Photo via Reebok
With 30 NBA All-Star games and 24 All-NBA selections among them, Shawn Kemp, Shaquille O’Neal and Dominique Wilkins sport a collective basketball résumé as impressive as just about any trio of players. That’s why they were called upon to speak at Reebok’s Classic Breakout, a basketball camp designed to get top high school basketball players in front of top college programs (and wearing Reebok gear, of course).
We caught up with the legends to pick their brains on their time in the NBA, the best advice they ever got, and what players today should do to get better, right now.
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What does it take to win at such a high level?
Shaq: You have to have a great leader, you have to have great followers, you have to have a lot of consistency and you have to have a lot of luck. Even though I have four championships, if the luck didn’t occur, I’d probably only have two. [The two with luck:] Derek Fisher in ’04 and Robert Horry top of the key against Sacramento. If they don’t hit those shots, we don’t win.
Kemp: It takes a lot of hard work. The one thing I try to relate to these kids is that they’re young, they have a great career ahead of them, basketball is great, but they can’t do any of this unless they work, on both their game and themselves. You have to work on your character. You have to build your character and you have to work on your physical skills in order for your talent to rise.
Wilkins: [It takes] lot of hard work, sweat and tears. I think it takes dedication. It takes focus from not just one guy, but from a collective group of guys who have the same goal. As long as you’re on the same page, you can accomplish anything.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
Wilkins: The best advice I ever got [was from] a guy I grew up with. I was 12 at the time. He said, “I’m going to teach you the game and I’ll teach you the right way. The only thing I want from you is to give to someone else what I’m going to give to you.” I think that’s the best advice I could have gotten because it helped me focus on being one of the best.
Shaq: Be a leader, not a follower.
Kemp: Just stay humble. Listen and stay humble and always learn.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your rookie self?
Kemp: Work hard, keep your focus, enjoy every minute and realize that nothing lasts forever. Make sure you’re building your character, because that’s what speaks about you. Without good character, you’ve got nothing.
Shaq: Same advice I always told myself. Kill ’em all.
Wilkins: There are a lot of things that I don’t regret. For me, it comes down to being happy and satisfied with what I accomplished, and I’m definitely that.
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How has the NBA changed since you played?
Shaq: It’s much softer now. It was a lot more physical then, but you have a lot of talent now with guys. It’s just a different game.
Wilkins: It was more physical back then. Every era it changes and our era’s no different. I think guys back then were very hungry, they were very competitive and it was just such a skilled league, as well as being very physical.
What’s one thing you’d like to see more from current players?
Wilkins: I’d tell them to work on the things that they’re weakest at. Everybody is going to work at the things that they’re good at or things that are comfortable for them. Work at the things that are uncomfortable for you.
Kemp: Less flopping. [laughs] Less whining. When I watch the game, I see so many guys complaining. The game of basketball is supposed to be played without any facial expressions or any of that. Just play the game or go to the bench.
Photo via Reebok
What advice would you give young players about the recruiting process?
Shaq: Just play hard, and if somebody’s ahead of you, go out there and wreck. All these kids are looking for instant gratification. Everybody wants to be in the top 10 or number [one]. If I came in at No. 50 and you said this guy was No. 1, I would go kill that guy to move up in the rankings.