Footin up and down like a UNLV Rebel

by February 20, 2007

By Ben Osborne

For all the reasons documented on our site all weekend (big thanks to Sam and Lang for running that show, and to Ben, Khalid, Mutoni, Russ, Shannon and all the prolific posters for contributing so much good stuff), I feel pretty damn hazy today. For real, all weekend my eyes kind of had a glaze to them, and that glaze hadn’t dissipated much when I straggled into the SLAMDome at 11 this morning. The dream-like feeling continued when I checked the voice messages on my work phone.

“Yo Ben—this is Lloyd Daniels! What’s up Ben? Call me back. Lloyd Daniels. Holla.”

Holla indeed!

I’ve never talked about this on the site, but Lloyd Daniels is one of my favorite people in basketball. He was a city basketball LEGEND when I was growing up in suburban New York, and then he was turned into a basketball tragedy in the engrossing 1990 book about his early life, Swee’ Pea and Other Playground Legends: Tales of Drugs, Violence and Basketball, the first full-length book I ever read twice. To hear Lloyd tell it, it’s past time that there be a sequel. I agree.

A 6-7 guard who was compared to Magic as a high schooler, Lloyd overcame never playing college ball, wicked drug addictions and getting shot three times in 1989 to last five seasons in the NBA before getting into coaching kids. I had the pleasure of profiling Lloyd at length in a feature story in SLAM 46 and then in a “Hype” story in issue 83, as well as writing about him in a piece I did on the USBL in the Village Voice in 2000. Throughout that time we stayed in touch, catching up every once in awhile to chat about family and hoops.

We hadn’t spoken before today in probably a year, though, and to be honest, he hadn’t been on my mind all that much. I did think of him in Vegas, though, since even though he never played at UNLV, Lloyd was one of Jerry Tarkanian’s most controversial attempted recruits there (a recruitment that ended when Lloyd was arrested in Vegas in 1987 trying to buy crack).

In any event, I eagerly call Lloyd back today and find him in tremendous spirits. “I’m alive, Ben!” A key fact when you’ve lived the life the 39-year-old Daniels has. But as he tells it, he’s much more than just alive. His burgeoning AAU Program, Lloyd Daniels Rebels, has got teams in three age groups, and in May he’s opening a new gym in Monmouth County, NJ, where he’s happily raising a family. “I’m blessed, Ben, blessed,” he says (no one I’ve ever interviewed says my name as much as Lloyd does). “Ben, for a guy they said would never make it to be opening a gym? I made it, Ben. And I got good players all over the high schools here, Ben, like Thomas Jones and Jabari Joyner from Neptune, Anthony Gibson at Monmouth and Chris Tranchita at Point Pleasant, plus kids at St. Benedict’s and Christian Brothers.”

Lloyd tells me he’s got a meeting here in the city next week, which I think is why he called in the first place, but I kind of cut him off to tell him that his timing is so weird, what with the just-completed weekend in Vegas and the relative lack of props UNLV and Tarkanian got during all the festivities (which Russ and I commented about on the site during the ASG). “You know what, Ben? Me and the Shark had lunch over the summer at The Palms when I was in Vegas for the Main Event,” he says. “Tark helped a lot of kids like myself, and some people don’t realize that. You can’t help every kid, but he tried to help a lot. The Shark is a good man. I know right now he’s just sitting back and relaxing in retirement.”

Lloyd is still an NBA fan, too. “I love the game,” Lloyd says. “Me and my son watch LeaguePass every night. I don’t know about the other night, though—that was the boringest all-star game I can remember. I think with it being in Sin City, which sure has changed a lot, guys had other things on their mind.”

Spoken like a true expert.