Short Term Bull Takes Long View on Life
- by KC Johnson, Chicago Sun
...You won't find many NBA rookies—or veterans, for that matter—who call Khalil Gibran their favorite author "by far" and spend pregame time reading Sidney Poitier's spiritual autobiography, "The Measure of a Man."
Blair wasn't your typical NBA rookie.
For starters, the 6-foot-10-inch forward-center was the oldest player in Bulls camp. He's three weeks older than eight-year veteran Adrian Griffin, three months older than 11-year veteran Ben Wallace and 13 months older than 12-year veteran Joe Smith.
When Blair, 33, graduated from Arizona with a degree in communications, Tyrus Thomas was in 5th grade.
Further, since Seattle selected him in the second round of the 1996 NBA draft, Blair has lived a nomadic life of overseas basketball opportunities and self-discovery.
Blair, a Houston native, has played in France, Greece, Italy and Turkey—and twice for the Harlem Globetrotters. He has tried to immerse himself in the cultures of each land, fully embracing Italy because he played in three different parts of the country there and had two of his three children there with his former Italian girlfriend.
Blair speaks fluent Italian.
"The people are so warm and accommodating," he said after Wednesday's workout at the Berto Center, his last as a Bull. "It's a very family-oriented country."
Blair left it to pursue one final crack at an NBA dream that seemed realistic when he played with Damon Stoudamire as Arizona reached the 1994 Final Four. Eleven years after drafting him, the SuperSonics still owned his rights. But his agent engineered his release, which didn't even make the Sonics' official transactions.
The Bulls signed him Oct. 2, in part as a big body for training camp, in part because his agent, Keith Glass, also advises coach Scott Skiles.
"Joe is different, and I mean that in a good way," Glass said. "He's a bright guy who has learned everywhere he has gone."
Blair, not surprisingly, carried a healthy dose of perspective about his NBA chances.
"I wanted to gauge myself against the best players in the world," Blair said. "At my age, I look back and think, 'Six years ago, I could run faster or jump higher.' But it all happens when it's supposed to happen.
"Only with age comes wisdom. I can look back and see the times when I thought I was wise and mature and realize I really wasn't. Now I've seen enough of the world to realize I haven't seen anything. I've learned enough in my life to realize there's so much more to learn."
With that attitude, Blair is preparing for his post-basketball life. He's studying opportunities to represent U.S. players overseas and also has invested through a Costa Rican friend in two professional teams there.
"My goal right now is to evolve gracefully into being an ex-basketball player," he said.
Blair says his love of reading should help in this transition.
"The more you read, the more it broadens your horizons, your imagination, every part of your life," he said in what could be a sound bite for the league's "Read to Achieve" initiative.
"When I first went overseas, the Internet wasn't big. I couldn't afford to call home. There were no international cell phones. So you have to adapt and learn more about yourself. I chose to read."
With his release, Blair is off to his next adventure, perhaps retirement. More likely, he will chase another opportunity overseas, possibly in Russia.
"Not to get all deep, but there's a poem a friend of mine wrote called 'The Road I Take,' " Blair said. "The end of it says:
So what if the road I've taken isn't paved
For it is me, not you, that I have saved
"And that's the way I look at it. I've grown more and matured more as a person because of the road I've traveled. It's, obviously, not as glamorous as the NBA road. But I've been able to provide a very good lifestyle for myself and my family and my children. And that was my goal in the beginning.
"Of course everyone has dreams of being in the NBA. But when you think about what does being in the NBA mean, it's being a professional basketball player. And that I have achieved.
"I'm very proud of what I have done. I have friends from high school who wrote me e-mails just today who said you're the only person who has ever scored an NBA point. I'm proud of that aspect. But I'm even more proud of the things I've accomplished off the court and that I've provided for my family."