Cedric missing the game due to injury. In a cruel twist of fate, Mutombo would receive his second All-Star nod.
Magic Johnson returned to the NBA during the 1996 season. Cedric talks about co-captaining the Lakers with Nick Van Exel, the impact of Magic’s return and how it felt to miss the opportunity to challenge for a title, playing alongside one of the all-time greats.
Cedric appeared in the iconic movie, Space Jam. We talk about his memories of the experience and the effect it continues to have on his life.
He also opens up about playing basketball inside The Jordan Dome – the purpose-built workout facility, constructed for Jordan’s use, during downtime around the filming of the movie.
During the 1997 season, Ceballos was traded back to Phoenix – the Suns were in turmoil, but Cedric and his (new) teammates turned the season around, steering the franchise into the Playoffs.
In the 1998 season, Cedric was traded to Dallas. He talks about the challenges of playing for a franchise that was fighting for relevancy. He speaks fondly of former-teammate, (Australia’s) Chris Anstey and a great victory the Mavs had over the rampaging Bulls, in March of 1998.
After his time with the Mavericks, he closed out his NBA career with stops in Detroit and Miami. He then played in various leagues around the USA, became a member of the Harlem Globetrotters and also headed overseas to play professionally.