They always say you should never meet your hero, but what they should say is never let your dumb friends meet your hero. This is the story of an awkward encounter with one of the NBA’s greatest players when my friend asked Dr. J the dumbest question imaginable….. and it’s not “Are you a real doctor?”.
Flashback to December, 1982, I was in LA for business and I saw the 76ers were in town to take on Lakers so I decided to take in the game with several of my colleagues. Not only we would get to see two great teams loaded with future hall of famers, but the sports world was abuzz about the contract Moses Malone had just signed with the 76ers a few months earlier – $13.2million over 6 years, making him the highest paid athlete for one season in the U.S. At the time, the average NBA salary was about $250,000/year.
It was my first time seeing the Showtime Lakers and as you can imagine, it was a great game. Little did I know my colleague, a lady from Scotland (who knew as much about basketball as I did about shinty, a Scottish sport similar to field hockey), was about to create a moment in history that I’d be sharing for the 50 years in a mere 12 hours. Being unfamiliar with the sport of basketball, she was simply focused on Malone, and what did he do to make so much money?
I have to say, she had a point as Malone pretty much took his time getting up and down the court, but in spite of his apparent lack of hustle Malone was the high scorer with 29 points and the 76ers won the game by 10. The next morning, before our meeting started, several of us, including my Scottish friend, decided to take our coffees up to the hotel rooftop as it was a beautiful morning to see the LA skyline. Well lo and behold, who was up there, none other than Dr, J and several of his teammates (Malone was not one of them). Believe or not, Doc and I had some mutual acquaintances – one of my college classmates played in the high school band with him and a guy I knew had played ball with him at U Mass.
So not being shy, I walked over and introduced myself and mentioned that we had some mutual acquaintances. This caught Doc a little off guard, but after asking how I knew these guys and how they were doing, we settled into a very nice discussion about the season, especially when he learned I was a diehard Celtics fan. Everything was going great when my Scottish friend walked over and blurted out the question that was obviously on her mind, “How do you stay motivated when you make so much money?”. At that point, everything suddenly stopped, then Doc replied that it wasn’t about the money, it was about the game, which I think he honestly believed. With that, there wasn’t much more that could be said, plus we had to go to our meeting. So I shook hands with him and told him it was a pleasure meeting him.
As we walked away and I “sternly” asked my friend, what the **** were you thinking, that was the great Dr. J, who is also a real good guy and her response was that she thought it was a legitimate question. After deciding that tossing her off the roof wouldn’t be good for my career, we went off to our meeting where I told and retold the story of our meeting Dr. J many, many times, each time ending with the WTF question from my friend. So if you have ever wondered how athletes (actors, musicians, etc) stay motivated when making all that money, the answer is simple, it’s not about the money. OK, if you say so.