Sam Perkins has come full circle.
The Indiana Pacers hired the Shaker High School graduate to be the NBA team’s vice president of player relations last month a job that gives the former pro basketball player a chance to mentor a new generation of players.
I always wanted to get into the NBA (management) in some capacity and this was one (possibility),` said Perkins. `Player relations and player development has always been important to me.`
The fact that the job offer came from Pacers team president Larry Bird ` who once coached him in Indiana ` was an honor in itself for Perkins.
`It’s a humbling experience to be called upon by a legend,` said Perkins. `He’s one of two people who I admired (before entering the NBA in 1984) and then got to know.`
Among Perkins’ responsibilities will be to teach players how to manage their money, how to relate and give back to the Indianapolis community, how to deal with media scrutiny and how to make the right choices in their personal lives.
`The biggest issue is to have some structure in their lives,` said Perkins. `They don’t realize that once they sign that contract, their lives change drastically. They really have to concentrate on being themselves and getting used to saying no to people.`
The guidance Perkins offers is similar to the guidance he received growing up, especially from his legal guardian, Herb Crossman.
`If anything, the reason I’m talking to you from where I am today is because of him,` Perkins said of Crossman. `He taught me all of these things that I now pass along to my daughters and the things that I will be passing along to the Pacers.`
`It’s tremendously gratifying to know he’s going to be passing along a lot of the things I taught him, and it’s tremendously gratifying to know he’s going to help a lot of other people,` said Crossman, who lives in Slingerlands.
Perkins has been helping as many people as he can since retiring from the NBA after the 2000-01 season. He’s been involved in several charitable organizations including Nothing But Nets (a United Nations program devoted to providing mosquito nets to malaria-prone regions of Africa), the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers, NBA Cares, Basketball Without Borders and Habitat for Humanity. Last year, Perkins and Crossman traveled to China with an Albany volleyball team for the Special Olympics.
`All of these things that I’ve done … they’ve helped me reach this point,` said Perkins.
It’s that sense of giving back to the community and being an upstanding citizen that Perkins wants to impart to the Pacers’ players ` something the organization has been lacking in recent years. Three Indiana players ` Jamaal Tinsley, Shawne Williams and Marquis Daniels ` have been involved in off-the-court incidents in the last two years, and another player, David Harrison, was suspended by the NBA for a drug policy violation. Then, there was the infamous brawl between the Pacers and Detroit Pistons several years ago in Detroit that involved players and fans.
`Trouble is going to look for you all the time, and you have to learn how to deal with it,` said Perkins.
`When you’ve got a franchise that is perceived as having lost its way, I think he’s the right man for the job of helping the franchise find its way,` said Crossman.
Perkins knows how trouble can find a person. During his 17-year NBA career with the Pacers, the Seattle Supersonics, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks, he said there were times that he made poor choices. Fortunately for Perkins, those choices didn’t lead to run-ins with the law.
`Did I stay out late? Yes. Did I drink? Yes,` said Perkins. `But I never took advantage of anybody or let anybody take advantage of me, and that’s how you gain respect.`
Now, it’s up to Perkins to help the current players on Indiana’s roster avoid those same traps and become role models for future NBA players.
`The whole concept is not only to provide guidance to the players, but also to be a role model to those players,` said Crossman. `Since he’s been around a couple of successful organizations, he knows what it takes to succeed in the NBA.“