Of all the NBA athletes I’ve interviewed for SLAM over the last six years, Shawn Kemp is one of my favorites. For a guy who had so much baggage attached to him, he answered every question I threw at him and didn’t dodge anything or act like he’d been wrongly accused. I talked to Shawn for a long SLAM feature in 2000 and since then his career has swirled down deeper and deeper, like water in a toilet.
We were all excited to hear Shawn had gotten himself in shape and was ready for a comeback, even attending the Denver Nuggets free agent camp this summer. He was supposedly going to play in a tournament this weekend.
Then today, news breaks that Shawn has been arrested and charged with possession marijuana. It’s not so much sad as it is disappointing — dude just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. It’s never anything really big or really bad, but still, it’s the stuff you simply can’t do if you want to play in the NBA.
Every time I read some new story about Shawn, I go back to that afternoon in 2000 when Shawn and I spent three hours in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ players lounge, just talking and talking and talking. Here’s how our conversation ended…
ME: I’m going to ask you straight out: Yes or no, are you an alcoholic?
KEMP: Naw, man, I’m not an alcoholic.
ME: Are you some kind of baby-making machine?
KEMP: (laughs) No, man, not at all.
ME: Are you out of shape?
KEMP: No, I’m not out of shape at all.
ME: What are you?
KEMP: Right now I’m just Shawn Kemp, man. Sometimes you reach for the best and it doesn’t happen, so you have to adjust yourself. This is my eleventh season, so this off-season, somehow, some way, things are going to turn around. I don’t talk about it a whole lot, but I can tell SLAM: it’s going to happen. I’m just like that. I’m a competitor. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but it’s not going to end like that. I’ve got four years left, then I’m going to give it up, and it’s going to be the best four years of my career, I think.
ME: Wait a second, you’re saying that you’re going to retire in four years?
KEMP: Yeah, I am. I’m going to give it up after four. Because that will be fifteen years, and I can walk away after fifteen years and be happy with having played in the NBA.
ME: (laughs) You’ll have played fifteen years in the NBA, and you’ll be…(doing math in my head), what, thirty-three years old?
KEMP: (smiles) Thirty-three.
ME: Man. You’ll have your whole life ahead of you.
KEMP: Exactly. That’s part of it. But also you go, you play your butt off, then get out of the business when you can still walk, and you have fun and enjoy life. And it’s a challenge for me to get out of basketball and do something else eventually. But right now, the Reignman’s got to get back to work and change some things around, because I’ve taken too many lumps on the head this season from the media. And the best way to fight back is on the court, and I know how to do that. I’m not afraid to do go back to the gym and make adjustments to my game and people will see that. They’ll see that.