Antonio Harvey: Man in the Mirror
Long-time NBA and Stampede player, Harvey now radio voice for Blazers

By Travis Tate

Antonio Harvey is now known to Portland Trail Blazers fans as the color commentator of the team’s radio broadcasts. His job is to provide insight and expert opinions about a game, a player, the league and issues surrounding all of these subjects. He has his opinions on Lebron James, Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant, and his point of view is shaded by his past playing career as an NBA journeyman, with plenty of experience in other American professional leagues, as well as time spent overseas.

Near the end of his career, Harvey suited up for the Stampede, playing 29 games (25 starts) while averaging 11.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in 2002-03. By this time, he had already played eight seasons in the NBA in 187 games, and was even selected to the 1995 NBA Dunk Contest at All-Star weekend in Phoenix. But this early rise came unexpected, Harvey working his way into the league after finishing his college playing days at little-known Pfeiffer University in 1993.

Harvey entered the NBA undrafted, but immediately found himself in a position most rookies – or any player, in fact – finds themselves in: starting center for the legendary Los Angeles Lakers. This is a position previously manned by Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, coming before the reigns of Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum (and possibly Dwight Howard, but more on that later).

The big man wore No. 40 and started the first five games of the 1993-94 season alongside players like Vlade Divac and Nick Van Exel, facing the league’s stars in Charles Barkley, Shawn Kemp, Clyde Drexler, Mitch Richmond, and Dikembe Mutombo in those first five contests. What helped Harvey stay in the league was his versatility, taking turns guarding anybody from a wing like Drexler to a low-post player like Mutombo.

But, to his own admittance, it may have come a little too quickly to Harvey.

“Look at my rookie year; I started my first five games. Started,” Harvey pointed out. “But I got my ass handed to me for five straight games. How nice would it be to get 10 games in the D-League before you go to the NBA?”

And that is what has made Harvey one of the league’s great commentators – he is unafraid to give an opinion, his words weighed by his many years in professional basketball without the lack of perspective of many former stars.

As noted above, he would be unafraid to use the D-League in a different way than many teams have previously used it. If he was a team’s GM involved with a D-League club, Harvey said he would use the D-League as a means to get players back into rhythm after an injury, or as a way to help players adjust to the stronger competition in the NBA – not, as many perceive it, as a punishment or as a way to strictly develop young rookies and second-year players.

“If I was going to guess, the D-League will be more like Triple-A baseball. Not just drafting rookies and sending them there, but guys coming off injury and playing for 2 or 3 days or even 2-3 weeks to develop a rhythm again,” Harvey suggests. “What happened to Sacramento in 2001-02 is Chris Webber was coming off an injury, and he came back and it really messed up the chemistry, I thought. You can have guys that are too good not to play, but not good enough to help you win. It would have been so perfect to play, but in the D-League and dominate and get confidence back without hurting the team. At some point, I don’t think you’ll be able to punish a guy by sending him to the D-League, but if he’s out of rhythm, or not shooting well or gets an ankle injury, maybe 3-4 games finding his play, getting into condition would be good, and remember, to not get pounded by NBA talent as you’re getting back.”

Maybe facing the D-League would be a better way to become acclimated, as compared to flying around trying to cover Kobe Bryant, or bang up against Lebron James or Dwight Howard.

There are those names again.

Not everybody can be Lebron or Dwight. Not that Harvey would want to, saying the following when asked about the MVP performance in the NBA Finals by James.

“I am not a Lebron James fan,” Harvey said. “It has been a revelation to say, but I’m not a fan, but he’s tremendous – what he did in the playoffs and NBA Finals was spectacular. I’d rather root against him than anybody in the NBA, but I found myself encapsulated, he was absolutely spectacular. I’m not a fan, but am happy for him; he set a goal, and he accomplished it. I don’t understand the new thing in the NBA, as far as teaming up.

“I think it’s diluting the talent pool; it’s like you’re going to have 22 Washington Generals and eight Harlem Globetrotters. Like with Dwight Howard now, it’s utterly ridiculous. He’s the best center in the NBA and he’s forcing his way to other guys to help win a championship and that would have never happened in my day.”

In the end, though, the daily soap opera of millionaires playing basketball for a living is not what is truly important to Harvey. The big man made sure to emphasize that he is more interested in the potential and attitude of each individual player as a person – and through his years, Harvey said he was always happy with his effort, a better representation of his upbringing and character than just his ability to shoot a jumpshot or block a dunk.

“In the house I grew up in, you earned everything you get, and you got everything you earn,” Harvey said. “I always left with the attitude that, ‘it wasn’t something I did, it was because the team didn’t need me, or someone was better,’ but not because I was outworked. If you know you put in the time and can look yourself in the mirror, you could still be proud of yourself. I only got cut twice, both times I had advanced in age and couldn’t hold up. But, I understood, you always shook hands, looked guys in the eyes, did what I was told; otherwise I don’t think I would have played 12 years in pro ball, 8 in the NBA; I was always a professional and give it all I had.”

And that included his time spent in Idaho with the Stampede – at one point, Harvey remembers a handful of experiences spent with a young ticket sales representative named Steve Brandes, now the team’s President and General Manager.

“One of my things that allowed me to do what I do now is that I never considered myself special and so me going to hang out with a ticket sales guy was normal,” Harvey said. “Even now, I make it a point to shake hands with everyone who works at the Rose Garden, because I’m just like everybody else. I’m just a hard-working dude trying to make a living every single day.”

Harvey’s hard work these days include radio work for the Blazers, where he played for parts of two seasons. He’s as knowledgeable about the Blazers, their organization, their community outreach efforts and their roster as anyone in Rip City Nation. And he’s very excited about the first round draft picks of 2012 made by Portland.

On Portland’s 6th overall selection: “Damian Lillard can tear it up. Right away. He’s already played in clutch time, carried a team. Lillard can put the ball in the basket, ahead of everybody else. Lillard is going to be, and not just because Portland selected him, but I watched his games – he may be the best rookie to come into the league since Brandon Roy. His ability to put it in the basket, he’s not shaken very easily and not going to take a bad shot. It’ll be fun. Blazers have a chance to be special. This year may not be because they may be young, but in one or two seasons.”

On the team’s 11th overall selection: “I think Meyers Leonard has potential. His physical skills are ridiculous: size, athleticism, and I think he’s going be a 15-point, 10-rebound guy for his career numbers. I think this year he’ll learn the speed, and he’s two years away from 12 points and eight rebounds. If he just has some good coaches around him, who take the time to teach him, by his third season, he’ll be fully cocked and ready to go.”

Harvey is also ready to see the team’s relationship with Idaho take off, with Portland as the first-ever hybrid single-affiliate of the Stampede. The Blazers’ coaches will be fully implemented into the Stampede organization, and vice versa, and Harvey hopes that maybe a future star will appreciate Boise and Idaho on his way up to the bright lights of the NBA.

“It’ll be fun for us and for the players. We can use them and they can use us.”