Cleveland's High-Flying Forward
Joey Graham is a renaissance man.
Vying for a starting spot at small forward for the Cavaliers, the sixth-year man from Oklahoma State also plays the alto sax and is an aspiring chef – (his preference is Italian and French foods, and claims a mean chicken piccata). And when he’s not flying around the court or the kitchen, he might just be flying around in a single-engine Cessna 172.
The 6-7, 225-pound pilot insists that flying is in his blood, and he’s right. Graham’s father, Joe, was a fighter pilot in the Navy, flying jets off aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Mexico. His twin sons – Joey and Stephen – were destined to follow in his footsteps.
Both Graham brothers earned degrees in aviation management while starring for Oklahoma State hoops – simultaneously earning their FAA pilot’s license. It takes some aspiring pilots six months to a year to get in enough flight time and pass their written exams. It took the Grahams two-and-a-half months, and they each nailed their all-or-nothing FAA check ride tests on their first attempt.
As Joey continues to work his way into the rotation and Cleveland’s preseason rolls along, Cavs.com’s Joe Gabriele sat with the Wine and Gold’s resident aviator to talk about flying the friendly – (and sometimes not-so-friendly) – skies …
What type of plane did you learn to fly first?
Joey Graham: Well, I started flying Cessna 172’s, that was in the two years that I was playing at Oklahoma State. That’s what (twin brother, Stephen and I) trained on. And eventually, we moved multi’s and stuff like that.
We’re still working on our ratings – still working on other aircrafts, at the present moment.
Have you flown in Cleveland yet?
Graham: No, no. The weather here is ridiculous. Plus, basketball takes up a lot of time. So, there’s not a whole lot of time for flying right now.
When was the last time you flew?
Graham: Last summer.
That seems like a long time between flights. It can’t be ‘like riding a bike,’ right?
Graham: It is! (laughs) I always say that. It’s like telling a basketball player to come out here and shoot a free throw. They know the mechanics. If you’re right-handed, you shoot with your right hand. You know the lift and the arc. Same thing goes for the plane. You know how to start it, you check your gauges. You know how much throttle, how much yoke you need to use.
The hardest part is trying to land that bad boy. But once you have that down, it’s a cakewalk.
What can you tell us about the first time your dad took you and Stephen up?
Graham: (laughs) We were, I think, five or six years old. My dad took us up in Miami. He was out of the Navy – where he flew fighters on and off aircraft carriers. He got away from it, but then wanted to get back into flying, so he started flying Cessnas just for a hobby.
And he took us all up one day. We were in the back seat and the next thing you know, he did a dive or a steep turn or something and we threw up everywhere.
We were just cruising and he started making a hard right and a hard left and we’re looking out the window and then it all started coming out. Man!!
Did he make you guys clean it up?
Graham: No, he cleaned it up!
Have you ever had any dicey moments up there?
Graham: One time when I was going through training, I went up with the instructor and one of the fuses popped and there was smoke pouring out into the cockpit. I was just taking off – I wasn’t but maybe 1,000-2,000 feet up. And I started smelling something.
I think it was an avionics fuse, so it would have messed up our gauges – altitude, all kind of stuff. But I went through my procedures and came back in and landed it. We went in and checked it out and it was a busted fuse.
How long have you been flying?
Graham: (Since) my junior year. So I’ve been flying since then. That’s what – over six years.
How difficult was it to balance that schedule in college?
Graham: It was actually tough. We‘d get up, have (basketball) practice early in the morning – we’d come in and do our conditioning. Then, we’d go and fly right after that. I’d go and get my flight out of the way. Then I’d go through all my classes – weather, meteorology, history of aviation. And then I’d come back and go to practice again. Then I’d go up and have a night flight. And I’d do this every day.
I didn’t sleep. But I was young. I didn’t need much sleep back then.
With the fatal plane crash that took one-third of Oklahoma State’s team just one year before you got there, was the staff reluctant to let you fly?
Graham: (The crash) was actually the year before I got there. That was a big deal. Everyone felt that. But it didn’t deter me from flying, because I’ve always had that passion and that dream of getting up there and flying a plane.
The coach was a little skeptical about us going to pursue that and he was actually mad at our academic advisor for putting us in aviation. But it was something that I always wanted to do. He didn’t like it, but I told him, it’s in my blood.
After we got our licenses, I asked him if he wanted to go up. But he was like, ‘No, no. And I don’t want you taking any of your teammates up, either.’
What’s it like when you take your dad up?
Graham: The first time I took him up, he took the controls. And the way you’re supposed to do it is the chain of command. And the chain is ‘Pilot’ and ‘Co-Pilot’ – and when you transfer over, you say, ‘Change of command.’ But he just grabbed the yoke and said, ‘Lemme show you something!’ and I was like, ‘Come on, man. These aren’t the same type of fighters that you flew! Y’all had a stick, we got a yoke now!’
Does he still fly?
Graham: No, he doesn’t fly anymore. He lives vicariously through us. So when we get back up there, he’ll get back up there.
Joe Gabriele is the official beat writer for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Cavs.com. You can follow Joe and send him your questions on Twitter at @CavsJoeG.