Catching Up With Ronnie Fields
A Q + A with a Chicago legend.
by Quinn Peterson
Every city has that legend. The one the oldheads would tell you could have been better than Mike. In a place like Chicago, there’s probably gonna be a handful of guys who come to mind. One of those being Ronnie Fields. Former teammate of Kevin Garnett while at Farragut Career Academy High School in Chicago, Fields had more boings than the original Shox commercials. But a neck injury cut his career short, and while he committed to play at DePaul University, he never qualified academically, leaving one of the city’s best high school players ever, without a shot at the League or DI ball. But Fields regrets none of that, and has since had several successful years playing pro ball in the CBA and South America.
SLAM: In high school, you averaged 34 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, four steals and four blocks. Describe your game around ’95-96.
Ronnie Fields: I didn’t watch as much basketball as a lot of people would think for some of the things I was able to do on the basketball court. A lot of it came natural. At the time, I looked at basketball as an escape, a way of getting out of trouble, and it made me want to play more. I started realizing the talent I was blessed with. It started in grammar school when the coach let me know where I was at talent-wise and put me in a position to be a leader, and from that point I started taking it even more serious. It really showed in my game. I was just a hard-worker that wanted to go out there and compete and win, and entertain fans, as well.
SLAM: Some have said you were better than KG when you all were at school together, and maybe even the best high school player ever from Chicago and Illinois. In your mind, is there any truth to either of those statements?
RF: Well there’s been so many great players to play in Chicago, I’m not gonna say I’m better than this person or that person, everybody had their own unique talents. Kevin, at 7 feet, to do the things he was doing was just unbelievable. There were so many great players before Ronnie and there’s great players after Ronnie, so I’m not make that assumption that I’m the best. I think we’re all equal.
SLAM: How did the injury you suffered affect your game? Your life?
RF: In high school, with so many things going on, and how big basketball had gotten from my freshman year on up, we were doing so many different things that so many young kids don’t get a chance to see. Being able to have things that you never had. At times, being a young kid, we take those things for granted. It [the injury] put things in perspective of maybe moving too fast, not really understanding and appreciating that it’s not all about me, and really working and focusing not just on basketball, but other things in life. The accident had me so mentally frustrated. Basketball was something that I loved doing and escaped me from so many things.
After the accident, my feelings were most set on getting back out there playing. To be a fully aggressive player, that kind of changed my way of playing. As I started playing professionally, I started to slowly get all that back — the mental part and the physical contact.
It changed my life, it changed my outlook, it changed a lot of things. The Lord gets your attention, and you realize how important life is in every aspect. You figure you can do things the way you want, but it catches up to you. Sometimes it’s a good thing. If you’re always living in the dark, thinking that it’s all your doing, sometimes the Lord has a way of showing that it’s not your doing.
SLAM: I’m sure as a top prospect, there were a lot of NBA people and college people giving you different things and treating you very well. How did that change after the injury?
RF: As teams were looking at all the things I did, I don’t even think it was about the accident. It was more to be that young, to be driving. They watched a lot of the things and teams weren’t understanding a lot of the things I did, so they were kind of hesitant, and backed away in terms of really pursuing Ronnie Fields like they did to begin with.
A lot of people don’t look at life in terms of second chance opportunities. They look at like, “does he make these certain mistakes along line? Is he going to continue to be that way?” That’s just the way people think in this world — that most people can’t change and won’t change.
SLAM: Playing for so many different teams all over the world, how was the overall experience? What was the best experience?
RF: The biggest thing in playing professional ball, with the media and the fans, is that throughout all of the things that I’ve done, good and bad, people still love what you’ve done and appreciate it, and that’s something I’m thankful for. I thank the Lord for the talent and the impact that I had.
But as I was playing, I still had it in my mind that it was more about Ronnie. I was playing in a lot of these places — and still playing well — but not to the level of really balancing my life first and foremost, to really be able embrace every place I played. A lot of people didn’t know that, internally, I was seriously dead. Some of the things I did out there on the floor probably could have been even greater because of the talent I was blessed with.
I enjoyed playing all of my seasons, especially in Rockford. I had some amazing season. First player to lead the league in scoring and steals in back to back years. I had some good years in Venezuela, as well. Making game winning shots, being able to carry a team, and being a focal point while in the CBA, that really sticks out to me a lot.
SLAM: Do you have any disappointment or regret that you were never able to play DI or play in the NBA?
RF: If I had to say it now, yeah I would have loved to have went to school and played. But you also have to understand that you’re life is already planned out before you come into this world. I can’t regret [not] going to college or playing in the NBA, because I don’t know where it would have pointed me. I probably could have been in much worse situations. You see all the players that have lost money in the NBA and things like that. It’s hard to say where going to school would have led me in terms of the bigger picture in life and understanding the inner me. From where I’m at now, I’m happy because I’ve been able to reflect back and really get a chance to see things.
SLAM: From a talent standpoint, do you think you could have played in the League and had some success?
RF: Oh yeah, definitely. That was the Jordan era, the big guard era. I’m 6-3 now, almost 6-4, so at the time, they were saying that I would have to play the point. But you notice that era changed. Most of your scorers that come off the bench, your Jason Terry’s, Jamal Crawford’s, a lot of guys aren’t actual point guards. A lot has changed now. You can put two guards out 6-3, 6-4 together. Last night Boston had three with [Ray] Allen, Nate Robinson, and Rondo. So yeah, definitely now. And even back then I think I could have played, it just would have took a process of watching and learning, but I still know could go out and compete at that level.
SLAM:: It sounds like you follow the League pretty closely nowadays. Is that true?
RF: Well I just have a natural [interest] in sports. Especially with things I have a passion for that I watch, coaches, players, teams, I don’t care if it’s football or basketball, I just have this thing. I can understand and know what’s gonna happen before it happens.
I don’t look at the coaches with great players, but coaches that know how to put solid players in good positions and continue to win games. One thing about a Kobe or LeBron or DWade, they can cover up a lot of flaws for a coach. When I look at teams, I look at coaches like Belichick, Larry Brown, or Greg Popovich, that don’t have those super, superstars. Phil [Jackson] had Michael and Kobe, Pat Riley had Magic and Dwyane Wade, those coaches got all those championships because of the talent they had. They’re good coaches and they understand how to manage that great talent. I’m talking about the coaches that didn’t have those exciting people that were able to do unbelievable things, but still know how to coach and put players in great positions to win basketball games.
So I do watch a lot of basketball and sports in general.
SLAM: Where are you at now in your life and with you game?
RF: I’m more spiritually open in life, and I’m more happy in terms of the change within me. I see it with the people around me, my family, my kids. I appreciate so many more things.
In terms of basketball, I work harder than I’ve ever worked. I can do so many more things now. I added so much more to my game in terms of understanding. I can play the point guard, the two-guard, I can even defend some 3s at times. I’m happy at what my basketball game evolved to. I’m 32 now, and I’ll be able to play maybe three more seasons. I feel great. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in in a long time.
SLAM: Who are you playing for currently?
RF: Well the CBA is done now, and I’ve had more success in South America than Europe. So right now, this is one of the years that I’ve been able to get time off and rest, and me and my agent are looking at Puerto Rico and Venezuela, trying to find the best situation.
SLAM: As you said, you’re 32 now. Can you still jump and dunk like you were 14 or 15 years ago?
RF: Oh yeah absolutely. If I wanted to go out and do some of those things, yeah I still can do that. In a game I can’t really do it, but you look at the Kobe’s, if you get a break or you get a lane, yeah you’ll do it, but not as much as you’ve done it before.
SLAM: What’s your message to others who you’ve been able to pull from all of your experiences?
RF: For young kids, whatever they want to do in life, my message would be to always have your family life, and focus on being the best person you can possibly be. You’re going to make a mistake, but it’s the forgiveness that you ask for, and how much you’re willing to sacrifice to get better as a person or in whatever work you do.