by Duane Watson / @sweetswatson
The path between triumph and tragedy is separated by decisions—the right or wrong decision can easily change the course of a career or a life. The poor choices of high school prodigy Lenny Cooke and NBA lottery pick Len Bias are well-documented, unfortunately former No. 1 high schooler Ben Wilson didn’t have a choice. They all stand as cautionary tales that regrettably, none were able to recover from.
In 1996, Ronnie Fields was a senior and a consensus high-school All-American, leading Farragut Academy in Chicago with averages of 32.4 points, 12.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 4.5 blocks and 4 steals per game. The year prior, Kevin Garnett transferred to Farragut to play with him, graduated and then made the jump from high school to the NBA.
Fields had similar dreams, but they came to a screeching halt when he broke his neck in a car accident before the city finals. He recovered and made his way back to the court, only to have a scholarship offer to DePaul University rescinded, due to his poor academic standing. Months later, Fields pled guilty to a misdemeanor sexual assault charge. It was at that point that he stopped worrying about how hard he had fallen, but focused on getting himself back up.
Fields subsequently went pro, yet despite his talents and a 16-year career, the explosive guard never played a minute in the NBA. That’s not the end of his story, just a part of the journey, one that is well-documented in Bounce Back: The Story of Ronnie Fields.
SLAM: How does it feel reliving those memories in the film all these years later?
Ronnie Fields: To still be talked about as much as it is. A lot of people would like to be remembered in a good way, and for me to be able to accomplish some of the things I was able to do. I look back and I’m proud of the fact I was able to keep playing, stay healthy and stay focused.
SLAM: What do you want people to take away from your story?
RF: It’s not just a story for basketball and sports fans—it’s a story for everyone. You want people to come from this situation and look and say and see how you continue to move forward in life through making mistakes and being able to just stay positive.
SLAM: You and Kobe Bryant were the top two guards coming out of high school, did you get a chance to play against him?
RF: The time we were supposed to play was right when I had my accident, in the McDonald’s game. But we never got a chance to match-up against each other.
SLAM: What do you think you and KG could have done together if you made it to the NBA?
RF: Just looking at some duos you see now, more so with big man and guard, I think it would’ve been amazing because of the drive that he had and I had and the temperament of doing it side by side. Sometimes, those things you can only hope for and I’m sure we would’ve been a great duo at that level.
SLAM: How do you feel about Scoop Jackson’s comment in the film that the best thing for you was to not make it to the NBA?
RF: I agree with him and I agree with the comment that he made. Looking at all the things that transpired, good and bad as I moved forward with that, so I do agree with him.
SLAM: Which setback taught you the most?
RF: I think all of them, the good part about being a teenager was you don’t really know what’s transpiring, in terms of you have a chance to grow and learn. I think that’s why it didn’t affect me as much, still having the opportunity to move forward and get better and grow up and not let those decisions really, really hurt me in the long run.
SLAM: At what point did you realize that?
RF: Probably traveling, getting a chance to experience a lot of things outside of the US. In other parts of the world, that a lot of people don’t get a chance to see. Where I come from having the freedom to do things or make a better life is a luxury that other people in other countries just don’t have. I learned a lot and have been able to take in a lot and being able to come back and share it and being thankful.
SLAM: How do you think your basketball career would have shaped up if you came up now as opposed to the ’90s?
RF: With the social media and the way it is now? I could be the No. 1 high school player in the world just through social media alone. With some of the talented guys we had like Kobe, social media, YouTube, you would be a sensation before you even got to college or the NBA. I can only imagine with all the amount of things me and Kevin was able to do. You had guys like Kobe, Jermaine O’Neal, Ben Wilson, Tim Thomas, Stephen Jackson, all those guys were in that class.
SLAM: What is it about Chicago players that separates them from the rest?
RF: It’s like a blue-collar type mentality, when you’re playing nothing affects you, or what you may encounter. That’s one thing you see is the toughness and you give it your all once you’re out there. If you look at some of the players from Chicago that landed in the NBA—real tough-minded.
SLAM: Who are your five best basketball players to come out of Chicago?
RF: You got to look at Isiah (Thomas) you got Quinn Buckner, you have Derrick Rose, Nick Anderson, Ben Wilson, Tim Hardaway. I can name players all day long, but that’s some of the guys, Jamie Brandon as well. They were very impactful when they played.
SLAM: Do you still ever wonder “What if?”
RF: No. They say hindsight is 20/20, and as you mentioned about the comment Scoop had made, that was the best thing that happened. I can look as life continues to take its course, where probably when I was younger I would have taken offense to it. But as I continue to grow and see the things that happen now, I can see that it was a choice that was chosen for me.
Bounce Back: The Ronnie Fields Story is available for download, visit ronniefieldsbounceback.com.