Tony Campbell’s Career Takes Off
This story appeared in the Dec. 6, 1990 edition of Timberwolves Tonight.
by Doug Ward
If it were written today, The Tony Campbell Story would make for good rags-to-riches reading. Tony Campbell's story is the tale of a basketball castoff who battles back through the sport's minor league to earn an NBA championship ring and then goes on to become one of the league's leading scorers.
Campbell, however, thinks the final chapter has yet to be written. His idea of a happy ending would take place on February 10, 1990 with an appearance at the NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte.
Rarely does a player go from basketball's scrap heap to All-Star status. Ricky Green began his career in the CBA and went on to play in the 1984 NBA All-Star Game, and Campbell would dearly love to join him in the elite club.
Tony Campbell notes
Sept. 13, 1989: Wolves sign free agent Tony Campbell
"It would be nice, it really would," Campbell says, admitting his ambition. Quickly, however, he remembers what's important in the big picture. "As nice as it would be to play in the All-Star Game, my primary concern is to do whatever I can to help this team. I think by doing that, the opportunity for other things will open up."
Along with Pooh Richardson and Randy Breuer, Campbell is one of three Timberwolves listed on the all-star ballot, but personal success is a direct reflection on the Timberwolves' collective fortunes. "The more success the team has, the more success I will have," Campbell explains. "I always remember that."
At 28, Campbell has been around the basketball block a few times, spending three years with Detroit, one preseason with Washington, the better part of one season with Albany of the CBA and two years with the Lakers before signing with the Timberwolves as a free agent.
In a little over a year with the Timberwolves, Campbell has become the team's go-to guy. Timberwolves coach Bill Musselman has said, in so many words: as Tony Campbell goes, so go the Wolves. "That makes me feel good," Campbell says, "as long as it's consistent and I hold up my end of the bargain. When it's inconsistent and I don't handle the responsibility, then there's a problem."
Early in the 1990-91 season, Campbell's name has been listed regularly among the league's top scorers, a position that is becoming familiar. "It's a good feeling to see your name among the league's top scorers, but I would rather not look at the papers. I'd rather just work hard and then when the season's over, I can look back and say, 'Yeah, I had a good year.' "
Campbell has become the CBA's top success story, but he almost never played in the league. After being waived by Washington prior to the 1987-88 season, he came close to leaving the country for Europe. "I seriously contemplated going overseas to play," Campbell says. "That would have been good for me financially, but I think playing in the CBA got me better exposure for the NBA. People in the NBA could see me play, see how I was progressing and whether or not I was improving. I think it was important for me to go to the CBA, and I'm very happy that I did. It was the right decision for me. From that point on, things pretty much took off for me, and it's been smooth sailing ever since."
Anyone who is ready to make Campbell the poster boy for the CBA needs to remember one thing: it would be a group photo. "Take a look around this locker room," Campbell says. "This room is full of guys that have made the transition. Sam Mitchell, Scott Brooks, Tod Murphy. We've all overcome the barriers of starting in the CBA and have gone on to be successful in the NBA."
Campbell spends his offseason working in his family's New York City businesses, "Wimp's Bakery" and "Celebrity Car Wash." When he retires, he says he might like to franchise the bakery business. That's down the road. For now, he's working at being a franchise.