Catching Up With Hollis Copeland

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Hollis Copeland was Denver's third-round draft pick way back when there were actually such things as third-round draft picks. After failing to stick with the Nuggets during that adventurous Summer of '78 -- he was the last cut in camp -- Cope was discovered by legendary Knicks GM Eddie Donovan the following offseason while doing his thing in the Jersey Shore League.

Just in case you can't exactly recall what Copeland's thing was, think of a 6-6 version of Marcus Camby: thinner than thin, a flying fool with all arms and legs -- "I WAS a 6-9 high jumper at Rutgers," Copeland says -- nice jumpshot, a great defensive player. Also serious, intelligent, and on the quiet side, a super nice guy who got along with everyone famously.

"We had a great edge that summer because we managed to put together an all-Rutgers team," recalls Copeland, now a highly regarded stockbroker at Williams Capital. "So -- and this is a rare thing in a Summer League -- we all knew each other's moves. We went unbeaten, I think. Still, when Eddie came over to me, he said 'You know Cope, you're playing fantastic. I never realized you were this good. But you'll have a tough time making the team. Still, at least you'll have a chance to showcase your talent in camp."

Once in rookie-free agent camp, however, "everything that could happen right, happened right," Copeland recalls with a smile. Cope's hot play then continued in veteran's camp. "I'll never forget this," he says. "In the last preseason scrimmage, (the Nets') Otis Birdsong was absolutely killing no matter who (coach) Red (Holzman) put on him. Otis also had unusually long arms, so the two guards couldn't stop him. Then Red tried the small forwards: Glen Gondrezick couldn't stop him. John Rudd couldn't stop him. Toby Knight couldn't stop him. So, finally, they put me on him -- and I just wouldn't let him get the ball. I think that did it. That got me on the Knicks roster."

Another enormous boost in beating out veterans Rudd and Gondrezick was Cope's growing friendship with starting guards Ray Williams and Micheal Ray Richardson. "When we ran the break, I think they were looking for me with the ball," Cope smiles. "They were passing to everybody, of course, but I think they set me up for some spectacular flair-ish alley-oops and stuff." Which Copeland, the high jumper, finished with the kind of funky flourish that roused the fans into a frenzy.

Next day, assistant coach Butch Beard urged long-shot Cope to "go check the list." "My name was on the final roster," says Copeland. "I made the team. I couldn't believe it."

The Knicks finished 39-43 that year, "missing the playoffs by just half a game with a very young team," says Copeland. "We had five rookies, Sly Williams, Bill Cartwright, Larry Demic, Geoff Huston, and myself." Earl Monroe, in his last season, was coming off the bench by that time -- he was the elder statesman on that team. "Earl was my mentor, " Cope says. "He was unbelievably approachable and caring. He was the one to open my eyes to what the NBA was all about."

"Earl took Geoff and I under his wings," Cope says. "He told us how to act on the road. How there were times to hang out and times not to hang out and just come back to the hotel. He taught us to never break curfew, which some people would do. Those were the little things that made a lot of difference."

"And more so, Earl taught us not just about basketball but about life," adds Cope. "He'd say, 'Cope, you hang out with US.' He and Cal Ramsey, who was a commentator at the time, they were the most influential on me, like my foster fathers. I remember, they took me to some hotel one time where I met Cloris Leachman and Karen Black at some kind of art auction. And Earl would tell me 'these are the kind of people you want to hang out with, not with that fast crowd."

"Remember, I was a young guy, just 22-23 years old at the time, in the NBA, making decent money. I had a lot to learn. But I listened."

"Bill Cartwright, my roommate that year, was another really special friend," adds Copeland. "Bill told me I was going to marry the young lady who later became my wife, that year -- which was several years before it actually happened. 'Every night you fall asleep on the floor talking to her on the phone," Bill said. "I just know you're going to marry her. It's going to happen."

In spite of his excellent rookie year (5.7 ppg, 49.5 per cent fg, plus outstanding defense in just 20 mpg.), the Knicks released Copeland. "They wanted to try (6-9 rookie second-rounder) DeWayne Scales at small forward," he says. "I got squeezed out by the numbers, I guess. But, when they heard I was going overseas, the Knicks actually negotiated a contract with me to come back the following year. It was almost like a loan-out, the kind of thing they do in soccer these days."

Copeland had an excellent season playing for Zaragoza. "I was Player of the Year, saved my club from demotion from the First Division, I felt like I could become some kind of a Michael Jordan of Spain," he says. "For the first time in my life, I was The Man. I really enjoyed that. To tell you the truth, I did not really want to come back. I had a great time -- and I loved the slower lifestyle. But the Knicks insisted."

However, after playing in just 18 games on his second Knicks go-round, Copeland dislocated five bones in his foot in practice. "OPTIONAL practice," he nods sadly. "Dr. Scott said, you do this again you may not ever WALK, much less play. And we were in the midst of negotiating a multi-year contract at the time -- which was, of course, squashed."

Copeland, his famed jumping ability a thing of the past, never played again. "Micheal Ray used to call me 'Moonraker' after the James Bond movie," he says. "I could really hang in the air. But you just can't miss a year and a half or two years and play at this level."

Still, Cope remembers the Knicks with a special fondness. "Remember, that was the time when rookies were carrying the veterans' bags and stuff," he says. "But we had five rookies -- and two of them were starters. Then we had three guys, Earl, Jim Cleamons, and Joe C. Meriweather, who were about to leave the game. And the others -- Ray, Michael Ray, Toby Knight, and Mike Glenn -- were just super nice guys. So we didn't have any of that stupid 'you're a rookie' stuff. It was a different atmosphere. We had a real closeness, a real camaraderie on that team."

"And Red -- he used to call me 'The Psychologist' -- played a lot of head games with me but always respected my defense. One day one of my best friends died -- and I learned about it on Christmas Eve. I returned from the funeral and played the next game like it was something like an an out-of-body experience. I didn't know what was going on. But Red, who gave me a lot of minutes that day, put me on Larry Bird."

"And I stopped him cold. I played the best game of my life."

Copeland, who was "a psychology major always interested in economics" at Rutgers, now sells research -- only to governmental entities and other large firms -- on the equity side at Williams Capital, a minority-owned house. "Leaving the NBA was the most difficult adjustment of my life," he says. "The second-most was being married -- and I did both around the same time."

Cope first worked as a hospital-care investigator, then at Irving Trust Bank as a sales-rep. Playing for the Irving Trust basketball team got him noticed by Bear-Stearns, one of the most well-known brokerage houses on Wall Street. "The Managing Director was an avid Knicks fan," he says. "He said, 'Hollis, man, see that guy over there? He could hire you if you go over to him and said the right things.'" The guy was another Knicks fan who knew all about Cope. He listened to his qualifications and gave him an interview at 7.30 the next morning. "If you're late, don't even show up," the guy said. Cope was there at 7.10, fifteen minutes BEFORE the guy -- and a career was born. "I was the first one there, and the last one out, every day for three years," Copeland says. "Just like I was at practice."

"This, my career, became my NBA," Copeland says, "I learned so much from basketball. What you put in is what you get out of it. It's all about work and perseverance; you've got to have the competitive edge. I'm really performance-driven; no one's ever going to outsell me if I have anything to say about it. I don't ever allow myself to have a bad day."

"And playing in New York? You learn that everything is amplified and magnified. And fast. You are used to the pressure. You WELCOME the pressure."


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