WARRIORS: Catching up with Rod Higgins
Warriors.com (DotCom): What are some of the challenges you’ve face as a coach, general manager and now President of Basketball Operations for the Charlotte Bobcats?
Rod Higgins (RH): Every step that I’ve taken, there’s been different obstacles. When you were a player, you always wanted to get better and individually improve yourself. Once you go into the coaching aspect, you try to help players become better individually and then collectively and put us in position to help us win night in and night out. Now, the seat that I sit in, a lot of it stays the same, but some of it changes. Our focus now is trying to get the best product, the most talented team that I can possibly have on the court to help us win ballgames. I think the common denominator in those three roles is it’s all about trying to win games at the end of the day.
DotCom: Why did a native of the Chicago area go to Fresno State?
RH: When I was coming out of high school, I was basically trying to get an opportunity for a scholarship. My parents and I saw that I had some talent on the basketball court. Financially, having that scholarship definitely helped our family situation, so ultimately I was looking for the best place for me as a player and as a student.
DotCom: You started your career with the Bulls and have been close friends with Michael Jordan for nearly 30 years. What was it like meeting him for the first time?
RH: We were going to our training camp and we had to all have our physicals. Michael was there at the same time as I was taking my physical. Another teammate of ours, Orlando Woolridge, had caught a ride with me to the physical. At the end of all three of our physicals, Michael needed a ride back to the hotel. When I dropped him off, he asked me if I would come back and pick him up for practice the next morning. The rest is kind of history. We developed a great friendship. That fall, right before the season, he ended up buying a condo right next to my condo. We were teammates, we became friends, our families became close and he’s currently my boss.
DotCom: After playing for four teams the previous season, you signed with the Warriors prior to the 1986-87 campaign. Were you just looking for a fresh start?
RH: The year that I bounced around, I ended up signing a bunch of 10-day contracts. In the meantime, when I wasn’t playing in the NBA, I was playing in the CBA with the Tampa Bay Thrillers. In that summer, I ended up going to Summer League with the Milwaukee Bucks with Don Nelson. I went and played with those guys and then I had to make a decision on where I would go to training camp because I had the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks vying for my services. Ultimately, I chose the Golden State Warriors who then had George Karl as the head coach. I came in and made the team and I ended up being there for six years. It’s ironic, but I ended up playing for Nellie later on down the line. Playing for George and playing for Nellie, similar in philosophies … it was a fun time for me – I know that.
DotCom: It always looked like the Warriors teams of your era were having a blast out there on the court. Can you explain that?
RH: Nellie really made it very interesting. It was the first time that all of us were playing for him and he came in with new concepts and a new way of thinking. His philosophies were to have the opponent match up to us as opposed to us matching up to the opponent. He loved perimeter players, playing the small ball, putting a lot of points on the board, being a fast break team, but I think the one thing that made that group stand out was that guys really loved to practice. Practice was always fun; Nellie made it fun. I think that translated from the practice court to the game court very easily. I thought the camaraderie was very unique. We could not only just be teammates, but we were able to become very close friends. That’s something that helped us out once we were able to get on the court and compete together.
DotCom: Nellie liked to use you all over the place, whether it was on the wing or in the post. What did you think about that?
RH: When George Karl was the head coach, I played predominantly the three spot. Nellie came in with his innovative way of thinking and he told me he’d need me to do other things. Mully (Chris Mullin) moved from the two to the starting three and I sort of became a rover. He would play me against bigger guys, but the advantage Nellie impressed upon me was that I’d be able to get my shot up easier. Nellie saw it, he put me in the spot and I do indeed think it helped the longevity of my career.
DotCom: As one of Chris Mullin’s friends, teammates and former co-workers, what does his induction into the Hall of Fame mean to you?
RH: It felt like a family member and seeing one of your own get one of the greatest accomplishments the sport could provide. It was well-deserved. That team loved to practice, but Mully set that tone. He loved to work on his game. He was probably the best conditioned athlete out there and that translates through the whole team. His leadership qualities were evident. Seeing him get that honor, it just hit home. Not only was Mully a great player, he’s probably one of the greatest teammates ever. That speaks volumes for a player of that quality.
DotCom: Do you have a favorite story from those Run TMC teams?
RH: Mitch Richmond and I picked up Tim (Hardaway) from the hotel when he came in after he had been drafted. We asked Tim what he wanted to do, if he wanted to grab a bite to eat, go to the mall and do some shopping or just hang out? Tim’s reply to both of us: “No! I want to go to the gym and kick your guys’ a**.” In a nutshell, that’s the way Tim thought as a player. He had the ultimate confidence in himself. We laugh about that to this day.
DotCom: Your kids used to be ballboys for the Warriors. How are they now?
RH: Still to this day, they have a lot of their Golden State Warriors T-shirts, bags and all the stuff that they got. My son, Rick, who currently works for me here in Charlotte, he still has his ‘We Believe’ T-shirt and sometimes I’ll see him wearing it. He says it’s still in his blood. You got to know where you came from and the Warriors were very good to me and my family.
DotCom: Your son Cory just completed a quality collegiate career at Colorado. How does that make you feel?
RH: It felt like I had gone back to college myself. He ended up having a pretty darned good career. He ended up with all sorts of individual records. He really tried to do what was best for the team and play the right way. He ended up being tied for the school’s all-time leading scorer with more than 2,000 points. He’s currently just working on his game and trying to continue his basketball career hopefully at the next level. To see him develop as a player is almost like a father’s dream, particularly for a father who played the game as well. Every time I watched him play, I never could really settle in as far as my nerves. I was nervous all the time. I have never been that nervous as a player, but to watch your son play is unbelievable.