The Road Less Traveled

by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

There’s a Chinese proverb that says the journey is the reward. And for Michael Dickerson, his long, unlikely journey has taken him through the highs and lows of the basketball world and on a spiritual journey halfway around the world – all before dropping him off in Independence, Ohio.

In most NBA Training Camps, there is annually one invitee who is the answer to this question: “What ever happened to him?”

Here’s what happened to Michael Dickerson.

After reaching the Final Four twice and coming up empty both times, Lute Olson’s Arizona Wildcats finally won the National Championship in 1998, due in large part to Michael Dickerson’s clutch play at small forward. He finished his four-year career in Tucson with a 13.8 ppg average.

The 6-5, 210-pounder netted 18.0 ppg as a senior, was named All-American Honorable Mention, and selected with the No. 14 overall pick by the Rockets that June.

In his first year in Houston, the Seattle native was named to the All-Rookie Second Team after leading all rookies in three-point percentage (.433, 5th in the NBA), ranking 3rd in three-pointer made (71, 20th) and field-goal percentage (.465).

Dickerson was dealt to Vancouver in the Steve Francis trade, but the durable guard continued to improve. After playing all 50 games in the strike-shortened season as a rookie, he appeared in all 82 games the next year, again putting up stellar numbers. He averaged 18.2 ppg in 1999-2000, 16.9 ppg in 2000-01.

That’s when Michael Dickerson’s journey took a sudden turn for the worse. The Grizzlies moved from British Columbia the following season and Dickerson suffered a severe sports hernia just five games into their inaugural season in Memphis. He was limited to just 10 games over the next two years.

Unable to heal over the next two-and-a-half years, Dickerson retired before the 2003 season. He finished his abbreviated career with averages of 15.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game in just 212 games. Then-Grizzlies coach, Hubie Brown, called Dickerson “a pro’s pro,” adding, “He was mentally and physically tough everyday. Michael had to overcome operations, incredible pain and rehabilitation work on a daily basis.”

His career cut short, Dickerson was left looking for answers. He found them over 8,000 miles away.

“Just after the retirement, there were a lot of unanswered questions,” said the soft-spoken swingman. “I had just signed a contract and I was progressing in my career. And to have my career taken away from me, I was seeking answers. So I started studying different cultures, different environments. And I found more answers in India than I had anywhere else in my entire life.”

Dickerson spent much of the next three years in the subcontinent, studying ancient scriptures and healing his mind and body. Asked what drew him to India to begin with, Dickerson answers unequivocally: “The soul drew me there.”

He hadn’t picked up a basketball, but stayed in shape instead by concentrating on martial arts and yoga training. (“I didn’t want to blow up to 300 pounds,” Dickerson smiled.)

You’d never know it by his incredibly relaxed demeanor, but Dickerson comes from a “boxing family.” And he’s used that family trait to stay lean and mean.

“Basically my brothers and my cousins and my dad, they do that training,” said the former Wildcat. “So I just stay in shape with it more than anything. I do a little bit of both (boxing and martial arts). And I do a couple different kinds of yoga and breathing exercises.”

Of course, now that he’s with Cleveland, his focus is all hoops.

“I’ve been trying to concentrate on basketball, get the plays down and get my rhythm back,” said Dickerson. “So I kind of have to change my mind from a meditative mind to a basketball mind.”

After his journey from the NBA to India, how did he wind up back in Cleveland with the Cavaliers?

“I never wanted to retire. I always wanted to play basketball – that was all I knew what to do,” said Dickerson, known as one of the league’s good guys. “So, I just kept that option open. I was feeling good, and my agent, Mark Bartelstein, said I had the opportunity to come to Cleveland. So I accepted the opportunity.”

Now that he’s here, Dickerson knows that – as a Training Camp invitee trying to find his way into a deep backcourt – he’ll once again be in for a fight.

“I’m just going to come to camp and work hard, play hard,” he offered. “And if I have a shot and they select me, that’s fine. And if they don’t, that’s fine also. I’ll go back to India and do my spiritual practices. That’s No. 1 in my life.”

The coaching staff has been impressed with Dickerson’s toughness and drive, labeling him a “beast” through the first few sessions at Cleveland Clinic Courts. He left the NBA at the top of his game and would love to return to that level. He’s getting his shot in Cleveland, and working his way back with the help of his new teammates.

“The guys here are great – they’re supportive,” he smiled. “The NBA guys supported me. They know what I can do when I’m at the top of my game."

“I feel good now. The coaching staff in Cleveland is great and I’m part of a great environment. I’m lucky to be here.”

Michael Dickerson's journey continues.