Knowledge Is Power for Tiny Archibald
Not once did he mention basketball. Didn't need to. Didn't plan to. Doesn't even like to. That's not his message anymore. That ticket to fame flamed out long ago.
At age 62, Archibald continues to reinvent himself through a slow but startling transformation, from a Hall of Fame player who retired in 1984 into one of the most educated, most academically driven ex-athletes in America today.
From basketball star to real role model.
From a youngster who almost dropped out of his South Bronx high school -- whose grades were beyond bad -- Archibald is honing plans to add a Ph.D in Education to the Bachelor's, Master's and Professional degrees he already holds.
He has an NBA championship on his resume (1981, Boston Celtics), an MVP Award (1981, NBA All-Star Game), an NBA scoring title (1973, 34 ppg, K.C/Omaha Kings) and remains the only player in history to lead the league in scoring and assists the same season.
Yet his crowning moment still is to come.
"It might not be a big deal to some people, but to me, getting the Ph.D. will be my greatest accomplishment,'' he said during a lunch interview with FanHouse. "I'm no Einstein, that's for sure, and I'm not smarter than anyone else, but maybe I've been more persistent. And I understand the value of education.''
While kids at the schools asked about Michael Jordan, he wanted to talk about Dr. Dick Barnett, another New York-raised former NBA player, already with a Ph.D. Archibald, when he gets his doctorate, would be the only one on the NBA's all-time list of 50 Greatest Players to hold such a distinction.
Although the NBA has plenty of official Stay-In-School ambassadors, both current and former players, their tune often rings hollow in a league with a shrinking and embarrassingly low number of college graduates.
Under the NBA's current collective bargaining agreement, teams must wait only one year after a player leaves high school before they can draft him. And unlike the NBA Players Association, which is expected to push again for an even earlier entry, Archibald wants the league to revert back to another era, when a player's college graduating class had to finish before he could be drafted.
"Everyone wants to talk about Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James (guys who came directly from high school), but they want to ignore the hundreds of guys who come into the league early, wash out after two, three, five, seven years, and then have no clue what to do with their lives,'' Archibald said. "Don't give them that vehicle (to come without a college education). At least the NFL makes them stay three years in school.''
Archibald is not a part of the league's official program anymore. He was speaking at the school as a lone voice, a volunteer at the request of a friend in South Florida. For years he has run basketball camps and leagues and programs in New York City, using that forum to preach life skills and education.
"You better have something more than a jump shot or a dunk to fall back on, even if you make it to the NBA, because when you leave it's a different world out there,'' he said. "Doesn't matter how long you stay in the NBA because when you leave, you either get into something, or you get into nothing going nowhere.''
Archibald came into the NBA in 1970 without a degree after one year at Arizona Western College and three years at Texas El Paso, but he returned to campus for three consecutive summers to get his Bachelor's before his career ended in 1984.
While teaching in the New York City school system, he attended night school at Fordham University and received his Master's Degree in 1990. His Professional Diploma in Supervision and Administration came in 1994.
He enrolled in the doctoral program at California Coast University in 2000, but his efforts stalled mostly for his lack of funds and the motivation to complete a long-distance correspondence curriculum. His goal is a return to Fordham, where he already has been accepted.
"I've got a lot of respect for what he's done in school. And a lot of it rubbed off on me,'' said former NBA player Kenny Anderson, who returned to school at Archibald's urging and graduated last spring. "After living the NBA lifestyle, a lot of guys, including me, don't want to go back and put in the effort to graduate. He's very passionate about this.''
After his playing career ended, Archibald served as an assistant coach first at the University of Georgia, then back at Texas El Paso. He also coached in a variety of leagues, from the New Jersey Jammers of the USBL to the First and Second Time Offenders in a Boston recreational league.
His eventual goal is to coach in a small college atmosphere, where graduating athletes is more important than winning games. But hopefully, the doctorate will come first.
"I don't want to be judged by wins and losses, but by how many guys graduate, how many guys come out of school prepared for the rest of their lives,'' he said. "Getting a college job would just give me the forum to preach that.''
In front of the middle school kids, Archibald didn't mention his own basketball career. He talked liked he loved what he was doing now. He talked about his P.R.I.D.E Message. It included a Positive mental attitude; Respect, both giving it and receiving it; Intelligent decision making; Dreaming (goals) and Effort and Education.
"Basketball may have defined him at one point, but his focus now has changed,'' said Thomas Cole, director at Imagine Schools. "It really hit home for our kids. It's a great message he delivers.''
Archibald arrived at the school last week, not in a luxury automobile that today's stars drive, but in a five-year-old Honda Accord, which fit both his lifestyle today and his belief that when the sport accolades stop, you better have something reliable to carry you through the world.
"Basketball was a great time for me, but once the cheering stops, you're a regular student like everyone else,'' he said. "It's not easy going back, but I'm in the fourth quarter of my educational career. And I want to finish it strong. When I talk with the kids today, they know where I'm coming from.''