Where Are They Now? Stuart Gray

Stuart Gray served five seasons as a backup center.
(Pacers photo)

It is hard to entertain any discussion of Stipanovich without thinking of his career backup, the legendary Stuart Gray, a 7-footer with an eclectic personality that once prompted this line in a preseason publication: ''Born in the Panama Canal Zone, which explains why we gave it back.''

Gray joined the Pacers as a second-round pick from UCLA in 1984, and stayed through the 1988-89 season, averaging 2.4 points and 2.7 rebounds. His per-minute rebounding production was actually quite impressive; in the franchise's NBA history, only Dale Davis and Jeff Foster have higher career averages.

Asked what he has been doing since leaving the Pacers, Gray smiled and said, ''Gaining weight, mostly.''

He spent two more seasons in the league, first with the expansion Charlotte Hornets, then with the Knicks, before retiring in 1991.

After living two years near Chicago, Gray relocated to Indianapolis in 1993, where he has lived ever since. He works for CDI Corporation, an engineering outsourcing firm based in Philadelphia. Gray handles mainly off-site design and drafting projects.

''This is a good city,'' he said. ''I played in New York two years, so I didn't really have any ties there. Charlotte, I had a house there but no ties. My dad was career Army so we moved everywhere, so for me it was either here or California. I like it here. The gas prices are better.

''It's big enough to have what you want. You remember 1984 here; the sidewalks rolled up. Look at downtown now. Look at what the Simons have done to transform it, and with all the events, it's a completely different city. I know we have problems with some of our schools, but not like L.A.''

Gray and his second wife (of four years) have a blended family with four children ranging in ages from 20 months to 15 years. He remains attached to the Pacers, talking frequently with newly appointed alumni relations director Darnell Hillman.

''I watch 'em, and Darnell has been very good about bringing everyone back - and so has Mel (Daniels, the team's director of player personnel), obviously,'' he said. ''In fact, Mel is probably going to beat me up because I haven't talked to him in a while.''

Though he is still relatively young at 38, Gray has successfully put basketball in his past. He acknowledges occasional interest in the salaries paid backup centers, but nothing more.

''When I wake up, I look in the mirror and realize, 'I don't need that,' '' he said. ''Every health problem I have was from basketball. You find out how much damage you do afterwards, but you'd do it again. Knees, heels, you name it. It's part of the price you pay, but you willingly do it and keep going.

''It opens your eyes to a lot of things and you can make what you want with it afterwards. It depends on what you want to do. In my situation, I had to continue working, and it's not bad. You bring what you're good at to your next career.''