It seems like yesterday that Damon Stoudamire was playing point guard for the Portland Trail Blazers. Stoudamire was tough as nails on a team loaded with players you wouldn’t want to come across in a dark alley late at night. They took the Lakers to the limit many times, including the classic series in 2000 that marked the beginning of the Lakers’ run in the Shaq and Kobe era. I remember Stoudamire playing point guard for the University of Arizona, getting drafted by the Raptors and leading many teams to many wins over his twelve-year career.

I had the privilege of going one on one with Damon in an interview in Thrive Global. Once a star player, he is now leading players as the head coach of the University of the Pacific. We spoke about a wide variety of topics, from his playing days to his coaching career to his leadership philosophy and advice. Here are a few excerpts :

Adam: What are your thoughts on today’s game both at the NBA and the collegiate level compared to when you played? How has the game changed and is it for better or worse?

Damon: The college game to me, quite frankly, I am still trying to figure that out. For me, it’s not the same. There is a little more pacifying that goes on at the college level, then when I played. Athletically, they are a bit better. When I was in college, I think we knew the game better, but we were staying in school longer. That’s definitely a difference.  In the pro’s, I’m a little jealous of the way they get to play today then how we did. I enjoy watching it, I like the way it’s played right now. They have more freedom, it was a more physical game when I played. You could do much more hand checking on the floor. Offense rules now, you can’t do the beating up of players like when I was in the NBA. I like where the game is going. I think they made it more enjoyable for the fans. Although I liked our era, I know it wasn’t the best to watch, a lot of fouling all over. I think it’s for the fans now and they are really enjoying watching this new brand of basketball.

Adam: Who is the best teammate you ever had and why? What are the characteristics of a great teammate?

Damon: Rasheed Wallace. We played together in Portland. Most talented player I played with and I believe he could have had a better career than he had – he was unselfish to a fault – a great team player who cared about the team, more than he cared about his own statistics. He stood for the right thing and he was fun to play with him cause he made everybody’s job easy.

A great teammate is unselfish, willing to learn, willing to be critiqued and critique. For me those are two of the biggest things, especially because a lot goes into that. When you’re the best player, it’s different. You want to be the best liked player, you’ve got to embrace everybody, you’ve got to accept criticism from your coach and your teammates. You have to have a good character, and that’s in terms of any type of leadership – whether you’re the best player or the 12th man. You gotta work hard, you’re actions speak louder than your words. You gotta have a good work ethic. But your best player doesn’t have to be your leader, however they have to be the hardest worker because everything falls on you. For the best player, leadership is going to be different from the other guy who has a different role, that player (the best player) has the coaching staff on his back. Whatever role you play, you’ve gotta have good character on and off the floor. A good teammate has a different stature depending on what role they have on the team.

Adam: Who are the greatest leaders you have played with and what do you believe are the defining qualities of a great leader?

Damon: Scottie Pippen – I think that he really had command of all the little things that you need to have to be a quality leader in terms of getting after guys to do their best.  In terms of bringing an aura to the game, when he walked into the gym, just the presence he had of having six rings and playing with Michael Jordan commanded respect. During his time with Portland, I think he taught us all a lot when it came to communication. And I think we taught him how to open up. I think we brought a lot of youth out of him. I think it brought him a great joy to play with a younger team and that brought out the youth in him. It was also his work ethic, he would come in an hour earlier, I think that motivated and inspired us. Steve Smith was also a great leader. He was a quiet one, but came to workevery single day. He always did the right thing and was on time, selfless, despite ups and downs, he never changed. He was always the same and always had a wise word for you. He had a non-verbal leadership, and would pull you to the side with some of the things he would say. While playing for the San Antonia Spurs, (coach) Gregg Popovich was a great leader because he was an honest guy, because he managed and maintained his ego and kept it in tack, that’s one of the things I took from him. Tim Duncan, he was an unassuming leader, but a great leader, through his work ethic and body language, when required he would say his piece. He was someone who commanded the room. Now, Manu Ginobili – he was fiery, he was a boisterous leader, commanded excellence from the next guy. He studied the game and his opponent, you could see what a good player he was, that made him different from the rest of the guys.

Check out the full interview

Adam Mendler