Catching up with Michael Cage | 8/9/11

A wildly popular member of the Clippers, power forward Michael Cage was an inaugural member of the Los Angeles Clippers team that began play in L.A. in 1984 after relocating from San Diego. Selected by the Clippers with the 14th pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, Cage played the first four seasons of his 15-year NBA career in Los Angeles. The former San Diego State University star led the NBA in rebounding in 1987-88 after collecting a career-high 30 rebounds in the season’s final game. Known for his prolific work on the glass, “The Windexman” talked to about his time with the Clippers. Is it hard for you to believe that it has been over 25 years since the Clippers began play in Los Angeles?

Michael Cage: Very much so. I recently understood the magnitude of that, as a lot has changed for me personally and for the team. I spent my rookie season with the inaugural Los Angeles Clippers and I have a lot of great memories. I played with a lot of great veteran players during my tenure here. It was the best four years of my career.

Q: At San Diego State, how much did you follow the then-San Diego Clippers?

MC: I spent about 98.9 percent of my time following that team, and the reason it wasn’t 100 percent was because I had to go to class or I had a game myself. Our college team would scrimmage the Clippers in the summer. We had an open gym and I thought that was the ultimate playground basketball. I got to scrimmage against pros like Bill Walton, Tom Chambers and Terry Cummings. What I really took out of those scrimmages was that I learned to be physical around the basket. I learned techniques on how to rebound and that helped make me successful. It did not get any better than that for a college basketball player.

Q: At San Diego State, one of your basketball teammates was former Padres great and Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. How do you swing a baseball bat?

MC: I was real good at baseball, but I wasn’t as good of a contact hitter as Tony was. I was a power hitter who struck out a lot trying to hit the home run.

Q: Were you officially drafted by the San Diego Clippers or the L.A. Clippers?

MC: That is a great trivia question, and I even saw it on a sports trivia program one time. It said, ‘Name a San Diego Clipper who was drafted by the San Diego Clippers but never played for the San Diego Clippers.’ I was screaming, ‘Michael Cage.’ Myself and Lancaster Gordon were the two draft picks, and for me to be drafted by the Clippers -- after playing at San Diego State and finishing my college career as the school’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder -- in the first round, 14th overall, it just didn’t get any better. I was ecstatic.

Q: Why were you such a good rebounder?

MC: It wasn’t the most glamorous part of the game, but I figured a guy makes a living in basketball by being a scorer, a rebounder or a defender. I always knew I was a good defensive player and I was a good scorer in college – I was the only player in college that year to finish in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding – but when I went to the NBA I had to make a decision. I chose to score on a secondary basis after battling big guys, some of whom were mean, but I would watch them and watch what they did well. They all had a calling card. I had to decide what I wanted to master at this level and what my legacy could be. I knew it would be rebounding.

Q: Was that a difficult transition for you to make, because most players like to score, right?

MC: I thought I could control the game if I was good on the offensive glass and if I was good on the defensive glass. I would have to be reckoned with. I approached each game by pursuing the basketball. I knew I would get points if I mastered rebounding. It would also give me a chance to have longevity in this game.

Q: With the Clippers you played with a lot of great players. What did you like best being around those guys?

MC: I was lucky because as a rookie I was surrounded by so many older players. I was surrounded by mentors and I owe everything to guys like Marques Johnson, Junior Bridgeman, Norm Nixon, Harvey Catchings and Cedric Maxwell. They sat me down on the flights and they sat down with me after practices. Marques and Norm in particular were unbelievable. They were so wonderful and I was fortunate. I had a lot of veterans around me as a rookie.

Q: Heading into the final game of the 1987-88 season you had a chance to edge Charles Oakley and claim the NBA Rebounding Title. How did you manage to grab 30 rebounds in that last game to become the leagues leading rebounder?

MC: I showed up to for the last game of the year and there was a sign in my locker that read: ‘28 rebounds and you are the rebounding champion. You can do it Cage.’ I still don’t know who wrote it, but it inspired me. I knew I needed to answer the bell or fade to black. The Clippers had a tough year and there was a lot of hype about me possibly winning that title. My teammates and the fans were really into it. They cheered me walking down the tunnel at the old Sports Arena. We were playing Seattle and I geared myself for a long, physical night. I laced the boots up and rolled up my sleeves. I grabbed my lunch pail and put on my hard hat. I grabbed the game’s first eight rebounds as every time that ball came off the rim I was there. It was like that the whole night. Everyone was willing me on and when I did get a rebound, they put up an R on the scoreboard like when they put up a K for a pitcher in baseball. It was just beautiful.

Q: What have you been doing since your playing career ended?

MC: I worked a year with the Suns as a TV analyst. That is when I realized I wanted to pursue broadcasting over coaching. I also worked for the Memphis Grizzles as a color analyst for a couple of year, which was nice because I grew up in Memphis. Last year I worked for FSN West/Prime Ticket. I did pre and post-game shows for both the Clippers and the Lakers. I also have done a lot of college basketball games. I like the college circuit. Ultimately I want to work in the front office for a team. I like to be challenged.

Q: Your kids all play sports. How active are you in youth sports and the lives of young people in general?

MC: It starts with my family, which is everything to me. My wife Jodi and I have been married 12 years. We have three great kids in Alexis, who is 12; Michael Jr., who is 11; and Sydney, who is nine. They all play sports but one of the sports I really enjoy now is soccer. I love baseball too but Jodi was a college soccer player and she showed me the intricacies of the game.

Q: Do you play soccer now or are you strictly a spectator?

MC: I started to play in adult leagues when basketball ended. That has led to volunteer coaching with AYSO. Within the last couple of years I have gotten certified as a referee at the club level. I also have an investment partnership which keeps me real busy but I love to work with kids. I live in Orange County and I talk to a lot of kids about school and deliver a lot of anti-drug messages. I like to do that and I like to do motivational speaking.

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