'The first one was tough to get to and, therefore, the best'
Born on the fourth of July.
No, this is not a treatise on American independence (that being the country’s Independence Day). Nor does it have anything to do with Oliver Stone’s eponymous blockbuster.
In fact, it happens to be the birthday of a legend in American basketball. And, in his own words, “without any disrespect to the country’s independence belongs to me”.
Horace Grant won four NBA titles and numerous other accolades in an illustrious career, and has since been an inspiration for many.
In an exclusive interview to Bikash Mohapatra, ‘The General’, as the former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers star is known, looks back at his career, the future of NBA and why he believes cricket is a more difficult sport than baseball.
Let’s start with an obvious question: You won four NBA championships. Which one was special?
There’s nothing like the first one. You don’t know what to expect in an NBA final and playing against the likes of Magic Johnson and James Worthy. So, the first one was tough to get to and, therefore, the best.
Image: Horace Grant
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra
'Chicago Bulls, as a team, had one goal'
The Chicago Bulls side of the 1990s was one of the best ever. What worked in its favour?
I think we had a determined leader like Michael Jordan, and a good second-in-command, like Scottie Pippen. Those two guys wouldn’t let us lose.
I mean we worked extremely hard during our practice sessions. In the summer time, everyone would work on their crafts; like, I used to work on my strengths, on my rebounding.
It took all 12 guys to work on their individual specific positions for us to win three straight championships in a row in the early 1990s.
We, as a team, had one goal. And that was to win the first NBA Championships for the Bulls. Once that was attained, the next goal was to defend our title.
Everyone played their role. Michael, as I said, was our great leader. Then there was Scottie, then myself and the rest of the guys. We all planned our roles, put the pieces in the right place in the huge puzzle that was to win the Championships. Once the guys did that, everything else just fell into place.
Image: Chicago Bulls forward Horace Grant
Photographs: Jonathan Daniel/ALLSPORT
'Michael is the best player I played against, and I played with'
Many opine Michael Jordan is the best basketball player ever, Your thoughts?
Michael is the best player I played against, and I played with. And I say that with respect to the guys before him, and even those after him.
He was a fierce leader, a competitor and a winner. He was a guy who made his teammates better. And you can’t ask for more than that.
Soon after you left Bulls they went on to win three more championships. Do you regret not being around, considering Pippen stayed on while Jordan also came back from retirement to help the cause?
I don’t have any regrets. I went to a team like Orlando (Magic). They had a young Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott. It was a very young team and I felt it had the chance to do something special.
Plus, after winning three championships you want to reap the benefits of your labour, and I felt that Orlando was the right place to do that.
Since the glory days of the 1990s, Bulls have struggled, having done nothing significant in the last 15 years. What would you put it down to?
I think a lot of injuries and a lack of chemistry. In fact, when there are a lot of injuries it brings down the chemistry between the players. It is kinda dampener.
I think after Michael retired for a second time, there was a lot of pressure on the following team to try and do whatever he did and that wasn’t possible.
The following teams were always under pressure to become Bulls of the 90s, and without Michael Jordan it was always going to be tough. Having said that, I still believe Bulls can be a better team.
Image: Michael Jordan
Photographs: Tim DeFrisco /Allsport
'We just didn't see eye to eye on a whole bunch of things'
With Orlando you missed out in the final. How difficult was that defeat?
It was very tough. I mean, winning three straight championships with the Bulls, getting to the finals in my first year with Orlando and then losing – even if it was to a very good team (Houston Rockets) – was tough.
We weren't there in the final to lose. I mean, you think about it all summer. What you could have done better. It was a hard summer, things that you don’t want to go through again.
However, despite the loss I felt that we had a bright future.
But your second stint with Orlando was anything but memorable. What went wrong?
I think it was more about the guys being young, not knowing what to expect and egos getting in the way of things. No one was willing to dedicate himself to that one goal -- to win.
Once that doesn’t happen, then you aren’t on the same page and have a crumbling team.
You didn’t exactly have a good relationship with the coach (Doc Rivers)…
I was a veteran and he was a young coach and we just didn’t see eye to eye on a whole bunch of things.
In my last year as a pro (with the Lakers) we both talked and agreed that we could have handled it a lot better than we eventually did. Today we are friends, and that is what that matters.
Image: Horace Grant of Orlando Magic
Photographs: Andy Lyons/Allsport
'I don't look back and regret'
Having been part of a winning Lakers side in 2001, was it a bad decision to rejoin Orlando in the next season?
No, it is no regret. I don’t look back and regret.
These are things that you go through in life -- make mistakes and learn from it. I tried to help the franchise (Orlando Magic) out by giving them my knowledge, based on my experience of winning the championships with two different teams. But it is just one of the things that didn’t work out.
What made you come out of retirement and embark on a second stint with the Lakers?
Phil Jackson. He (his coach at Chicago Bulls) asked me to give me give him another year, help him with this team and come off the bench to give the likes of Shaqs and Karl Malone a breather.
He felt I would be comfortable with the role and asked me to give it a shot. Unfortunately, we lost in the final (to Detroit Pistons) that year.
Image: Horace Grant of the Los Angeles Lakers
Photographs: Christopher Ruppel /Allsport
'I was a little skinny kid, certainly not the most talented'
Do you believe that the NBA is expanding in the right manner, what with all the efforts to make the game popular in Asia?
It’s working, fantastically! And I say that because I see it. Take China, for instance. They had to start from scratch. But with the help of the NBA it just grew and grew.
Then came Yao Ming and there was no looking back. I see similar prospects in India. It is just about giving it the right direction.
For a sport that essentially relies on height, what future do you see for Asian players, who are generally short?
I don’t believe in the saying that you aren’t tall enough, or you aren’t big enough. It doesn’t matter where you come from or how you grew up.
If you have a good support system around you and are willing to put in the hard work required, anything is possible. There’s about 85 per cent chance that you will succeed.
I can relate to the situation in Asia, particularly here in India. I grew up in great poverty in the States and it took the support system around me to help me out.
I was a little skinny kid, certainly not the most talented. But I had the support system and I had the drive to succeed.
Image: Horace Grant of the Orlando Magic
'I don't want to tie myself down by taking up coaching'
What role does luck play in all this? Attaining success from abject poverty?
Well, there’s a little bit of luck in there, but the support system is the most vital aspect.
Your brother (Harvey Grant) has turned coach since retiring from the game. Have you contemplated coaching?
I thought about coaching. But, right now, I don’t want to tie myself down. I talked to my brother and he said when you are busy playing you don’t understand what a tough job coaching is.
As a coach you always have to be there, about 14 hours a day, coaching your team, scouting for new players and getting things ready. I don’t want to do that right now.
I am an ambassador for the NBA and it is a special thing spreading it globally.
Image: Horace Grant
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra
'Miami Heat have a legitimate chance of winning it again'
Miami Heat won the championship in the last two seasons. What do you think of the team?
They are the best team now.
I think LeBron (James) has taken leadership to another level and that’s why they are back-to-back champions. When his team is not doing well, he gets on them and that’s what leadership is all about.
Miami have a legitimate chance of winning it again this year. But I hope somebody else does.
According to you which team has the best chance to prevent the Miami hat-trick?
The NBA is so competitive right now. You root for different teams, but tend to enjoy the excitement of the competition.
There are about a dozen teams capable of winning the championships, about eight of them in the west (Western Conference).
But I think San Antonio Spurs have the best chance to dethrone Heat.
Image: Dwyane Wade #3, LeBron James #6, Chris Bosh #1, Norris Cole #30 and Shane Battier #31 of the Miami Heat celebrate after defeating the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 to win Game Seven of the 2013 NBA Finals
Photographs: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
'No disrespect to our independence, but July 4 belongs to Horace'
You are nicknamed ‘The General.’ How did you get that?
It happened during the phase from high school to college, as my role was to control the flow of the game, and the team.
Also, my last name is Grant, which also happens to be last name of one of our presidents (Ulysses Grant). I think I got it from that!
It was one of my high school teammates who started calling me that and it stuck.
Born on fourth of July. How special is that?
Very, very special. We celebrate that day. There are fireworks in my house and it is a fun day.
You have the American history but, personally, and no disrespect to our independence, but that day belongs to Horace (laughs).
Lastly, have you heard about the sport that is most popular in this part of the world, cricket?
I have watched a few times on television since I have been here. Cricket is in India just as NBA is in the US. I don’t understand how one can hit that little ball with that amount of timing.
You can compare it to baseball, but, in cricket, the ball is made to bounce, and you don’t know where it will go and that makes it even more difficult. I think it is a fascinating sport. It is definitely more difficult to play than baseball.
Image: Former player Horace Grant of the Chicago Bulls waves to the crowd
Photographs: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images