By: Sharone Wright
Sharone Wright was an All-state performer at Macon's Southwest high school as a McDonald's All-American. He played basketball for 3 years in the prestigious ACC conference at Clemson University where he is one of it's top 10 all-time players. Sharone was drafted 6th overall by Philadelphia in 1994 and also played for the Toronto Raptors. After 5 years in the NBA, he went to Europe as a player for 7 years and now coaches.
When We Were Young...
It's 3:30am on a chilly Amsterdam night and I’m awake. I’m awake not because of the usual sleep disorder that I sometimes face. Or the sound of the TV that I left on. No, it’s something different this time. It’s a song that I absolutely love. It’s Billy Joel’s - "This Is The Time".
It's one of my all time favorites for two reasons. One is the video by NBA TV that shows all of the greatest NBA players and different times of glory for our League. The other reason is the best reason. It brings me to think of a time when 14 guys came to a city to bring back a game that was born in Canada. A time when the game had to be reborn to a glorious city with the most passionate fans ever!!
A time when we all were outcasts from other teams and we had one chance to make something great. It was a time when most thought we would fail. But to us this was the best time because it was ....
WHEN WE WERE YOUNG.
The time was 1995-1997 and Toronto was hot with ambition and promise. The 28th NBA franchise was about to begin its first season. A management group that was headed by basketball fan and businessman John Bitove, had spearheaded a group that finalized the deal and brought basketball back to Canada. It was the home of the games founder James Naismith. It was the start of a wonderful year filled with heartache, triumph, and celebrations. The city was ours if for only just that year. The Toronto Blue Jays were the toast of the town and the Toronto Maple Leafs had the tradition from years past. So it was a big deal to bring a basketball franchise to Ontario.
I was in my second year as the Starting forward for the Philadelphia 76ers. It was a season that was filled with turmoil from the start. We were losing and losing in every way we could. From the problems with players to the owners demands. Then I had a chance meeting with Isaiah Thomas and one of his friends Darrell Walker. We met in a lobby when both teams played. I cordially talked to them and told them how unhappy that I was. I was in my second season and playing very well. Averaging 12 points a game. I got a call from my high school pal Damon Stoudamire one night shortly after. We had been teammates in high school camps and also on the World University games team that also had Raptors Forward Carlos Rogers won the gold medal 2 years before. I had gone pro earlier than him and now we wanted to play together. It was a good plan but could we make it work? Two weeks later I was a Toronto Raptor.
It was what I call a Band of Brothers. And like that mini series, we were indeed brothers’ telling you what a Motley Crue we were. The likes of Stoudamire, Alvin "the Raptor” Robertson, Carlos Rogers, Tracy Murray, Willie Anderson, Zan Tabak, Ed Pinckney, Doug Christie, Jimmy King, Tony Massenburg, Acie Earl, Martin Lewis , Dwayne Whitfield,Vincenzo Esposito and Dan O Sullivan.
Obviously changes had to be made but then that’s what makes teams get better. Trading Massenburg and Pinckney to Philadelphia for me was a tough one for the team but they felt it would be a good move.
In that season we fought hard. I found out right when I joined the team that these guys had heart and they felt like they could win each game. We lost some heartbreaker games and it seemed that the fans loved even when we lost because they saw how hard these guys played. The NBA was in its glory time as well with the Chicago Bulls 72-10 team. Beating that team was like a dream because they were one of the greatest teams ever.
Our Motley Crue was a hecaka crew though. Acie Earl was the jokester of the bunch. He had a way of making everyone loose and he was the biggest WU-TANG fan of all time. Acie was also a good post player in his own right. Ill never forget his big game against the Celtics (the team that Drafted him). He had 40 points and 12 rebs! That’s the comedy of Earl. Exploding against the team that gave up on him. In some ways we all felt that way. We were the trade pieces and the pawns in the game of NBA team shaping.
Damon Stoudamire was indeed what his nickname said. He was Mighty Mouse on the Court. From the first time Herbie Kuhn roared his name on the Microphone, Damon took the NBA by storm. He was the main reason that people came to se us. But when they came to se us they fell in love with the hard fighting crew that we had. We wanted to put this city on our back and to get out into the community and make a difference. Damon Stoudamire played at such a high level that we all had to follow the rookie and run with him. Seeing him develop the way he did is also one of the best things about my career. I guess it’s because we had always been close.
Doug Christie was to me one of the best defensive players that I ever played with. He could defend anyone. We were traded on the same and arrived to live at the legendary Skydome hotel on the same day. Coming from the Lakers and the Knicks, he was just hungry and ready to go hard on anyone. He meditated before each game as if he was a shogun warrior. Doug to this day is one of my favorite guys. I visited him at his Seattle home when we played the Sonics and had a great dinner with his family.
Tracy Murray was perhaps the most beloved Raptor outside of Damon. HE had a personality that lights up arenas. T-Time as Herbie dubbed him was a lights out shooter. Of course you would have to have lived under a rock to not know Tracy from his sharp shooting days at UCLA. I knew him on other teams to be the greatest teammate ever.
Who could forget his Bell Canada commercial where he fits into the small phone booth? Classic. Or what about Herbie shouting Its Teeeeeeeeeee - time every time Tracy hit a deep three. We night not have led the league in any categories but I tell yaw we led the league in delighting fans who were thirsty for a good time. We were the hardest working team in the league that year.
My partner in crime on the team was the very talented Oliver Miller. HE was a player that could do almost anything that required skill on the court. Great big massive hands, super passing ability, great post moves and a very good rebounder. Oliver had other skills though. He had an uncanny way of making you feel good. When I was traded to Toronto, he was the first person to welcome me and give him and me the nickname Thump and Bump. Till this day he calls and says Hello Thump! Oliver in my opinion was booed and ridiculed heavy because he was just that, heavy. Oliver felt really bad about this. He often asked me, why it is that people don’t like me. HE was a big man with a big heart and he played the game like it was a walk in the park. The naked eye basic NBA fan will never know how very skilled he was. They also will never know how much they hurt him each and every game. HE really was affected by this. Mainly because he didn’t understand why.
Alvin Robertson was a guy I had watched as a kid growing up. When he came to Toronto he was in the last stages of his career. I was old enough to appreciate the player he was before. Alvin always seemed to find trouble and he loved to gamble. He also was a heckava leader and always took the time with the younger players to teach them off the court and on it. Darrell Walker once said that Alvin was a warrior everywhere. I can attest to that. I just hope he’s OK wherever he is because there not a better guy in the world.
Before I go on I just thought of a day that illustrates how committed we were to the Toronto community. We were in the small yet very cool suburb of Scarborough. It’s a small city within its self. It was a melting pot of Caribbean countries and Canadian pride. Well we had a great community relations department back then with the great Al Quance, Elaine Quan and their staff. Well we were out that day to promote the games ahead but also to give away prizes and tickets. The whole neighborhood came out with food and coffee and supported us. They saw we were out on a cold day and they just made a block party out of it. It was the coolest thing that some us ever saw. That’s the effect that we had on the community. They watched us each game and I could never go to the grocery store without signing 40 autographs. It was a time of good deeds and if you ask any of those guys they will tell you that no one ran away from clinics or appearances. We all wanted to grow the game and reach out to the fans.
It was about this time that I started looking out of my Skydome window and watching Roger Clemens work out. He was always throwing and warming up with the Blue Jays staff. I walked down a couple of times and talked to him. Didn’t want to catch that heater though. I was a frequent guest to Jays games of David "Boomer" Wells We also lived on the same floor as Roberto Alomar and a couple of the Jays that stay around when the season was over.
Just good times hanging out with Samuel L. Jackson, actress from the Young and the Restless Tonya Lee Williams, singers Deborah Cox and Tamia.
Carlos Rogers was another fan favorite that I actually knew before I got to Toronto. We were teammates On the World University games team as well. He was a fan favorite as well. He was blessed with super quickness and long arms. He could shoot the ball with good range and was an excellent shot blocker. Carlos had a tough life growing up in Detroit, Michigan so it never left him. It seemed he was always moody and ornery at one moment and silly the next. During the season he found out that his sister Rene had cancer and it struck him down mentally as well. He was determined to play even harder though.
The Rene campaign in Toronto raised money and added soo much joy to the Rogers family that year. That is how cool the community is there.
From the Croatian sensation Zan Tabak, to the Italian Stallion Vincenzo Esposito, we had guys from everywhere.
Yes we were young and we were outcast but we were also warriors. We played some very close games all year. A lot of our loses that year were by 2, 3, and 4 points. We played lots of overtime games that year and served notice that when you came to Toronto, you had to claw your way out with a win. Ask the Michael Jordan led Bulls .We were one of the only teams to beat that great team.
First Ever Tip Off
Living in Toronto was grand to me and after each home game I would go right next to the Skydome to Gretzky's restaurant for the best spaghetti ever!! It was next also to the best mural on a wall. The Damon Stoudamire mural was awesome and you could see it as you drove up to Dome. Word to Joe Carter!!
These were the days my friend. It was the time of our lives and we relished it. I can still taste the ribs at Hard rock Cafe in the Dome.
Today my memories of my guys are fresh because we all stay in touch. from the best trainer to ever work a sideline named Chuck Mooney or Glen Grunwald and his great staff. Isaiah Thomas to me did a great job in keeping us together if only for a short time.
But what we learned from him, Darrell Walker, Butch Carter, Walker Russell and Brendan Suhr was priceless in my book. Ask any of those guys and they will tell you the same. I could go all day about different states of those guys but it will never add up to the heart, sacrifice and love that they showed. We were the foundation for what now is a great organization. It was like you couldn’t start a team any better with any better people. When I return to my adopted home in Toronto, I always feel soo good and warm inside. The cold weather here in Amsterdam reminds me of a time when things were simple. When community relations mattered, when a team could be built not on just talent but heart and caring. When Tracy Mc Grady, Vince Carter, Chauncey Billups and Marcus Camby were on deck like baseball.
When no one shunned the Toronto city, they welcomed the newness of a great metropolitan city. When Tie Domi levelled every opponent with meaness. And every person dressed like those guys on Pulp fiction and everyone said "eh"after each sentence.
Some of us are coaching now (Stoudamire and myself), some are even still playing (God Bless you).But none of will ever forget the days when time was still in a great city, all was good in Queens Quay.
Yes these were the days of a rookie of the year, a rookie head coach in Brendan Malone and a band of sent away brothers who had our day in the sun.
These were days that make me thankful for my fortunate time there. I don’t believe in what could have been. I was struck down and almost killed in a very serious car crash that robbed me of my best years of my career. What could have been is what could have been. But Id never trade the best time of my life...............
WHEN WE WERE YOUNG...