Hard Work Pays Off

The things that Brian Cardinal does on the court won’t make any ESPN highlight films.

“My role on the court is trying to take charges, make good passes, and try to make smart plays,” the 6-8 Cardinal points out. “It doesn’t always show up in the stats.”

“He’s a good teammate,” Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Kevin McHale adds. “The guys love him. He’s just a positive influence and he’s smart.”

“You don’t have to jump the highest or be the sexiest player out there, but if you are willing to come in every day and work your tail off, be in better shape, and have the mindset to outwork your opponent, then you can survive and be successful,” continues Cardinal.

Hard work always has been a part of his life. His father, Rod, the University of Illinois head basketball trainer for around 30 years, displayed it. His college coach, Gene Keady, also appreciated it. Both men reminded Cardinal of its importance.

“He always was someone I looked up to,” Cardinal says of his dad.

Cardinal says that Keady told him, “In order to be successful, you are going to have to outwork the other person. Everybody has talent, and things they do that they are successful at, but it’s a matter of putting your will, fight and determination, adding that with your talent, and you can be successful.

“I’m not the most talented guy, and I think that’s why Coach Keady and I got along so well.”

After leaving Purdue as the school’s all-time leader in steals, games started, and fifth all-time in three-pointers made and rebounds, Cardinal was a 2000 second-round pick of the Detroit Pistons.

“I was just going to go out there and do whatever I could, and if I was able to stick with an NBA team, that was going to be fantastic,” he says. “If not, I was going to get a job, work in some high-rise office and do something.”

Beginning with the Pistons, Cardinal displayed the skills that coaches love and teammates respect. It was there he first was called “The Custodian.”

“When I was in my first year in Detroit, Jerome Williams gave me the nickname just because I was scrappy and always on the floor, cleaning up, getting loose balls and diving on the ground,” says Cardinal. “He came up with that nickname for me. He was the only one who called me that.”

When he left for Washington two seasons later, it appeared that the Custodian moniker also was left behind.

“Nobody called me that [in Washington],” remembers Cardinal, who joked, “Some people [there] didn’t even know my name. But it wasn’t until I got to Golden State [in 2003], where I started playing and playing well. That’s when people looked back in [my] bio and [said], ‘This guy’s nickname is ‘The Custodian.’ And that’s where it came about.”

After he arrived in Memphis in 2004 — his fourth NBA club — Cardinal soon got involved in that city’s rich heritage. “Leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King [getting] shot, it was a thriving place. Once he passed, things went away and people weren’t coming there as much, unfortunately.”

Nonetheless, Cardinal and several other teammates felt it was important to get involved in the community.

“We looked at three or four different things that we wanted to do,” he says.

They eventually settled on legendary Stax Records, once the recording home of Isaac Hayes, Booker T. and the MGs and other legendary notables.

A music lover, Cardinal visited the record label’s former recording studios, now preserved as a museum. He and several of his teammates were thoroughly impressed. “We went to the Stax Museum, and it just blew us away,” he notes. “There’s a 20-minute video that was powerful. Seeing Isaac’s car and just going around, seeing the different artists that walked through those doors. It was awesome.”

He also visited the Stax Music Academy, which according to him, is located “in one of the poorest ZIP codes in the country.” As a result, Cardinal and his wife Danielle have co-hosted the annual Staxtacular event, a fundraiser for the school. “It was just a way for us to bring some attention to the museum and to the school,” he says.

And although he is no longer in the area, Cardinal wanted to make sure that that attention continues. “It’s more than just the Cardinals and the Battiers, and the Grizzlies and the NBA. It’s about the kids,” he says.

Now Cardinal is in Minnesota, a place where he once was loathed by Golden Gopher fans when he played for Purdue.

“As far as whether I was hated or not, at that point and time, it was the Purdue Boilermakers coming in, trying to win a game, trying to be as good as we could be,” he admits. “Some people liked me, and some people hated me, but it was awesome coming in here and playing against Coach (Clem) Haskins and the Gophers. My family grew up around here — my Dad grew up in Blaine, and my Mom grew up in Marshall. Every time we came up here, I had 40-50 relatives up in the stands.”

Cardinal likes being on the good side of Wolves fans. However, whether as a Boilermaker or now as a Timberwolf, his attitude is the same. “My mentality never was that I was the star or the best player. It was that I was playing basketball,” he says.

After seeing action in only 10 of Minnesota’s first 26 games, Cardinal is now one of the first Wolves off the bench. He doesn’t light up the scoreboard, but he makes his presence known, nonetheless.

“I’m thankful that I am able to put on this uniform every day, get out there and play and do something that I love,” Cardinal surmises.

McHale says of Cardinal: “He’s just a guy who knows how to play.”

Cardinal readily admits that he never saw himself playing in the NBA this long. “This is a blessing to be here, to make it nine years,” the veteran forward points out. “Hopefully people will respect how hard I played and respect my game.”

Finally, Cardinal knows that one day his NBA custodian days will end.

“My wife and I bought a farm outside Indianapolis, close to Purdue, and when it is all said and done, we’ll go back there, relax and have a nice, big organic garden and farm, and enjoy our life and raise our family.”