Thursday, December 27, 2012

Earl Cureton...and the Two-Minute Drill

As we are in the midst of the NBA season, I thought it might be a good time to look back…with Earl “The Twirl” Cureton, a two-time NBA champion.

Earl coaching the Long Beach
Jam of the ABA.
Earl’s first title came with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1983 playing with Dr. J., Bobby Jones, Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, and Moses Malone. And, he capped off his career winning in 1994 with the Houston Rockets and Hakeem Olajuwon, Vernon Maxwell, and Robert Horry.
The 76ers picked Earl in the third round of the 1980 draft. He came out of Detroit Mercy averaging 19.9 points per game.

Throughout his career he played with the Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls, LA Clippers, Charlotte Hornets, and Toronto Raptors, accounting for 674 NBA games, 54 playoff games, 3,172 rebounds, and 3,620 points. He also played in Europe−Italy and France−in the CBA and USBL.
Since retiring in 1997 he has stayed connected to the game by coaching and broadcasting. This past season he was an assistant coach for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.

He’s coached two other WNBA teams−Charlotte and Detroit−and in the ABA and USBL.
On the broadcasting side, he’s worked for FoxSports covering college games, the Pistons, and has also done radio in Charlotte and Toronto.

Earl getting his diploma.
One of his most significant accomplishments came in May of 2011, when he graduated college. It was a Mother’s Day present to his mom. He promised her he would get his degree, but just didn’t…until 32 years later. Earl also wanted his degree for himself and to give a truthful message to kids about education and its importance. As Earl says: Basketball… that comes and goes but your education is always going to be with you for the rest of your life.
I talked to Earl about his career both on and off the court.

PJ: You started your career with the Philadelphia 76ers. How was the transition into the league?
Earl: I was in the right places. Philadelphia was one of the top teams in the league when I came out of college. This put me in a position to win at the beginning of my career. It was a blessing to have an opportunity to be with a team like that.

In college I idolized Dr. J. In my time, he was like Kobe or LeBron. I had posters hanging on the wall in my room freshman year…and three years later I was in the same locker room with him and with a cast of great players like Bobby Jones, Maurice Cheeks, Darryl Dawkins, Doug Collins, and Caldwell Jones.
I remember at rookie camp, Coach (Bobby) Cunningham said…I know you idolize these players, but now is the time to get that off your mind—you have to compete with these guys for jobs now. He put perspective on it.

PJ: Tell me about life after the 76ers.
Earl: During my career I went from Philadelphia to Detroit…two great places. And, I had a stop in Chicago. I played with Isiah Thomas and others (Michael Jordan, John Paxson, Joe Dumars, and Rick Mahorn) on teams that were building to a championship. I was fortunate at the end of my career to play with the Houston Rockets. They needed help and the basketball gods were looking out for me. I backed up (Hakeem) Olajuwon. I got quality minutes against Utah and Phoenix (in the playoffs) and played strong.

PJ: You played professional basketball over 17 years. What is your secret to having such a long career?
Earl: As a role player I took care of my body…kept in shape. I wasn’t playing 40 minutes a game. Sometimes it’s better to be a role player. You don’t have the pressure to get the points, etc. And, your career can be longer. In my situation I played limited roles and it enabled me to play longer.

The strength and conditioning goes back to college. Dick Vitale was my coach at Detroit Mercy. He did a great job preaching to us what we needed to do to have a long career in the NBA−staying in shape. I developed my work habits there.

Back then, strength and conditioning was not a main focus. It was not year round…players would take the summer off. Now, it’s year round to get the edge. I was ahead of my time. I’d come to training camp in shape. It was an advantage for me. It was the little things that keep me in the league so long.

PJ: Did you ever think about what would happen when your basketball career ended?
Earl: You always know in the back of your mind that it will end. It’s not the focus you have when you start playing…what’s next? My thing was survival. I had to fight to be with good teams.

Basketball was my whole life. If you’ve done something for 20 years it’s hard to look somewhere else.
I like coaching and broadcasting. They both keep me close to the players. Isiah (Thomas) was in Toronto when I retired and he gave me the opportunity to do radio and be an assistant conditioning coach.

I coached in the minor leagues (Matt Barnes and Lamar Johnson were two players that made it to the NBA). I liked helping kids on the edge of making the NBA.
I coached my daughter’s 7th grade basketball team…and it kept me smiling every day.

PJ: I know you have worked with Kurt David, a counselor and advisor, who helps former athletes in determining what to do when the cheering stops. What is it like working with him and what advice would you give other players who are facing the transition after playing?
Earl: Find something you enjoy doing and give yourself options. It’s difficult to replace what professional sports brings. There are not a lot of jobs with 20,000 people cheering for you.

I met Kurt and he has given me valuable information to continue with my career and get refocused on where I want to go. He’s helped motivate me. I like the things we talk about. Kurt talks to me about…staying focused and staying after it and finding the door that will open for you.