Catching up with Terry Cummings | 11/28/11

Terry Cummings was a prolific scorer during his time in the NBA. A veteran of 18 NBA seasons, Cummings scored at least 17 points per game in each of his first 10 seasons and finished his career with nearly 20,000 points while also seeing action in 110 playoff games.

Cummings, a power forward, started his NBA career with the Clippers in 1982. He was 21 years old as a rookie and the DePaul University product then scored 23.7 points per contest. He was originally the second overall selection in the 1982 NBA Draft (James Worthy went to the Lakers at No. 1 and Dominique Wilkins was tabbed by Atlanta third overall).

The Chicago-born Cummings played his first two seasons in San Diego. While in San Diego - the Clippers moved to Los Angeles prior to the 1984-85 campaign - Cummings led the club in scoring both seasons.

Later excelling for both the Milwaukee Bucks (1984-89) and the San Antonio Spurs (1989-95), Cummings in 1992 suffered a serious knee injury during a pick-up basketball game. He later made brief stops with five other teams, including Milwaukee again, and concluded his NBA career in 1999-00 with Golden State.

How do you look back upon your two years with the San Diego Clippers?

Terry Cummings: The two years I played with the Clippers starting in 1982 were very pivotal years because that was the first time I really and truly left home, after playing high school ball and college ball in Chicago. Getting drafted by the San Diego Clippers put me as far away from Chicago as you can be and it forced me to grow up a lot quicker. When I came to the Clippers, I came to a team that was full of veterans who were on the other end of their careers and where I learned a lot. All in all, it was a great environment.

How do you evaluate your skills when you were first entering the NBA?

TC:  You don’t really have a choice because you are playing against the best players in the world every night. In college, you could have an off-day by playing a team that is not as well suited to play against you. Our teams at DePaul University were top ranked pretty much every year I played there. We would play against a lot of unranked schools, but in the NBA there are no off-days.

The thing that prepared me for the NBA more than anything is that I started playing against pros when I was 16 or 17 in the Pro-Am league in Chicago. By the time I got to the NBA, a lot of the kids that I had been playing against in the summer were now in the league, so I would be playing against them four or five times a year depending on the playoffs.

The Clippers enjoyed more wins your second season than in your rookie year.  Did you see things improving at that time going forward?

TC: Yes. I felt that the organization was moving forward and I was in a very difficult position at the end of that second year. The first year I played for Paul Silas and the second year it was Jim Lynam. It was ironic because [Lynam] coached the St. Joseph team that upset [DePaul] one year in the NCAA Tournament, and then he wound up coaching me in the pros. Jim was definitely different from Paul. Paul created a total pro atmosphere. Jim created a college atmosphere. It was his first time coaching at the NBA level, and even though I had only been in the NBA one year, I knew it wasn’t NBA type stuff.

In the NBA there is a level that you want your players to practice and play at day-in and day-out, and as a coach you have to decide how to balance that along with the fact that the season is long and players get hurt. You have to make the players fully aware of what the strategies are without killing themselves every day in practice.

Even with Jim as the coach, all and all it was a great experience because I had to really learn to balance myself and my emotions because I was very passionate about the game and I am still passionate now.

Can you talk about some of the guys you played with back then with the Clippers?

TC: There were a lot of great guys on the team. Swen Nater, Greg Kelser, Richard Anderson, Craig Hodges, Ricky Pierce, Derrick Smith, Randy Smith, and of course Bill Walton. You never forget Bill once you meet him. Norm Nixon was my point guard my second year. My first year, the point guard was Lionel Hollins, who is coaching the Memphis Grizzlies now. There were a lot of great players, and the Clippers have always had a history of great talent - I know I didn’t mention half of the names that I probably should have. I thought that the Clipper organization put around me some of the best players and athletes that were in the league at that time.

Why do you think the Clippers traded you?

TC: Well, I asked them to. I have a rough time losing. Playing at DePaul, we lost six games in three years. I lost six games with the Clippers in the first couple weeks of the season.  I was having a really rough time, period. I think part of me wanted to move somewhere to learn the next level of the NBA game.

In all actuality, I went into [Donald] Sterling’s office and asked him to trade me. There wasn’t any animosity. I told him I had a dream, and the dream I saw was to play for the Milwaukee Bucks and I wanted to be traded there. I felt like I needed to do something different for myself. He said he would not trade me, but a week later I was traded to the Bucks.

In your first 10 NBA seasons you averaged at least 17 points per game.  Did scoring coming naturally to you?

TC: Yes. Offensively, I always had a knack to be able to score with my left or right hand, inside or outside. I have always known how to score and I have always been tenacious in getting to the basket in some kind of way. Even when I didn’t have the ball - wrestling, pushing, shoving, just getting myself in a good position for an offensive rebound.

Growing up in the inner-city of Chicago, the offensive players got all the love so you had to have an offensive game. For me, I had to have a complete game. My high school coach Horace Howard set me straight.

He told me, “Son, if you want to be good at anything, you have to become a student of it.”

So I went to the library and I checked out all the books I could find on the history of basketball. I went as far back as Naismith and I learned about the African-American barnstorming team called the Renaissance. I learned the history of the game before I truly learned to play the game, and I learned a lot of respect for it.

What was the highlight of your career?

TC: I don’t know that there is one. As far as the Clippers organization is concerned, I think one of the greatest things that happened to me was coming out of school at the end of my junior year at DePaul and being drafted with the number two pick overall by the San Diego Clippers.

Winding up in a city that really wanted me was great. They catered to me, they took care of me and I got involved in the community. San Diego is one of the places I will never forget; it is such a beautiful city. Once I left San Diego, I missed the great year round weather and good people

I played so long; I have a lot of great memories. I was always a fan of “Dr.” Julius Erving. I had the opportunity to play in his final game, a Game 5 when I was playing for Milwaukee and he was of course with the Philadelphia 76ers. We won the game. It was a great memory not just because we won but because I was involved in that game with someone I had great respect for.

You finished your career with nearly 20,000 career points and you played in 110 playoff games.  What do you think the biggest difference is between a regular season game and a playoff game?

TC: In my 18 years I made it to the playoffs 13 times. By the time you get to the playoffs, you have expended so much energy and you realize it doesn’t really matter what you did in the regular season. Everything you have left has to be expended to win these playoff games one at a time. I think one of the biggest differences is the mental toughness and the extra effort you have to have because you are now dealing with mental fatigue. You make a lot of mistakes because you are mentally tired.

Normally in the playoffs, the referees let you play. As you go from one round to round you get to play more and more physical. I always liked that because everyone was given a real opportunity to win the game. By the time you get to the playoffs, nothing else really matters.

Can you talk about what keeps you busy now?

TC: I am a full time ministry pastor. This November will mark our four-year anniversary in Scottdale, Georgia. I have been in ministry for 34 years. I also run my entertainment company in which we produce music for different artists and we write for different television shows and films. With my kids growing up you stop being a dad and become a father. I have six grandchildren that keep me kind of busy. I am staying busy for myself and I have workouts three-to-four times a week if I can get the time in.

How do you relax?

TC: My workouts are really relaxing for me. I love to get out and walk, love to travel. Driving is great for me. I have flown so much in my life, so now if it is a ten hour or less trip, I am in the car. I enjoy the sights and slowing life down. I love to read, cook and eating. You get away from the league and you get a life for real. I had to start getting into basic fundamental things that matter.

Where is your favorite place to be?

TC:  Chicago. My sons are in close vicinity there. So, I get a chance to see them and all the kids. My oldest son Santonio lives in the Green Bay area. My middle boy T.J lives in Chicago but is playing ball in Japan right now. The youngest, Sean lives in Chicago so it is my favorite place to be because my family and friends are still there.

Can you talk about your interest in music?

TC: A lot of it started in college at DePaul. Then when I got to the Clippers, I met some people out in L.A., and I got really hyped on music. I took time learning how to engineer, learning how to write. I wasn’t really planning on singing but over time all of that came to play because I had a natural gift for it.

I just started studying. I taught myself during the course of my years playing in the NBA – I would travel with a keyboard and my laptop and some software. I also taught myself to read and write music in my hotel rooms.

Music is a balancer for me. Throughout my career and even now, it just allows me to set off all the madness that is going on around me. It is a tremendous outlet, and now I just happen to get paid for it. I started making money handling publishing for other writers. Then I started writing for BET. I wrote music for their theme songs, intro, outro, bumper music for four or five shows in the 80’s and early 90’s. Music is just a love. I get paid to do it, but I love to do it anyway.

If you were sitting at home, what kind of music would you be listening to?

TC:  A little bit of everything. I listen to anything from Beethoven to Prince and Gospel. I love all sorts of music. I am not one of those people that is cock-eyed about it, thinking that there is only one source of music because I think all music in its own right is pure.

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