If you’ve followed my blog or social media for any length of time, you know that one of my favorite messages to share is how wide-reaching the impact of sports can be — and how often sports provides opportunities that go far, far beyond the court or field itself and positively affect so many aspects of our everyday lives.
I had a moment recently that really exemplified this for me, and I wanted to share it with you.
On February 27, I was at Cal-Berkeley, my alma mater, receiving the Pete Newell Career Achievement Award.
Despite feeling like I have so much more yet to learn and contribute in my career, it was truly such an honor to be this year’s recipient, accepting the award during halftime of the Cal v. Colorado game.
Being there among the current Golden Bears team, it was impossible not to reflect on my own time as a Golden Bear, and remember what an incredibly memorable and formative period that was in my basketball career. It was so fun and carefree — probably the last time in my life where nothing was expected of me except to be a good student, player, and teammate.
As I stood there reflecting, however, it struck me that the biggest impact the experience had on me wasn’t the basketball — it was the university itself.
It was one of the first key times in my life where I saw that sports — in my case, basketball — was the doorway to so many great opportunities. And it all began with how I was recruited.
I had my pick of universities to choose from as high school came to a close. I’d grown up dreaming about being recruited by one of the big basketball schools: Duke, Kentucky, UConn, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech — and here they were, all with offers on the table.
I’d never really thought about Cal. They didn’t have the same long-established basketball program as the others, plus they were so far away from my home in Marietta, Georgia.
But then came Todd Bozeman, Cal’s basketball coach at the time. He took an entirely different approach to recruiting me from the other schools. Instead of focusing solely on the basketball program and how their success could translate into my success, Bozeman spent way more time talking about the university and everything Cal had to offer me as a student.
Those days, there weren’t PowerPoint presentations — he showed up with a giant board filled with flyers and sticky notes describing all of Cal’s available resources. He talked about the clubs and groups to join, the professors on campus to learn from, and the history of the school. He did an unbelievable job of painting a picture of the possibilities that Cal held for my life as a person, not just as a basketball player. I was definitely intrigued.
So was my mother. Bozeman was smart in that he recruited her first, and she encouraged me to consider them as a strong option.
And so I did. Yes, the basketball aspect mattered of course, and it helped that two years prior they’d signed Jason Kidd and their recruiting class the last few years had been great. Basketball was definitely important at Cal, but, in the end, the true selling point for me was the school.
Looking back, it’s amazing to me how accurate the picture Todd Bozeman painted for me about Cal turned out to be. Despite only being on campus for my freshman year before being drafted into the NBA, I took full advantage of the resources the university had to offer, and I had a blast.
But the biggest impact came later on, when over the years I was consistently back at Cal, working class by class to finish my degree. There I was, 30 years old, in tutoring sessions and study groups, still engaging in and benefiting from all the resources the university provided, and enjoying it all the way.
From a basketball standpoint, I probably could’ve gone to a school with a better program — but I don’t know that any other school could have helped me improve in all of these other parts of my life like Cal did. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’m at the point in my career that I am today.
It’s also one of the reasons I was able to give a little fatherly advice to my son, Jabri, when he recently made his own college pick. Like me, he had several offers on the table, but I encouraged him to think beyond just basketball and consider what he wanted to achieve, what he liked about each university, and what was important to him overall.
Because he’ll learn just like I did, that basketball might be the initial opportunity that led him there, but his decision holds the potential to impact his entire life, not just his playing career.
We all make decisions that have the potential to open up a whole world of possibilities for us. I hope you also keep your eyes open to finding them — and taking advantage of them whenever you can.