Catching up with Eddy Curry: "I had a heck of a time (in Chicago)."

Eddy Curry’s got stories.

Like that famous Scott Skiles response about what Curry could do to grab more rebounds. “Jump,” Skiles said.

“I was, ‘Oh my god, man,’ but, you know, our relationship started out funky because I remember when they hired him, me and Jamal (Crawford) are at the Berto Center eating lunch and we were bashing him and saying, ‘I heard he’s this,’ ‘I heard he’s that.’ And he’s standing behind us the whole time. And he’s like, ‘What’s up, fellas?’ And I’m, ‘Oh, my god.’ I knew it was going to be bad.

“But he was a good coach and at the time what we needed because he snapped us into shape and made a huge turnaround,” Curry was saying this past weekend while taking a break from greeting fans at the Bulls Fest at the United Center. “It helped we had Ben Gordon, who was something else. Lu (Deng), Kirk (Hinrich), one of my favorite teammates of all time. We really did have a special group there.”

But back to the stories, there was the shocking 2001 draft when Eddy was sure he was going to the Clippers—and thrilled about it—to join his best friends Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles.

“I blame Tyson (Chandler) for (the Elton Brand) trade,” Curry was saying with a laugh, clearly on a roll now back a few decades. “I wanted to go to the Clippers so bad. Q, my best friend, Darius Miles like my big brother from AAU. I didn’t care about being No. 1, so I was hurt when they picked Tyson. We had been sort of enemies. I could have gone to Memphis. (My agent) Arn Tellem said Memphis was interested, but if I said I didn’t want to go there I could go to Chicago. So I said Chicago (Memphis selected Pau Gasol). Then when I heard Tyson wasn’t going to LA, I was more happy he couldn’t go to LA than he was playing with me. He wanted to play at home; I wanted to play with my guys. And now we were both coming to Chicago.”

Which was even more difficult for Chandler.

“Scott would get on Tyson so bad,” Curry recalled. “I remember a practice he dropped a pass and Scott stopped play and grabbed the ball and started throwing it at Tyson, coming closer and closer and throwing it and saying, ‘Catch the ball son,’ catch the ball son,’ and throwing it harder. Crazy. I’m thinking, ‘What’s going on here?’”

Still, Curry wasn’t discouraged. Bulls general manager Jerry Krause traded 20/10 Brand to recreate his twin seven footers, Mr. Inside and Outside, for a presumed return to Bulls grandeur. You didn’t have to convince Eddy.

“I was so young and just dumb,” says Curry. “I thought we could do it. Like, ‘Man that’s easy; we're better than those guys. I’m way better than Horace Grant. I’m better than (Luc Longley).’ That’s just how we were thinking. We were so young. You don’t realize ’til years later when I was out of the league. ‘That was why I was there? To save the franchise?’ It’s so hard to win in the NBA, to get to the playoffs and win, especially if you start from the ground up and have youth and coaches coming in and out all the time.”

Yeah, Eddy’s got stories; everyone’s got stories in the NBA.

But maybe nobody has a story like Thornwood’s Eddy Curry, teen basketball prodigy, a seven-foot basketball star—Illinois Mr. Basketball, McDonald’s All-American game MVP who was coordinated and talented enough to also be a star gymnast—who once was robbed at gunpoint in his home a few years before his former girlfriend and mother of his daughter were both murdered in their home by the woman’s boyfriend, Curry’s infant son left to survive the shootings. And then his basketball career careening toward destruction, facing personal bankruptcy after NBA salary earnings estimated at $70 million, the classic cautionary tale of athletic hubris and excess; and immaturity in Curry’s case.

But Curry’s flight may well be something of mythology, too, the way he has risen from the ashes of what seemed like both his career and life to become—are you ready?—a mentor for young NBA players, a motivational speaker and as charming and inspiring an adult as he was a naive and overwhelmed kid.

Curry was one of the featured former Bulls this weekend at the celebratory Bulls Fest. He looks pretty close to his playing weight, bearded with hair loosely falling along his cheeks to frame his expressive face. His eyes are bright with the same insouciance we may remember from 20 years ago, if also now knowing where the landmines are planted.

“I really kind of made my new life talking about my journey and my trials and tribulations,” Curry says. “Speaking to NBA players, young athletes trying to come up who may encounter some of the things I did, trying to help them make better decisions, trying to help them deal with everything that comes with being a star or standout athlete. It’s tough; a lot of pressure comes with that, pressure from your family and friends.

“Some of those guys are my kids’ ages (six children between 13 and 22), but the same things I had, the same things I struggled with, saying no to family, setting boundaries and dealing with relationships, dealing with friends. Who’s my real friend and who is not my real friends? They are dealing with the same issues and now with social media. A lot of stuff happened in my life. It was in the papers, but a lot wasn’t. Now it’s crazy dealing with that, helping these guys understand they are the ceo of their company. Don’t be your worst enemy."

There’s a lot of head shaking about guys like Eddy Curry. He knows what they’re saying, ‘If I had $50 million...’ But they have no idea. Like Hillary Clinton wrote, It takes a village. Many pro athletes are from extended families and grow up in crowded neighborhoods where friends often take them in or help them out. And then you make it out and big and you feel an obligation to so many who helped you when you had nothing, when you needed so much. And then if you’re just a big kid like Eddy with a big heart, it’s just so difficult to say no. And so many just see you coming. It’s not so difficult to understand when you stop to look under the hood.

After the NBA following seven productive years with the Bulls and Knicks, Curry kicked around a few NBA teams and in China, and then a 2020 eloquent and powerful piece in the Players Tribune detailing his crises was what Curry calls his emancipation.

He admits to being ambivalent about the project. But upon its release during the 2020 NBA All-Star weekend in Chicago, Curry realized the impact his truth, as he called it, had not only on freeing him from his own bonds of guilt and shame, but the inspiration for others to begin to face their own problems. That began Curry’s work with the NBA and the Players’ Association as well as with groups to speak with and advise athletes about the potholes on the road to fame and riches.

Curry knows now neither he nor the NBA were ready for teenagers coming directly from high school to the NBA, which again is being discussed for the next labor agreement. But if it comes to fruition, Curry also believes the NBA has learned from his and other’s mistakes from that era.

“Now I get to see all the programs for players, stuff that was not available then,” says the 40-year-old. “They left a lot up to the individual teams. Now it’s a universal effort to get the guys the type of health care they need and that includes mental health. That was something we had no idea what that was. I had no idea I was being affected by mental health, that I could speak to someone or how to speak to someone. We are tackling that now and guys are embracing it and saying, ‘Yo, I need help.’ Part of what I do now besides the financial talks is to let the guys know the help is there whether through the NBPA or through the NBA. You have an impartial person who doesn’t want anything from you but for you to be the best you can be. That’s a really cool position to be in and cool thing. I applaud the NBA and PA to trust guys like me to relay that message and try to help overcome what’s going on.”

It’s a therapeutic calling Curry has embraced as something of his own reckoning, though he admits he sometimes wonders what if. Not that it haunts him anymore, and he did have a 10-year NBA career, which is not common. But when asked about that one thing, he says it’s the conversation with then trainer Fred Tedeschi that late March afternoon in 2005 when the Bulls were having one of the great turnaround in NBA history and perhaps delivering their promise.

With Skiles driving a gritty bunch and Curry emerging as a reliable offensive force, the 2004-05 Bulls were on the way to one of the great turnarounds in league history with a 28-win improvement.

And that was with Curry, the team’s leading scorer, sitting out the last 11 games of the season and the first round playoff loss to Washington.

“The one thing that always sticks out to me, I never should have told Fred Tedeschi I was feeling an irregular heartbeat; I wish I said my stomach hurt or anything,” Curry admitted. “Even if I wasn’t comfortable playing I could have gotten out of playing without telling him exactly what I was feeling. We were on a great roll. I was finally at a really good place with the Bulls; we were at a really good place. I just felt like, ‘Man, I threw a wench in everything.’ In my mind, I knew it was nothing. I didn’t feel any pain, any shortness of breath, anything scary going on. But there is an irregular heartbeat, so let me tell Fred and I thought, ‘OK, I’ll be back to normal and then they’ll let me play.’ I know hindsight is 20/20. It turned out to be nothing, a really benign thing. If I could have really shut up who knows what would have happened.”

But you couldn’t blame the Bulls and the NBA. The heart arrhythmia deaths of Reggie Lewis and Hank Gathers had shaken the basketball world. So the Bulls sought medical reassurance and Curry sat. He wouldn’t play for the Bulls again. Instead of the long contract extension both sides were contemplating, Curry became a free agent and signed with the Knicks. Part of the compensation for the Bulls was a future draft pick they used for Joakim Noah. But the departure of Curry when he and Chandler finally were showing the promise—Curry would average almost 20 for a season with the Knicks and Chandler would become an All-Star and champion with Dallas—set the Bulls back, eventually leading to the free agency acquisition of Ben Wallace, Skiles’ firing and the team out of the playoffs two seasons after that miracle rise.

But Eddy Curry doesn’t endure regret.

If not for all that, he says with a smile, the Bulls would never have gotten Derrick Rose.

“Sitting in the locker room with Scottie (Pippen), Jalen Rose, seeing MJ walking by, hearing the United Center music, hearing them say my high school’s name when I was introduced, that was epic, the highlight of my life besides my wife and kids,” Eddy says. “I had a heck of a time (in Chicago).

“My 18th (wedding) anniversary (was this week),” Curry says. “Throughout it all, it’s been Patrice (a former Bulls Berto Center staffer), the ups and downs, and downs and downs, she’s been the constant. Being able to focus on her and my family and her giving me the opportunity to put things right, it made basketball secondary to me. I’ve had to have the worst conversations with my wife, the person I love most on this Earth (their blended family includes Eddy’s infant son who survived the double murder). So me talking to someone else is nothing, especially when I found out there is healing in that for myself and the someone else I’m talking to.

“When I first left (the Bulls) and came back I was being booed and stuff. But now anytime I come here there’s so much love. I love any chance I get to come home,” says Curry, who now lives in Texas. “Some day I’d want to move back to Chicago.”

Especially now that everyone knows the story and Eddy finally knows the score.

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