Role of a lifetime: Randall finds calling as Nuggets ambassador
' He won an NCAA championship, played for Team USA and shared an NBA locker room with Michael Jordan.
It would be easy to assume that Mark Randall’s proudest moments have come on the basketball court.
That would be inaccurate.
While many people know Randall as the former Cherry Creek High School star who won a national title at Kansas and played for the hometown Denver Nuggets, some of his most satisfying career contributions have taken place far from the hardwood.
After spending the first four years of his post-NBA career working as a Nuggets scout and a player development coach, Randall became a community ambassador for the team in 2003. His job description includes visiting schools and hospitals, fundraising for charitable organizations, conducting youth sports clinics and emphasizing the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship.
“During my playing days, I would like to think I was pretty grounded, but there was so much more I could’ve done in the community,” Randall said. “I realized that when I started doing this. I get excited when I go into schools and spend time with the kids. I honestly believe I’ve found a purpose or a calling in my life. I know that sounds pretty deep, but it’s awesome.”
Sitting at a table on the club level at the Pepsi Center, Randall certainly looks at home as he discusses his passion for giving back to community. He estimates that he makes at least three or four appearances per week during the NBA season. In addition, he works as a studio analyst for Altitude and does in-game promotions during Nuggets home games.
“Community ambassador is my fancy title, but I’ve been a community ambassador for the Denver Nuggets since I started playing for them,” Randall said. “Now I think people are looking at me outside the basketball arena, which is what I love.
“I’m thankful people remember me from my basketball days. For your ego, it’s a nice thing every now and then. I got past that a while ago. Now, for people to recognize me for my community efforts and the in-game hosting, there’s nothing better.”
Randall, 43, grew up cheering for the Nuggets and remembers watching Nuggets legends David Thompson and Dan Issel play in the haze of Auditorium Arena. He later started carving his own path to the pros as a McDonald’s All-America selection at Cherry Creek in 1986 and a member of Kansas’ NCAA title team in 1988.
Randall appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated while helping Kansas reach the national championship game again in 1991 and was drafted by the Chicago Bulls 26th overall just a few months later. His Chicago connection prompts an obvious question whenever Randall visits schools or conducts basketball clinics.
“The first question is always: ‘Did you play with Michael Jordan?’ ” he said. “Automatically, everyone assumes playing for the Bulls and with Jordan and (coach) Phil Jackson was the highlight of my career. It wasn’t even close.”
Randall was cut by the Bulls two months into the 1991-92 season, marking the start of a basketball journey that would include stops in Minneapolis, Detroit and Rapid City, S.D., over the next 23 months.
While playing with the Rapid City Thrills of the Continental Basketball Association to start the 1993-94 season, Randall finally received a call to come home and play for the Nuggets at McNichols Sports Arena.
He averaged less than 6 minutes in 28 games, but that hardly diminished the excitement of representing his hometown team.
Randall’s homecoming came in the midst of a basketball revival in Denver. Behind Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, LaPhonso Ellis and Dikembe Mutombo, the Nuggets reached the playoffs for the first time in four years and knocked off the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics in a historic first-round playoff upset.
“I obviously have great feelings about that team,” Randall said. “I compare it to my time at Kansas when I played for a national championship in 1991. There’s just a unique atmosphere where everybody believes in what’s going on. That’s something every NBA team strives for. We’re striving for it here in Denver. Flashback to that team: We had a bunch of guys who honestly believed in what was going on.”
Randall was waived by the Nuggets three days before the 1994-95 season opener but rejoined the team after the All-Star break. He spent the next four years bouncing between NBA training camps and the CBA before joining the Nuggets as a college scout in 1999.
Though he loved the scouting gig, the travel demands prevented him from spending time with his newborn daughter. “I basically missed the first couple years of her life,” he said. Randall, whose two kids are now 12 and 10, traded scouting for coaching when he went to work as a player-development coach during the 2002-03 season. It still didn’t seem to be the right fit, so he signed on as a community ambassador when the position was created by former Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe in 2003.
“Mark is perfect for that role,” Vandeweghe said. “We always got calls about Mark saying what a great job he did. The parents loved him and the kids all loved him. You just have a good feeling when you’re around Mark. That’s what an ambassador brings. I couldn’t think of a better choice.”
Randall certainly has an innate gift for connecting with the community. Taking a tip from his former Kansas coach Roy Williams, he tries to memorize the names of every boy and girl who attends his basketball camps each year. Taking a cue from NBA All-Star-turned-TV-star Charles Barkley, he also promotes the philosophy that pro athletes are not necessarily role models.
“A role model is shaping morals and values each and every day of a kid’s life,” Randall said. “That’s a parent’s role, that’s a teacher’s role. A basketball player, an athlete, musician, actor, actress can be an inspiration for people.
“When I go into the schools, I’m not necessarily talking about basketball. The kids are going to bring it up. I’m there to reinforce what the parents and teachers are already talking to the kids about. If we go in front of 150 kids and just one kid sits back and looks at something differently about what his parents and teachers are talking about, then I was there for a reason.”
Doug Fulton, senior manager of fan development for Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, has attended hundreds of community appearances with Randall. He walks away impressed each time. “We couldn’t ask for a better Community Ambassador than Mark Randall,” Fulton said. “Whether it’s a basketball clinic with kids, a school visit to stress the importance of education and developing strong character or interacting with fans in the community, Mark is always approachable, professional and leaves the people he meets feeling good about the Denver Nuggets.”
Randall’s influence is reflected in feedback from the dozens of schools and charities he visits each year.
“The life lessons shared by the Nuggets Community Ambassadors were so meaningful,” wrote Lisa Haviland, a physical education teacher at Little Elementary School in Arvada. “Many of these kids do not have a male figure to look up to and share these thoughts. Thank you for all you do for our youth.”
Always known as an unselfish teammate, Randall deflects the praise and says he gets as much out of the visits as the children, teachers and parents. He also credits a mix of good luck and good people for putting him in that position in the first place.
“I’ll always be thankful to Kroenke Sports,” he said. “I’ll always be thankful to the people who made it possible for me. I had to show that I belonged and was capable. Hopefully to this point, I’ve done that.”
When it comes to proving himself in the community, the hometown kid from Cherry Creek has nothing to worry about.
His NBA career with the Nuggets lasted just a couple seasons, but he has established a legacy that will endure for years to come.