Detlef Schrempf much more than just another "working stiff"
By Conrad Brunner
Indianapolis (Nov. 14, 2011) -- At age 48, with a corporate job, a wife and two sons, he views himself as just another "working stiff."
But a life that might appear relatively commonplace is anything but when you're Detlef Schrempf.
For reasons that go beyond his stellar NBA career, Schrempf has become something of a pop culture icon. He has made three cameos on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, including two this season. His name is the title of a song by the Grammy-nominated rock group Band of Horses, and the inscription "D. Schrempf" has even appeared on a shoebox in an episode of the subversive animated comedy series South Park.
Because Parks and Recreation is set in the fictional town of Pawnee, Ind., former Pacers and state basketball stars are common reference points. None has become more prominent in the show than Schrempf.
"I'm kind of the dummy cameo appearance in the back," he said. "They're great guys, the group that's performing from Amy Poehler to Ben Schwartz, they're great guys and I stay in touch with them. And I've gotten to know the producers and talked to them and it's like, 'I don't know what I'm doing here but thanks for having me and we'll have a good time.' It's pretty easy. You just stand around and be yourself."
He's done it enough that he had to join AFTRA, the television actors' union, learning a hard lesson about the business in the process.
"Actually, I just got my dues for next year and it looks like I'm going to be working for free," he said with a laugh. "But it's fun and that first show gave our Foundation a lot of exposure. It's something different and it gets me to L.A. to meet with a lot of clients and prospects and kind of network."
Schrempf joined the Pacers in 1988, via one of the most lopsided trades in team history. The Pacers sent aging big man Herb Williams to Dallas in exchange for Schrempf, who had not flourished after being drafted No. 8 overall by the Mavericks in 1985. That alone made the deal a steal for the Pacers, but consider: they also received a 1990 second-round pick that turned out to be none other than Antonio Davis.
Schrempf blossomed into a star almost immediately with the Pacers, averaging 17.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists in five seasons. He was the NBA Sixth Man of the Year twice (1990 and '91) and earned the first of his three All-Star berths in 1993.
When Larry Brown joined the Pacers for the 1993-94 season, he wanted a stronger defensive presence in the frontcourt and Schrempf was dealt to Seattle for Derrick McKey (and Gerald Paddio). He became the first German-born player to reach the NBA Finals with the Sonics in 1996, a six-game loss to Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
He narrowly missed a second trip to the Finals in 2000 with Portland, but the Blazers blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, and so it was the Lakers that wound up facing the Pacers in 2000.
As his career progressed, Schrempf called upon his background as an international business major at the University of Washington and began preparing himself for life after basketball.
"You go through phases in your career," he said. "I was fortunate to play a lot of years. Early on I was like everyone else, it was just me, me, me, do better, get more playing time, worry about the money you're making. When you get older you understand it's not going to last forever and I was fortunate enough to have a lot of other interests. I loved to read books and things like that so I was always trying to get more information.
"And I've always had great friends and networks, people that I've partnered up with, done business deals with that have advised me, sat down and brainstormed, 'Hey, your career's coming to an end, what should you be doing?' I sure wasn't going to be sitting at home playing XBox at 38 years old, so it just worked out. I looked at it kind of objectively. What do I have? What am I capable of doing? And then kind of pulled some things together and it's worked out fairly well."
He tried assistant coaching under former Pacers mentor Bob Hill with the Sonics but quickly shifted into the business world, managing a venture capital fund before joining Coldstream Capital, a wealth management firm based in Seattle, serving as the company's director of business development.
"(Coldstream) brought me on four years ago really for building our brand, using my network, my connections not just in the Northwest but nationally and internationally," he said. "We've grown quite a bit the last three years. We're a $1.2 billion company now and it's been a lot of fun. There were some tough times along the way but other than that it's going well."
With wife Mari, a former hurdler on the 1984 West German Olympic team, Schrempf has two sons. Alex, 21, originally walked on at UCLA but after earning a spot on the team in 2009-10 transferred to Washington, where he is studying music engineering and production. Younger son Michael is "just a regular 19-year-old trying to figure out the next steps," Schrempf said.
Schrempf remains active in basketball, doing international camps and clinics for adidas, but is more of a dabbler than a devotee these days.
"We don't have an NBA team (in Seattle) so it's harder," he said. "I'm not going to move somewhere. I really don't need to be in that profession where you get fired every two years. I have no interest in doing that."
Schrempf's interests these days run much more toward the mainstream, meeting with clients and prospects while on the job, spending quiet time with his family when at home.
"I'm a working stiff," he said. "We're in a good position. I like to be busy and this is a fun job, we work with great people, it's a great company with great clients. I get a chance to do something productive and make decent money, chip away at the iceberg and just stay active."