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Hastings on Hoops: The Nuggets, winning it all, and paying it forward - Part One

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The Denver Nuggets colorful color commentator gives Denver Stiffs an exclusive interview about his career, what he’s learned, and what he expects from these Denver Nuggets. Today, part one of three

Scott Hastings, Altitude TV color analyst for the Denver Nuggets, shares some time with Denver Stiffs.
Scott Hastings, Altitude TV color analyst for the Denver Nuggets, shares some time with Denver Stiffs.
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“I want to tell you where I sit, before I tell you where I stand.”

Back in the 1990’s, when I was working for KIMN and several other stations in the then-Jacor family, I used to listen to several other popular Colorado radio shows in our network, including KOA’s Mike Rosen. Though Rosen and I rarely agreed on our politics, I always admired how he presented his arguments, especially by being sure you knew which side of the political and personal aisle he stood on. “I want to tell you where I sit before I tell you where I stand” always helped me get a feel for the other guy. It helped me listen to and consider the words of someone else knowing where they’d be coming from before I heard their opinion, even if I didn’t agree. Sometimes, he even changed my opinion on things.

As a similar favor to you, Nuggets Nation, here’s where I sit on the topic of the gent I got to interview, Scott Hastings.

I first became a big fan of Hastings after catching his one and only appearance live on the David Letterman show. I could opine for several paragraphs about following along since, but would rather get to his words quicker and simply tell you that he’s only made me a bigger fan since. Hastings is now the long-time color commentator for Altitude TV and the Denver Nuggets, and one of the most familiar voices in the Nuggets Nation universe. He was also a pretty big college stud, and a big part of a few impressive NBA teams, including a Detroit Pistons squad that won a championship in 1990. We’ve never met, but as I mentioned, I’m a pretty big fan. I figured you should know as much, so if you don’t share my opinion, you’ll at least understand that’s where I’m coming from. A big fan, and an even bigger one by the end of the chat. That is where I sit. You can decide where we stand. I kicked off my chat with Hastings by taking a little too long in telling him much of the same, with a little too much extra detail.

Mike Olson, Denver Stiffs: (five minutes of shameless pandering leads into) …and so that’s why I’m a pretty big fan of yours, Scott.

Scott Hastings: Well, I’m worried sick about you, but…

Stiffs: I’m pretty worried about myself, but let’s see where this goes, anyway.

In my research, I stumbled across several pictures of you coaching teams, some of them with your own kids, some with other teams entirely. You can see a lot of awe in some of those kids’ eyes, having a former professional basketball player coaching them. It made me think of a story I’d read about you being on the other end of that spectrum. You as a young kid, meeting Jo Jo White. Do you remember meeting him, and did you have that same feeling?

Hastings: You know it’s funny. I think the first time I met Jo Jo White, I was in that 7, 8, 9 years old range… Something like that. Where you just get to shake his hand, and get his autograph. I was in awe.

Stiffs: Wow. So, an influence early. Did you know you wanted to play?

Hastings: It was the first time I met him, and yes, I did. When you grew up in Kansas, everybody was a KU (Kansas University) fan. That state still holds something dear to me. One of my daughters graduated from KU. When I was 12, I got to go to the KU Basketball Camp. Jo Jo White was one of the biggest parts of the camp. Here’s this famous pro that you hear about all the time on the radio as a little bitty kid. Now I actually get to see him in person. Jo Jo was smaller, and a guard, and I was this little 12-year old punk kid who’s already 5’10”, and Jo Jo is 6’3”. Just to see this full-grown man talk with all the campers for over 30 minutes and tell us about what it takes to be a great player, he inspired me on several fronts. Jo Jo even inspired me to learn how to juggle.

Stiffs: (laughing) You juggle?

Hastings: Yeah, he was talking about hand/eye coordination, and how he had taught himself to juggle so he could better see the ball. I thought it sounded amazing. My dad was 6’7”, and I knew I was going to be a pretty big kid. I wanted to learn to what Jo Jo was teaching, because I never wanted to be that guy that filled the big man stigma, the guy that can’t even run and chew gum, can’t catch and has bad hands, you know…

Stiffs: A Stiff, basically.

Hastings: (laughs) Right. A Stiff. I never wanted to be that. It stuck with me that here’s Jo Jo White, a guy who’s a basketball star that had played in college at KU, a great pro player, eventually a champion, a guy inducted into the hall of fame a couple years ago. Here he is, sitting in front of us. Telling us what to do, and how to be. And also saying that juggling can improve your vision and get your hands stronger. I wanted that.

Stiffs: I’d have never considered it, but it makes a lot of sense, in retrospect. Did it work?

Hastings: So, I went home from that basketball camp and wanted to try. I also played tennis, so I went home and opened up a can of tennis balls. That summer, I taught myself to juggle. And you know, some 45 years later, I can still juggle three balls, and I do think it helped me as a player, and I have to give all credit to Jo Jo White at KU Basketball Camp in 1972.

Stiffs: Do you do parties? That’s a great story. I love it. You kept yourself from being a Stiff because a Celtics guard inspired you to juggle.

Hastings: Look, I never had great stats in the NBA, but the one thing that I do know that I had was good hands. I played other sports in high school besides basketball, and in every one I worked on having good hands. In football, I played quarterback for a while, and eventually became a wide receiver. Both really helped in having good hands. It made me admire guys who had great hands, and so no surprise that my second hoops motivator was Pete Maravich. I grew up a big Maravich fan, because of all of his amazing ball-handling. I did all those crazy point guard ball-handling drills all the time, because I didn’t want to be a big guy who couldn’t dribble and catch. I was inspired by Pete Maravich, simply by watching the virtues of all the supreme stuff he did, and by Jo Jo White. They started me off with that sense of purpose, a guy who’s 6’11”. I wish I could tell Jo Jo that story.

Stiffs: I was looking as we were chatting, and hadn’t realized that Jo Jo had passed away in January of this year.

Hastings: Yeah, I’d heard when he passed. It’s really too bad. I never got to interview him, and tell him that story. I’d have really liked to do that, he meant a lot to me.

Stiffs: I’m sure he would have liked to have heard it. It’s a great lead-in to how you came to be the player you were and basketball analyst you are.

Back to where I started. You’ve been a collegiate star, and an NBA Champion, and you have kids looking up to you the same way when you’re teaching them. I don’t know if it’s because of those past impactful experiences, but it seems like that stewardship and passing it forward is something you take really seriously. Am I wrong in thinking that really touched your heart that way?

Hastings: It’s true. In the 11 years I played, I ran a basketball camp back in my hometown. We’d set it up to have young guys in the morning, girls in the afternoon, and the senior-high boys in the evenings. We did that for 11 years running, and we always charged the same amount for over a decade. 40 dollars for five days of basketball camp. We had great partners. Reebok would provide us shirts, and rubber basketballs to give out.

I just really wanted to provide and give back, because my hometown isn’t the biggest or richest, and they just didn’t ever have those sorts of opportunities. This was how I could give back. My high school coach, Jerry Hart, ran it with me all 11 years. You want to give that kind of experience to those young men and women, boys and girls, because it can have an impact. And maybe it did. Kevin Pritchard, the GM of the Indiana Pacers, went to my basketball camp. Chad Iske, the Washington Wizards assistant coach, also attended my camp.

Stiffs: No kidding! I remember Chad well from the Nuggets bench, and was really sad to see him go. That’s a pretty awesome feeling. Tangible examples of the fruits of you paying those experiences forward. I find that really inspiring, as it feels like too often you often see someone who got an advantage not turning and passing it along to the next guy or girl. Your propensity to give back to others long ago made an impression with me, and when I look across the course of your career, it seems a thread that runs throughout.

When I look across that career, your basketball resume is broad. You’ve had the camps, you were a highly recognized high school and collegiate player, and a big contributor to some major NBA squads. You’ve been awarded and recognized as a broadcaster, you’ve coached at the youth, AAU, and high school levels. Have I missed any of the things you’ve been involved with in basketball that I don’t know about?

Hastings: Not really, that I can think of. And in any of those situations, I loved to share what I knew. I love to teach, I love to coach. My grandmother, my mom, my stepfather were all educators. So, what I thought I would do out of college was graduate and become a teacher and a coach. You’ve got guys who come out of college wanting to be doctors or lawyers or architects. I truly just wanted to come out and be a high school basketball coach.

It’s kind of funny, or at least it is to me as it had nothing to do with the money, even when I didn’t have any. I always remembered the lessons from the coaches that molded me when I was playing, from my youth all the way through high school, and those guys weren’t making millions of dollars. But a guy like my seventh-grade football coach, Bill Ferguson, is every bit as inspirational as any coach I’ve ever had. Guys like Jerry Hart, my high school basketball coach, making a teacher’s salary, and then maybe getting another 800 dollars a year to coach. He was amazing for me. Guys giving of their time and sacrificing, to set an example. It always inspired me.

In the two years I coached at the high school level, really getting to know the men and women around the state of Colorado that sacrifice to coach kids, there’s every bit the passion in those men and women as there is in the people I know who coach at the collegiate or pro level. Coaching high school basketball was an honor, and probably one of the greatest things I ever did, to be real honest with you. I coached AAU for seven years before that, which I loved and was just a summertime commitment, so I could still do the Nuggets. Then I got the offer for the high school varsity job. They even let me do the Nuggets work on the side, which was generous of the school to let me do. Looking back now, coaching girls’ varsity at Arapahoe High School was among some of the greatest basketball moments I’ve ever had.

Stiffs: What made you you decide to take the gig?

Before I took the job, I called Eddie Sutton, my college coach, and another giant mentor in my life. I told him here I was, this macho guy, an NBA enforcer, an All-American college player, and here I’m thinking about coaching girls’ varsity. The conversation I had with him, a guy who won over 800 games as a college coach and took multiple teams to Final Fours, said something important to me. Eddie said, “Scott, if I were a young man just starting out in this business, I’d coach women’s basketball. It’s the basketball we grew up in. Played below the rim and about teamwork. Not just pure athleticism, but also about skill. You should absolutely take this job, and do this.”

So Eddie was a big inspiration why I went into coaching high school. To this day, I look at it as one of the greatest things I’ve done. I always have those thoughts: had I stayed there, would we have won a state championship? Could we have done something? The winning was great, but it wasn’t always just about the winning, it was about passing on the game, and the game within the game. You only get to play it for a finite time, so you stay connected by passing along the discipline and dedication you learn. The sense of being a part of something bigger than yourself.

As a matter of fact, my daughter is going to a wedding in Kansas City with one of her former teammates this weekend. I still see the players I coached. And when I see them, they still call me coach. I think other than being called Dad, one of the greatest compliments anybody can give - well to me, anyway - would be coach.

So, it was inspirational, and is still inspirational. I look back on it all with really fond memories. You do it for reasons other than money. These men and women coaching at the high school and junior high levels sure aren’t doing it to get rich, and 99% of them aren’t doing it to coach at the next level. The time they give, the commitment they give, the heart and soul they share with the kids… I fell in love with it, to be honest with you, and I have a major, major respect for the people coaching at those levels in all sports. There’s not one man or woman coaching in high school in ANY sport that isn’t probably giving more than they’re getting, financially. But the rewards you get from the kids covers all of that times ten.

Stiffs: Great stuff, Scott. I appreciate how much you try to pay it forward, and really love the “why” behind it. The view of what it gives you and what it gives those kids that is a really great and apt description and as a bit of a sap, it gets me. We’ve got a lot more to go, if you’re open to it.

Hastings: Absolutely!

*** More to come, Nuggets Nation! Many thanks to Scott Hastings for generously giving of his time. Part one in a three-part series, with more to come tomorrow and Friday, including being a part of a championship squad, the best players he’s ever played with, Why Nikola Jokic is so unique, and what the possibilities could be for this upcoming Nuggets season. Stay tuned! Here’s part two! ***