He speaks his mind and says what he feels, and if you don't like
it, well, Derrick Coleman really doesn't care. So, what does
Derrick care about? He insists he is only concerned with winning
basketball games, which is why he announced this summer that he
wanted out of New Jersey.
Coleman asked the Nets, 30-52 last year, to trade him to a
contender because he doesn't believe the team is committed to
winning. A lot of NBA fans had a good chuckle when they heard
that one. Coleman has, at various times in his five-year career,
skipped practices, refused to enter a game, criticized his
coaches and protested his team's dress code. He has been
cast--literally, by SI last season--as the cover boy for today's
breed of overpaid and unappreciative prima donnas, a rap that
has done more damage to his public image than to his wallet: He
is the NBA's highest-paid player, one season into a four-year,
$30 million contract.
He says the money is wonderful, but it can't buy the one thing
he really wants: a championship ring. He says it with a straight
face, surprisingly laid-back and friendly. Is he serious? Well,
you can take his word for it, or you can laugh at this sudden
profession of dedication to the game. Derrick doesn't care one
way or the other.
Coleman talked with SI senior writer GERRY CALLAHAN shortly
before training camp opened about his trade demand, his
reputation, his life as a celebrity and the joy of basketball
SI: Toward the end of last season you said you could be happy in
New Jersey for the rest of your career. Now you say you want to
be traded. What changed?
DC: Basically the situation in New Jersey hasn't gotten better.
It seems that everyone around us is getting better, but we're
not. I don't see us improving. I just want to go somewhere and
compete for a championship and maybe win it. That's all I'm
concerned with at this point in my career.
SI: But what specifically set you off and made you give up on
DC: One thing was the ownership not involving me in what's going
on with the team. I was asked about draft picks and things like
that, and I voiced my opinion. But when it came down to making
the draft pick, it was like, "Forget what Derrick says."
Basically, I wasn't involved in what was going on.
SI: You think you should be involved?
DC: Absolutely. Believe me, that's the way it works around the
league. Your key guys have to be involved in what happens off
SI: You say Net ownership is not committed to winning, but a lot
of people would say Derrick Coleman is not committed to winning.
DC: You've got to understand that I'm playing in the New York
area, and 95 percent of the things that are said or written
about me are just blown out of proportion. Some people have a
problem with me because I stand up for myself. If you ask me if
something's wrong, I'm going to tell you it's wrong. Just
because I'm making all this money doesn't mean I'm going to go
along with the program. I wasn't raised that way.
SI: Of all the knocks against you, what do you think is the
worst one, the most unfair?
DC: The worst one, I'd say, is that I don't like to practice. I
come to practice, but the only thing that gets me is when we
play back-to-back games and I play 40 minutes each night.
There's no way I can come to practice the next morning and put
out. I have to give my body time to regenerate. I never had that
problem when Chuck Daly was here, because he would tell me, "You
played a lot of minutes. Relax. Rest yourself." I'm sure around
the league most teams tell their main players to relax and rest
up. But being in New York, as soon as they see me sitting down,
they're saying, "Look, Derrick's not practicing." Well,
Derrick's human. He's tired.
SI: Does Butch Beard, your coach now, not understand that?
DC: I think Butch understands it, but he says, "If you do it,
everyone's going to want to do it." I know it's a team sport,
but some things you have to separate. You have to feed
everyone's ego. That's part of being a coach.
SI: Besides SI and the media, other star players around the
league have taken shots at you too. Last year after you played
San Antonio, Chuck Person said it looked like you just didn't
care. Doc Rivers and Karl Malone have questioned your attitude.
Does that bother you?
DC: It doesn't bother me because I know my play speaks for
itself. I don't worry about it. It's put up or shut up when you
step on the floor. That's all that matters.
SI: Do you worry about your image?
DC: Sure, I worry about my image because a lot of people think
I'm a bad person. But I'm not. I'm a good person. I'm just an
SI: When someone asked you last year about Kenny Anderson's
missing a practice, you said, "Whoop-dee-damn-do. Everyone here
misses practice. It's no big deal." That'll probably be written
on your gravestone when you die. Do you wish you hadn't said it?
DC: I don't wish I hadn't said it, but I probably should have
phrased it a different way.
SI: You're the highest-paid player in the NBA, making $7.5
million a year. You're 28 years old, young, healthy, single. And
yet, from the outside looking in, you don't seem like a happy
DC: I'm very happy. I enjoy life a great deal. As long as I can
wake up in the morning and get some laughs, I thank God for
giving me another day. I'm a blessed child, and I try to enjoy
SI: Don't you see how the average fan, some guy making $30,000 a
year and going to work every morning, can look at you and wonder
what you've got to complain about?
DC: I understand what they're thinking. They think, Well, he's
got all the money in the world. What's he got to worry about?
Well, making $7 million is great, but not winning hurts me most.
I've been a winner all my life. I want to win.
SI: You've got all that money, and you still live in inner-city
Detroit, right next door to the house where you lived as a
teenager. Why do you stay?
DC: Because I'm a bigger help to kids and to people in general
where I am now than if I moved to the suburbs and isolated
myself. It seems like society's way is when you're successful,
you pack up your bags and move away and forget where you came
from. Why? Why does everybody do that? I haven't figured it out.
SI: If you weren't playing in the NBA, would you be going to the
Y at lunchtime and playing at the playground after work?
DC: Definitely. I'd be playing somewhere. I've always loved the
game of basketball. I've made money. Now I'm playing because I
love to compete and I want to put that ring on my finger.
SI: You were falsely accused of rape in a Detroit hotel last
year. You were accused of beating up three teenagers outside a
New York nightclub, charges that were dropped for lack of
evidence. And a Detroit policeman arrested you last June after
an argument outside a nightclub. That charge was dropped. Do you
feel like you can't go out in public without someone grabbing a
piece of you?
DC: If I was just a regular person, none of that would have ever
happened. But I think I'm a pretty good judge of character. I
see through people if they're trying to take advantage of me. I
don't like making new friends. I like my old friends. I like
people who knew me in high school, in college. Too many people
see an opportunity and try to take advantage of me, and I'm not
going to take it. I'll see you in court. I think I speak for a
lot of athletes when I say that. Some people accuse you of
something and then say, "Well, we'll settle out of court." No,
we won't, because I didn't do anything wrong. We can take it to
the Supreme Court if you want. I ain't settling nothing. I
worked too hard for what I've got to give it away.
SI: You objected to the team's dress code on road trips, and
took some grief for that. What's so tough about getting dressed
DC: That's another thing that got blown all out of proportion. I
just couldn't see putting on a suit and tie at two o'clock in
the morning to go to a hotel. Home games? Fine. No problem. But
if I'm going from an arena to a bus to a plane, or from a plane
to a bus to a hotel every night, I don't see it. I just felt
like I was speaking up for everyone. No one wants to wear a suit
and tie anymore, not flying late at night.
SI: More than anything in your career, you probably bothered
people the most when [then Net coach] Bill Fitch tried to send
you into a game and you refused. How could you do that?
DC: That's probably the one thing I would take back, because I
let my team down that day. I think at the time we were losing,
got back in the game, and I was rolling. I hit like five or six
in a row. I was in rhythm, playing good, and the game was on the
line. He took me out and I was frustrated. I lost my cool when
he tried to send me back in. It was more a rebellion against
him, and I told my teammates I let them down.
SI: You used to get along well with Net G.M. Willis Reed. Did
something happen between you two?
DC: Not really. My decision has nothing to do with Willis Reed.
My decision is based on my goal to compete for a championship. I
watch the Orlandos and the Houstons, and I would like to compete
at that level before the end of my career. I want the
opportunity to play with one of those teams where maybe I'll
have an opportunity to be in the Finals.
SI: Reed says he won't make one call to another team in an
effort to trade you. So how serious are you? Are you ready to
stay in New Jersey if they don't make a deal?
DC: I'm very serious, but I'll stay if I have to. I'll never
give up on the game. I just want us to improve. I think some
pieces are missing for us to go to the next level. Everyone
always tries to compare me and Kenny to Malone and Stockton, but
they get to the playoffs every year and get knocked out. I don't
want to be like that.
SI: What if your agent said to you tomorrow, "We can work out a
trade with Orlando or Houston, but they're going to cut your pay
DC: Pay cut? I'm gone. I'm talking about winning. It's not
money. It's about trying to put yourself in position to wear
that ring. Prime example: Deion Sanders. That's what he wanted
last year, and that's what he got, a Super Bowl ring. I love
Deion. I love his attitude. He's cocky, but there's nothing you
can say about him. He gets the job done.
SI: Are there other athletes you admire as much as Deion?
DC: Mike Tyson. I admire him because they tried to break him but
they couldn't. Society tried to make him say he was guilty so he
could get out of prison early, but he wouldn't do it. He stuck
to his guns.
SI: What do you think of another controversial power forward,
DC: I like Dennis. I've got a lot of respect for him because he
seems like a person who hasn't changed. I know he had some
problems in San Antonio, but if I'm the coach, I leave him in
there because he gets the job done. What's he got to come to
shootarounds for? He doesn't shoot the ball.
SI: Do you think there's a racial bias against outspoken black
athletes in general? Do you think racism is the reason for some
of your image problems?
DC: There's a bias. I'm a black man, I'm young, I'm wealthy.
I've got everything in the world, so people are constantly
trying to get their piece. People want to be a part of Deion
Sanders. They want to be a part of Mike Tyson. You've got to cut
that off. That's why I spend the majority of time with my
family, but even some of your family is shady. I'm serious. Even
with some of your family, you have to watch what you say and
watch what you do. I grew up in Mobile, Alabama, so I
experienced racism up close. I remember playing Little League
baseball and football and being chased home, people siccing dogs
on us, being shot at.
SI: When you were in high school in Detroit, your best friend
was shot and killed. What do you remember about that?
DC: I was 17 years old, and he was shot right there next to me,
and I thought I was going to be shot too. To this day, I don't
know why. The guy just pulled out a gun and, boom, shot him. I
froze for about two seconds. Then I ran. The guy took off, and I
went back and tried to get my friend conscious. He died on the
way to the hospital.
SI: Did they catch the guy?
DC: Oh, yeah. I testified, and they put him away. He's still
doing time. Sometimes I look back now, and I can't believe some
of the stuff I've lived through. It's wild.
SI: Do you feel like you can get better as a player? Is there
one thing that you can improve on to lift your game to another
DC: My jump shot. When my shot is on, you can't stop me, because
I'm coming at you from all angles. If I hit the 15-footer or
even the three-pointer, you're going to be wondering how to stop
me. I can put it on the floor, I can go left, I can go right, I
got post moves inside. I just have to keep my jumper more
consistent. As you get older, it becomes more mental. You talk
to guys around the league, and you realize that you can have all
the physical skills in the world, but you have to have heart and
desire. Everyone has talent. It all boils down to how much heart
SI: How much heart do you have?
DC: I've got all the heart in the world. Always have.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN [Derrick Coleman]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN [Derrick Coleman]
"Sure, I worry about my image because people think I'm a bad
person. But I'm not. I'm a good person. I'm just an outspoken
"I love Deion Sanders. He's cocky, but he gets the job done. And
I admire Mike Tyson because they tried to break him but they