Rony Seikaly Q+A
The former NBAer talks music, lockout and life after basketball.
by Dan Shapiro
In 1988, the expansion Miami Heat made a 6-11 Lebanese center from Syracuse their first ever Draft pick. Not long thereafter, Rony Seikaly came to be known as “The Spin Doctor.” Using his dexterity in the low post, Seikaly put up a respectable 14.7 points and 9.5 boards for over decade, establishing himself as one of the most consistent centers in the League.
But there’s more to Seikaly than just hoops. He’s traded in his kicks for a set of turntables. As a successful DJ, he’s traveled the world spreading his music, and his latest single “Take Me Higher” was released last week on Subliminal Records. We caught up with the DJ on tour, and our conversation touched on his music career, the real forces behind the lockout and the complexities of life after ball.
SLAM: Let’s talk about your music and career as a DJ.
Rony Seikaly: Music has been in my life since I was 14 years old. Just as a hobby. I didn’t expect it to turn into a profession but I feel blessed that I was able to.
SLAM: How did it grow into a profession?
RS: I would always play at my house for friends and friends of friends. I’ve owned clubs in Miami since the early 90’s, some of the first on South Beach, and with that all it just sort of grew organically and became something larger.
SLAM: So you were always setting up for a life after the NBA?
RS: Always. As a player I knew that there was an expiration date. There’s a shelf life for everything in life. I know that I was one injury away from asking myself, “What’s next?” I always tell people that athletes have two deaths: one when they stop playing the game and the other when they actually die. All of a sudden you’re 35 and starting to grow as a person and you’re retired. So now, what do you do? I didn’t want to be a guy who stopped playing and looked around for something to do. Music was there as a hobby, but I chose real estate and started that when I was still playing.
SLAM: What do you think when you see players struggle with the transition?
RS: I think about their support system. Are the people around you just telling you what you want to hear? What you want to hear is that “You’re the fucking man, go buy a Ferrari, you deserve it!” But the real thing to say is, “What are you doing?”
I always had family around and support system with people who were a lot smarter than me. People who were telling me the way it is and that was something I was not afraid to hear.
People don’t want to hear the truth. As a player, you’re a kid and it’s easy to get lost. In 24 hours you go from borrowing money for your Draft suit to being able to buy that whole designers collection—that’s huge and it when you can get messed up.
SLAM: What was that rookie transition like for you?
RS: When I was coming in the League I was instantly starting but that didn’t matter. I respected the veterans. And I would listen even to the last player on the bench. Scott Hastings, Rory Sparrow, these guys. If I scored and came back smiling into a TO they would come up and say “WTF you so happy about we’re still down 10 points.” It was that kind of presence, and it comes down to whether or not you a listener. In today’s game if a twelfth man on the bench spoke up to most of these young kids they will never be listened to. It’s a different mentality and related to more than just the game of basketball. If you are shut off from the beginning then you may be able to get it done on the court with all your talent. But you are going nowhere in the game of life.
I came from Lebanon, the tallest guy in Lebanon is 5-10 and as one of the first foreign guys to play in the league, I have felt that adversity. After college, they offered my big money to play in Greece and they all told me that I would get eaten up in the NBA. I tried my best to prove them wrong. It takes adversity to become the person that you want to be.
SLAM: Do you think the environment in today’s game is worse?
RS: I was surrounded by NBA players who weren’t ready for the next move. Back in the day we’d have talks after practice from ex-players warning us about what could go wrong. But we’d all sigh and it’d go in one ear and out the other. It was similar then but it’s even harder to approach players in today’s world.
SLAM: How does it feel to have put out this latest track?
RS: Blessed. I’m lucky to have been able to do two things I love the most, sports and music. To be able to make a career out of both is a complete blessing. I don’t know where it’s going to go.
I remember Billy Cunningham (former owner of the Miami Heat) saying it to me back then: enjoy your playing days while you can, because it’s over before you know it. I was so focused on the competition and the moment that I think I forgot to do that. I should’ve had more fun and soaked up every minute of it. That’s what I’m trying to do now.
SLAM: What’s your plan in the coming months?
RS: I’m just busy playing all over the world, which is a blessing. House music is slowly coming around in the States. Back a couple years ago everything was R&B and hip-hip; house music was covered in bug spray. Some may like it, and some people won’t but I’m just happy to be able to play my music. I’m realistic. I don’t think I’m U2 or Bruce Springsteen—I’m just doing something that I love.