An indispensable figure in NBA history and league operations in North America and around the world … (The definitive interview with Terry Lyons)

David Stern become NBA commissioner in February 1984, and Terry Lyons (second from left) attends the ceremony.
Witnessing history: David Stern became NBA commissioner in February 1984, and Terry Lyons (second from left) attends an “office humor” ceremony a few days after the real one.
Terry Lyons photo
Terry Lyons photo
Terry Lyons was in charge of all NBA communications, public relations and media activities outside the United States from 1992 through 2007. PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBA PHOTOS
Terry Lyons was in charge of all NBA communications, public relations and media activities outside the United States from 1992 through 2007. PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBA PHOTOS

By Ed Odeven

TOKYO (Oct. 2, 2014) — Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and David Stern are all names synonymous with the NBA’s rise in popularity during the 1980s. But there were, of course, key personnel in the league office building the foundation for success in the decades to come.

Terry Lyons was one of those individuals. In fact, he filled some of the most important roles behind the scenes.

“Terry Lyons’ enormous contributions to our media relations efforts for almost three decades have been a key driver to our growth, domestically and internationally,” Stern was quoted as saying in a statement posted on Lyons’ website. ” He has grown up with the NBA and the NBA has grown up with him. Terry has traveled the world on behalf of the NBA and Team USA, spreading the basketball gospel. He has worked arduously to enhance international media coverage of our teams and our games and he has made the NBA office a welcoming center for the global basketball community and international media. We will miss him greatly, and wish him continued professional success and much personal happiness.”

So how does a man summarize his life’s work? That was a task Terry Lyons handled with precision this week, writing in the third person.

“Terry Lyons was best known to the NBA basketball fans of Japan when he ran the NBA’s international communications department and frequently worked with the many Japanese reporters who covered the league,” he wrote. “Lyons made over a dozen trips to Japan, many to help organize and stage the NBA Japan Games, the series of regular season games the league staged in Tokyo, Yokohama and Saitama. Lyons also work with USA Basketball for the men’s and women’s Olympic teams and that included the 2006 FIBA World Championship when the USA played its games in Sapporo and Saitama.

“Lyons’ career with the NBA spanned from 1981 to 2008. He worked at a record 135 consecutive NBA Finals games dating from 1983 until 2007. Since stepping down from his executive post, Lyons relocated to New England with his family and is enjoying his entrepreneurial projects of launching a sports news site – – voted by the WGBH “Boston A-List” as a Top 5 sports site. Lyons spends the majority of his time working as Chief Marketing Officer for a technology-based Fantasy Sports company, Hotbox Sports Ventures (http://www, Lyons is also an investor in a popular, casual restaurant and lounge, West End Johnnie’s which is located a block from the TD Garden in Boston.”

The following interview was conducted by email.


Can you give a general overview of your current work projects at Hotbox Sports, Terry Lyons Sports Marketing LLC, Digital Sports Desk and other ventures you are involved in and some short-term and long-term goals? And what’s a typical week for you like – can you provide a basic rundown?

One of the things I enjoy most about my work and the way I can live now, is that there is no such thing as a typical week. I dedicate a significant amount of time as we continue to build Hotbox Sports Ventures, which is a very interesting company that is coming of age in front of my eyes after years of hard work. Hotbox Sports is more of a Business-to-Business technology company than a “typical” Fantasy sports company. We work with sports teams, sports leagues, State and Govt. lotteries, media companies and others to build custom sports fantasy games. We’re doing a lot with the international fubol space and, of course, have great offerings for basketball, baseball and ice hockey – more so that the space everyone else seems to be working in and that being NFL American football. Aside from Hotbox Sports, where I’ve been overseeing Business Development and now some Marketing efforts, I work with some select and very highly regarded clients with Communications plans and projects. In the past few years, I’ve enjoyed working with the AND1 Basketball company, Runner’s World – mainly surrounding the Boston Marathon – the Basketball Hall of Fame (for Michael Jordan’s induction and that of the USA Basketball Dream Team). And, when I can find some time, I love to write and create content for my sports site, DigitalSportsDesk – which is a one-man creation with the help from video provider, CineSport, sports images from Getty Images and my good friends at SportsDirect Inc to keep all the scores and stats up-to-the-minute. It keeps me busy seven days a week which is good, but I can keep pretty flexible hours and can work from anywhere. And, I get to see my kids continue to grow and learn. I see them so much more than when I was at the NBA.

Who are in your view, a few unsung heroes at the NBA league office(s), who have been an integral part of the league’s rise in popularity and global prominence? Can you sum up how they’ve been instrumental in key ways that don’t grab the headlines on a regular basis?

That’s a great question and one I’ve never been asked before. I could name 20 or 30 people for sure, but I’ll pick two. Ski Austin, the head of the NBA Events & Attractions department is retiring this week and he might be one of the league’s all-time most unsung heroes. Like me, he sort of “grew up” at the NBA over the past 25 years or so. He is in charge of every event the NBA conducts, and that includes organizing the NBA All-Star Game, the many preseason international events around the world, the International series of regular season games, this year in Mexico and Britain, all WNBA events, D-League, USA Basketball and the many league functions, like Board of Governors meetings. You name it, Ski’s done it. His staff are all a bunch of hard-working miracle workers with an amazing scope of talent and an equally amazing ability to pay attention to details. He is very well liked and very, very well respected by everyone he’s ever come in contact with via the NBA. The league will miss him a lot.

The other is Matt Winick, the NBA’s Senior VP for Basketball Operations who oversees both the NBA schedule and the scheduling of the officials. Talk about a thankless job. But Matt gets it done, largely by himself. He needs a ton of input from the teams, of course and the team people, while they might like to complain about their game schedules, it’s usually Matt that saves them from themselves when they book other non-NBA events and then fall into the trap of placing their own tenant/team in a bad situation, especially at playoff time and when the building is booked with both NBA and NHL teams. Then, the refs’ schedule is equally important and just as hard to deal with, especially when a handful (or even 1 or 2) refs are injured. Matt is a wonderful colleague, as honest and sincere and hard working as they come. And, full disclosure — he gave me my start at the NBA when I interned for him when he was the Media Relations and Information director in 1980-81. I owe a lot to Matt and he’s now a dear friend and a true unsung hero at the NBA.

Looking back on your 25 years of work at the NBA, and related duties for USA Basketball, what do you consider a handful of top achievements you had an active role in successfully implementing? (Examples: media policies that increased public consumption of the sport, working with the teams’ PR guys in better, smarter ways, etc.)

That’s a tough one. In the 25+ years, we really worked hard to create the entire PR/Press/Media/TV operation at the NBA, from working with the teams and players on policies that guide game-related access and media operations to the digital stat system, to the modern-day analytics that are so prominent now. We were in the pioneering role for that. It really doesn’t seem all that long ago when they were doing it all by hand, hand writing the final boxscore and faxing the paper back to the news papers and to Elias to compile league stats. It was a very steadfast, gradual climb to get it all together as the technology changed for the better. One of the things I’m most proud of was the creation of NBA Photos. I pushed for it, framed it, planned it, staffed it and really enjoyed launching NBA Photos in about 1986. It was all on color slides back then, and the digital world was about to explode, making the vast infrastructure of the league’s images a vital cog for the league. After it launched and grew rapidly – from just two photographers (Andrew D. Bernstein in L.A. and Nat Butler in N.Y./N.J.) – we slid it to NBA Entertainment where the function was much better suited. I’m also proud of and the fact the “Global Game” sections still play a vital role for the NBA today. That was my baby! It was great. Now, NBA Photos is part of Getty Images and its a million-dollar business. Sometimes, I think back and just say, “Another brick in the Wall!”

You cite the 1984 Finals, Game 7, Celtics-Lakers showdown on your website as a favorite game? Why did you chose that one?

That was just a very memorable night at the old Boston Garden and the decisive game in an amazing seven-game series. As much as I appreciated every game and what every team brought to the table, and that includes Michael Jordan’s run with the Chicago Bulls, of course. But, those LA Lakers vs Boston Celtics series were the best. Magic was the best player I’d ever, ever seen in person. James Worthy was a SUPERSTAR. Big Game JAMES. Kareem? Cooper. And, the Celtics – with Larry Bird-Robert Parish-Kevin McHale, then DJ, Walton (in ’86) – they were just a team for the ages. Those memories go very deep, the hot nights in the Garden, some 12:30 p.m. L.A. starts, the crowds packed in. Two great, great teams. I could go on and on!

What are the best nicknames bestowed upon NBA players? Teams? Coaches?

Wow. It’s fun to think about some of these and again, I’ve never been asked that question! I have to say the best nickname of all-time is bestowed upon Julius “Dr. J” Erving, also known as “The Doctor,” or my favorite was to just call him “Doc.” Think about it? Is there a better name in sports? Dr. J! He was a guy that was so media friendly and was held in such high esteem, but, forget all that – When he was on the court, he just dominated. His “In-Game” dunks were the best ever. He changed the game but he was always so courteous and gave the props to Elgin Baylor and Connie Hawkins and some others. I had the great fortune to watch Dr. J play in the old ABA when I was growing up, not far from where he grew up. I never saw him in high school, but I did see him play when he was at UMass and then with the Virginia Squires and NY Nets, before he went to the 76ers. — My No. 2 might go the the great Seattle Sonics guard “Slick Watts.”

Based on what you observed and heard about, which writer(s) and/or broadcasters asked the toughest questions and best questions after games to players and coaches?

The best questions always came from the crew of team beat writers who traveled with the clubs and saw all 82 games. They knew the teams they covered and had to be critical when needed. For the most part, the NBA had a legion of very good reporters and broadcasters covering the sport in those key years – call it 1970-2000 or so. Then, the budgets crushed the newspapers, so many folded, fewer were assigned to travel the beat and it all went downhill fast.It is too hard to name just a few, but, I’ll try: Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated comes right to mind. Peter Vecsey of the NY Post really created a niche as the NBA league-wide notes columnist and he wrote massive columns three or for times per week. All good stuff, unless he ripped you! David Aldridge did (and still does) a great job, Ron Thomas, Greg Boeck and David Dupree at Washington, then the USA Today paper, Ian Thomsen of the Boston Globe, then the International Herald Tribune, then was brilliant. Philly’s Phil Jasner, Dallas Ed Sefko, Denver/SA reporter Mike Monroe, Boston’s Bob Ryan, Jackie MacMullen and Leigh Montville all deserve mention. Montville is the best writer in the land. Nowadays it’s so different and harder, as everything is condensed and it’s a 24/7 news cycle. Adrian Woj (Wojnarowski) of Yahoo just kicks ass now. He’s alone as the top guy.

People saw David Stern on TV for years, doing the NBA Draft presentation with the lottery picks, for instance. What’s similar, and different, about his personality in the big boardroom with the league’s head honchos compared to, say, when he’s at a local diner at 9:30 a.m. on a weekday in Anytown USA?

David’s persona and ever-lasting image and legacy of being the hard-charging Commissioner/CEO of the NBA will live on forever. I think he’s the same in the board room as he is if he’s ordering breakfast. He expects and demands competency. Period. That’s all. He prefers perfection, but simply demands getting the best from a person, whether they be an NBA employee who was cashing a check with his name at the bottom, or from anyone. He has tremendous compassion and he’ll – LITERALLY – drop everything to help someone in need. That’s the stuff no one ever hears about, but that’s the way he wants it, and I respect that. I was able to, errr, SURVIVE, or make it THRIVE, really, because of that high expectation. And, what do I say to my kids? We have one golden rule… “Try your very best.” – Thankfully, they abide by that rule. And, it works. On everything.

If you were stranded on a deserted island with only three books about the NBA (such as biographies, history, etc.), which three would you want to have close by?

I’ve been asked the Desert Island Albums/Discs but never NBA books! You’d have to have the NBA Encyclopedia, although its getting a little dated. It’s a great resource. I’d cheat and get an official NBA Guide and Register delivered every year! That’s three. For fun? “Breaks of the Game” by (David) Halberstam.

What do you miss most about the demanding workload of the NBA? What do you miss least about the job?

I think I miss the work with USA Basketball the most. It was an amazing ride. I worked on the NBA’s interaction with the ’84 and ’88 teams when the NBA threw together some summer-time all-star teams to scrimmage the Olympic team as they prepped for L.A. and Seoul. Then, of course, I was intimately involved in the ’89-92 formation of the Dream Team, then every event from ’92 to the 2008 Olympics. Wow, it was an amazing ride. Best memory? Antonio McDyess’ put-back at Sydney 2000 when we were in that tough game against Lithuania. That locker room celebration was unreal. What passion. Vince Carter was the man! KG (Kevin Garnett), Ray Allen might’ve been one of the best USA international players ever, together with Jason Kidd and David Robinson. Of course the 1956 team had Bill Russell who was THE BEST player ever, NBA and Globally.

Miss least? The travel and the LONG travel, not in distance but the sheer number of days away from home. Sometimes 30+ days away from the wife and kids. In Sydney 2000, that was tough, as my youngest was 1 or so … But then we did it again to Brisbane for the Goodwill Games in 2001. Then, you’d barely get home and head out for another month on the NBA’s busy October preseason tilt. It was just too much and it was magnified when I had the kids at home. I think the USA and NBA PR guys were gone for about 45-50 days this summer.

Can you cite five players and five coaches who would immediately come to mind as top candidates for the NBA’s all-time all-interview team? And what makes each of them a worthy part of the list?

1-through-5 – All Charles Barkley! He’s the best – All time.

Seriously, I’ll list them.

1. Charles
2. Julius Erving
3. David Robinson
4. Magic Johnson
5. Yao Ming (he was unreal and I name him to represent another 50-75 international greats)

1. Jerry Sloan
2. Rudy Tomjanovich
3. Pat Riley
4. Hubie Brown
5. Jack Ramsay

The late Dr. Jack Ramsay had an infectious love for the game and a gift for sharing it with others in so many ways — through broadcasts, through books, through clinics, through conversations, for instance. The same could be said for Sixers stat man and info guru Harvey Pollack, who in his own right is an institution within the NBA. In a nutshell, what have guys like these two done to put their stamp on the sport within the larger framework of American society?

Funny, as I named Dr Jack and then saw the next question right as I did it! Let me say this, In all of the years at all of the events, the NBA Finals were always the best, the most competitive, the best basketball in the world. After a Finals game, even though the game ended at Midnight and we worked until 2 a.m. or later, there was NOTHING better than to go back to the hotel to unwind a bit, and sit and listen to Jack Ramsay holding court at a small table, usually with his ESPN crew or the NBA/ESPN Radio guys and gals. It was heaven. Jack and Hubie taught me a lot about the game and I was a sponge for that insight. Thankfully, I grew up in a “basketball family” so I had a pretty good foundation and a real appreciation of the game.

Harvey is one of a kind. Super Stats. I always enjoyed his company in Philly and he is a good friend. He belongs in the Hall, right where he is as a Bunn Award honoree, just like my old boss, Brian McIntyre.

Based on your experiences, what’s the most important advice you could dish out to any pro team’s or pro league’s PR department to build a foundation for success?

Build relationships. Period. Honor those relationships with credibility. Do what you say you are going to do. Be reliable. Case closed.

To the PRs, all of the above, but to add advice to not be afraid to say, I don’t know but I can try to find out for you.

Return calls and messages promptly. Pick up the phone and don’t rely on email.

From your point of view, are players too media savvy these days, what with the ability to deliver their own message in so many ways via Facebook, Twiter, YouTube, Instagram, social media and other means? Does that take away from some of the spontaneity of interviews that help generate good stories?

No. I think the players are evolving alongside of the media. That’s fine. And face it, the leagues, teams and players can take an unfiltered message right to the masses. That’s the way it is. The “traditional” media have to “get over it” and move on, build a new model, It’s a whole new world and it starts tomorrow.

Similarly, what are the biggest changes and job demands that team and league PR staff face nowadays compared to when you joined the league office in the early 1980s?

The massive changes in technology are a blessing and a curse. We were typing the news on IBM selectric typewriters with broken ribbons. The amount of time saved by better tech is mind-boggling. The Internet changed EVERYTHING for PR, especially when you think that I had to budget and spend a fortune to fax stuff around on long distance phone lines to put a piece of paper in a broadcasters or newspaper reporters hands. The challenges are all still time management, managing up and down and sideways, when it comes to your bosses, staffs, players, coaches, fans, media, wanna-be-media, so on and so on. 24 hours a day is simply not enough for a good PR guy, but you’ve got to manage the time and your life, too.

Of your favorite league stories – quirky, funny, candid tales — beyond the headlines and/or games, which ones bring you the most amusement when something reminds you of them?

Walking the Barcelona Ramblas with Charles and somehow, finding a quiet place to enjoy a few cold refreshments stands out as a pretty good story. And, I always say, when the game was done, the last writer finished and the game was in the books, so to say, Brian McIntyre would ALWAYS hand me a cold beer and say, “T, We Fooled Them Again! – Good job” – Til this day, just typing that phrase brings tears to my eyes – Laughter, and joy!

Can you pinpoint a childhood memory or influential figure that sparked your desire to pursue a career in sports and specifically NBA PR? Can it be narrowed down to one thing or a confluence of events and mentors?

From childhood, I can vividly remember watching the NBA on ABC and the parquet floor of the Boston Garden – on a BLACK and WHITE TV.  When I saw it in color when we finally got a color TV, it was amazing. Then, in ’81 to be working there and being ALLOWED to actually step on that floor pregame? To be in RED AUERBACH’s office? It was a dream come true.

An influential person was certainly Matt Winick, noted above. But, thinking back, I’d also add Lou Carnesecca of St. John’s and his longtime asst coach John Kresse – who went on to a fantastic career at College of Charleston – they named the building after him! Coach Kresse gave me a tour of St. John’s and told me about a “new” major “Sports/Athletic Administration” – a business in sports degree. That was a key moment! Another, was Bob McKillop of Davidson. He was the coach at Trinity and he helped me a lot and we’ve kept in touch all of these years, ’77 on. He is the best coach in the NCAAs. No doubt.

Which compliments you received from your time at the NBA bring you the most satisfaction? (And if you recall who said or wrote them, that’s good info.)

It’s a funny question, when the game was done and you were monitoring the post game and the writers were all tapping/typing away. That clatter was like fine music to my ears. They had enough info, good service, accurate stats, working electricity, decent light, access, access to the players and coaches.I think I was my toughest judge and critic, so, I looked for those moments. And yes, when I decided to step down, the compliments were plenty. The best? All the writers chipped in and bought me every single Rolling Stones CD ever made. All of them. I was speechless. Seriously, I opened that present and was in a daze for about 10-15 minutes.

Is the NBA effectively using its Hall of Famers, top 50 players and past icons enough to promote the game, in the U.S. and abroad, and share its rich history with younger generations?

Yes. very effectively and ever-growing. Since the NBA at 50, the league has done a GREAT job on that.
Ask guys like Clyde Drexler, Darryl Dawkins, Doc, Dikembe (Mutombo), Bob Lanier to mention a few.

The NBA’s global growth is a fascinating thing to learn about. During your travels for Team USA exhibitions, Olympic games, promotional events, etc., which locales outside the U.S. made the biggest impression on you for the fans’ enthusiasm and love for the game?

In no particular order …

Japan, for sure. 34-35,000 in the Tokyo Dome was a pretty serious statement. And, we had great games there.
Mexico – Great, passionate NBA fans.
Lithuania – Small country – GREAT players. Medals to prove it.
Australia – A country where SPORTS matter.
Brazil – They gave us OSCAR!
Spain and Italy and France – The cornerstone of the NBA’s international footprint in 1980. Look how it’s grown.

For you, what was most memorable, most special, about the Atlanta Hawks’ 1988 journey to the Soviet Union? (And since I’m writing these questions … what’s most memorable and special about NBA games and events over the years in Japan and Asia?)

Yes, the trip to the (former) USSR was one for the books. (Recommended reading:

On Japan, I did a small variation of the story I mentioned about me and Brian sharing a beer. Most of the time, Brian was not on site for the NBA international games. I was running them, and Brian was dealing with the ring ceremony or whatever. I took it upon myself to take a first-time Japan Games staffer and to walk them back out to the empty court when the game was long over. I’d remind them that a few hours ago, there were 34,000 people in those seats and they all enjoyed their experience. Chances are they would tell the story about that game for the rest of their lives. I would remind each NBA employee that they had played a HUGE part in that experience. They made some fans in Japan happy that day and they probably helped create a ton of new fans. That was a pretty powerful message and it was never lost on anyone.

Yao Ming’s time in the NBA and the impact it had on building China’s fan base and Chinese media coverage of the game cannot be overstated. So would a breakout NBA star from India have the same impact there?

The Yao Ming story was unimaginable. I always admired the way he dealt with it all, and let me tell ya, we put him through the old NBA PR machine! His grace, humor, professionalism was second to none and he did it bi-lingual style! A great page in the NBA’s history and a sure Hall-of-Famer.

On India, I have to simply state – “I don’t know.” – I would love to assume the impact would be as big, but I’m just not sure if it is possible. The player would have to be as good as MJ or Yao or Dirk (Nowitzki) or Pau (Gasol) or Manu (Ginobili) or Tony Parker or Steve Nash! (many others could be added!)

From a PR standpoint and the public’s perception that goes with it, how have the NFL and Roger Goodell handled the Ray Rice case? Would David Stern have managed the situation in a much different way? And how would you have suggested the NFL respond to press inquiries and public scrutiny of the case in recent weeks?

Out of respect to my colleagues at the NFL, I’ll take a pass on this one. It’s a mess and we all know it. Let’s just leave it and hope something good comes in the future.

What are your regular must-read and must-listen sources of NBA news and commentary these days?

I like the NBA on TNT coverage the best. Ernie, Kenny (Smith) and Charles. Everyone else does a very good job, but Ernie Johnson is the MAN. Mike Breen does a great job on play-by-play for the big NBA games. I like him alot, as a broadcaster and as a person. He’s the real deal. Doug Collins does a great job, too. On ESPN, their best guy, Jay Bilas, does the NCAA games. The all-time best, Marv Albert, is just that – THE BEST! Up here in Boston, Mike Gorman does a very good job on the local Comcast SportsNet and his longtime sidekick, Tommy Heinsohn makes me laugh every night. If every single call went the Celtics’ way, Heinsohn would still be claiming the refs were against the Celtics. He sort of mocks the game but it’s pretty funny. The problem is the fans actually believe him and they don;t realize he’s a cartoon. I enjoy Tommy’s banter and he always has a smile and a story for us, and I admire him greatly. Same with Satch Sanders – who frequently does analysis and functions for the Celtics. Talk about class. That is Satch. He is what the NBA is all about.

Follow Terry Lyons online:


A 2005 interview with Charles Barkley

This article appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun.

Headline: ‘Sir Charles’ in charge
Feb. 5, 2005

By Ed Odeven
In his college days, they called him the “Round Mound of Rebound.” When he became a superstar in the NBA, he was affectionately dubbed “Sir Charles.”

These days, Charles Barkley is recognized wherever he goes. He works for TNT as an NBA analyst, enjoys his time on the golf course near his Scottsdale home and travels the country to help with a number of charitable causes.

Barkley paid a visit to Northern Arizona University Saturday night to help raise money for the Sports Celebrity Dinner and Auction, presented by the Flagstaff Family YMCA and the Arizona Daily Sun. It was his first visit to Flagstaff since he participated in the Phoenix Suns’ preseason training camp here in 1995.

“I think kids deserve an opportunity to be successful, and that’s what organizations like the YMCA provide,” Barkley, the keynote speaker, said at the Dubois Conference Center.

Proceeds from the dinner/auction, which organizers hope will bring in $25,000 to $30,000, will benefit the YMCA’s Strong Kids Campaign.

Steve Saville, a YMCA board member and the organization’s community relations chairman, said the YMCA plans to make this an annual fund-raiser.

In a brief interview with the local media before the evening’s festivities commenced, Barkley addressed a number of topics.

Named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players in 1996, he said he’d eventually like to be an NBA general manager or an owner. His love for the game is the same as it’s always been.

“I miss playing every day,” said Barkley, an 11-time All-Star, who retired in 2000. “I miss it more than anything in the world. There’s nothing like playing.”

Never one who’s been shy about expressing his opinions, Barkley explained why sports are such a valuable tool in the lives of youths.

“I think sports are a great motivator for your mental health (and) your physical health. It keeps you in shape,” he said. “But it’s stupid to think that every kid is going to do well in reading, writing and arithmetic. I think one thing about school that’s brutal is you need to get rid of some academics to teach more vocations.

“I owe basketball every single thing in my life, because I grew up a poor kid,” he continued. “… All these kids aren’t going to make it to the NBA, but one thing about sports is it can give you a chance to go to college. And that’s what I think more kids should use college for instead of trying to make it a profession.”

In recent weeks, Barkley’s been traveling the country to promote his latest book, “I May Be Wrong But I Doubt It.”

A recent appearance on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” certainly didn’t hurt, he acknowledged.

While signing some copies of the book for the evening’s auction, Barkley casually remarked that “once you get on ‘Oprah’ you’re a best-seller.”

“She’s a cool chick,” he added with a smile.

Book tours keep him busy, but he has other concerns, too.

“My No. 1 priority is my teenage daughter,” he said, “trying to keep boys away from my house.”

Barkley, a fan favorite during his days with the Phoenix Suns (1992-96, which included the Suns’ appearance in the 1993 NBA Finals), said he’s happy his former team is playing so well this season. “Phoenix fans are fantastic. One of the reasons I love it in Phoenix is the fans made me enjoy the game of basketball …,” he added.

In three weeks, Barkley’s fifth book — “Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man?” — will be released. For this book, Barkley conducted interviews with numerous well-known individuals, including Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, actor Morgan Freeman, rapper/actor Ice Cube and former President Bill Clinton.

“I wanted to write a positive book on race,” he said.

What was the most memorable interview?

“Probably Bill Clinton … because I had never met him before,” Barkley said. “I’m a huge fan and he’s a cool dude and it was really cool.”

Following Saturday’s festivities in Flagstaff, Barkley flew back to Las Vegas, where he’ll watch Super Bowl XXXIX.

Asked to offer his thoughts on today’s game, Barkley had this to say:

“I’m going to take Philadelphia.” The reason?

“Well, I’ve got a house in Philly, and I just think that Donovan McNabb is not going to let them lose,” he said.

“I think it’ll be really close, 20-17.”

Mexican basketball pioneer Horacio Llamas (Autumn 1997 magazine cover story)

llamasThis was the cover story for the September/October 1997 issue of FASTBREAK, the official magazine of the Phoenix Suns.

Cover headline: El Primero
Horacio Llamas made history in his rookie year and now he’s determined to make an impact on the NBA

Inside head: El Primero
Horacio Llamas enters the history books as the first Mexican-born player in the NBA

By Ed Odeven

Horacio Llamas has always been a big fella (un hombre grande). One with equally large aspirations. As a youngster growing up in Rosario, Sinaloa, Mexico, he kept telling his parents that he would make them very proud.

“Horacio always said he was going to be somebody,” his father, Horacio Llamas Tirado said recently through a translator.

Just how big Horacio would become remained a question mark to his family. But the long-anticipated answer arrived on March 2, 1997, in Dallas. It was on that spring evening that Llamas’ name was called by Suns Head Coach Danny Ainge, signaling him to enter a game against the Mavericks.

“It was in the second quarter and I heard coach Ainge say my name and I was like, ‘You all hear my name? Wow!,’ ” Llamas said, re-enacting the look of shock on his face. “I got up and I started walking and it was like everyone in the arena stopped. It was like everyone was paralyzed, even the players. I was like in another world — I was walking, but my mind wasn’t there.

“Then I got in and started playing real hyped. Right away I went to the other side of the court and they passed me the ball.I shot it from like the free throw line and I made it, so all the nervousness and all that stuff that went down real quick. Then when they took me out, I was like, ‘Thank you, Lord. Thank you.’ ”

The rookie center, who was signed to a pair of 10-day contracts in February before being inked for the remainder of the season, wasn’t the only one thankful for his brief appearance. Although he played but four minutes in the game, it was four minutes that won’t soon be forgotten by his family, who was in the crowd. And, more importantly, it was four minutes that will go down in the country’s history. You see, with the call to action, Llamas became the first Mexican-born player to appear in an NBA game.

“I’m very honored that Horacio is the first Mexican to make it to the NBA,” Tirado said. “I’m very satisfied to be the father of a distinguished person. It is a gift from God (un regalo de Dios).”

The 6-11, 285-pound center agreed that it is a noteworthy accomplishment, but it also excited to be an inspiration.

“It’s the best feeling because I’m the first one and I’m opening the doors for a lot of young Mexicans who want to make it to the NBA,” he said. “They think they can make it if they have a strong role model.”

As the Suns made their way down the stretch last season, Horacio’s fans back home and throughout the southwest followed his every move. And although he saw few minutes (101 in 20 games), backing up Hot Rod Williams in the middle, Llamas did give the Suns’ starting center some valuable rest and held his own while doing so. He even got a chance to start one game, alongside Williams, against the Houston Rockets. He switched back and forth between Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley on defense — not an easy task for any rookie, to be sure.

Despite being originally signed as another big body for practices, Llamas showed in his short stint that he could contribute — whether it was in practice, as support from the sideline or as a banger down low. His enthusiasm and determination impressed his teammates, coaches and the entire Suns organization.

“He comes out early. He works every night before the game with our coaches and I like that,” said Cotton Fitzsimmons, senior executive vice presidents for the Suns. “I like how hard he’s working and the attitude he has whether he’s in the game or on the bench.”

The impression he left in two months was good enough to earn him a new one-year contract this summer. But Llamas isn’t satisfied with just being re-signed. He wants to prove to everyone that he belongs in the NBA for good.

“The only thing I can do is keep getting better. I’m doing all these little things to get better,” he said, referring to his busy summer schedule that’s included his participation in the Rocky Mountain Review in Utah and Pete Newell’s Big Man’s Camp in Hawaii. “I’m getting stronger every day. I’m trying to get better physically, to lose fat. I can see when I play down low that they push me and foul me and I’m still getting up and making shots because I’m stronger. I want to be here for 10 years.”

From Sinaloa to Arizona

Horacio grew up in a working-class neighborhood. His father is a veterinarian and his mother, Ana Luisa, a teacher. His parents instilled a sense of responsibility in him, his two younger brothers, and an older sister, and let them know the difference between right and wrong.

“They are supporting me since I started playing any sport and now they are happy to see their son doing well and not doing drugs or is a problem child,” said Llamas, who is still mastering the English language. “Since I was a little kid, they told me the right stuff and I listened to them. If they hadn’t raised me how they raised me, I wouldn’t have come out like I came.”

Like many Mexican youth, Horacio grew up playing soccer and baseball. But his first love was karate, which he began taking when he was only 2 years old.

“My uncle would take me and I would just go out with him,” he reminisced with a big smile. “I just kept going until I was 13.”

“I remember when I went to a national tournament when I was 10 or 11 years old and somebody told me that it wasn’t for ages, that it was for sizes. Somebody told me that I was somebody’s father that was in the division, so he wanted me to go to another division.”

Sure enough, the man got his wish and Horacio started sparring against boys three or four years older than him. Even then, he was a man among boys.

It wasn’t until his early teen years that he began playing basketball. He became a fan of the sport watching the NBA playoffs at a friend’s house who had a satellite.

“I started playing basketball for fun,” he explained. “My friends invited me to play in city tournaments. I started going there and liking it. When I was 15 I had to decide if I wanted to play basketball or baseball. I started playing basketball.”

Wise choice, amigo.

Horacio was head and shoulders above the other basketball players in Sinaloa — in more ways than one. His enormous size and raw, rugged ability landed him a spot on the Mexican junior national team which trained in Mexico City at the Olympic Training Center.

While in Mexico City in 1991 on business, former Pima Community College Athletic Director Larry Toledo heard whispers about a guy named Llamas.

“We were informed that there was a young man that had a lot of potential that was a very big man,” Toledo recalled. “But we never got to talk to him. We had an emergency that made us come back to Tucson.”

That didn’t stop Toledo from convincing Pima coach Mike Lopez that Llamas could be a pioneer.

“Larry sold me on the idea way before I talked to Horacio,” Lopez said. “He felt that Mexico had some players. They needed to be exposed so they could go on and get somewhere. Larry had the vision that, ‘Hey, Horacio could be the first in the NBA, and that this can happen through Pima.’ ”

Of course it didn’t hurt that, at the time, Pima had a player from Mazatlan, Mexico, named Francisco Gomez, a friend of Horacio’s. Gomez also kept talking to Lopez and Toledo about the mammoth Mexican. All this hype sparked Lopez’s interest and he decided to give Lopez a call at the Olympic training center.

“Through Francisco, I was able to ask him if he was interested in coming up,” Lopez said. “He wanted to come to the United States to play basketball but, before that, he had to come to visit.”

So Llamas took a day-long bus ride from Mexico City to Nogales, Sonora, where he was greeted by Gomez and an astonished coach.

“When I first saw Horacio, he came out of the bus station,” Lopez recalled. “I thought he was going to be 6-7, 6-8 maybe. He was an awesome, imposing stature and he was dressed to kill. He was dressed in black and had black terminator sunglasses on. He was very, very imposing.

“I thought to myself, ‘We are going to make this man a basketball player.’ ”

Instantly, Llamas took a liking to Pima. His first day in Tucson found him surrounded by competitive basketball players at Aztec Gymnasium, including ex-Wildcat standout Ed Stokes.

“Stokes was a 7-footer with legitimate game,” Lopez said. “I got Horacio to go work out against him and with him. Stokes took him to school, but Horacio liked that the first day he came to the United States he could go meet somebody bigger than he is.”

Lopez was not an overnight success at Pima. During his freshman season, in 1992-93 he was overweight, a little lazy (flojo) and knew no English. Those were three things he needed to improve dramatically.

And he did.

“Even back then before Horacio was very good, he was still big,” said Lopez. “He had to build up his conditioning, his training, his work ethic, his strength, his lifting, and his English. That was one of the biggest barriers for him. Once he was able to do that, he was able to do a good job.”

As a sophomore, Llamas’ desire caught up with his ability. During a game in 1994 against visiting Arizona Western College, he exploded, putting up 52 points. It was a game that truly marked the beginning of his arrival as an impact player. Sure, he has shown flashes of brilliance before but, in this game, he was unstoppable.

After starring at Pima for two years, Llamas transferred to Grand Canyon University in the heart of Phoenix, where he quietly developed into a Division II star. During his senior season, he led the Antelopes in scoring (17.5 per game), rebounding (9.2) and blocked shots (3.7). Basketball Times even selected him as the 1995-96 Division II Player of the Year.

Llamas’ next stop was the American West Arena, but not as a Phoenix Sun. Invited to participate in the Nike Desert Classic in April 1996, the local college product displayed his game in front of NBA coaches, general managers and scouts.

But despite his impressive collegiate stats, a good showing at the Classic and a bulky frame, Llamas went undrafted. That did not demoralize him, however. Instead, it gave him an added incentive. If he wasn’t ready for the NBA, he was going to make himself ready.

Llamas participated in summer leagues in Detroit and Los Angeles and even was invited by Olajuwon, who had heard of him through a common friend, to join him for some private workouts in Houston.

“Olajuwon helped teach me some moves,” said Llamas, who utilized some of those moves when he joined the CBA’s Sioux Falls team last fall. He appeared in 37 games for the league-leading Skyforce in 1996-97 and averaged 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks (fifth best in league) per game.

It was those stats and an injury-plagued Phoenix roster that triggered Llamas’ historic promotion to the NBA.


Long before Llamas made NBA history, he was embraced by Tucson’s Hispanic community. While he was a student-athlete, Llamas was a well-known figure to people of all ages.

“They never saw a Mexican so big and doing so well. They just thought that he walked on water,” Toledo said. “He has been quite a positive inspiration to a lot of the members of the Hispanic community here in Tucson.”

“We took him to meet all different aspects of the Hispanic community here in town and everywhere he touched, he left quite an impression. They loved him. I went to an elementary school to talk and the kids thought he was an incredible hero.”

If he wasn’t an incredible hero then, he certainly is one today. Now, wherever Horacio goes he is a celebrity. People on both sides of the border easily recognize the Sinaloan sensation.

“He’s like the Michael Jordan of Mexico, Air Horacio,” Toledo said. “He’s as big as Michael Jordan down there, maybe even bigger because he’s one of their own. They don’t get all the games on TV, so as far as they’re concerned he’s at the level of Michael Jordan.

“In Mexico, journalists put sports on the front page. A sports figure is more heroic than the president. He can’t go anywhere there that he is not recognized.”

He is especially well known in his hometown. His parents’ house has practically turned into a visitation center for everyone and anyone.

“He’s well known,” Llamas’ proud papa said. “He’s really loved. People always come over the house. The house is open for all the town.”

With the open invitation, people stopped in all the time. ALL the time.

“He’d get up in the middle of the night, and there would be people in the living room waiting for him,” Lopez said. “Some of the people coming over were like some he knew in 1st grade. He couldn’t get any sleep.

“When he did get away, Horacio would borrow a car and just get on the road just to get away from the attraction of people that were coming by. Everyone known him down there.”

If there is anyone in Mexico who doesn’t know him yet, they soon will. He recently signed a deal with Pascual Boing, a Mexican juice company, to star in commercials and has also agreed to become a spokesman for Mexico’s long distance phone company, Telemex. Other possible endorsement opportunities his agent is looking into include a rental car company and a Mexican supermarket chain.

And if that wasn’t enough, Toledo and his son, Pablo, who recently started their own film company, have begun working on The Horacio Llamas Story. The feature film has already been written and Horacio has agreed to play the starring role. Filming is expected to begin sometime next year.

“He broke barriers,” said Pablo, a graduate from the USC film school who will direct the picture. “But he broke them on both sides of the border. Now the kids in Mexico are going to be playing just as intense as American kids because they see that, ‘Hey, Horacio did it.’ He’s the one leading the way.”

And he’s sticking to his humble roots.

“He’s one of the few people I’ve seen attain the level of success, but yet respect everybody from the janitor sweeping the floor at America West Arena after the game to Jerry Colangelo,” Pablo said. “And every kid that comes up to him, he not only signs their stuff, but he talks to them. He actually communicates with them.”

And with only one NBA season under his belt, “Horaciomania” is just beginning. And as his countrymen and many north of the border already know, Horacio Llamas is somebody to look up to — in more ways than one.