In this episode, Kurt talks with Mel Peterson, former NBA & ABA basetball player, on his life journey.
Listen to “Episode 84: Mel Peterson – Stories of the Journey” on Spreaker.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. So good to be here with you yet again week after week. This is episode 84 and we are doing a story of the journey episode. I know for most of you, you enjoy the analytical discourse that occurs here week after week, but from time to time we take a break to hear more about the personal side of things and to hear from someone whose lived something that some of us have maybe never thought of before. I know we had a professional athlete on the show, I guess last summer, Matt Murton, a former professional baseball player. We are blessed this week to be joined by a former basketball player and before I introduce him I just want to do a brief but yet big announcement here. For those that follow Defenders Media online they will see the news that was announced either Monday or Tuesday that Defenders Media has acquired Apologetics315 which is a very, very popular apologetics web site ministry and so we are very excited about what this means for our organization, for the content we’re going to be bringing to you on apologetics315, and how we are going to be able to promote the work of the Defenders Alliance, those ministries that we work with through apologetics315, and I believe Chris has the web site up here to show you just a little bit if you’re unfamiliar with this web site ministry. Apologetics315 provides daily apologetic resources including audio debates, podcasts, book reviews, and more other just general apologetic news and so it’s been around for ten years, just over ten years actually, and its founder, Brian Auten, just put so much time and effort, blood, sweat, and tears into building this web site ministry and it’s a very popular one and so we’re very excited. I want to invite you to check it out when you have a chance. The web site is apologetics315.com. Of course, the 315 coming from 1 Peter 3:15, always be prepared to give a defense for the hope that’s within, but doing so with gentleness and respect. That’s something that some apologists tend to leave out from time to time sadly, the notion of gentleness and respect, and we hope that here on Veracity Hill we have been doing such that we’ve been bringing to you content from a variety of perspectives defending the faith, but doing so in a civil, respectful manner. A number of different resources you can check out on apologetics315. The different categories on the left sidebar. Just scroll. There’s the search feature on the top-right if you’ve got a question like evidence for Jesus you can search that and see what comes up in the search results, loads of material. I’m talking thousands of different articles and resources for you, literally thousands, and so the Defenders Team is very pleased to be in the planning stages of providing daily content for you and this week, I got in place a book review team and so it’s about ten of us that will be writing book reviews and our goal, it’s a soft goal, is to put together the team, that is, one new book review a week, for the web site, for apologetics315 and that will be a great resource. I want to thank the volunteers. I’m sure we’ll be happy to talk about who they are and their interests perhaps on this podcast sometime in the future. Apologetics315 also has their own podcast and so this was a number of interviews that Brian Auten has done throughout the years by interviewing different apologists and so if you’re interested in that you can go to the website and click the interviews button there at ap315 as I call it for short.
Again, very happy about that acquisition and what it means for the organization. If you’ve got questions about that website, please do get in touch with me. You can email me at Kurt@defendersmedia.com. That’s my general email for work-related matters. If you’re interested in submitting a comment or question for this podcast, the best way to reach me is Kurt@veracityhill.com or also on social media, Veracity Hill is on Facebook and Twitter, and you can join our texting plan. Just text the word VERACITY to 555-888 and you can ask me questions, request show topics, or have questions for our guests as well. I see we’ve got a few people watching on our livestream today so thank you for those that are tuning in. If you’ve got questions please free to comment those and I’ll be following along and if I miss something, perhaps Chris, our technical producer will let me know.
That is enough rambling from me. Now I want to get to today’s topics, stories of the journey. Today we are joined by Mel Peterson, and some of you might be like “I’ve never heard of Mel Peterson.” Let me tell you a little bit about him. He is a former NBA and ABA basketball player. He attended Wheaton College back in the day and he ranks as Wheaton College’s all-time leader in points per game, career points, field goals made, and career rebounds, and he was drafted with the 4th pick in the 11th round in the 1960 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. He’s played with a couple NBA teams and spent more time in the ABA and hopefully, for some of you wondering what’s the ABA, I think Mel will be a better person to answer that question so I’m looking forward to speaking with him today here in studio about his journey and the things that he’s learned throughout that journey and the way he’s integrated his faith. We’re looking to have a relaxing episode here, probably talking more on the sports side of things, and I hope you’ll stick with us and participate in the discussion if you have questions that maybe I hadn’t considered asking to Mel. Mel. Thank you so much for being on the show today.
Mel: Thank you, Kurt. Good to be here.
Kurt: Alright. I guess before we get into the questions I’ve got here prepared, maybe for some people that are already wondering, what is the difference between the NBA and the ABA.
Mel: The difference? The ABA was the second professional league that was started and it lasted only about five or six years…
Kurt: Before the NBA bought them out.
Mel: Yeah. Some of the teams merged with the NBA teams. Utah Jazz. Indiana Pacers. The old New York Nets which are the Brooklyn…
Kurt: That’s right.
Mel: A Minnesota team, some of those were ABA teams that merged with the NBA teams.
Kurt: Nice. Alright. Let’s start at the very beginning. I was a young lad in the 90’s. I turned on the TV to watch basketball, I saw Michael Jordan and I wanted to be like Mike. That phrase, be like Mike. What got you interested in basketball way back in the, I guess, 1950’s, 1940’s even?
Mel: Just don’t go to the 18-something. That’s hard to answer. I grew up in a large family. I had seven brothers and our time was spent, depending on what season it was, playing baseball, or football, or basketball. I really never thought of it and just enjoyed playing. That’s really what we did. Never had any aspirations of a lot of things. There wasn’t any pressure put on us. Just enjoy what you’re doing.
when was it for you that you sort of realized, “Hey. I might be able to
make a career out of playing basketball.”?
Mel: I don’t think that really came into play until actually I did.
Kurt: Is that right? So even while you were in college….
Mel: No. Never entered my mind really.
Kurt: Guide me through that process then. You graduated Wheaton College.
Mel: I graduated Wheaton. Year after that I was in the service and that was in ’63 and that’s the year that we went, had a team, US team that went down to Brazil and played in the Pan-American games and then came back from then, I came back from there, I had a letter from the Baltimore Bullets, as far as coming and trying out, because that was about three or four years after I graduated. Did that, and essentially made the team and after I made the team I was told I couldn’t play because I had a heart problem. I had some medical work done and then went out to California, taught school for about three years and then the APA started.
Kurt: And by that time the medical issues…
Mel: At that point, understand that they did an EKG and they have an EKG, this should be normal for everybody. If it varies on that at all, there’s a problem. Mine varied from that. I had a heart catheterization done and the doctor and the doctor said “No problem.”
Kurt: No problem. Okay. And so you ended up spending more time in the ABA than in the NBA. Tell me about those years in the ABA.
Mel: Yes. The first year, interesting, was the worst team in the ABA. I think we ended up winning 13 games. The second year after a couple of trades, we won the ABA championship.
Mel: That was probably the biggest turn around of most any team ever.
Kurt: And we’ve got a couple pictures here of your time in the ABA. Chris, I think, we’ve got a team picture, of you, you were number 40 or 44.
Kurt: Okay. And with the Oakland Oaks for two years and then you went down to Los Angeles….
Mel: LA Stars.
Kurt: LA Stars. That’s right. And so you’ve played I think your time was with the Oakland Oaks was when you played the most?
Kurt: Nice. So let me ask you here, the game has changed quite a bit.
Kurt: What would you say are some of the main differences between the way that the game was played back then, and the way that the game was played today?
Mel: Most people watching the game, the three-point shot started in the ABA. That’s where that came from.
Kurt: That would have been my league then, because I’m a short guy…
Mel: That’s where that started, but the game has gotten so much to counting on the three-point shot more than anything. Way back when it was the big man in the middle, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell and guys like that, they went through that, but now it’s gotten to be the three-point shot and would have been fun to play in high school and college with the three-point shot.
Kurt: And back then there wasn’t a 24-second shot clock.
Mel: No. There wasn’t.
Kurt: So you could take your sweet old time in getting the ball into the hoop.
Mel: There wasn’t any time limit on getting the shot up at all.
Kurt: Okay. What were some other differences? I take it there was a lot of, the way I interpret it today, it can be very individualistic, but back then it strikes me as more of a team.
Mel: If you look at the successful teams, they’re teams. There are teams that have some very great ballplayers on it, but they’re more individual than they are a team thing. With a team thing, it doesn’t matter with basketball who scores or who does what. It all counts as 2 or 3 points, whatever you do, whoever scores it. In the end it’s who wins and who loses and not how many points I have.
Kurt: Yeah. That’s right. So considering what the game is like today, what are some of the things that you miss about how the game was played back then, if anything?
Mel: I think one of the things, one of the areas is just the fundamentals of the game. The game has changed a great deal, but in my thinking the fundamentals have not changed, but so many teams and so many individuals are away from the fundamentals that it becomes almost a show. I want to dunk the ball. I want to be fancy with it rather than just getting the job done. Back then, as far as dribbling the ball, almost every time on the floor there, they could call carrying the ball, the way the ball is dribbled. Back then, you could not do that. That really makes a difference in handling the ball and how you do.
Kurt: Yes. So you really had to keep your hand on top of the ball because today with it almost being…
Mel: Most of the time they carried the ball over.
Kurt: Just carrying, that can be difficult for a defender because you’re not sure if he’s going to pass it or keep dribbling.
Mel: If I’m dribbling the ball with my hand on top, it’s hard to change direction. If I’m carrying the ball, I can change direction much quicker and have much more control of the ball. It does really put a lot of pressure on the defense.
Kurt: So tell me, your time playing I guess both in the NBA and the ABA, who were some of the big games that people might recognize that you played with?
Mel: Probably not too many people remember those things anymore.
Kurt: Some of us basketball nerds might.
Mel: I played with Rick Barry in Oakland, Larry Brown who most people know now as far as his coaching and in fact he was a super guy to have on the floor. In fact, the coach we had at Oakland, he did something that was really interesting. In a timeout, he would say, “Okay. Tell me what’s going on. You guys are out there. I’m not, but I’ll make the decision.” Willis Reed, I played with him in Outer Brazil. Luke Jackson who played with the Philadelphia 76ers. A lot of those guys and some of the guys that really were the stars in the NBA got their start in the ABA.
Kurt: I take it that you’re a multi-millionaire from your days in the ABA.
Mel: The only problem, they forgot the zeroes.
Kurt: Back then, the sport in terms of pay, not as many people were watching, it wasn’t on TV as much…
Mel: Did they have TVs then?
Kurt: I’m sure some people then, but the contracts were a lot smaller and usually people had to work secondary jobs.
Mel: I guess the biggest thing on this as far as an illustration. Rick Barry went from the NBA, the Golden State Warriors, the Oakland team, to the Oakland Oaks, and there really was a real problem or I guess unhappiness with people because he’s the first one in my recollection of this that every signed a $100,000 contract.
Kurt: Yeah. Which that’s probably not even the league minimum today.
Mel: They probably get that much on the road for meals.
Kurt: Right. Gosh. I’d have to look up what the league minimum, but it strikes me as 300-400 thousand.
Mel: I think it’s somewhere around six and a half.
Kurt: For the league minimum pay which oh my gosh, if you’re getting paid $650,000 to sit on the bench.
Mel: I’ll sit on the bench all day long.
Kurt: That’s wild.
Mel: They even have padded ones now, chairs you can sit on.
Kurt: The comforts of the game have changed too. In some ways, it really has, it’s become, I think some people forget that professional sports, I qualify it as the entertainment industry. I associate it with film, musicals, that’s what it is. People go and they’re entertained by watching these athletes.
Mel: In that industry, what they pay, the difficulty I have with that is it always comes back to the fan ends up paying that and what does it cost. I’m gonna pay $1,000 to go see a game? I don’t think so.
Kurt: We’ve sort of made it into this industry. We’ve made it what it is. I’ve had a discussion with my brother before in baseball, You know the name Albert Pujols. If Albert Pujols lived 100 years. He would not be where he is. Baseball was around 100 years ago, but the opportunities available to some people and the talents that they have. In baseball, you’ve got to have a super quick reaction time. It’s just very interesting to see how big of an industry we have made out of this.
Mel: If you take the professional sports industry and just, job or career, cause there’s a lot of sports figures that changed teams because of I can get a better contract. There’s also a lot of professional people that can change companies because I can get a better deal with this company than I did with this company. I think it’s a little out of hand in what they give…
Kurt: But we’ve made it what it is.
Mel: That’s it. More power to it, they can get it.
Kurt: And so, it’s fascinating to see too, fans, some people where this term comes from, a fanatic. People that are just in love with their local team and they become so disappointed when Lebron James signs with the Miami Heat or when Kevin Durant leaves the Oklahoma City Thunder and signs with the Western Conference Rivals for big money and the chance to win the championship.
Mel: Those kind of guys can get the big money wherever and it’s okay. Where would I rather be? I frankly, I don’t know if this has anything to do with it or not, I enjoy watching the Warriors play because they play as a team.
Kurt: They play as a team. I told a friend of mine I like watching them play. They pass the ball around. They look for the open man. It’s more enjoyable, even if you don’t like them because they’re a bunch of superstars, they play as a team, and so it’s hard to fault them. There’s only one guy I don’t like, Draymond Green, because he can be a little dirty at times in how he plays the game, but generally speaking, they play as a team and that’s fun to watch. It’s good to see, especially for someone like me. I was never gifted with height and I still play basketball in a church league these days, but I’m the short guy. I like being the shooting guard, but when I was a kid I was always put at point guard. I know how to play that. I like playing the three-point game and getting open and it’s fun to see that in the NBA when that happens.
Mel: People play harder and they know if they run and get down on the floor and they hustle they’ll get the ball if they’re open and it’s not a matter of having to clean up after someone else.
Kurt: That’s right. Let me ask you this. You’re a Christian.
Kurt: How was it that your faith played into your time playing professional basketball?
Mel: As most people at least presume to know and they don’t know very much of it, but the faith and the ability to try to honor God in what you do, is really important in that because there’s so many of these other things that are available. You really have to be, if I put it this way, on guard with things.
Mel: Not to get involved even in minor things, because there’s just so much available at that point. A commitment and a faith has a lot to do with how you handle things and what you do and the influence you are with the guys you’re around and what’s going on.
Kurt: Your days on the teams there, the various teams you’re on, you talk about being the influencer. What sort of lifestyles would basketball players, especially players who travel a lot, they might be away from home, what was their lifestyle like that would call for you to be a witness to them?
Mel: You can probably take, if you have fifteen guys on the team, you have fifteen lifestyles. They’re just so different, so varying. You can have, you don’t necessarily do, but it’s interesting how they notice if you’re consistent in how you live and what you do. You don’t have to get up on a soapbox and start going through doctrines and things like that, but it’s a matter of consistency on how you live your life each day. I think that’s true with our lives just generally…
Kurt: Basketball or not.
Kurt: That reminds me of a passage in 1 Thessalonians 4. Paul writes to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life. You should mind your own business and work with your hands just as we told you, so that you might win the respect of outsiders. Here I know for some people, and even in my own life experience, I thought “Gee. I just gotta get on that soapbox and tell everyone about Jesus.” While that’s true sometime, we might ask ourselves how are we telling people about Jesus and so I came across this passage in 1 Thessalonians. Paul’s instruction was specifically to lead a quiet life and you would win the respect of outsiders by living that consistent lifestyle that you talked about and that can be a testimony in and of itself.
Mel: I’ve always been of the idea that don’t tell me who you are, show me who you are. Don’t tell me what you can do, show me what you can do.
Kurt: I live it out.
Mel I coached in a high school in California for awhile and it was funny when we got kids coming in that came onto the basketball team and okay, you came from, how did you do, what’d you do? Those that told me how good they were, were not. Those that told me the fact that we had a good team, we did alright, we struggled here, those were the better ball players.
Mel: Because they were part of the team and I think that’s true of life as well. You don’t have to get up on a soapbox and tell people things. You have to be ready to talk about it and explain why you act and believe like you do, but your actions better prove your words.
Kurt: Great. We’ve got to take a short break here, Mel, but if you’re following along with us on the livestream, please stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. Today I am joined by Mel Peterson, a former NBA and ABA basketball player, talking about his life journey and the experiences that he’s had and how his faith played into that. Before we get into the discussion, Mel, we do a segment on the show here called Rapid Questions and I intentionally did not tell you about this. We’re looking to get sort of fast answers to some goofy unrelated questions, just to get to know you a little bit more and so we’ve got 60 seconds on our game clock here and so once it gets going, I will ask you the first question. Are you ready?
Mel: I guess so.
Kurt: We’ll see how well you do. What is your clothing store of choice?
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Mel: Taco Bell.
Kurt: What song is playing on your radio these days?
Mel: There’s not one.
Kurt: Okay. This one’s easy. What’s your favorite sport?
Mel: Basketball, I guess.
Kurt: What is your most hated sports franchise?
Kurt: That’s a good answer. Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Kurt: Have you ever driven on the other side of the road?
Kurt: Would you drink a Dr. Pepper if it were handed to you?
Mel: Probably in the right situation.
Kurt: Nice. What’s one thing you’d be sure to keep with you if you were stranded on an island.
Kurt: For dancing, the hokey pokey, electric slide, or the macarena?
Mel: If anybody saw me dancing, they wouldn’t ask that question.
Kurt: Nice. Mel Peterson. Thank you for playing Rapid Questions. Not much of a dancer huh? Are you at least a two-step guy, back and forth? You just watch people. Let me ask you, how tall are you?
Kurt: 6’4″. You don’t usually see a bunch of tall people dancing.
Mel: Anymore you do. Way back then, no.
Kurt: Yeah. But maybe dancing wasn’t as big back then.
Mel: In fact, growing up I wasn’t permitted to go to dances.
Kurt: Oh yes. The rebellious sort of dancing occurred with Elvis Presley moving his hips.
Kurt: It’s fascinating to be someone like yourself to see the cultural shift that’s occurred over the last few decades.
Mel: Growing up, people always said you must have missed that. I never thought of it. I had plenty of other things to do. That never entered my mind that that’s something that would be.
Kurt: What’s been your perception of how the culture has shifted from a more conservative lifestyle, to one of, I don’t want to say liberalism, because there’s a classic liberal sense, but libertinism, that the individual just decides whatever they want to do.
Mel: That has to be considered that way because before there was a black and white, there was a line you don’t cross. If you do, there were some penalties to pay, and it’s almost that that’s not the case anymore except on very very severe major things, that I have a right to decide what’s right for me. It doesn’t really matter….
Kurt: And strangely enough, it’s as if people don’t think there aren’t consequences because whether or not, say our laws have changed, there are still natural consequences to our actions.
Mel: That’s one of the things that I think with professional athletes now and I don’t mean this in a derogatory way or anything else but part of the attitude is “That can’t happen to me.” I have so much money, put it that way, that won’t happen to me.
Kurt: I think your extreme case would be Aaron Hernandez, a former tight-end for the Patriots, who was convicted of murdering someone. You do see that invincibility sort of play out and not just in the lifestyles too, but on the court. All these players, I see them, this is one of the things that irks me today in the games of basketball, you constantly get players bickering with the referees looking for the foul, and it just reminds me of the children’s story about the boy who cried wolf. If you do it enough times, they’re just going to ignore, even if there is a legitimate case of a foul.
Mel: Officiating is a tough role anyhow, but it gets more with some of them that they never commit a foul, and every time they do something or are fouled, what do you live with?
Kurt: That’s right. Even in my church basketball league for as small of a thing as we are, people are still complaining about fouls and whatnot. I say let’s just play the game. Try not to foul.
Mel: And that’s the case if everybody and that’s true not just in sports but in life itself, if everybody does their job the way it’s supposed to be done and don’t try to gain advantages in unorthodox ways, let’s put it that way, things really work much better.
Kurt: And it’s just more enjoyable to watch as a spectator. Tell me more, you played professional basketball for I think five or six years.
Mel: Four or five years. Yeah.
Kurt: And there was that period of three years in between. What did you end up doing after your basketball career?
Mel: A number of different things. I had my own business for awhile and advertising, did some advertising and publishing for real estate firms. The last ten-twelve years, I worked with a Christian card company, Dayspring cards, as a rep for them on the road. Enjoyed that.
Kurt: Yeah. Dayspring has a very popular internet site for cards these days.
Mel: They’re owned by Hallmark now.
Kurt: Nice. I think you said you were coaching, was that out in Los Angeles?
Mel: In Southern California.
Kurt: So when did you move back to the Wheaton area?
Mel: About twenty years ago.
Kurt: And what did you do then?
Mel: I was a rep for a company in the CBA or Christian market, a company from California needed a rep back here and I said “Hey.”
Kurt: Your old stomping grounds back in college.
Mel: Might as well.
Kurt: Nice. Today, you find yourself still working at Wheaton College as a service to still be part of that atmosphere.
Mel: As far as the retired part, I got the tired down. Just working on the re part.
Kurt: Nice. I can tell, you take good value in the work you’re doing working there in the bookstore, right?
Mel: One of the things I was taught growing up is whatever task you do, do it the best you can. This is the same with playing ball. Someone gets to the point and there’s maybe one or two that could get to that point saying “I’m the best.” You’re always going to find someone that’s going to beat you at some point. With work and a task and that, why do it if you don’t do the best job you can? No matter what the task is, it doesn’t make you any more important or less important. It’s just the job needs to be done.
Kurt: In a sense, I use the word pride, taking pride in what you do, and here I don’t mean the vice of pride, but the virtue of pride, having a godly pride in the place that God has you in that season of life and it can be a testament that you recognize the value of the work, the necessity of it, and the joys that it can bring.
Mel: God has given all of us talents and that doesn’t mean that I have a talent only for something that I think I want to do and I’ll be noticed. It’s a talent really and sometimes we stand out more in one place than we do another, but that doesn’t give us, I guess, put it right, to not do a decent job in whatever we’re doing.
Kurt: Yeah. I think for some people they might think there’s that old adage, the grass is greener on the other side. I can’t help but think, well sometimes the grass is greener right where you water it.
Mel: The point is, grass is greener on the other side, where you were is the other side now, so which other side are you talking about?
Kurt: So for people that maybe don’t find themselves content in the work that they’re doing, I think that hopefully they might consider how God is using them in that time, in that place, and it can be an opportunity to witness to people again with their lifestyle.
Mel: And that’s a very important point I guess to consider.
Kurt: A two-point or three-point?
Mel: It doesn’t matter. It may be a four-point.
Kurt: Boy. I would like that. If the NBA, half-court shots. Let’s count them as four.
Mel: Just put another line out there for four.
Kurt: On some courts, like volleyball courts, that volleyball line is what, maybe, six or eight feet back…
Mel: Something like that.
Kurt: That would fascinate me especially for a guy, who shoots threes and a guy like Seth Curry, who just launches them from way out there. That would change the game a little bit.
Mel: It would a little bit. Really it’s talking about basketball. The three-point shot is a different shot than normal jump shots.
Kurt: That’s true.
Mel: It’s much different.
Kurt: So what positions did you play back in the day?
Mel: I really had a disadvantage because I played inside in high school in my junior/senior year in high school. I played center. The Wheaton team my freshman year, there were two of us that were 6’4″ and we didn’t have center, forward, just wherever we played, so that was a little disadvantage and things have changed so much athletically, but back then we were told don’t go in the weight room. Don’t touch weights. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Now it’s a whole part of the whole program which I wish it would have been then. Even handling the ball, if you dribbled the ball behind your back or between your legs you came out of the game.
Kurt: Is that right?
Mel: Yeah. Absolutely.
Kurt: That’s fascinating. Because coaches thought that it was…
Mel: Just showing off.
Kurt: Is that right? Not that it was more vulnerable that the ball could be stolen, but you were showboating.
Kurt: Wow. I never knew that. Wow. That’s something.
Mel: Right now, with kids, with any size kids, if I was coaching right now, they would spend a certain time every practice, doing that behind their back, between their legs, but if you do it in the game and you’re not accomplishing something you’re int trouble.
Kurt: That’s true. If you’re careless. That’s right. You’ve been so far removed now from the game, what are some things that you miss about playing?
Mel: Just playing.
Kurt: Just playing.
Mel: It was fun just to play. After I’m done playing, I had three sons and we’d go to the gym and play and it’s interesting just to see and be there and see what guys were doing and not doing, frustrating part about it is watching people play that you wish they would do something different and you can’t change that, but it’s just the idea of playing, the exercise, it’s very good exercise if you do it.
Kurt: Oh yeah. That’s my favorite sport to play. Not my favorite sport to watch anymore sadly, because I think the game has just gotten so much away from the team aspect. Long-time listeners of the show know that I have officially given up being a Chicago Bulls fan because Garpax, you know, the management, they don’t know what they’re doing it seems, making some dumbheaded mistakes so I’m kind of teamless right now so I watch game here and there when it’s on ABC, one of those primetime games.
Mel: I watch anymore to watch individuals. There are some that I really really enjoy watching and others…
Kurt: Not so much.
Kurt: So as you reflect upon your time playing the game, what are some important life lessons that you found yourself having learned.
Mel: I think we’ve talked a little bit about some of those. The idea that whatever you’re doing, after a game, if you can come away from the game if you’re playing a team someplace and say I did best the best job I could, forget the score, forget everything else, I did the best job I could. I messed up here. I missed up there, but I really did the best I could. I’m really happy with the effort I put out on it. That I think is really true with life. When you do a job, whatever it is, no matter how many it is, did I do it the best I could? Wasn’t I an example of anything good or bad?
Kurt: If you had to give three tips to a young child today on aspects to the game, what would be three, not just life lessons, but three lessons specifically about the game? Maybe that’s a question you didn’t anticipate.
Mel: I didn’t, but things that come to mind are don’t listen to your little league coach. No. I think life is very much that same way with all of these things. I’m really disappointed in the fact right now that a kid has to, if he’s going to play on a team, play ball, he has to at a very early age, commit to whether he’s going to play basketball, football, baseball, tennis, he can’t do the things as he sees them come. That’s where you learn “I really like this. I’m really interested in this.” I have a granddaughter right now that’s a senior in high school. She went through. She was a very good soccer player, but unhappy. Now on Track. Not unhappy with it, but not really content with it. A year and a half ago she picked up a tennis racket. “Man, I like this.” Last year in a junior in her league she was undefeated as a number one player and that just after a year and a half, so if you try these things, but we can’t do that anymore.
Kurt: Because people are trying to specialize their children and have them become the past.
Mel: And with the parents, with little league let the kids enjoy it. Let them just enjoy it.
Kurt: Let them play the game.
Mel: They can determine if they’re interested in continuing that game or not and what the aspects of it are, and the same thing with lots of parents and coaches at an early age. You come down to the point with athletics and I think the real value in it is to the point of “I really enjoy this. This is really fun.” It’s a way of getting exercise. It’s a way of relating to people. It’s a way of living within the rules that we have and if we did that same thing with life, we would change a lot.
Kurt: And I think too, for some children who pick that sport early on and that’s the one sport they have, it becomes their identity almost. Their value comes from playing the game. It’s just a game.
Mel: It’s just like asking somebody, “Tell me about you.” “I”m an executive at this and this and this.” No. I didn’t ask you what you do. I asked you to tell me who you are and that is the same thing. A basketball player, I don’t care how good you are, take Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan. He’s known for basketball, but he’s not basketball.
Kurt: That’s right. He’s not. Yeah. So let me ask you this. Let me ask you in terms of all-time. Who do you think is the greatest player of the game? Too hard of a question?
Mel: There’s an answer to it I think in my feeling. You can’t take somebody from forty years ago and compare….
Kurt: You can’t do an apples to apples. Right?
Mel: You have to compare them with what was the situation forty years ago? How did they do? How were they? What are they today? It has to be compared that way, because if someone from forty years ago was playing, there’s guys of forty years ago that would be absolutely as big as stars as they were then. You take Magic the way he played. You take Jabbar the way he played. Bill Russell. All those guys. You tell me that they’re not going to be that successful today?
Kurt: They might be even more successful.
Kurt: Okay. So who would you say is the greatest?
Mel: You have to really break that down into…
Kurt: Taking into consideration the different contexts.
Mel: Who’s the best in the middle? Who’s the best shooting guards? Who’s the best? I’ve never seen anybody…
Kurt: Play their position as well as….
Mel: Do what Rick Barry did when he was playing.
Kurt: Rick Barry.
Mel: He did some things that just when you were playing with him, wow, like that. With guards, handling the ball and shooting, Curry is, but there’s others, Bob Cousy. You just, it’s really, really difficult to do that. All of these guys probably have to be rated in the top five of whatever position that was and then I think in basketball you get away from the idea that they talk about the all-star game and there’s no defense played.
Kurt: That’s awful.
Mel: It’s a show and it’s that so I understand that, but you get guys that were really good defensive players and other guys that defense, they don’t even know how to spell it.
Kurt: I know Jordan was consistently on the all-defensive team.
Mel: Yeah. He has to be considered one of the best of all-time. Lebron James has to be considered that. Whether I agree with everything about it or not. The beauty of Michael Jordan was he played almost his whole career with…
Kurt: When I was a kid and he went to play with the Wizards that last year or two.
Mel: He was retired almost there.
Kurt: Well, he did retire this second time and then he came back out and I think he was, his position was like part coach, part player. I think that appealed to him, but it didn’t destroy, well it didn’t destroy, it hurt his career statistics.
Mel: Oh yeah.
Kurt: He should have just….
Mel: He should have. I don’t know Michael at all, so I don’t know…
Kurt: Oh you don’t?
Mel: If he looked at the statistics and those were that important to him or not, but I think he enjoyed more the NBA championships than the statistics.
Kurt: Before we close out today’s program, last spring you were honored at Wheaton College, were you not?
Mel: I think so.
Kurt: Tell me about that. They recognized you as….
Mel: It’s interesting. We had talked about that much, but the time at Wheaton and playing there was very interesting with the people that came. We had a team my freshman year, the team before the year before that lost four of the starters of the five. The only starter they had coming back was a sophomore the coming year and we were a very small team really. Point guard was 5’6″. Shooting and other guard was 5’10”. Two big men were 6’4″. As a team, that really is an example of what a team can do when the team’s a team and just the experience there with the commitment that everybody had, the focus that everybody had, and the purpose for being there.
Kurt: That’s great. Mel. Thank you so much for joining us in studio today and talking with me, sharing about your journey as a professional basketball player and the way that your faith played into that and the life lessons that can be learned from that experience has well and how we can apply it for us folks in any position in life, really any job that we’re doing, taking those principles and applying them. That’s great. Thank you, Mel.
Mel: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Kurt: Alright. That does it for the show today. I am grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnerships with our sponsors. Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. I want to thank our technical producer today, Chris, you might have seen him there in the background when we have our in-studio guests, and last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth, on faith, politics, and society.
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