Until recently, the man with the most losses in the history of professional basketball didn't even know that he holds that record, 664.
"Who does?" Johnny Newman perks up. "I do? Wow, that Denver team [11--63 in his one-year tenure] really hurt me."
That it did. And so did three years apiece with the expansion Charlotte Hornets (87--131), Bucks (92--154) and Nets (96--131), each outfit in some early stage of building or rebuilding.
A second-round pick in 1986 out of Richmond, where his 12th-seeded Spiders famously upset Charles Barkley--led Auburn in the NCAA tournament, Newman played 16 years at guard and forward in the NBA and put up more than respectable numbers: 12,740 points (12 seasons in double figures) and 2,536 rebounds, with six trips to the playoffs. Over 1,159 games (37th on the alltime list), he laced up alongside such likely Hall of Famers as Patrick Ewing, Tim Hardaway, Ray Allen, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki—but almost all near the start of their careers.
"I guess I was seen as a strong locker room presence, a leader," observes Newman. "I had the opportunity to be around guys who became great players. Unfortunately my record took a hit because it was early and they were still learning to play the game."
In his own way, Newman, 48, has been making up for his dubious achievement (he has 30 more losses than No. 2 on that list, Juwan Howard) for almost a decade. Since 2002, when he gave up the pro game and moved back to Richmond, he has dedicated time to the Johnny Newman Foundation, which he started in 1985 to mentor underprivileged kids; he has served on the boards of the NBA Retired Players Association and the Police Athletic League in Richmond; worked in commercial and residential real estate; spoken about professionalism at the annual NBA Rookie Transition Camp; acted as coach and general manager of the ABA Richmond Generals (11--0 in 2005--06; no risk of becoming the loss leader there); and scouted ACC schools for the Wizards—sometimes all at once.
Today Newman attends every one of his son's games for St. Augustine College, where John III is a senior guard-forward (and where Dad did color commentary on the radio for the 2010 CIAA tournament title game), and he plays regular pickup games with a group of 14 former college athletes.
"He's the unofficial mayor of Richmond," says longtime friend Kevin Bracey, who met Newman at a basketball camp 15 years ago. "Johnny never stops working."
Nor does he plan to stop anytime soon. "I'm definitely ready to go into coaching again," Newman muses. "I'm hoping to do some high-level high school for a year or so and then move on to college."
Whatever happens, win or lose, in basketball and in life, he retains the attitude that got him through 664 losses without even noticing.
"I don't care who I play with," he says. "Just as long as I have somebody to pass me the ball."
NOREN TROTMAN/NBA ENTERTAINMENT
NEAR MISSES Traded six times, for, among others, Jason Kidd and Rumeal Robinson, Newman, typically, departed New Jersey (left) the summer before the Nets reached the Finals.
[See caption above]