Q+A: Xavier McDaniel
Catching up with the X-Man.
by Dan Shapiro
We caught up with Xavier McDaniel 22 miles outside of Chapel Hill, where he was heading with his daughter, Xylina, (who’s profiled in SLAM 152) for a college visit.
The X-Man, one of the definitive tough guys in NBA history, spoke in a relaxed, Southern draw that couldn’t be more distant from the impression that the bald, stone-cold enforcer left us.
A 14-year pro, the No. 4 pick in the ’85 Draft consistently contributed during one of the most competitive times in league history. Larry, Magic, MJ, Dr. J—all the big names, he matched up against them all.
So here’s the X-Man, dishing about the lockout, some of his great opponents and what life’s been like for him after the game of basketball.
SLAM: The Lockout.
Xavier McDaniel: Honestly, I’m not really sure what the main issues are right now. It’s about money. I follow what’s on ESPN, not really what’s online. You hear words like, a hard salary cap. I’ve been telling my friends that it’ll only happen if you meet with the other side. If you don’t meet that much you can’t expect the season to start.
SLAM: What are your fondest memories of your NBA career?
X: Playing against the best Magic, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Charles Barkley—all those guys. Dr. J was a thrill. He was my all-time favorite player growing up. We went over to Japan together one summer, I think it was ’93, and just hanging out with him was a great inspiration.
SLAM: Do you have any thoughts about your reputation as a tough guy?
X: Things happen. I wouldn’t change a thing about how I played the game. I know it kept me off the All-Star team for a lot of years. If you compare my numbers to a lot of those guys, they were right there with them. But I only it made once (’87-88) and I think it was related to me fighting a lot. Still wouldn’t change a thing. I came in the League knowing it was going to be a tough, up-hill battle. And that’s how I took it.
SLAM: Could you talk about the guys you played against, who were the best?
X: Magic, Larry, James Worthy—any of those big names. And I’m going to through some old school names at you: Purvis Short, Chris Mullen, Chuck Person. Man, Chuck Person… I had some real wars against him.
See, small forward in the mid-’80s and the mid-’90s, no doubt—that was the toughest position.
One day you could be playing against a guy like Rodney McCray who’s not a big scorer but an all-around type a guy, then the next night, you got a guy like Mike Mitchell—who was a hell of a scorer, then you go against a guy like James Worthy—6-9 with that runner, then you gotta go against Larry Bird, who’ll try to out hustle you all night long, then you gotta go against Purvis Short shooting those rainbow jumpers, then you gotta turn around and play someone like Chuck Person, or someone huge that’ll rebound and try throw you around all night, and then you get somebody like Dominique who might just jump out the gym… guys were so different.
SLAM: Who were the guys you hated playing against?
X: Oh…probably “Mr. Mean” Larry… um, he’s an assistant coach with Houston now…went to Alcorn State… he played for Golden State. They called him “Mr. Mean,” that guy was a rebounding fool. Dennis Rodman was tough too. Those guys were going to make you work.
Less physical players, like James Worthy—he’ll battle you, but he’s not going to mix it up. Really, I would just adjust to the player that I was guarding.
Say I got Charles Barkley—back then I’m 205 pounds and he’s 260, 80, 90, pounds! He’ll kick my butt, so I’m gonna run around him. If I’m playing Reggie Williams, I’m gonna be physical. Or that kid from the Knicks…what’s his name? He used to play for the Richmond Spiders…I dunked so hard on him. I’m going to say that the best dunk I ever had. Yeah, it was on Johnny Newman. A facial. I went up for that dunk [laughs] and I tried to break the damn rim.
SLAM: What about Michael Cooper, there’s a clip where you’re throwing him up in the air?
X: No, see I was choking Wes Matthews and he grabbed me. We never got into a fight. Actually, he came to visit my daughter a few months back. And I was saying to him, Tell my daughter how much I used to torch you! He’s yelling, “X-Man, X-Man! That was not the way it was! Who ended up winning those games anyway?”
I used to tell him to his face that he couldn’t guard me. He’s right, he won but anytime he’d guard me, at 195 pounds, I just had the strength over him.
SLAM: What was your NBA lifestyle like back then?
X: It was conservative. I didn’t have any fancy cars or anything like that. I liked to fish. I was in Seattle and did a lot of fishing. Game day I’d fish in the morning, tap a nap. I was just a laid back guy.
I always needed to be relaxed on game day. It’d help me focus on that night’s game.
If the game was big that night—you know I was coming to play. The Clippers coming to town, I’m probably having a so-so game. Lakers coming, you best believe I’m dropping 30. Charles Barkley coming? Getting my 30. Trail Blazers with Jerome Kersey and Clyde Drexler coming, I’m going to be ready. That was a Northwest rivalry and I knew that gym’s going to be packed and loud and rowdy so… I’ma show up big.
SLAM: So the money didn’t really affect your lifestyle.
X: Guys had less money, less flash back then. Everything’s about the bling-bling nowadays. You hear about more guys getting robbed today ’cause guys are living flashy. With that, you’re setting yourself up for a robbery. I used to tell Gary Payton that all the time—you best stop flashing your money or you’re setting yourself up: People will rob you.
SLAM: What do you think about the League now?
X: I love Durant. There’re a lot of good, young players. KG’s been one of my favorites. He’s a South Carolina boy. Guy’s today are so talented. More so when I was playing. They do everything really well. But nothing great. See, I had my turn around jump shot, Charles had his signature moves, Michael did too but you look at these kids like LeBron and they don’t have that one signature, unstoppable go-to play. When I needed a score, I knew that I was taking it to the post and getting my shot.
SLAM: What are you up to these days?
X: A bit of real estate and have a janitorial business here in South Carolina. I’m trying to stay a little busy. Basketball wise, I’m involved with my daughter’s AAU team, the South Carolina 76ers.
SLAM: How was your transition out of the League?
X: Physically I couldn’t play at 35/36 years old. I ‘m not going to say it was hard, but it also wasn’t that easy. I was just trying to figure out what I wanted to do. That was the toughest thing.
I tell people all the time—a lot of players struggle because they’re still looking for that big paycheck. I’m not looking for that big paycheck, you know? I am not a high maintenance person. When you are, a lot of guys have problems. If something comes along, it comes along. And if it don’t, it don’t.