Nothing Common About 'Just Wright'
Lynn had been a rookie in training camp for St. Louis in 1966 when Rod Thorn was a Hawks guard. Thorn, then general manager of the Bulls, was in Denver that weekend so Lynn went to the lobby of his hotel and called from the house phone.
"He came downstairs, and I said, 'Rod, this is my son. He wants to be a ball boy,''' Lynn recalled. "He looked at me kind of weird and said, 'Yeah, Lonnie, I am busy. But have him write me a letter.'''
Well, Rashid Lynn did write that letter. And, helped by a recommendation from Thorn, the 12-year-old soon got a job as a Bulls ball boy.
It was good timing. A rookie by the name of Michael Jordan joined the team the next fall, and young Rashid got to know him and a lot of other top players in his 2 1/2 years with the Bulls.
Eventually, Rashid grew up. After playing some high school ball, he went into rap music. He is now known as Common, an international superstar who has won two Grammy Awards and several years ago got into acting.
In Common's latest movie, "Just Wright,'' which opens Friday, he plays Scott McKnight, a star point guard for the New Jersey Nets who is trying to make it back from a knee injury and falls in love with his physical therapist, played by Queen Latifah.
Well, it just so happens Thorn is now the president of the Nets. And he plays himself in the movie.
"It's got to be serendipity, divine order,'' Common said recently in an interview with FanHouse. "Things come full circle in life. I came up to (Thorn during filming at the Izod Center last summer), and said, 'I'm Lonnie Lynn's son.' He just laughed. He was really surprised. He was like, 'Wow.' ''
Thorn, while admitting to not closely following rap music, had known before of Common due to having players crank his music in the locker room. And, of course, he knew he starred in the movie.
But Thorn initially had no idea Common was Rashid Lynn, whom he had helped get a job 25 years earlier.
"How ironic is that?'' Thorn said. "When he came up and said he was Lonnie Lynn's son, I said, 'You got to be kidding me.' I had remembered meeting (the boy) in the lobby and putting him in touch with the person who picked the ball boys. But I never had a clue (Rashid Lynn was Common).''
Thorn has gotten to know Common a bit, and chatted with him last week during the film's premiere New York. He also watched him play some ball during the filming of the movie.
"He's pretty good,'' Thorn said. "He can handle the ball. He can shoot.''
Common, 38, is thrilled when he hears such things. He speaks with pride about how Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, who has cameo in the movie, and Nets athletic trainer Tim Walsh, who also is seen in the movie and worked with Common during filming, both said his game "looks real."
After all, sports movies long have filled with the actors who don't really look the part. But Common doesn't believe viewers will get that feeling with him.
"I consider myself a basketball guy,'' Common said. "I grew up around basketball. I had dreams of playing in the NBA when I was a kid in high school. But I got injured and then started getting into rapping. ... But in my mind I still think I could have been an NBA player.''
Common later says, more realistically, he could have been a Division I player. That was his goal until he suffered a scratched cornea as a sophomore at Chicago's Luther South High School, an injury that played a role in Common eventually losing his starting job and quitting the team after his junior season. He calls that a "blessing in disguise'' due to everything that would happen with his music and movie career.
Common was born Lonnie Rashid Lynn on March 13, 1972, in Chicago, two years after Lynn had played an ABA season with Denver and Pittsburgh in 1969-70. Lynn, a forward, had starred at Wilberforce (Ohio) University, and was a 12th-round pick by the Hawks in 1966.
Lynn, now 66 and retired in Denver after having taught life skills to prisoners and at-risk youths, came close to making the Hawks out of college. He ended up initially playing in the Eastern League, the forerunner of the Continental Basketball Association.
"Lonnie was a very good player,'' Thorn said of the athletic 6-foot-7 Lynn, who could go inside and out. "He was right on the cusp of making an NBA team. There weren't as many teams in those days (just 10 in 1966-67).''
Lynn ended up in 1969-70 playing 12 games for the Denver Rockets and 40 for the Pittsburgh Pipers, averaging 5.0 points for the season. But he never was able to stick again on an ABA or NBA roster, making his last attempt in 1975, when he had an unsuccessful tryout with the Seattle SuperSonics.
Lynn (right) had been recommended in Seattle by star forward Spencer Haywood, Lynn's teammate in 1969-70 in Denver. Haywood and Lynn became good friends, and Haywood is the godfather of Common.
"He kind of schooled me in life,'' said Haywood, who was 20 and Lynn was 26 when the two were teammates. "I remember once somebody had sent me United States flag made into a dashiki (an African garment), and I was getting ready to wear it (to a game). He said, 'You can't do that crazy stuff. You're representing the whole league (as the 1969-70 ABA MVP and Rookie of the Year).'''
Lynn, who had returned to live in Chicago after his one ABA season, ended up getting divorced from Common's mother, Mahalia Ann Hines, in 1974 and moved to Denver for good in 1978. But the father and son would visit each other at times in Denver and Chicago, and Lynn saw Common play basketball while growing up.
"Common could have gotten to be as good as he wanted to be,'' said Lynn, who was more of a high-wire act while his 6-foot son played point guard. "He could handle it. I just think Common never wanted to embarrass anybody unlike me. I wanted to make one of those ankle-breaking moves. He didn't have that killer instinct. (Basketball was more of) a hobby.''
Common said he averaged about 16 points and seven assists in his Luther South heyday. But he seems a lot more thrilled about what he was doing in basketball before he joined the high school team.
Common served as a Bulls ball boy for Jordan's first two seasons. It was there Common, who now regularly hangs out with NBA players, first began to hob-nob with superstars.
"It was incredible,'' Common said. "Michael Jordan was there when he first came in. I got to meet Isiah Thomas, Magic (Johnson), Dr. J (Julius Erving), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Michael even gave me a pair of Air Jordans from his first season.''
Common later gave the shoes to his father, who had them signed by Jordan. Lynn said he recently received a "six-figure'' offer for the shoes, and he's considering selling them to help pay for his ongoing treatment for prostate cancer. Lynn said he only would only sell them if he has his son's "blessing,'' which Common said his dad has.
"I'm pretty confident that he's going to make it through,'' Common said of his father's cancer, an optimism that is shared by Lynn.
It was Common who initially had to tell his father about the value of the shoes when he shockingly saw him wearing them onstage at one of his concerts. Lynn, known as "Pops,'' has performed on some of Common's albums, using a speaking voice at the end of songs to address social concerns.
Common said he's heard the stories of his dad being a "rugged and kind of mean player'' who was "tough down low.'' Common, though, usually stays outside when he has played in the celebrity game during the NBA All-Star Weekends.
Haywood found out at All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas in 2007 just how much of a celebrity Common is. By that time, the 2005 album "Be,'' had rocketed him to success, and he had won one of his Grammy Awards.
"I was with him getting out of an elevator in Las Vegas,'' said Haywood, the NBA's first early entry player who was a four-time NBA All-Star after his one ABA season and looked bound for the Hall of Fame until being sidetracked by drug problems. "All of a sudden a crowd is rushing at us, and I think they're coming for me. But they're charging at him.''
It was around that time Common began to become more mainstream by getting into movies. He had a role in "Smokin' Aces'' in 2006 and "American Gangster'' in 2007.
But "Just Wright'' is the first time he's been cast as a basketball player. It's a role he's always wanted.
"Queen Latifah is one of the producers,'' Common said. "She had a list of potential actors and she wanted me. She evidently found out that I could play.''
In the movie, Common's character, McKnight, suffers a knee injury. His physical therapist is Leslie Wright, played by Queen Latifah, and the two develop a romantic interest while McKnight is rehabbing.
The twist is Wright, before the two had developed feelings for each other, actually had introduced McKnight to Morgan Alexander, played by Paula Patton, and those two had become an item. So who will McKnight end up choosing as he works his way back from his injury?
"It's a romantic (comedy), but guys can enjoy it because it has the element of basketball,'' said Common, who in real life is dating tennis star Serena Williams. "It's a cool love story and it's got a twist you don't see in films. It's a film that makes you smile.''
With all his basketball contacts, it wasn't hard for Common, who worked with Clippers point guard Baron Davis to help him prepare for his role, to round up NBA players to appear in the film. Current players Wade, Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis of Orlando, Boston's Rajon Rando, Philadelphia's Elton Brand and Bobby Simmons of the real Nets all have appearances.
"He's a real nice person, smart guy, intellectual,'' Lewis said. "He knows basketball. You could tell that. He's a fan. I don't think he's able to play, though. He's a little short guy.''
Wait a minute. Some trash talking from a cast member?
The Nets, though, do face the Magic in the movie. And Common had a response to what Lewis said.
"He's got Jameer Nelson on his team,'' said Common, referring to Magic point guard who is listed at 6-foot, which might be generous.
In the movie, McKnight is a five-time NBA All-Star and two-time MVP. Viewers can judge for themselves whether Common looks realistic in that role.
But nobody can doubt how much he loves basketball.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson. NBA Senior Writer Tim Povtak contributed to this story.