Exclusive Interview with Clarence Weatherspoon - 9/15/2011
Perhaps the most decorated player in the history of the University of Southern Mississippi's basketball program, Clarence Weatherspoon was the only three-time recipient of the Metro Conference Player of the Year award and is the conference's all-time leading rebounder. Though he never made an Olympic team, he played for the US in the 1990 Goodwill Games, winning silver, and the 1991 Pan-American Games, winning bronze. Drafted ninth overall by the Sixers in 1992, "Baby Barkley" quickly stepped in for Charles Barkley after his trade to Phoenix. A similarly undersized power forward, Spoon was the team's third-leading scorer during his first season, the fourth-leading scorer among all NBA rookies and was named to the All-Rookie Second Team. He also finished second to Harold Miner in the 1993 Slam Dunk contest. He broke out during his second year, leading the Sixers' offense and averaging career highs in points, rebound and blocks. While the Sixers struggled through losing records and personnel changes during the mid-90s, Weatherspoon was among the team's most consistent assets. He went on to play for the Warriors, Heat, Cavs, Knicks and Rockets, retiring in 2005. Today he works in the music industry.
Sixers.com: In recent years, you've been involved with the business side of digital downloads and also have your own label (35*35 Entertainment), but do you have any interest in pursuing coaching?
Clarence Weatherspoon:I thought about it but I don't think the timing is right because I've been doing other stuff. Coaching is just like playing; you've got to put forth a lot of time and energy to be good at it.
S.C: What made you decide to attend Southern Mississippi instead of a bigger hoops school?
CR: They had a great basketball program playing in the Metro Conference with teams like Louisville, Memphis State, Cincinnati, Florida State, Virginia Tech and South Carolina, so we had a great basketball league. They [Southern Miss.] also won the NIT Tournament in New York against LaSalle when they had Lionel [Simmons] and Doug [Overton], two Philly guys who are good friends of mine. They played a style of basketball that I really liked. I was recruited by a lot of schools, but having the chance to play at home against great competition and play a fast-paced style that gave me a chance to showcase my skills. Being a smaller power player you wanted to be able to go a place where they shot the ball a lot so you have a chance to show your skills rebounding and scoring.
S.C:Did you ever hang out with Brett Farve while you were both at Southern Miss?
CR: We lived in the same dorm; Van Hall was the athletic dorm so we had meal tables there for training. We always had great sports programs. Southern Miss is a school that can produce great football, baseball and basketball players.
S.C: Because of your size, playing style and where you grew up, you were compared to Charles Barkley even before the Sixers drafted you. Was there extra pressure placed upon you being drafted by Philly three days after they traded Charles?
CR: I was getting those comparisons all throughout college and was even recruited by Auburn real hard. One thing I tried to get myself to do coming in was not get caught up in the comparison game. Charles is one of the 50 all-time greats, so as a young player you don't want to come in and put those expectations on yourself. You want to come in and establish yourself as a hard worker and a guy who can do multiple things. I think that's one of the things the Sixers looked at was that I was a forward who could be versatile. I was just fortunate enough that they gave me that opportunity.
S.C: One of the veterans on the Sixers during your rookie season was Armen Gilliam, who recently passed away. How did The Hammer help your transition into the league?
CR: Armen just passed and that was unfortunate. He was one of the guys I looked up at even when he was at UNLV because they always played that fast-paced style. Armen was one of those forwards who could score in the paint, shoot the ball from mid-range and do a lot of different things. Once I came into the league, we were teammates. As a rookie, you learn from the veterans how to get shots off, how to play different positions. That was a great learning experience for me playing behind a guy who was a proven veteran in the league.
S.C: There was a lot of excitement for the Sixers first game against Charles Barkley and Phoenix which came in March of your rookie season but Manute Bol stole the show that night by hitting six 3-pointers. Could you believe what you were seeing?
CR: That's another one of my close friends who I always admired on the team. Unfortunately, he passed away. Manute always took the game serious and was genuinely great guy. You got a 7'7" guy who can shoot 3's... it's just one of those things!
S.C: You had a reputation for being a thunderous dunker in college, but since you came from a smaller program and were relatively unknown, a lot of fans were surprised to see how well you performed in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest your rookie season. How was that experience?
CR: It was great. When you fly under the radar, a lot of people don't know you. It gave me a chance to showcase some of my abilities. Being able to jump was one of my strong points. I had a great time out there.
S.C: During your second season, you got to play with Moses Malone who the Sixers brought back towards the end of his career. What were you able to learn from him?
CR: Those were my strongest rebounding years. Watching Moses workout, play and train, he always showed that ability to keep going. That's a guy who in his prime could probably rebound seven times off of one shot... I don't know how he did it! He would have two points and seven rebounds off one basket! That was the epiphany of Big Moses. Always worked hard and always had the motor to keep going and get the ball. With him coming to the Sixers in his prime, the put that great Sixers team over the hump and helped get Mr. Katz his championship.
S.C: What was it like for you, a guy always known for being a true professional, to be a part of those John Lucas Sixer teams which has so many interesting characters on them?
CR: 'Luke' is a great guy. He was known for helping people and still does the same thing now down in Houston. That was just one of those seasons where you brought in a guy who was known for rehabilitating careers. We played hard but went through some situations. I think Luke has done some great things for guys in getting them back on the right path and giving them second chances to pursue their dream. Playing professional sports is a dream and a blessing but you have to be focused to do it.
S.C: Being a guy who always played hard and barely missed games to start his career, how tough was it for you when Larry Brown became head coach of the Sixers and immediately tried to trade you?
CR: When you bring in different coaches, everyone wants to bring their set of players in and get guys they think will fit their system. He had a right to do that. You don't hold grudges; you move on with your career. Philly was a great city and a great learning experience for me.
S.C: Having suffered through so many tough seasons with the Sixers, were you disappointed that you didn't get to see things through and be part of the turnaround?
CR: Oh yeah, definitely. Any player would tell you that they want to be part of a team that's winning. That's one of the things I regret about leaving was I never had the chance to help the team to a winning season or the playoffs. I was fortunate enough with Miami to go through some great [playoff] series against the Knicks and with the Rockets, we had a great series against the Lakers.
S.C: You didn't reach the playoffs until your ninth season which came playing for Pat Riley in Miami. After going through countless coaches to start your career, how excited were you to be part of a team with a set structure?
CR: It was fun being part of a team that came in every day prepared to win games. That keeps the energy level high when you're playing for a team that's always in the hunt for the playoffs and you're not 15-20 games out of the playoffs by January! That's a good feeling.
S.C: Those playoff series between Miami and New York in 1999 and 2000 were very physical. How much fun were they to be part of as a player?
CR: It was great. It was like you were playing a mirror image. Coach Van Gundy came under Pat Riley's tutelage and he built his team with hard-nosed defense, physical play and rebounding. After they beat us, they went on to play for the championship . That was a great, intense series.
S.C: Not only were you teammates with Shawn Bradley when he came into the league, but later in your career, you played alongside Yao Ming. Having seen Shawn struggle to make his mark in the league, were you skeptical of Yao's chances to succeed?
CR: People have to realize that Shawn came into the league without having played very much basketball. Shawn came into the league off of a two-year Mormon mission so he came in based off of potential, but Yao came into the league having played through the Chinese youth organization and played structured basketball for many years at a high level. He was further along and had a great touch for a guy that size. It was tough for Shawn walking in after a two year mission, but I think for Yao being able to transform from playing from a high level in China to the NBA showed the work he put in.
S.C: Over the course of your career, you and Jim Jackson ended up as teammates on four different teams (Philadelphia, Golden State, Cleveland and Houston). Who was stalking who?
CR: You have to go back when we were in college; we also played together for USA Basketball! It's one of those connections I guess. It just worked out that way that two guys who had a bond and friendship back in college were still able to end up together on some teams in the pros.