Darren Collison feels the call. Like a swallow to Capistrano, he has flown to an NBA training camp around this time of the year for the past decade, so the fact his pulse is quickening this week is only natural.
"Best time of the season," he is saying over the phone. "Every team has a chance and every player wants to showcase his talent. Everybody's jockeying for position and trying to be the best player he can be."
Every player planning to play on an NBA team, that is — a group that surprisingly enough does not include Collison, who decided not to heed the call.
The Pacers' starting point guard the past two seasons announced his retirement on June 28. He was just 31 years old at the time and coming off the two most satisfying seasons of his NBA career; perhaps his two best seasons, as well. His agent had fielded interest from a handful of teams that could have made his free agency experience a lively and lucrative one in July, but Collison pulled the plug.
For good and for a good reason, in his mind.
His decision came as a surprise to the NBA world because he had given no hint of being done with basketball after the Pacers' season ended in April with that first-round playoff loss to Boston. Then again, nobody came out and asked if he was thinking about retirement. That would have seemingly gone into the Stupid Questions file, because what 31-year-old, uninjured, starting point guard just gets up and leaves the game?
"It's not something you plan on doing," he said this week from his home in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. "It just happens.
"I didn't think I would retire after 10 years. I thought I would play for a very long time. I still want to. It's my heart and passion."
Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images
He wants to, but not as much as he wants to move on to a new life. He reached that decision about a month after the end of the Pacers' season and remains content with it for two reasons: faith and family.
Collison is a Jehovah's Witness, has been for the past few years. He kept his religion to himself with the Pacers, believing it should remain a private matter in the workplace environment, but looks forward to having more time to devote to witnessing. That sometimes includes knocking on doors to pass out literature and speak with whomever answers. Most people would find such an activity too bold or perhaps too annoying, but Collison finds it meaningful.
"You get to meet a lot of different people," he said. "It doesn't have to be reading a scripture from the Bible. Sometimes these people need help when you come to their door. Maybe they just need somebody to talk to. A lot of people are struggling with mental health, a financial crisis or a health issue, and I can be with them a couple of minutes."
Collison also has more time to be with his wife, Keyosha, and their five-year-old son, Kinston. He took the call for this conversation as they were about to watch a movie at home.
"It makes me feel good, just being able to be around my son and groom him every single day and help him grow. I just finished doing homework with him. We spent an hour together. He wants to do more homework because he got a chance to do it with me. He's clinging to me at the hip.
"The amount of time I spend with my family, you can't put a price on that."
He also is devoting himself to Pro's Vision, a training company with the mission of "teaching athletes how to train, recover and think like pros." Most of the clients are younger athletes, but NBA players Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball also have participated.
"I can't stress enough that basketball isn't everything," Collison said. "Athletes think making the NBA is a success story, but a success story is being able to provide for yourself and your family. There are a lot of things you can do to become successful."
Collison is the outlier of last season's Pacers free agent class, which has spread far and wide. Thaddeus Young is in Chicago, Bojan Bogdanovic is in Utah, Cory Joseph is in Sacramento, Kyle O'Quinn is in Philadelphia, and Wesley Matthews is in Milwaukee.
Collison, meanwhile, is retiring ahead of schedule but on his own terms. In his mind, that's a success career for someone who had been projected to go in the second round of most 2009 mock drafts. New Orleans took him with the 21st overall pick, a decision greeted without enthusiasm by most analysts.
He made six stops in his 10 seasons, including two with the Pacers. He never played on a title contender and never made an All-Star team, but he was a model of quiet consistency. He averaged between 10.4 and 14 points in each of his seasons and went out on top. His final two, with the Pacers, were by most measures his best.
He barely fell short of the rare 50/40/90 feat — shooting .495 from the field, .468 from the 3-point line and .882 from the foul line — in the 2017-18 season and set a franchise record for 3-point percentage. He also became the second player in league history to lead in 3-point shooting and assist-to-turnover ratio (5.3 - 1.2).
Last season, he averaged a career-high 6 assists and just 1.6 turnovers and still hit better than 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. The advanced analytics thrive on such feats, so his Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares average the past two seasons were the best of his career. His happiness quotient also peaked in that period, which he says provided him "everything I've ever wanted" regarding his relationship with teammates and the front office.
Reading about all the training camps getting underway this week will feel strange and might even provide a few second thoughts. But not enough to make him turn around and go back.
"In my 10 years I gave the game everything I've got, whether it was on the court or off," he said. "I didn't have to be an All-Star or Hall of Famer. I would have loved to have won a championship, but you can't define your career by that."
Now he's in search of new definitions.
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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.
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