A 'Minor' Star Joins Stampede
NBA Veteran Recounts His Ups, Downs

By Travis Tate

You’re Greg Minor.

You’ve shared the legendary parquet at the old Boston Garden with Bill Russell and John Havlicek. You’ve smelled Red Auerbach’s cigar smoke in the hall, feared his snap judgments, knowing what he says is the gospel.

You were in the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest, taking third place in 1996 in San Antonio. Dr. J was judging your dunks.

You’ve shot baskets with Larry Bird. Larry Bird.

You’ve guarded Michael Jordan. You’ve felt his eyes, seen his tongue wagging, felt his presence.

You’ve laid in a hospital bed, not knowing your career was over.

It’s enough to write a book – mid-90s NBA player with up and down career and his memories of the games, people and lifestyle. If it were purely about playing the game, the story would have a sad ending, but that’s why Minor wanted to write more to his story. He’s an assistant coach for the Idaho Stampede this year – last season he coached for the Bakersfield Jam and before that the Tulsa 66ers.

You don’t have to think back to April 29, 1999 to remember the last time you were around professional basketball – you can get the game plan ready for the opening of the season for the Stampede: November 20, 2010.

*

Greg Minor was a highly-touted high school player coming out of the state of Georgia who decided to go to the University of Louisville. Blessed with physical gifts few had, as well as the coaching of a John Wooden disciple in legendary head coach Denny Crum, Minor knew he was going to be a legitimate pro prospect during his senior year while playing for the Cardinals.

“I was like the glue of the team,” Minor said. “I played multiple positions, always guarded the toughest forward, and on offense, I brought the ball down the floor, if we needed a big bucket, I scored. I kind of started getting recognition, whereas before, guys like Clifford Rozier and Dwayne Morton were the ‘players’ that most guys were looking at.”

Quite a crew – Crum’s 1993-94 team featured Rozier and Morton, both of whom were McDonald’s All-Americans when they were still in high school, while Rozier was then tabbed to the 1993-94 AP First Team All-American team. Rozier (16th overall), Minor (25th overall) and Morton (45th overall) were each taken in the 1994 NBA Draft, making Louisville the only college to have three players get drafted.

Must have been a strange feeling for Minor though – drafted by the Clippers and traded on draft night to the Indiana Pacers seemingly left him in a great spot to be. The Pacers were always at the top of the Eastern Conference standings with Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Byron Scott and coach Larry Brown leading the way. With Michael Jordan having just retired – his future in the game of basketball was certainly up in the air – the Pacers were going to be the Eastern Conference favorites for the next number of seasons.

As time passed, the Pacers never made a move to sign Minor. Two other teams were interested when he became the first player in the history of the NBA to become an unrestricted free agent before suiting up for a single game.

“There were a couple of teams interested in signing me, the Chicago Bulls were one and the Boston Celtics,” Minor said. “Jordan had just gone into retirement to pursue his baseball dreams, and I was fortunate to train and understand the logistics of how Phil Jackson worked – you take these psychological tests, and all these things. I chose Boston because they offered me a 10-year guaranteed contract. They treated me with open arms, they had a veteran team at the time. They had Dino Radja, Dee Brown; I was fortunate enough to learn from Sherman Douglas, Xavier McDaniel, Pervis Ellison, that year Eric Montross was their rookie.”

*

Entering the life of a Celtic is to walk into the Egyptian Pyramids of professional basketball – history and strange, surreal sights surround you.

Minor’s rookie year was the last year of the Garden. Perfect timing to meet legends of the sport – not such great timing if you want to take a warm shower.

“The Boston Garden, it was really old,” Minor began. “When you’d get there, there was this bridge and in the middle of it, you’d feel like at any point it could just cave in.” Minor had the same rookie hazing any player has ever had – first year players are last to get the chance to shower, which was especially bad at the Garden since there were only three shower heads – but the jump rope and suicides were an easy penance to pay for getting to experience that season.

“I was fortunate enough to get that experience to play in the Boston Garden, to learn about the history and all the banners,” Minor said. “All the players were there, we had a big reunion during the last game of that year. I got to take pictures with (John) Havlicek and (Bob) Cousy and (Bill) Russell and all those guys.”

The franchise’s most recent “Legend,” was a special assistant of the team when Minor joined the Celtics. Larry Bird had only just retired after the 1991-92 season – he famously had back problems – but his shooting touch hadn’t left him. It probably hasn’t to this day.

“He lived in Naples, Florida at the time, but would come up from time to time to see how we were doing,” Minor said of the three-time MVP and two-time NBA Finals MVP. “We often shot baskets; even though he was in retirement and I was a rookie in the league, he would still win. He’s Larry Bird, who’s going to beat Larry Bird one-on-one, right? Especially shooting.

“When he came around you could always tell he had an aura to him, it was one of those situations where you just felt his energy and you wanted to get better; I just wish I had the chance to play with him. I was fortunate enough to play with Dominique Wilkins and see what he brought to the table. Some second tier players like Sherman Douglas and Xavier McDaniel, those guys were great, I learned a lot from them.”

All in all, Minor was in Boston for a transitional period. His years were a part of the bridge that separated the departure of Larry Bird and Co. from the arrival of Antoine Walker and, later, Paul Pierce. Minor played for three different coaches in his five seasons, starting with Chris Ford for his rookie year, playing under M.L. Carr his next two years and then having struggles to get on the floor under former Kentucky and current Louisville coach Rick Pitino.

Then in the 47th game of the 1998-99 season – a season shortened to 50 games by a labor lockout – Minor found himself on the floor after tripping over an opposing player’s foot.

“I didn’t know how long it would take me (to recover), but I felt that it was really severe after watching the film after the game,” Minor said of his injury, classified as a minimal posterior rim fracture of the right hip. “After being in the hospital for like a month or so, I read through the newspaper that my career was over. No one from the organization had contacted me to let me know that my career was over. I immediately called the team doctor and they gave me the sad news.

“I couldn’t believe it. You can’t imagine lying in the hospital bed and not knowing your career is over and no one would tell you; at that particular point, I understood who my friends were and, obviously, my wife, who at that particular point was my girlfriend – I realized that she was really inspirational.”

Just like that, an otherwise young man – remember, he’s just 27 at this point – is discarded from the one thing he loves and knows.

Grant Hill, a seven-time NBA All-Star, would later tell Minor that his father Calvin, a former professional football player with the Dallas Cowboys, had told him that all athletes die two deaths. The first death is the end of each player’s career.

Minor’s first funeral came sooner than expected, sure, but, in turn, that would mean his second life would be longer.

*

There was a time of grieving, or maybe denial.

After moving to Florida, outside Orlando, Minor met one of his neighbors – Julius “Dr. J” Erving. He lived up to his nickname.

“It was casual with Dr. J, he asked about how my life was, quote-unquote having a normal life, no longer being a basketball player. At that point I was a little bit depressed,” Minor said. “You’ve got to think, I was in what should have been the height of my career, not knowing what I wanted to do. There’s not one player that wants to admit that their career is over. I went and got some therapy, saw a psychologist, tried to get down to what it is that bothered me. It took a year or two, I wouldn’t even watch basketball really.”

Skip ahead a handful of years and the chance to coach some area youths came up. That was the beginning of something new for Minor.

“I took a group of kids that really couldn’t even make a layup to compete in the local area, and that’s when I felt like I had a gift to give back. I started to do research and go to different universities: Florida, Jacksonville, Florida Atlantic, South Florida; I started calling friends, getting pointers, just sitting and watching to see exactly what they’re doing, how they’re structuring their practices. I got a lot of information from the University of Florida; at that time, they were back to back NCAA champions. They had a lot of energy that they poured into their players and a lot of preparation and I took a lot of information from there.”

Minor networked his way into visiting troops in Iraq with former NBA players Shawn Bradley and Thurl Bailey. He met two- and three-star generals, fired off rounds of an M-16 as his first experience with a gun, visited Saddam Hussein’s palace and guest house and saw the numbness of a Military funeral.

“We were all pretty touched by that,” Minor said. “It was a great experience to have the chance to sit down and hear their stories.”

Perspective changes with those types of experiences. Another memory that helped him along was of the youth of the soldiers.

“There would be, like, 50 or 100 soldiers and their ages would be 18-21 or 21-25 and the guys in control of that operation would be 25-years old,” Minor said. “I’m 30-something at the time and I’m looking at that from a different perspective.”

It sure made complaints about playing time as a 25-year old millionaire seem silly.

*

When Minor was still networking his way around basketball-management-types, a five-week trip to China got his coaching career underway.

Otis Birdsong and Paul Woolpert got the flow going for Minor – he took a job with the Oklahoma-based CBA team and they won the championship that year. The next year, he followed Woolpert to the Tulsa 66ers of the D-League and the next year he was in Bakersfield with the Jam and now, his offices are in Qwest Arena in downtown Boise.

It’s a long way from Boston and Orlando – in miles, time and mentally, as well.

“Those years after I was done playing, I had to hear myself out and face the problems that I had as far as motivating myself to do something other than just playing the game,” Minor said. “Here I am, still in the game, in a different capacity.”

You’re Greg Minor. Where will you go from here?