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Who is Luther Wright?
Well, if you were interested in the NBA and into the booming trading card scene back in the early 90s, chances are you would have been somewhat familiar with the promising center from Seton Hall University. Drafted 18th overall by the Utah Jazz in the 1993 NBA Draft that produced a number of household names such as Chris Webber, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and Allan Houston, the 7’2’’, 313-pound center was selected to compliment another Jazz newcomer— center Felton Spencer.
Described by draft analyst Hubie Brown as a player with “Great hands; can play with his back to the basket; and takes up a LOT of space,” Wright was seen as a strong and powerful project that needed to overcome concerns over his weight and lack of offensive skills before he could truly make his mark in the league.
Unfortunately, poor personal decisions during his rookie season not only led to the premature end of a promising basketball career but also set the stage for years of personal trials and tribulations. Today, Luther Wright is at peace with his past and keeps busy with his family, ministry work, music and coaching. In 2010, he released his first book entitled ‘A Perfect Fit: A Memoir.’
Talking about hoops and life
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Wright about basketball, his health, his book, all-time favorite players, and who he thinks has the inside track to win the 2013’-14’ NBA Championship.
Tedi Villasor (TGV): Twenty years have passed since you were selected in the 1993 NBA Draft, could you share some of your thoughts leading up to shaking Commissioner David Stern’s hand at the podium?
Luther Wright (LW): That moment was history in the making. Not too many people can say that they actually were drafted and sat in a room to wait for their name to be called and to actually hear your name called, and get your hat and walk up on the stage and shake the commissioner’s hand. That moment was history in the making.
Along with the fact that I got drafted along with two of my former high school teammates (Bobby Hurley and Terry Dehare). I’ve known those guys my whole life and it has never been done again: Three guys from the same city, same AAU team, and to be drafted kind of back-to-back-to-back on the same night is history in the making and that is a night that I will never ever ever forget.
My career didn’t pan out the way it was scripted to be played out but I am very proud that I still got drafted. I was still a high pick. I was a first round draft pick. We made history that night.
TGV: As one of a handful of draftees invited into the Green Room that night, did you know beforehand that you were going to be selected by the Jazz or were you completely surprised when Commissioner Stern finally called out your name?
LW: There was one story in particular that I remember, I was supposed to be drafted by the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets), which had the 10th pick. But that was also the same year that Dražen Petrović died in a car accident so they needed another shooting guard and took Rex Walters instead of myself with that pick in that draft.
Willis Reed was the General Manager of the Nets and actually came down — I was staying at Myrtle Beach working out and getting ready for the draft — to work me out and I thought for sure that I would be drafted by the New Jersey Nets.
TGV: How was it like to play with John Stockton and Karl Malone?
LW: I’ve shared this story all the time. I really didn’t understand the difference from basketball once you get to the professional level you have to approach it as a job and I was still looking for the fun part and being young, not understanding what was expected of me, not really having a person with me to kind of push me to go to work out extra; go to practice. To do the little things that professional athletes do to maintain their careers and just being on a team with guys their caliber — Hall of Fame players — I took it for granted.
I didn’t really understand the magnitude or the blessing that it was to be on that team. That was a very special team and when you are on the outside looking in it a little bit late to do something that you didn’t normally do before because you’re not in it anymore.
TGV: Right, so make the most of your opportunities?
LW: Make the most of your opportunities but also be like a sponge and take in the all the things that they were trying to tell me and listen. You have to learn to listen. At that time, I wasn’t able to handle that stuff and I was very self-centered when I got to Utah.
TGV: Can you think of a couple of things that you might have picked up from John Stockton or Karl Malone that you have applied in your life or could have applied to your career?
LW: Being accountable, being more mature, being responsible for the things that I do. Just being mature and understanding that those guys did everything in order. They had a system and their system worked for them. If I had just picked up a little of their work ethic and taken a little bit more of their basketball IQ and the things that they saw on the court, I would have probably had a better career and been able to stay in the league a lot longer and probably just retired two or three years ago.
TGV: Was there already an NBA Rookie Transition Program during your rookie year?
LW: Yeah. They had one but it was still in its development stages. So we went — but once again you got young guys that are rich now and we didn’t really listen to what they were at the transition program. We just went through the motions, going through the motions, and we couldn’t wait till it was over so we could just go out and party.
TGV: What would you consider to be your “go-to” basketball move?
LW: I had a few moves. I have a nice midrange jump shot and maybe my drop step, jump hook, turn-around jump shot. I had a few pet moves.
TGV: From the perspective of a developmental coach and a center, what defensive tricks would you normally teach your student-athletes?
LW: Well, it’s all about balance and setting your feet. Having good footwork and knowing your body. What you can and can’t do. You have to know the rules. Being a defensive player, you just have to take a lot of chances so that you have the offensive player thinking about you. If a player comes down on me and posts me up and I am able to block his shot once or twice — I won’t have to block it a third time because now I got him thinking, ‘He’s going to block my shot.
It’s all about getting into the offensive player’s head and making them think what you are going to do which will take away from what they need to do on the court.
TGV: Luther, basketball is really big in the Philippines. LeBron James visited us for the first time last July and Kobe Bryant has come to Manila on six different occasions. That said, we have a lot of basketball players who are aspiring to play at the collegiate and hopefully professional level. Could you name at least five qualities that could help them reach their goal of becoming a successful player?
LW: They have to be teachable, coachable, disciplined, willing to work their tail off. For example, it’s midmorning here in the United States and it’s almost midnight in the Philippines. There is a kid working on his game here just like there is one working on his in your country. They have to keep on working on their game and develop skills that you are able to do a little bit better than others. Like having a pet move and trying to perfect it to the best of your ability.
TGV: Your life story has been very positive and inspiring, could you share what you have done to manage your bi-polar condition?
LW: Personally, I believe I was misdiagnosed. Back then, I had a drug problem and I was always unbalanced because I was taking medicines that the doctor would prescribe to me and I would also self-medicate myself. But for the last 9-½ years, I have been clean and don’t use drugs or medication. I deal with my thoughts cleanly without any mood or mind-altering chemical and I’m doing pretty good man, I have not had any episodes, bouts of depression, or felt the need to see a psychiatrist.
I got myself together and I understand that a label doesn’t define you. Everyone has got their own trials and tribulations. My situation made me who I am today. I am a better person and I honestly talk to people who have gone through my situation because I got through it. I understand that medicine, counseling and treatment helps but if a person feels that they need to undergo that process — they should do what is best for them.
I am just grateful for the experience. I’m grateful that it didn’t kick me out or kill me. It gave me a better understanding of the trials I needed to go through and I got through it. Everyday clean, everyday sober is a win. I am fighting the good fight and I’m winning.”
TGV: Thank you. For my next question, would you like to highlight anything that new readers can expect from your book, ‘A Perfect Fit: A Memoir?’
LW: It is an inspiration book that I would like to share with as many people as possible. It has definitely helped me let go some of my past issues and things that I had been carrying around such as being abused as a child, the drug use, being homeless. I call my book, ‘The Good. The Bad. The Ugly’ because it is a blessing that has allowed me the opportunity to tell my side of the story and how I have risen above hard times. That despite having so much less, I have so much more.”
TGV: Luther, could you name your all-time top five players?
LW: “Man! There is a bunch of them: Michael Jordan. Hakeem Olajuwon. Shaquille O’Neal. Larry Bird. Magic Johnson.”
TGV: That’s a pretty tough team right there! With the exception of Bird, were you were able to see all of them in action?
LW: “I saw Mike. Magic had retired. I played against Olajuwon…”
TGV: What was that experience like? Playing against Hakeem Olajuwon?
LW: “You know what, when I got in the game, he had already did what he was going to do so he was on his way out. But just to be on the court with him, going against Shaq, going against David Robinson, going against Patrick Ewing…a lot of people never get that opportunity and I was fortunate enough to come in when they were on their way out and they still were on top of their game at that time. So I got to see a lot of good basketball playing for the Jazz.”
TGV: What is your favorite NBA team?
LW: “The San Antonio Spurs. What I really like about that team is what’s missing from basketball right now. To me, they are a very fundamentally sound team. They are not a flash or highlight reel every night type of team. They play consistent team basketball and I think that is what is missing from basketball on the lower level like high school, college, AAU circuit.
It’s more of a one-on-one basketball game and in the NBA you’ve got to play team basketball and the San Antonio Spurs are the poster child of team basketball because they don’t have the marquee players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant or Carmelo Anthony. They have 12-13 guys that are solid basketball players and they play together and they have system over there and it works for them.
They call them slow, they call them old, they call them boring but they win basketball games and I like watching them.”
TGV: Who is your pick to win the NBA championship this season?
LW: I got to go with the Knicks because my cousin is point guard for the Knicks. Raymond Felton is my wife’s cousin. I’ve also been a Knicks fan and followed them for years. I remember in high school I got a t-shirt autographed by Mark Jackson. Patrick Ewing is like my big brother. Charles Oakley. I know those guys.
But let’s see, the Miami Heat is still the team to beat. Golden State is up-and-coming. We’ll see what the Knicks will do this year. Brooklyn definitely. They go hard anyway so we’ll see how they are going to do with a new coach and a move in a new direction.
TGV: If there were one thing that you would like to leave with the readers, what would your one advice to them be?
LW: “Believe that all things are possible. If a person such as myself can get off drugs and change their life around, anybody can because life is a gift and we can’t take it for granted because you only get one chance to really live the life that dreams are made of.”
TGV: Luther, thank you so much for your time and generosity.
About the author:
Dr. Tedi Gustilo Villasor obtained his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology (2009) and Masters of Science in Guidance and Counseling (2002) from De La Salle University-Manila (DLSU). He has also completed a Certificate in Sports Counseling (2006) from San Diego University for Integrative Studies (SDUIS). Aside from his private practice at the Makati Medical Center, Dr. Villasor was a columnist for Baby Magazine wherein his column, "Rules of Engagement" (formerly known as “Understanding Your Child”), focused on children 10 years of age and above. For more, you can visit his website at www.hankpym.com