As we prepare to watch the 2012 NBA Finals, let's take a look again at those who paved the way for the players we watch today.
Here is BlvdAve's (@curtisshawflagg) Part II of
NBA: "Where Are They Now?"
Kevin "K.J." Johnson among the fraternity of players that stayed with one team throughout the entirety of their careers. K.J. played a partial season for the Cleveland Cavaliers before being traded and spending his entire career with the Phoenix Suns. This loyalty would be salutary later on in his career, but during his time playing for the Suns, he was arguably one the best point guards in the NBA. Finishing his career 7th All-Time in assists per game (9.1), and 18th in total assists (6711).
Kevin finished his career ranking among some of the NBA's most elite. He is one of only three players to have averaged at least 20pts and 12asts in a season (Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson), at least 20-10 in three consecutive seasons (Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas). He also holds the NBA record for most minutes played in a Finals game, logging 62 minutes against the Chicago Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals.
Kevin Johnson retired with the Phoenix Suns during the 1997-98 season. He returned to the Suns as Jason Kidd's replacement during the 1999-00 season for a playoff run. Phoenix lost to the Lakers in the second round. After that season Johnson retired for the final time.
Since retirement from his 13 year career in the NBA, he started and founded the Kevin Johnson Corporation, specializing in real estate development and management. Through that company he opened the St. HOPE academy in 1989. He served as its CEO until 2008, amid allegations that it did not spend AmeriCorps grant and educational award money appropriately.
During that same time, Kevin returned to his home of Sacramento, California to run for mayor. He challenged incumbent mayor Heather Fargo and won after a runoff election. He received 57.4% of the votes. Kevin still resides as the active mayor of Sacramento. He recently wed his wife Michelle Rhee, former Chancellor of the District of Columbia school system.
Life-time Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon took what he could get during the Jordan-era. Winning back-to-back NBA Championships in between the Bulls double 3-peat championships and amidst the retirement of Michael Jordan. This after the first of three Bulls titles and after the brutal murder of Michael's father, James Jordan.
Hakeem and the 1994-1995 Houston Rockets shifted dominance in the NBA to the West, defeating the New York Knicks in seven games (Olajuwon averaged 27ppg, 9.4rpg, 4.2bpg) in 94' and swept the Orlando Magic (Olajuwon averaged 32.8ppg, 11.5rpg, 5apg, 2bpg) the very next season.
Olajuwon revolutionized the center position. His agility, knowledge of proper pivot skills, and one the most lethal head fakes in NBA history combined for what was coined "The Dream Shake". This move consisted of a quick dribble drive, followed by a fake layup, counterclockwise pivot spin, shot fake and up-and-under finish. Olajuwon performed this to absolute perfection.
What extended far beyond his stellar on the court performance, was his involvement in charitable endeavors off the court. Olajuwon was one of the first players in the modern shoe marketing era to endorse a brand (Spaulding) that wasn't considered a "top" shoe brand due to prices of other brands such as Nike, Reebok, and Adidas. The shoe retailed for $35, a far cry from the $120 shoes Jordan and other players were marketing. When asked about why, Olajuwon stated,
"How can a poor working mother with three boys buy Nikes or Reeboks that cost $120?...She can't. So kids steal these shoes from stores and from other kids. Sometimes they kill for them."
After retirement from a near 20 year career in the NBA and college ranks, Hakeem spends most of time in Jordan where he practices his Islamic faith. He began observing this religion during the 1991 season, assuming the nameHa-keem instead of Akeem.
Beyond that he assumes various endeavors from real estate, to being one of the most sought out training guru at his annual "Big Man Camp" to the current crop of NBA stars. Most notably and recently LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Yao Ming, Emeka Okafor, and Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah plans to train over this summer with the Hall of Famer.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame with the class of 2008.
Just shy of making the "NBA's 50 Greatest Players" list, Bernard King had a historic impact on the NBA during his 14 year career. Drafted by the New Jersey Nets 7th overall out of the University of Tennessee, King immediately produced for the Nets, during his rookie season he set the franchise record for points by a rookie (1,909) and made 1st team NBA All-Rookie.
He would go on to average 22.8ppg during his two years in New Jersey, and was then traded to the Utah Jazz briefly before being traded to the Knicks forMichael Ray Richardson and a 5th round draft pick in 1984.
King would spend some his formidable seasons in New York, averaging over 26ppg during his 4 seasons with the Knicks, one of which include a 32.9ppg campaign in 1984-85. He lead the league in scoring that season but ultimately fell short in the MVP voting to Larry Bird, as King's Knicks were a Eastern Conference Atlantic worst 24-58, despite King's scoring heroics.
King suffered a tragic injury during the height of his career. During the 1985-86 season, he tore his ACL during a game against the Kansas City Kings. He would end up missing two seasons rehabbing the injury. King attempted a noble comeback, making the 1991 All-Star Game, Bernard averaged 28.4ppg, 4apg, and 5rpg. After the 91' season, King reinjured that same knee while playing for the New Jersey Nets. He was forced into retirement in 1993.
King now runs Bernard King and Thompson Energy Solutions, LLC. BKTEC is an energy venture, which helps companies improve efficiency. Bernard started the company with close friend Rickey Thompson in 2007. He still enjoys watching NBA games, as he looks to keep his Christmas Day scoring record of 60 points in Madison Square Garden.
In the wake of the Oklahoma City Thunder reaching the NBA Finals, Shawn Kemp may have been the franchise's first true marketable star. Kemp was drafted in 1989 by the Seattle Supersonics with the 17th overall pick. He was a super standout in the Indiana area, considered one the top 5 players in the nation, he lead Concordia High School to a state championship victory in his senior year.
Kemp initially signed a letter of intent to play basketball for the University of Kentucky, however an issue involving a stolen goldchain from teammate and son of UK Head Coach Eddie Sutton - Sean Sutton - forced Kemp to enroll at the Trinity Valley Community College in Texas. After just one semester Kemp declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft. Trouble would follow Shawn throughout his career.
Kemp arrived to a competitive Sonics team that just came off of a Western Conference Semifinal loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Kemp came in as the youngest player in the NBA at age 20. His first couple seasons were difficult, as he struggled to adjust to the NBA (6ppg/4rpg, 15ppg/8rpg, 15ppg/10rpg first 3 seasons). However -with the tutelage of All-Star and former All-Rookie Xavier McDaniel - Kemp emerged in his third season to average 17.8ppg, 10.7rpg and almost 2 blocks a game (1.9).
Shawn finally got it. And more importantly he found a way to add his flair and aggressive post skills to the forefront. Shawn Kemp was Blake Griffin before the Mozgov craze came about. His dunk exploits intimidated teams and was often strategically defended around. He earned commercial success donning the moniker "Reign Man", and appeared on MTV's Rock n' Jock celebrity basketball game. Casting the small market franchise into a reputable spotlight as a green light city for stars to play.
Shawn Kemp was the blueprint for Blake Griffin, (check the :58 second mark)
As the 80's came to a close and the 90's rang in, contract sizes increased with every new year. Despite working to become an All-Star and team leader, Kemp was earning a "max-contract" that was far less than his fellow stars. After requesting a reworking of his contract to reflect that of players more his caliber, Shawn was met with reluctance by the Seattle front office. Kemp was eventually traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal that included Vin Baker, Terrelle Brandon, Tyrone Hill, Pat Garrity, and Sherman Douglas.
Kemp arrived to Cleveland virtually unrecognizable. He started training camp registering at over 300lbs, clearly overweight and out-of-shape. Despite packing on the pounds, Shawn managed to have his best scoring seasons of his career ( averaging 20.5ppg, 9.2rpg) in 42 games of play. Kemp would go on to have another productive season in Cleveland before being shipped to the Portland Trailblazers in a three-team trade.
Unfortunately, his final years in the NBA were plagued with drug abuse, alcoholism and more weight issues. He was waived before the 2003 season before signing as a free agent with the Orlando Magic to aid the loss of Grant Hill. Kemp averaged 6.8ppg (7.6ppg as a starter) and 5.7rpg (6.4 as starter) before being replaced by Juwan Howard following the 03' season.
Since his exit from the NBA Kemp has seen his fair share of legal problems, arrested in 2005 for cocaine, marijuana and gun possession. He was again arrested in 2006 for marijuana possession. In lieu of the legal trouble, he managed sign a contract with the Italian League for one year. Said to be back to great shape, Kemp played for a brief three preseason games before coming to the United States after Hurricane Ike damaged his home.
He now enjoys time watching his son - Shawn Kemp Jr. - play for the University of Washington. Kemp Jr. is now in his sophomore season with the Huskies.