by November 07, 2008

Journeymen do get one thing...more clothes.

by Matt Caputo

In the dozen years he spent in the NBA, Tracy Murray might never have gotten his fair shake. A sharp-shooting journeyman, Murray shared the court with some of the most prolific players of his era including Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. Despite his low profile, Murray didn’t miss much of the good and bad that comes with being in the NBA.

After three years at UCLA, Murray was taken by the Spurs with the 18th pick in the 1992 draft, but was sent to Portland right away. He went on to play with six NBA teams during his career, including the 1995 Houston Rockets that won the chip. He played his last season in the NBA in 2003-2004 with the Portland, where he started his career.

SLAM recently spoke with Murray, now 37, about his life and career.

SLAM: What has been keeping you busy since you left the League?
Tracy Murray: I’ve been in California ever since I’ve been back from Europe. I’m a mentor for the Bakersfield Jam D-League team, and I also do some commentating and coaching for them. I have 15 games on the radio with the UCLA men’s team when Don Maclean can’t do it. I’m also doing internet radio for the women’s UCLA team.

SLAM: You’re still really involved with UCLA.
TM: Especially after going back in 2006 and getting my degree. It just seems like the doors opened up there as soon as I finished playing.

SLAM: Do you still play in those famous pick-up games at Pauley Pavilion?
TM: I used to a lot. I played with Magic Johnson, all the Lakers, James Worthy, Byron Scott and guys that were on the Clippers back in the day. When Magic had his Midsummer thing, we’d have Charles Barkley, Charles Oakley and Michael Jordan come out and they started playing in the pick-up games. Toward the end of my career, there was Kevin Garnett, Chauncey Billups and Tyron Lue out there playing. They were the younger guys like Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, Earl Watson and we always had former UCLA guys, like Mitchell Butler and myself that were down there.

I’ll tell you though, the best pick-up games I’ve ever played in were when Michael Jordan was out here in Hollywood shooting Space Jam. It was Warner Brothers and they put the hardwood floor from the Long Beach Arena out there with a tent over it. We played the best and most competitive pick-up games every day. It was like an NBA All-Star game and we sprinkled in Mitchell Butler, Darrick Martin and myself, who were the local guys who would play at UCLA ever summer. We didn’t play at UCLA that summer, but we played at the Warner Brothers tent. It was probably the best pick-up games I’ve ever seen. If you think of any All-Star, any top player in the League, from Steve Smith, Glen Rice, Alonzo Mourning to the people that were in the movie, it was like everybody showed up. Shawn Bradley, Dikembe Mutombo and Shaq were all there. Everyday somebody showed up.

It was in those pick-up games that I improved the most because I was guarding Michael Jordan every day. Sometimes he’d guard me. That’s where I gained a lot of these guys respect. When you’re in the NBA, you have to play a roll, but when you’re playing pick-up ball, you’re allowed to play your game. I showed them that I could do things The Bruin back in the day.other than catch the ball and shoot. That’s where I was able to earn some respect from the greatest players to ever play the game.

SLAM: You left UCLA after your junior year. Looking back do you think you were ready?
TM: I felt like I was ready basketball wise, but I found out maturity wise, and just from a professional standpoint, that I wasn’t ready when I got in there. There is a lot more than just basketball that you have to deal with that any youngster is not going to be ready for. Off the court stuff, you know? You have all of this time to yourself and you’re a young man with money and time. That’s not good.

SLAM: What was the biggest obstacle you had to deal with when you got into the League?
TM: My biggest obstacle was being able to start my whole life and then having to come off the bench in the NBA. I had to learn how to adjust to that and the whole “pay dues” process was something I wasn’t used to. That was probably the biggest obstacle I had to overcome. It was just being patient and waiting my turn. It was mainly trying to fit in with the guys. There were some teams where I fit in better than I did on other teams. It was a teams that I didn’t fit in with socially that made it an obstacle off the court.

SLAM: Where did you fit in best?
TM: There were two places where I just loved my teammates. That was the inaugural year with the Raptors in Toronto. That very first year with Alvin Robertson, Damon Stoudamire and Tony Massenburg was a big tear. Then there was the Laker team and even though there was drama going on with Shaq and Kobe, the Laker team that year (2002-2003) was probably one of the most fun years that I’ve ever had off the court.

Shaq and I were like brothers anyway. To be able to play with him the whole year, as well as Brian Shaw, Rock Fox, Samaki Walker, it was a cast of characters that were fun to be with off the court. We played a lot of pranks with each other, a lot of jokes on each other, and it was an enjoyable bunch.

Coming up as a kid and being a Laker fan, being on the team was great. On the court, it didn’t go well for me in Laker-land. I wasn’t one of the players that Phil had figured into the scheme of things. It was frustrating to be waiting all this time to come home and play for the Lakers and to get there and not play. Other than that, dealing with the guys off the court made my on-court problems very easy to deal with.

SLAM: You played with Clyde Drexler, Kobe Bryant, Shaq, Hakeem and a number of other really good guys. Who do you think could have gotten more credit for how hard they worked?
TM: You named a bunch of guys that worked hard right there. I’d say that even though Kobe had a lot of conflicts with people, he’s one of the more hardworking guys that I’ve ever seen in my career, especially for a youngster. He was very, very focused on what he wanted to do as a individual in the game. He really worked his behind off.

Between him and Shaq, we had two really driven guys on the same team. Shaq just happened to have a toe surgery that year and they were into the finals in three straight years and that’s hard on a big body. He needed some rest that year. Both of them are very driven and that’s why they won three championships together.

SLAM: Did you get a ring with the ’95 Rockets?
TM: Yes, I got a ring with them. I got a full share of the playoff money and everything. I might not have been on the playoff roster, but best believe I earned it. In practice, I was their go-to guy and they had to learn how to defend that. I helped them be prepared for their games.

It was very frustrating because there are things that you have to deal with in professional basketball that you don’t have to deal with in college basketball. By that, I mean the politics and things. There are certain guys that have in their contracts that something has to happen and the sacrificial lamb is the person who doesn’t have those specifics in their contract. That’s what I had to deal with as a young guy.

SLAM: What season do you feel like you had the most impact?
TM: Probably the year of my 50-point game in Washington. I actually played pretty well that year–it was probably my second best year as a pro. My first best year was that Toronto team during the inaugural year. We were a bunch of misfits that nobody wanted and we all had to come together as a team and do the best we could. We still have the record for wins as an expansion team. 28 wins is not a lot, but when teams came into the SkyDome they had to play hard for 48 minutes. If they didn’t they were going to get beat. I’d say there were 20 or 25 games that we lost by five points or less. We were in every game to win it, but we didn’t have the experience to win it.

Raw jersey, raw 50-point game.SLAM: It was kind of a reintroduction of the NBA for Canada. Can you talk a bit about the Toronto fans?
TM: Toronto was my favorite city to play in. We had to educate a hockey community about basketball. To me, that was fun, educating the public about the game of basketball was great. Being out in the community was a lot of fun. It was bigger than just playing basketball.

I’ll tell you a quick story. The fans have come a long way. When I was shooting free throws the first year, there were fans behind the basket that were waving and trying to distract me. They didn’t know that you’re supposed to do that to the visiting team. We had to educate them on that. It was great to go into a community and meet many people that I’m still friends with to this day.

SLAM: Talk about scoring that 50 against the Warriors in ’98.
TM: Really, we were shorthanded that night. We really only had seven guys who were used to being with that team that weren’t injured. The rest of the guys were injured and we picked up Lawrence Moten who didn’t know a single play. He was just sitting there in uniform basically. We had no Chris Webber and no Jawan Howard, so, there were plenty of shots to be had for everybody. The only people that were really capable of putting up any kind of numbers were Rod Strickland, Calbert Chaney and myself. Everybody else that was putting up big numbers were out.

Right from the start I was aggressive. I played free. I played like I was in college or I was in high school. The basket just seemed wider than an ocean. Things just kept falling and Rod just kept coming to me. He had like twenty-something assists that night. It was definitely a situation where I had to pinch myself and say “I’ve done this many times in high school.” That was my moment in the league. That was the Tracy Murray that people heard about from high school and had the reputation of being a scorer in college, it wasn’t just from 3-point distance, it was from all over the place. It was the way I played.

SLAM: Talk about playing overseas and your experiences over there. Would you have gone over earlier in your career if they were offering the same money then that they are now?
TM: After my third year, that championship year with Houston, they protected me from the expansion draft that would have sent me to the Raptors or Grizzlies and I thought they were going to resign me. When the draft was over, Houston didn’t resign me. It kind of messed things up for me. I was really close to going overseas then. If it wasn’t for the Toronto Raptors and the opportunity they gave me, I would have probably only lasted three years in the League. They gave me the chance and it opened things up. Just having played three years overseas after having done 12 in the NBA, you have to have a certain skill level to play over there. You can’t just be a great athlete and go over there and make money. You have to be able to dribble, pass and shoot which are the basic fundamentals of basketball.

I was a little bit older, but I was able to steal a couple of years over there, I felt like I had some game left in me. At the same time, it’s a constant struggle and hustle, I don’t envy the guys who are over there that didn’t make the League that are trying to make a career over there. They have to deal with so much just to get their money. You don’t have to deal with anything like that in the NBA, you sign the contract and they honor it. Overseas, you have to fight for your money. These are guys that have families back home and they’re over there practicing twice a day and beating their bodies up. They might not get their check if they won their game. You have to be superman to play over there to get your check on time. Something has to be done about that. If I had to do it all over again, even though it was a good experience and got to live in France and Greece, if I know what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it. I would have stayed here and started my life after basketball with my name fresh.

My second year, when I played for POAK in Greece, the city was a cool, beautiful place. Dealing with the organization was another thing. They still owe me 45,000 Euro from 2005. I doubt if I’ll ever get it. I call them on it and they say they’re in the process but they’re not going to give me my money. Panathinaikos still owes Dominique Wilkins for winning the Euroleague championship over there in 1996. I don’t know what John Salley or Cliff Livingston’s situation was, but I don’t know if they’ve gotten all of their money. This is a major issue, especially in Greece.

SLAM: Saying that, what would your advice be to a guy like Josh Childress.
TM: I was on Facebook talking with Josh Childress the other day. Our families are friends, and I’ve been kind of looking out for him since he’s been in the League. I wanted to check and make sure that he was OK over there. He’s playing for the rival team that I played for. At the same time, when you’re an American and you’re in Greece, even D-League, full class.though you’re on opposite sides, Americans have to be like family over there. They have to look out for each other. I made sure that even though Mike Battista is on another team over there, that Josh makes sure to stay close to Mike while they’re over there and make sure everything is OK with him. I told Josh that if there is a day that he doesn’t get his check that he needs to sit out of practice. If he doesn’t stand up for himself, he’s going to be playing for free. With the type of contract that he’s got, he’s says that there hasn’t been a problem. If I was Kobe or LeBron or any of those cats who they might offer $50 million to go over there, I would make sure I got $25 million up front before they get on the plane.

SLAM: You’re interested in coaching, how close are you to getting into that full-time?
TM: I’m a part-time coach right now with the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA D-League. It’s all I can do really, because of my broadcasting schedule. When I have time, I go up to Bakersfield and sit in on their practices and comment on things. The coach up there wants me to sit on the bench at the home games I can make. I’m like a second assistant/broadcaster and he wants to pull me all the way to the bench. I think he sees something in me as a coach that he wants to help me to develop.