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I Guess They Don't Have Cable
January 5, 2010

During a mid-season Atlanta Hawks game in the 1981-1982 season, Hawks' rookie Rudy Macklin was astonished by another opposing player who drove the lane and got his shot rejected by his teammate, Hawks' center Wayne "Tree" Rollins. Macklin, while still a star at Louisiana State University, had seen Rollins dominate the defensive lane by blocking the shots of most players who dared to challenge him. Macklin often watched the ball sail into the laps of fans watching the game, and he remembered the excitement and laughter generated at the expense of the dejected opponent. Macklin looked to his teammates on the bench and uttered a conclusion that resonated with everyone who heard him. He said, "I guess they don't have cable wherever he came from." Veteran teammate James McElroy laughed out loud and asked for clarification, "What did you say, Rook---no cable?" The bench erupted as a new phrase was coined. For the rest of that season and several more "No cable" was pronounced after each block by Rollins.

The emergence and fame of Tree Rollins, the Hawks, and the Braves coincided with the growth of the superstation, WTBS. Ted Turner, owner of channel 17 (an independent Atlanta UHF station) transformed his Turner Communications Group, WTCG, into Turner Broadcasting System and delivered the nation's first wholly cable station to TV audiences via satellite. By 1978 WTBS was reaching more than 2 million homes, and the Hawks and Braves were being introduced across the country. From his Orlando, Florida home, Rollins reflected, "I was made on the superstation. Some people still remember me because of that initial exposure. I tell you what is really unusual: Someone saw me recently and told me he was impressed by how we played the Celtics and took them to 7 games in the playoffs." Tree chuckled," I believe he thinks I am still playing."

Growing up in Georgia, displaying Southern Hospitality and a love for basketball, the 7-foot Rollins was appropriately nicknamed "Tree." He incessantly pursued his dream and fulfilled, at least partially, his destiny by playing 11 seasons with the Atlanta Hawks and a total of 18 years in the NBA. Tree played more games than anyone in an Atlanta hawks' uniform other than Dominique Wilkins. He remains one of the most respected, remembered, and admired athletes in this region of the country. That fact is verified by his 2007 selection to be inducted in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and his 2002 induction in the South Carolina State Athletic Hall of Fame. In addition to this honors, more accolades would come from his cohorts who played with him. Most of them would call him the best teammate they ever had. Not only was Tree the epitome of an unselfish player who gave help to teammates by blocking the shot of their assigned opponent. Tree made everyone welcome. He was not only the center of the team; he was the center of camaraderie. On the road trips players would congregate in his room until a decision was made as to which movie theatre or restaurant would be visited by the group.

His earned reputation as the team enforcer or intimidator was created as a defense mechanism to protect his team, not to instigate extra hostilities. Rollins considers that a nonexistent role in today's game. He remarked, "The type of players that I and Scott Hastings were no longer exists. If anyone were to try to play that way, they would take all of his money in fines. The rules have changed now and the favor has gone to the offensive players. You can't touch anyone anymore. I guess they are trying to get more points. I see guys going all the way to the basket, coast to coast, without getting touched. Even great players like Lebron James go all the way without contact. In the old days you tagged people coming down the lane."

Rollins loves the Hawks and will always identify with his favorite team. He had great basketball experiences along his developmental path but considers the Hawks his treasure. He emphasized, "I really love the Hawks; they made Tree Rollins. It was not in high school nor in college at Clemson that I was defined; it was in Atlanta. As a matter of fact, my life will not be complete without working for the organization in some way.

Coincidentally, The Stinger (far right) and Rollins (2nd from right) were on the same recruiting trip to Clemson when they were high school seniors in 1973. (Photo provided by MikeGlenn.com)

Rollins does not hesitate to also express his gratitude to the people at Clemson. He was the first athlete of any sport to have his number retired at that institution. They retired his number 30 before his last home game. He thought outloud, "It is pretty amazing that I was the first to have my number retired when you think of all the great athletes that have come through."

Tree's love affair with the Hawks began in 1977 when he was their number 1 draft pick and the fourteenth player picked overall. Rollins immediately began to anchor teams that would play defense "first." The man in the middle was joined that year by Hawks' third pick Eddie Johnson and free agent Charlie Criss. For 11 years the Hawks' were covered in the middle and the perimeter players flourished.

Rollins watches the Hawks whenever they are on TV in Orlando. He likes the current team but sees a familiar challenge that reminds him of his days as a Hawk. He projected," They still are going to have to get past the Celtics." When asked which player impresses him most, he quickly spoke of Josh Smith:
I like Josh. I try not to be too critical of him. I know he is playing within a system and following coaches' directions, but I think he can block even more shots than he is blocking. When I was playing, Hubie (Coach Hubie Brown) told me not to bring any fouls home; so, I went after everything. I think Josh is capable of blocking a few more shots."

Currently, Rollins is at home-- on the bench--- waiting to get back in the NBA coaching game. He has accumulated a lot of coaching experience and wisdom. He coached a young Shaquille O'Neal in Orlando, served as Isiah Thomas' assistant coach in Indiana, and worked as a head coach in the National Developmental League and the WNBA. He even worked with the Memphis Grizzlies in this season's training camp. Rollins' ultimate goal is to re-join the Atlanta Hawks' organization in some capacity. In the meantime, he'll stay in Orlando and watch the Hawks and other NBA teams on TV. Yes, he does have cable!

During his ten year NBA career, Mike Glenn played four seasons with the Atlanta Hawks (1981-1985). He currently serves as postgame analyst for Hawks games on Fox Sports South. You can learn more about 'The Stinger" and his free basketball camp for the hearing impaired at his website MikeGlenn.com.