Oklahoma's greatest basketball player, Mark Price, returns to OKC as Bobcats' assistant coach

By Berry Tramel

An Oklahoma basketball giant will walk into Chesapeake Arena for the Thunder-Bobcats game Sunday night. And I don’t mean Hasheem Thabeet.

Mark Price is a literal Oklahoman and a figurative giant. The greatest basketball player our state has produced. Price is the only Oklahoma high school-bred player ever named first-team All-NBA.

Bobcats coach Steve Clifford says Jeff Van Gundy likes to say that people forget Price was Steve Nash before Steve Nash. Clifford hired Price last summer as a Charlotte assistant coach, with an emphasis on shooting.

Who knows shooting better than Mark Price? He ranks 29th in NBA history in 3-point shooting percentage, .402, and of those above him, only Nash, Kyle Korver, Wesley Person, Dana Barros, Mike Miller, Brent Barry, Dale Ellis and Ben Gordon took more 3-pointers than did Price.

Price also ranks second all-time in NBA foul shooting percentage, .9039. Nash, who hasn’t retired and conceivably could miss another couple, is the leader at .9041.

Price became a world-class shooter the old-fashioned way. And the new-fashioned way. And the only way.

He worked himself to that status.

Nine p.m. was late for Mark Price. He’d always be home by then. No staying out late. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and an uncanny shooter of a basketball, if he’s in the gym by the crack of dawn.

Which Price was.

“He had a different commitment level than the rest of us,” said Jason Gilbow, who met the Price brothers when they moved to Enid in 1979 and ended up being in the wedding party of all three. “Mark would be at home at 9 o’clock Friday night, so he could be up early the next morning shooting. He was focused as a young man.”

It paid off. Price led Enid to the 1982 state championship game, with a memorable first-round upset of Wayman Tisdale-led Tulsa Washington. Price signed with Georgia Tech, became an ACC star in that golden age of college basketball and then made four NBA all-star games with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now Price is working for Michael Jordan, who owns the Bobcats and who was his longtime nemesis. North Carolina won the ACC both years that their college careers overlapped, then Jordan’s Bulls eliminated Price’s Cavs five times in the NBA playoffs from 1989 through 1994.

Quite the basketball career for Price.

“Mark loves being around the game, loves teaching the game to young players, really enjoys being back in it,” said Brent Price, the youngest of the Price brothers and who also played in the NBA.

After retiring from the NBA, Mark Price coached on the high school level and at Georgia Tech, then took consulting or coaching jobs with a variety of NBA teams.

“He’s with a coaching staff he respects,” Brent Price said. “It’s something he’s had a desire to do for quite some time. If you pressed him hard enough, there’s a deep desire to be a head coach.”

The Prices came by their basketball addiction honest. Their father, Denny, was one of the greatest high school players in state history, leading Norman to the 1955 state championship, with 42 points in the title game, a record that stood until Mark tied it 27 years later.

“Just having our dad, it was our lifestyle,” Brent Price said. “We were in the gym so much growing up, always had a ball in our hand. We were immersed in the sport of basketball. It was our dad’s love for the game that first got our attention.”

Denny coached on the high school level, on John MacLeod’s staffs at OU and with the Phoenix Suns, then became head coach at Sam Houston State. In 1979, the Prices moved to Enid and established deep roots.

“I say this without exaggeration, I think all four Price boys (counting Denny), they’re some of the greatest men Oklahoma has ever produced,” said Wade Burleson, pastor of Enid’s Immanuel Baptist Church, who presided over Denny’s funeral in 2000, after he died of a heart attack during a lunch-time basketball game.

The Prices moved into Gilbow’s neighborhood back in ’79, and soon he became like a part of the family. “I feel like I grew up in their household,” Gilbow said. “Their daddy, to this day, I’d say best man I ever met.”

Gilbow said that even as a teenager, Mark Price was serious.

“Mark was about God, Mark was about family, Mark was about basketball and Mark was about singing,” Gilbow said. “If it wasn’t about God, family, basketball or singing, Mark didn’t have any time for it.”

Yes, singing. The Price family often sang together. Around the piano at home. Denny and the boys in a quartet at church, including after they were grown and were home for Christmas. Even in death, the Prices turned to song. Denny Price’s memorial service 14 years ago ended with his sons and family friends on stage at Emmanuel Baptist, singing hymns, new and old.

“Denny raised those boys right,” Gilbow said. “They didn’t have the TV on. If it wasn’t dominos or singing or basketball, they always had their door open to a group of us.”

Of the Price brothers, only Brent has returned to Enid, where his mother, Ann, still lives. Middle brother Matt lives in the Tulsa area. Mark Price’s home base remains Atlanta.

When the Prices moved to Enid, “we had no idea this would be what we’d call home,” Brent said. “This place became very special to us.”

Mark was a 5-foot-111/2 sophomore who didn’t raise much of a stir when he first showed up for the high school basketball team. Little did they know.

“He didn’t want to do nothing but shoot the basketball all day long,” Gilbow said. “He’d be outside (shooting) behind the church. Or get a key. Anyone who had a gym he could get into, he was there.

Very very committed. Very very dedicated. Very serious about all of it, at an early age.”

Gilbow wants people to know that Price’s lack of athletic ability is vastly overstated. First off, he’s right simply because you don’t last 13 NBA seasons, much less be a star, without some God-given talent.

They went golfing one day when Price was home from Georgia Tech. A ground squirrel popped its head out of the game, and Mark threw a golf ball and plucked the squirrel on the head from 30 feet away.

“He was special with his hand-eye coordination,” Gilbow said. “Phenomenal at ping-pong. Phenomenal throwing a football.”

Gilbow lives in Edmond and works for the Price family, as sales manager of their Jenkins & Price Sanitary Supply company. And this weekend, he’ll get to hang out with his old pal, who showed up in his neighborhood 35 years ago, became the best man in his wedding and whose family impact is still going strong.

Giants, you might say.