It’s 12 p.m. and the sun is shining bright and hard in the Denver neighborhood of Park Hill. There’s a Martin Luther King Boulevard two blocks over from today’s shoot location at the Hiawatha Davis Jr Recreation Center, and you know what Chris Rock thinks of MLK Boulevards. Hours ago, there was snow on the ground, and even native Chauncey Billups can’t believe the weather’s wacky behavior in his hometown. The five-time NBA All-Star admits that he was, “just searching the internet trying to find flights to an island to get away from the snow…then I remembered I had to do this interview,” he jokes. I don’t think he’s joking though.
The Detroit Pistons 2004 NBA Finals MVP just hopped out of his tinted, gun metal-colored Range Rover in front of the rec center and is greeted with familiar smiles and dap from the staff. It’s clear that this is home to Billups. Not the “I-got-drafted-here-and-adopted-this-place” type home but the “grew-up-in-this-very-building” home. “One Grandmom live a block this way,” he points, “My other Grandmom live a block this way. This my neighborhood. This is it right here.”
With a smooth demeanor that brings Jay Z’s line “I walk like a ball player” to mind, Billups enters the gym as an intense pick up game goes on between some retirement-aged gentlemen. The door slams behind us and the half court two-on-two crew gets a look at the plainclothes baller now in their midst. One sweat-drenched old timer walks over and asks with a chuckle, “Hey Billups, you about ready to ball with us now, huh?” Billups shoots back with the quickness, joking, “I don’t think I’m that old yet.” I don’t think he’s joking though.
Even though 17 years in the League sounds like an eternity, Billups, who was drafted third overall in 1997 by Boston and has played for six other teams (Toronto, Denver, Minnesota, Detroit, New York, L.A. Clippers) he feels, on this day, like “I may have another one or two in me.” The old timer throws, “Maybe three?” It’s clear that Billups is friendly and a man of the people, as he chats with the fellas and they all salute him on his incredible NBA career.
There are handshakes for the road and Billups sits down for our interview. “I used to come here as a kid. They would open up at 10 a.m. and I would be here at 9:50 a.m. and stay ’til 6 p.m. when they closed,” he recalls. “I was raised in this place.”
CB’s ties to the community run deep, from the 16-year-old Porter-Billups Leadership Academy he runs during the summer with his mentor Lonnie Porter for 125 kids in the area, to the basketball program Chauncey Billups Elite Basketball Camp which has placed six kids in DI programs.
From being married at a young age and being the father to three wonderful daughters, to the way that basketball has changed his life, Billups has seen it all and is happy to speak on it for SLAM. “I met my wife Piper in high school,” he says. “We’ve been together forever, man, 20 years. She’s been my rock. We’ve been together way before the fame and fortune, since back when we were scraping up money to get Taco Bell together. Great times and valleys. I hit the lotto with that, especially given my profession.”
Speaking of that profession, Billups, who is hoping to latch on with one more team after averaging 4 points and 2 assists per game last season with the now-moribund Pistons, has long considered it much more than just a job. “The game of basketball has taught me all that I need to know about life,” he says. “It taught me how to deal with different people of different upbringings and backgrounds.”
It also brought him glory, in the form of a 2004 NBA Championship and the Finals MVP award that came with that. “[2003-2006, when the Pistons were legit title contenders every year]were the most precious years of my career,” Billups reflects. “I felt like I grew up professionally in Detroit. All those guys on that team are literally my brothers. We speak all the time. We laugh. We talk. We’re brothers. It started off that way. We never had a stretch where one of us was pulling away from the crew. Similar style guys like myself that were thrown around, shooed away but still in our prime. We had something to prove. Then we came together for the right cause, and I think we were a great reflection of the city of Detroit.”
Talking about all those memories brings the respected OG to the question of what’s next? Billups says he has non-playing goals, the kind that follow in the footsteps of his basketball idol and Detroit’s former Director of Basketball Operations, Joe Dumars. “I’d like to get in the front office,” Billups says. “That’s where I think my talents can be best served.”
Sounds like a serious plan, and I don’t think he’s joking.