Long Tall Salley

Former NBA Big Man John Salley makes a play for stardom after basketball.
| By Kenneth Shouler | From Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

The Women's NBA Finals game blares out of the bar television at the Havana Club in Los Angeles, but no one's watching. Pictures of the stars and the humidors of the stars dominate the perimeter of the room. But Los Angeles has emptied out for the Labor Day weekend. The waitresses outnumber the smokers. Former pro basketball star John Salley has draped his 6-foot-11-inch frame into a chair near the bar. A waitress arrives to take cigar orders.

"What month were you born," Salley asks her. "July," she says. "July what?" he continues. "July 11th." "How old are you?" comes his next query in what is shaping up as a scintillating probe into sun sign astrology. He tells me, "I have to see if she's the right year for me to even talk to." But of course. The waitress giggles. "If she's the wrong year, I'm not even going through with it. I was born in the year of the dragon."

"What sign are you?" the waitress asks.

"I'm a Taurus," says Salley. "I know affection."

"Tauruses and Cancers get along," comes the waitress' penetrating observation about celestial connections.

"I know, my mother's a Cancer," Salley confirms. "I didn't give her any problems during pregnancy, nor when I was growing up. When is your birthday, July what?"

"July 11th, 1971," she says.

"If you were 1970, I couldn't talk to you. That's the year of the dog," he tells her, "and dragons don't get along with dogs." What is the significance of 1971, she wonders. "Snake or ox," he says. "I can tell you in a second....I used to know it by heart. Can you give me a lighter?"

John Salley likes to gab. A former member of the World Champion Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls (as well as the Miami Heat), current NBC basketball commentator and cigar store owner, Salley is a kind of walking chat room of interests, not the least of which are television, basketball and cigars. Salley clips and lights a La Gloria Cubana. "There've only been three cigars I smoked to the label," he says. "Fuente, Padrón and Don Melo. If I could swallow a Padrón, I would. I'm getting a cigar with all three of my championship rings on it, and I'm gonna hold it like this," he says with a smile, holding the La Gloria off to the side, imitating how he'll pose for the camera.

Cameras have been finding Long Tall Salley a good deal of late. With NBC Game of the Week host Hannah Storm (the best woman in the business by a country mile), analysts Peter Vecsey and Salley enjoy themselves, providing observant, amusing commentary on the NBA's featured games. After a New York-Houston game in February, Salley noted that several Knicks--notably Larry Johnson--had raised their level of play since Patrick Ewing's season-ending injury in December (the Knicks won 15 and lost 11 with Ewing and had gone 16-11 without him). He then kidded Vecsey, saying that Pete's criticism of Johnson's lackluster play earlier in the year had spurred the New York forward to play better in recent games.

On the other hand, Salley is occasionally guilty of the same excessive praise that is rampant in NBA coverage,. The Lakers' 19-year-old guard Kobe Bryant is one player singled out for coronation. Bryant may become a great player, but lets calm down. He is not yet the "air apparent" to Michael Jordan. One of Salley's advantages as an analyst, however, is that he has competed against many of today's players.

Salley played his last National Basketball Association season for the Bulls in 1996, the same year they set an all-time record by winning 72 games and losing 10. In June 1996 he earned his third world-championship ring in a 10-year career. Just 32, he could have gone on for more. But the power forward/center retired before the start of the 1996-1997 season. Why quit at such a young age?

"You know why I quit? The moment Jerry Krause [the Bulls' general manager] had the nerve to tell me, 'We can only pay you $375,000.' I thought it was a crock of bull. He said, 'But look, you get a chance to play with the Bulls, a chance to win one more ring.' Well, I can buy my own jewelry. I love playing with Michael [Jordan] and I love the situation. But I'm doing this for a living.

"I was making $3 million a year with Toronto [his multiyear contract with the Toronto Raptors was then still in effect]. He said, 'You're already getting your money from Toronto.' That had nothing to do with it. I had $12 million for five years with incentives for another $3 million. I had to give Isiah Thomas [then executive vice president of basketball operations with Toronto] back $1 million to get out of my contract, because he waived me.

"I was in Toronto five months before I went to the Bulls. Krause was the only one who knew where I was at. I wasn't going to take any waiver calls from anyone else. He said, 'What are you going to do, Sall?' I said, 'I'm going to go down to Miami Beach and sit on the beach.' It was funny, because I did whatever I had to do to be a Bull. They wanted to see about the chemistry and if I was going to fit perfectly with the team. I did that. Krause told me they couldn't pay the money and the next thing you know [before the 1996-1997 season] they give Robert Parish $2.5 million for two years." Parish, who was 43 when he got his contract, ended up playing an insignificant role, averaging about nine minutes a night in 43 games during the 1996-1997 season.

So Salley flew to Athens, Greece, to play for Panthinaikos, a team that with the help of Dominique Wilkins had won the European championship in 1996. But a dispute with management ended a deal that was to pay Salley $1.4 million. He made only a fraction of that when he didn't finish the season.

Salley had other cards to play. He had long thought of using his personality to land his own talk show. "I shot a pilot for my own show last summer," he says. "It was the John Salley show, a late-night talk show." It was slated to start last June. "Buena Vista television [a subsidiary of Disney] decided, with 95 percent of the country sold, that they would rather have Keenan Ivory Wayans do five days a week and me on Saturday."

A spokesperson at Buena Vista, who did not want to be named, said, "Buena Vista had hopes of doing both shows, but it wasn't feasible. We settled amicably."

"John's very smart," says Joy Dolce, Salley's manager and a talent executive for the ABC show "Politically Incorrect." "He thought that Buena Vista would be putting all their marketing resources and talent into Keenan's show and not his." So Salley decided that it would be better not to swim against the tide and that he'd try a talk show at a later date. He settled for $250,000 with Buena Vista.

Salley, who was renting a home in Beverly Hills, continued working with people like Malcolm Jamal Warner and Eddie Griffin on "The Malcolm and Eddie Show," a sitcom on UHF cable. Then the call from NBC Sports came. The high-flying Doctor, Julius Erving, had flown his studio perch to become the executive vice president of the Orlando Magic. NBC thought that Salley would be a good fit.

"Of the 11 audition tapes we received, which were a kind of screen test, John's blew our socks off," said NBC president Dick Ebersole. "Not only was he opinionated [about the NBA], but he had the facts to back it up and had an incredibly engaging TV style."

If anything is true of John Salley's 33 years, it's that he doesn't despair. Whether it's basketball or television, he persists and persists and things have a way of finally working out. The competitiveness that he's had since his youth has helped him down several avenues.

Salley was born on May 16, 1964, and grew up in the projects in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. His father, Quillie, who passed away last summer, drove a truck in Manhattan for 35 years and his mother, Mazie, pressed clothes and did dry cleaning in Brooklyn and cleaned houses on Long Island. His father imparted more than a few important life lessons.

"My father had this thing about being on time," Salley says. "'Always be professional,' he said. 'If they're going to talk about you, make it be a positive comment.' He was quiet; 'less is more' was really what he was about. Sometimes you don't have to say anything. My father was an introvert, my mom was an extrovert. Mom stressed that there's nothing I can't do: 'Do anything you want to do, you only live once.' She's one of my favorite people on the planet. She's 74."

Growing up, Salley learned that the Canarsie courts were the testing grounds. "Basketball was the big sport--in my neighborhood, anyway. Everybody was at the park. I really sucked." The only reason that he even got on the court was that his older brother, Ron, a football player, would use his brawn to stop games and force players to choose John in. John was too slow, couldn't dribble, couldn't shoot--other than that, he was fine.

"My brothers were great football players. I don't mean good. My brother Ron was all-city defensive end. My brother Jerry was the first black QB at Canarsie High. Everyone else in the neighborhood was playing skelly [a game in which you shoot a bottle cap from square to square] or riding the swings or playing run, catch and kiss, a contest in which you find a girl, run after her, catch her and get to kiss her. They're doing all that stuff and I'm in the park to learn [how to play basketball]. My brothers all went out for football and I said, 'You know what, I'm going to do something different.'

"Everyone told me I couldn't do it," Salley recalls. "I was the worst player in my project. I was around and I was a Salley and that was the only reason I was playing. I hung out with a whole crew of 15 guys and they were all better than me."

In Salley's first year of junior high, Barney Davis, a coach of a professional basketball team called the New York Rens (the original Rens, named after the Renaissance Ballroom in Harlem, were the country's first great black team, having started barnstorming in 1923), came into the neighborhood and took an interest in Salley. "He showed me how to make a left-handed lay-up. He showed me how to slide my feet, how to make it down court with three dribbles. I didn't need all those dribbles. I would meet him after school in the park. I had to wash my clothes and do all the homework before I went out."

Salley was the last guy picked on his high school team by Jerry Pearlmutter, who had been one of his junior high teachers. Salley played in the Empire State Games with Pearl Washington, a standout guard at Syracuse who would go on to play three years in the NBA with the Knicks and the Heat. Salley played for a coach--whose name he says he has "blocked out"--who told him he had no potential and would never be any good.

"He told me the only reason I made the squad was that Pearl said, 'I want Salley on the team.' We went up to Syracuse, won the gold and he wouldn't play me," Salley recalls. "He told all the scouts I wasn't shit. I decided next year to never go a day when I wasn't playing basketball. All those people who were negative to me, I literally blocked them out of my brain. And I used all the negativity as fuel for my Rolls Royce."

His motivation was simple. "I didn't want to be in the projects no more. I told my mom, who didn't want me to play, and I begged her, 'Let me play and I'll buy you a brand new house and we'll get out' and told my father, 'I'll buy you a new car you don't have to fix every Saturday.' And they were, like, 'Oh, that's nice, Johnny.'"

Salley attended Georgia Tech, where over a four-year career he connected on 59 percent of his shots and averaged 34 minutes, 13 points and six rebounds per game. He graduated with a degree in industrial management and a minor in marketing.

In June 1986, he was drafted 11th in the nation by Detroit. Now the naysayers who always contended he couldn't make it amended their story, saying he had only made it to the big show because he had gone to Georgia Tech. No matter. He was playing with the Pistons, a team that boasted such stars as Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Adrian Dantley, and was coached by Chuck Daly. Moreover, the Pistons were a team on the verge of something big.

Salley signed a five-year deal for $2.2 million. "The first thing I did was bought my father his car. Second thing I did was bought my mother her house. I bought my father a Lincoln Continental. A big stinkin' blue Lincoln with the blue leather top and spokes in the wheels. Built them a house in Atlanta, Georgia."

Salley found a mentor. Dantley, who averaged more than 30 points a game for four seasons in his career--but was inexplicably left off the NBA's list of the all-time 50 best players--was called "teacher" by Salley. "If it wasn't for A.D., I would have eaten hamburgers and not known how to work out. I wouldn't have known how to take care of my body, not known about vitamins, not known how to get treatment and massage, not known how to stay in my room. A.D. had a saying: 'When you go on the road, you better get used to these four walls in your hotel room. You gotta do a job.' "

The Pistons won 52 games and lost 30 during Salley's rookie season, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to the Boston Celtics in seven games. Their pugnacious defense and overall truculence on the court earned them the title of the "Bad Boys." Dennis Rodman, Rick Mahorn and Salley--three of the Pistons off the bench--were physical and intimidating. Salley got the nickname "Spider Salley," for his ability to block shots and wreak havoc inside. Still, the defense allowed 107.8 points per game, only 10th best in the league in 1987.

In 1988 Detroit won 54 games and improved its defensive rank to third, allowing a stingy 104.1 points per game. In the Conference Finals the Pistons avenged the 1987 defeat at the hands of the Celtics, beating them in six games, including two victories in Boston. Detroit then came within a whisker of knocking off the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

By then, the Pistons' reputation as bad boys was so entrenched that Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders football team, sent them silver-and-black shirts, with the skull-and-crossbones logo of the Raiders. The Pistons wore the stuff with pride. Their fans showed up at games with silver and black and skull and crossbones. To be sure, they had their share of rough defenders. "It was a blue-collar city and we were blue-collar players," Salley recalls. "We looked like a whole bunch of misfits except for Isiah and A.D. Rick Mahorn was from New Jersey with the big butt. Vinnie Johnson had a funny shot, [Another was] Bill Laimbeer. Joe Dumars was legitimate."

In Detroit the operative model was not basketball as ballet, but basketball as border skirmish. The Pistons ushered in an emphasis on physical defense, an approach that was carried even further by the Pat Riley-led New York Knicks in the early 1990s. As the NBA approaches the millennium, scrambling, grabbing, disruptive defense is embraced by coaches around the league.

Witness the lower scores throughout the NBA. In the 1996-1997 season, just eight of the 29 teams averaged more than 100 points on offense, with Chicago averaging the most: just 103.1 points a game. Ten years ago, in 1988, the Nuggets were the top scoring squad, averaging 116.7 points a game.

If you don't like the defensive wars of today's NBA, blame the Pistons. Not that they would have cared about the statistics when they met the Lakers--already winners of four titles in the 1980s--in the '88 Finals. The Pistons entered Game 6 needing just one victory to upset the immortal trio of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy.

In a game that featured a heroic 25-point third-quarter performance by a hobbling Isiah Thomas, the Pistons led by one as time was winding down. Abdul-Jabbar shot a baseline hook that fell way short, but Laimbeer was whistled for a foul. Jabbar made both free throws for the victory. "We got robbed by a referee," says Salley. "It gave me a different taste in my mouth about the league. I got the film--Kareem never got fouled by Bill Laimbeer. He never hit him; he jumped backwards. Bill said he did it 'to distract him.' Kareem shot an air-ball hook. And the ball hit the ground and he said 'foul.'

Game 7 proved to be anticlimactic, with the Lakers winning, 108-105. "We gave 'em a good fight in the seventh game. When we lost, I knew next year we were going to win the championship," says Salley, recalling the funereal atmosphere in the Detroit locker room. "No one was going to stop us."

No one did. The Pistons won 63 and lost 19. Displaying more testy defense in the 1989 playoffs, they applied the "Jordan Rules"--a strategy to wear the Bulls superstar down by running him off picks, double- and triple-teaming him and basically banging him from pillar to post whenever he touched the ball. The Pistons smothered the Bulls, holding them under 100 points in all six games of the Eastern Finals. The Pistons again squared off against the Lakers in the Finals.

This time the Lakers pulled up lame, having lost guards Byron Scott and Magic Johnson to injuries. Abdul-Jabbar, then 42 years old and in his 20th and last season, could no longer dominate inside. The Pistons cranked out a four-game sweep to capture their first-ever NBA title. "I went from being a kid who was the last pick on a high school team--Jerry Pearlmutter put me on the squad mainly because, I guess he felt sorry for me," Salley says quietly. "Now we were World Champions. When we won the championship, Bill Laimbeer said to me, 'Before I get drunk, I just want to sit here and thank you for putting up with my shit for three years. You took it like a man and you learned. You were developed and molded into exactly what we needed. And without you and Dennis [Rodman] doing what you do, we wouldn't be here.' That was the best compliment in the world."

The Pistons not only had a title but an identity. They led the league in defense in 1990 and bumped and grunted past Chicago in seven games to reach the Finals again. Once there, they easily disposed of Portland, winning in five games, including the last three on the Trail Blazers' court. They were only the fourth team in NBA history to win back-to-back titles.

Salley played his last two years in Detroit in 1991 and 1992 before being traded to the Miami Heat in September 1992. In exchange the Pistons won the rights to Isiah Morris (who played a grand total of 25 NBA games) and a draft choice. For Salley, parting was not too sorrowful. Detroit had begun to slide after the 1990 championship. Maybe it was age. But the Pistons were swept by Chicago in the 1991 Conference Finals and lost in five games to New York in 1992. In that series they averaged a measly 85 points a game, as the Knicks' defense was now beating them at their own game.

With Miami, Salley signed a five-year deal for $12 million. "Bill Laimbeer said, 'Salley, you're going to think this is a crock of shit, but your job is as hard as everybody else's and if you continue to do your job you can stay in the league longer than everybody else. Because your body won't be beat up. You average 25 minutes and you can't beat a job where you get paid two million dollars for playing 25 minutes. It's the best job in the world.' It's like Daly's favorite line, 'It beats working.' "

Pay or no pay, Salley didn't find the same environment in Miami that he had in Detroit. "People cared more about minutes, their scoring." The fans turned on Salley, too, expecting him to score a lot of points and be a savior. But that was never his game. He continued to defend, rebound, block shots and hit a high percentage of the few shots he did take.

He wasn't protected by Miami in the 1995 expansion draft and Toronto drafted him. He was getting little playing time with the Raptors and after a few months sought to be traded to a contender. He arranged for a buyout of his contract with the Raptors and signed with the Bulls. Now he was with a team on a mission. The Bulls were trying to take a fourth world championship after not having won since 1993. They were also trying to break the NBA record of 69 wins in a season. Salley found himself reunited with an old mate, Dennis Rodman, and a new coach in Phil Jackson. He would also be joining a team with a star, Scottie Pippen, and a megastar, Michael Jordan, whom Salley simply refers to as M.J. The Bulls rolled into the playoffs, shattering the old victory record with a 72-10 mark.

Though Salley had sat on the throne twice in Detroit, it wasn't long before he discovered the real king in Chicago. He recalls a practice session when Jordan was slightly injured. "Phil told him not to practice. Scottie [Pippen] wasn't practicing, his ankle was hurting. [Ron] Harper wasn't practicing. Phil Jackson called everyone together and said, 'We're gonna scrimmage.' Michael said, 'I want to scrimmage.' Phil said, 'No, you rest.' Michael says, 'I'm scrimmaging.'

"He had on those Nike canvas tennis shoes, a sweatsuit and a top. He tied up those shoes. Phil put me, James Edwards and Dennis on the same team with two guards. Michael must of thought he was playing the Pistons all over again. All of a sudden he gets a steal at half-court. I'm coming back late and I turn around, and it's just me and him. I don't care, I'm going to block the shot. He takes off and he yells, 'Block this shit.' And he just takes off like in the fucking video and just dunked it. He was, like, 'Block that shit, you're a shot blocker.' I thought about it later and got back to my hotel room and called my mother and I said, 'I just played against the greatest player that ever put on a uniform. The best thing about being a Bull is I get to see him twice a day--at practice and in the game. He is by far the best player to ever play.' My mom said, 'They say he is, but I'm surprised you just noticed.'"

Despite the incredible regard for Jordan, the consensus choice as the greatest ever to play, Salley contends that Chicago is still "Phil's team." "Michael listens to what Phil says," Salley says matter-of-factly. Phil will say, 'Michael take a sub.' 'No Phil, I'm all right,' Michael would say back. 'No, you're subbing now,' Phil would say. And his word stuck. Michael gives all the respect to Phil, because Phil was a player. Phil was a champion [as a forward on the 1970 and 1973 Knicks] before Michael was. He's got more rings than Michael." Jackson added a fifth world championship as a coach last spring when the Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in six games.

Since Salley played for Daly and Jackson--who have coached a combined seven NBA championship teams--how does he compare them? "Chuck knew how to get to you. He used to yell at me, 'I can't believe you have all this height and are not rebounding. You keep this up and I'll trade you to Milwaukee.' He knew I hated Milwaukee. He'd take me out of the game--it's not like kids now who say 'the coach embarrassed me'--he respected me. His job is to coach. His job is to rev you up. Chuck would say something to me, 'You want to play 32 minutes, you gotta do what I need you to. You know, I think you play great 20-minute spurts.' I'd say, 'I think I'd be great in 25.' 'Well, prove to me you'd be great in 25,' Chuck would say. He knew that I took it personally.

"Phil and Chuck both understand players," says Salley. "Jackson takes a more spiritual tack to it." Jackson, who wrote an insightful book called Sacred Hoops: Spirited Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior, huddled his players to observe a moment of silence on the day Timothy Leary died. "Phil had a guy come in and deal with us on meditation. He said, 'Close your eyes and we're going to meditate.' This guy came in and said the reason we had lost a recent game to Toronto was because we were mentally weak. Phil signed a copy of his book to me. If Phil had called [before the 1996-1997 season] and said, 'Salley, we don't have any money but we want you...'" Salley trails off, his response to such a request not needing to be worded. "I really dug that guy and I used to not like him because I played on the other team."

With 72 wins during the 1995-1996 campaign, there were more than a few occasions for the Bulls to smoke cigars. Rodman smoked, as did Pippen and Jordan. Phil Jackson sampled some, too, often taking whatever came his way. In more ways than one, the Bulls were the smokingest team in the league. Salley laughs recalling one smoky bus ride.

"I was on the bus and we were smoking cigars going to Philly, leaving the Jersey game. Gary [Footlik, his business partner] had told me how to take a paper clip, break it off and stick it into the cigar so when you light the cigar it will hold the ash. I was showing my cigar to M.J., talking about good cigars. I said, 'It's a good cigar.' M.J. says, 'Yeah, you can tell by how good the ash is. Look how good my ash is.' He'd say, 'This tobacco smoke is 30 years old, this cigar here...' Michael's drawing on a Montecristo No. 2. And I got the cigar and my ash is about two inches, then two and a half inches long. M.J. was, like, 'Yeah, let that ash fall, it's gonna mess his clothes up.' He didn't know what to say. That ash got bigger and bigger and no one knew that I had this paper clip in the middle of it, holding that ash right on top of it. Finally I pulled it out real quick to break the ash."

Did any of the Bulls' nonsmokers complain about the habitual smoking on bus rides? "Hey, we were just apostles," Salley says with a laugh. "Jesus was smoking, that's all there is to it." He laughs harder. "Jesus is in the back of the bus smoking, so you don't say jack shit. Jesus and 11 apostles. What are you going to say? 'M.J., I'm not feeling good today, put your cigar out. Don't make me come back there and kick your ass.' " Not likely.

Barely two years earlier Salley had despised smoking. "When I got to Miami, I would go to [managing partner] Lewis Schaffel's and [partner] Billy Cunningham's office, and just hated it. But it wasn't like I hated the smell. I kind of liked the smell. And I said to myself, 'You know what, try this.' I liked it right off the bat. My first cigar was an Ashton. It was smooth because Gary said, 'I'm gonna give you something smooth.'" But how did Salley go from cigar smoker to cigar businessman?

"When I was with Miami in 1995, Gary was there. They opened up the Grand Havana Room in Miami before that and I got my box in there. Gary [a smoker] had been in the clothes business for 25 years and he said, 'You know what, the next thing I want to do is open up a cigar shop. Whaddya think?'

"I said, 'I don't know shit about cigars, Gary. What do you know about cigars?' And he was, like, 'Well, I'm learning every day.' So one time in Chicago he said, 'You should ride with me downtown.' We go downtown and we go to Jack Schwartz, an old cigar place, and I'm watching these guys come in from the stock exchange and buying cigars like they were buying bubble gum."

That was Salley's eye-opener.

Footlik, 48, confirms Salley's story. "John said it would never work. Six months later he calls and says, 'I'm finding cigars every town I'm in.' We opened this store in Wilmette, Illinois, and I put two and two together to get four and named it Cigary--cigar with a 'y' on the end." Salley recalls that when people wanted a cigar, the response would be "See Gary," and so the name of the establishment came about that way.

Together the two have fashioned a shop that deals in premium brands. "We specialize in hard-to-find brands," says Footlik. "We always have Padróns, Ashtons, Arturo Fuentes. In all, we have about 100 brands. We're an upscale store; we carry few off-brands. I like to say we're the Ultimo [a swank clothing store] of cigar stores. We're not getting the trendy kid who wants to be cool. Our guys have been smoking for a while."

What is Salley's favorite cigar? He has five: La Gloria Cubana, Avo Intermezzo, Padrón (especially the Pyramid), Don Melo and Tamboril. His partner disagrees. "His favorite cigar is a free one," Footlik cracks. "He never carries any so someone has to." And what about Footlik? "I smoke a variety of brands; I'm partial to Padróns, which are very smooth, have a lot of flavor, are not overpowering. I like the Flor de Florez [a Nicaraguan cigar]. I like a full-bodied, flavorful smoke, not a mild papery smoke but something with a lot of flavor and body to it."

Though Salley had enjoyed his first smoke just two years earlier, he quickly learned enough about cigars to assist in evaluating the more than 100 brands for the store. His learning curve was steep. "Gary gave me the cigar diary a year before we even opened the store. So I'm buying new diaries now. A diary has a place to put the label. You can put what you thought about it, the taste of it. The first puff, the middle puff, the end of it. So whenever I go into it I can say, 'Hey, that was a good cigar. This was a good cigar.' You can talk about 'em like that."

Salley and Footlik opened Cigary in November 1996. They plan to open another store in the Chicago area this spring.

Life after basketball is looking up for Salley. Not only did he land the big NBA broadcast gig; he was recently married to Natasha, 28. "The first night I met her, I wrote her name down, put it into a computer and said, 'That's my wife to be.' Together they had a child, Tyla Milan, who was a year old last July. His first child, Giovanna, from a previous relationship, turned 10 in January.

Natasha doesn't go for smoking, however. "I have to brush my tongue, my lips," says Salley. "I don't smoke in the house. Plus, I've got a newborn."

You can't have everything. But Salley's life, even after basketball, shows that you can have most everything. Long Tall Salley is large enough proof that there's not only life after the courts--there's an abundant life after the courts.

A freelance writer in White Plains, New York, Kenneth Shouler is the author of The Experts Pick Basketball's Best 50 Players in the Last 50 Years (1996, Addax Publishing, Lenexa, Kansas).

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