By Dylan Lowther / @OntheDylanL
On this week’s edition of Real Sports, which premieres tomorrow at 10 p.m. ET/PT and will replay all month, Bryant Gumbel takes us back to the wonder of the 1972 draft, LaRue Martin. Not exactly the biggest wonder in terms of glamour, but in terms of being a mystery.
Martin is in elite company with the likes of Shaq, David Robinson, LeBron James, Magic Johnson and every other No. 1 pick in history, but his NBA career was the least impressive of all of these players. Martin is actually often called the biggest bust in NBA history, and rightfully so.
In this segment of Real Sports, Bryant Gumbel highlights the wonderful career of Martin—not as a basketball player but as a human being.
This segment is a perfect way to show that there is a life after basketball for all NBA players, and all professional basketball players.
Gumbel introduces us to several different people whom were familiar with LaRue at some capacity, including himself, who attended the same high school with Martin.
Gumbel gives us a feel for who Martin the person is. Not the basketball player.
A Chicago native, Martin was humble to the point that he was shy. Martin was even captured in a high school photograph (which is shown on the episode) of the basketball team, being the biggest guy but standing off to the side, not even facing the camera.
This shyness stayed with him as he enrolled at Loyola University in Chicago, a very small school in his native city.
When he was drafted first overall by the Portland Trail Blazers, it brought shock waves to the whole country, even to himself, who said that even he didn’t believe he was going to be drafted.
Martin didn’t produce. The media took him apart. Martin, the reserved kid who couldn’t smile for a camera in high school was now thrown under a national spotlight, and as you would imagine, it didn’t work out very well.
After four sub-par NBA seasons for any player, let alone a former first overall pick in the NBA draft, Martin was traded to the Seattle SuperSonics. He was soon waived by the Sonics, which concluded his NBA career.
Martin, who would often come home crying about criticism, soon became an alcoholic. Martin was already in bad shape when 1977 came, but when the Portland Trail Blazers hoisted the championship trophy that year, his heart completely dropped. The sight of his former team winning with a new franchise player at his position (the great Bill Walton) was too much for Martin to handle.
This is why Martin separates himself from basketball so much today, because he only has bad memories associated with the sport.
Though he was heart-broken to say the least and had developed a drinking problem, Martin picked himself up and became the great man he is today. How he picked himself up is the sweetest part of the whole segment.
Gumbel really highlights how Martin was able to become a powerful executive after his early post-playing struggles.
The way Martin got to his rank as an executive at UPS was by first taking a job as a truck driver, a job he took because he was able to ride down country roads and finally be at peace for the first time in years.
Martin began to rise through the ranks and his great attitude, hard work, and humbleness landed him a job that he loves in his hometown.
LaRue Martin says to Bryant Gumbel, “I made it.” He didn’t make it as a basketball player, but he made sure that he would make it as a person. That statement he made goes to everyone who criticized and critiqued him during his life, he made it.
It is a great story of a man who breaks the pattern of the many players who have their lives ruined by alcohol, media criticism, or drugs.
LaRue Martin should serve as an example for all athletes who face extreme adversity at the professional level to not become the bankrupt former ball player, but to pick yourself up and “make it.” Definitely watch this episode of Real Sports to see this lesson come to life.