Interviews

Published on June 2nd, 2020 | by Percy Crawford

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Catching Up With Kentucky Wildcat Legend and NBA Vet Tony Delk!

Delk continues to enhance the sport of basketball through his basketball academy, TD Basketball Academy!

Tony Delk was one of the most decorated guards to ever put on a University of Kentucky basketball jersey. In 1996, he won, “SEC Player of the Year,” he was a consensus first-team All-American selection, “Final Four Most Outstanding Player and he captured a NCAA Championship. With those accolades, he became the 16th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets. Known for his consistent play and fundamentally sound game, Delk unleashed on the Sacramento Kings in 2001 scoring a career high 53-points while shooting an impressive 20-27 from the field. Delk would go on to have a 10-year NBA career. He also captured championships overseas as well.

I caught up with the Kentucky legend to discuss his successful basketball academy, “TD Basketball Academy as well as his blossoming private wine label, Lorenz00’s Reserve!

How are you doing?

Tony Delk: I’ve been good. This quarantine has been tough for a lot of people, especially for a person like myself. I like to go to the gym, train, workout and watch the kid’s workout and improve and get better. So, I really feel bad for the kids. They are losing some of their summer, they didn’t get a chance to finish school the way they wanted to, missed graduation. On the basketball side of things, the NCAA Tournament was loss, so for me, I felt bad for those people because they didn’t get to experience what every other teenager or young adult have in the past.

We have witnessed people enhance their draft stock based on the NCAA Tournament, so it definitely sucks to not see them have the opportunity to compete. Along with ending a chance of winning a championship.

Tony Delk: You know what I thought about, as good as we were in ’96 and on pace to win a championship, if that season had ended… you’re talking about staying there 3-years and building a rapport with your teammates and having a really good coaching staff. If we didn’t get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, there would always be questions marks about the team that was so good that didn’t get a chance to compete for a National Championship. The same thing in the women’s bracket. All of this ended abruptly, so we didn’t have time. No one thought that the NBA would shut down all the leagues. The economy was basically put on hold. We had to start taking it seriously. When people started dying, that’s when we knew it was real.

We have dealt with lockout seasons that were shortened, but to have it end like this, as an NBA vet, what are these players going through mentally and physically?

Tony Delk: It’s so funny because I just had a friend tell me that he had quarantine weight on him right now. And I told him, he should’ve been out running. You could still run in your neighborhood. You still can do some things at home as far as conditioning, but it’s not going to simulate like really being in a gym. It’s tough, but for me, I got a chance to sit back and really enjoy Netflix (laughing).

ESPN pushing, “The Last Dance,” up helped a lot of us get through what would have typically been a boring Sunday night. What did you think of the documentary?

Tony Delk: You know what, my opinion, I felt it was the best documentary I have ever seen. Growing up and being a huge Michael Jordan fan, it’s like reliving what happened in the 90’s. I knew about the rivalries that they had with Detroit. How Isiah and them guys walked off the court. You can see them guys were disappointed because the Bulls had finally got over the hump and beat them and it’s like, “You guys are not going to pay respect to us.” Michael being the person he is, he never forgot that. He wasn’t going to let them stop him from being the most competitive guy to ever take the court, because he knew, that once he got past them, it was going to be a championship. It’s funny watching the documentary and seeing how much hate he still has for Isiah. We don’t know… I don’t know if it’s from the playing days because Detroit did beat Michael up a lot. He would go to the hole and it was like nothing we had never seen before.

It seems deeper than basketball to me, but I can’t call it.

Tony Delk: It has to be something outside of basketball. At the end of the day, you’re talking about two of the fiercest competitors that we’ve seen. Isiah and Michael was two of the fiercest competitors… when someone beats you, you gotta pay respect to it. But there seems to be something more to it. It can’t just be, you didn’t shake my hand after we beat ya’ll. If it’s a real rivalry, we not supposed to shake your hand. We’re not friends. It’s like Alabama and Auburn. A lot of those fans really do hate each other. And it’s real, but you would think after so long, they would make amends, but that doesn’t look possible at the moment.

Did you learn anything new from watching the show?

Tony Delk: There were some things that I had forgotten about, but there was nothing that… when I tell you I was an avid Michael Jordan fan. I knew everything about that dude. I knew where he came from, what he did in high school. I watched, “Come Fly With Me,” and all those VHS tapes. Everything Michael did, from his commercials to his shoes, I had all his shoes. Soon as his shoes came out, I was one of the first guys to get them. Back then, you had to actually get in line. I was one of those kids. He made so many kid’s sneaker heads and even to this day, I’m still a sneaker head and it started with the first Air Jordan 1’s. I have like 25-pairs of them now. That’s my favorite ones of all-time. Just to let you know the level he reached, think about how popular he was and there was no social media. Imagine how many followers Michael Jordan would have had. Could you imagine at the height of his career how many people would have been following him.

You competed against, Jordan. How were you able to turn the fan in you off and the competitive side of you on being that you were such a huge fan of his?

Tony Delk: Although these guys are pros, they still watch the collegiate game. So, these guys knew who we were, and we are in awe of them, but those guys are still college fans. So, it was about playing someone who I really respected, but also knowing I had a job to do when I stepped on the court. It didn’t matter who the opponent was, I wanted to win. Having won a championship at Kentucky, going into the NBA, it was about competing, man at the highest level and trying to outperform people. But I really enjoyed being on the floor with him and watching his game and just seeing how all of us respected his body of work. When you think about a Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, God rest his soul, whenever them dudes stepped on the court, they competed at the highest level and that was all the way up to their last game. Them dudes brought it every night. I can’t think of a time where I played against Michael Jordan or watched him play and felt like that dude wasn’t giving 100%.

In your opinion, what made Michael Jordan so great?

Tony Delk: I think how his game continued to improve. When you’re the greatest in the world, how can you get better? He had a great low post game, his mid-range game was probably the best in the game, and then you think about as he aged, especially in those latter years with the Bulls, he became a better 3-point shooter. And he understood how to score, so Phil Jackson to me was the right coach for him to take some of the pressure off of him. And Scottie Pippen was the best complimentary player that a player like Jordan could’ve had. At that time to be the second guy and not be jealous of all the fame and popularity that Michael was getting. There never seemed to be any beef there, and you talk about somebody that really loved, Mike. Sometimes players start feeling themselves, “I can do that if I was the number one guy.” He was cool being second and that’s what made them champions because he sacrificed some of his offense and his abilities. It made them all champions. Michael was a special player though and the fact that he continued to improve is what sets him apart in my opinion.

Switching gears, I’m sure you think this is 25-plus years too late, but the NCAA is allowing players to receive endorsements and monetary benefits while playing in college. What are your thoughts on that?

Tony Delk: I always thought that they should. The reason why is, the universities made so much money, parking, concessions, ticket sales, uniforms and huge TV deals. If you’re telling me, you can’t compensate the players because my $40,000 scholarship is the equivalent to ya’ll making millions of dollars every home game, it’s not fair. I think it helps out knowing that you are paying these guys for their services and also providing for their education because they provide the university with a lot of income as well. It’s a good investment to me to put money into the product.

Absolutely! Think about the merchandise, just because your name isn’t on the back of the jersey, I know who “00” University of Kentucky basketball is synonymous to, Tony Delk.

Tony Delk: Absolutely! Even if you’re not paying me for them jersey sales, you mean to tell me that my parents can’t be compensated. The university is pulling from so many different sides of revenue and have 5-10 different sources of income coming into the university and most of these athletes are underprivileged kids from middle class to poor, they are your brand. They are putting their all into it and you’re telling me, the only thing that we can give you is room and board.

Tell us about the, Tony Delk Basketball Academy.

Tony Delk: I have 6 AAU teams. I have a 3rd grade, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th. I also do training with various elementary, middle school, high school and some college guys. It’s called, The TD Basketball Academy. I have had it going on for about a year and a half now. It has been going well. This Covid-19 definitely stopped us from having competitive practices, and when we do start back it’s going to be small numbers and no parents allowed. But it’s really just teaching the fundamentals of the game and working with the kids. Teaching them how to play the game. Not going between your legs, a hundred times, fifteen times. It’s how to past the ball, set screens, move without the ball. There are so many things that they need to be taught.

When you’re fundamentally sound, whether you’re playing organized basketball or pick-up basketball, you’re going to fit in with your peers. That’s something that I put a lot more emphasis on. Teaching my kids how to make a fundamental bounce pass or chest pass. Having good mechanics when you’re shooting. Having good footwork when you’re running. Playing solid defense without fouling. Moving your feet and just really teaching them the game, so that they can have an understanding, so that they can have a basketball IQ. Once you understand the game, the game will get easier to you. As I say, you gotta let things develop. You can’t force it. I see a kid struggling to do certain things and I’m like, “Relax, if you’re not a great 3-point shooter, practice at it.” You have to spend countless hours on it. The same thing with foul shooting. You have to spend countless hours doing it to perfect your craft. Don’t just come in the gym and want to shoot some 3’s. So, really, knowing my personnel, getting them to work hard. I told them, I don’t teach energy and attitude. That’s something you have to control yourself. But getting them to be good teammates. And having them understand that this is the ultimate team sport.

Do you prefer to get them at that young, pre-teen and teenage level because of all you’re trying to instill in them?

Tony Delk: Yeah! It makes a difference because when that kid doesn’t know how to play, he listens. He wants to get to where the kids who are at a higher level is at. So, he’s going to be all ears. The issue is, sometimes parents think their kids are better than what they really are. And then when you cross a kid who is just as good or better, then it becomes a chess match. But I try to teach my kids, as you mature in this game, be humble. And being humble means, you have a God gifted talent, so God blessed all of us with some kind of talent. But don’t think the next person that you face doesn’t have talent that is as good as yours. If you start believing the hype and don’t eat that humble pie, what usually happens is you lose your job.

You also have Lorenz00’s Reserve which is your private wine label. Give us some info on that as well.

Tony Delk: My lady, Nicole helped me come up with the different tastes for the wine with the, Riesling, Chardonnay and the Cabernet is aged for one year in Blanton’s bourbon barrel, which is really huge in Kentucky. It’s hard to find Blanton bourbon in Kentucky, so when you have a bottle, it’s sacred. What I’m doing for the next 2-6 months, I’m given 50% of sales as a donation to KCH Hospital; Kentucky Children’s Hospital. For the people reading this, they can go and find my wine, www.tldelkenterprises.com. When you buy one, 50% of the sale will go to Kentucky Children’s Hospital which will help kids that are abused and also the kids who were affected by Covid-19 and their families. I wanted to do something and give back to a state and the city of Lexington who have done so much for me and my business adventures. And then just to help those kids out. I think doing something for a great cause is more about helping people, so people who are not wine drinkers, there is something positive coming out of it. We’re given back to the children’s hospital.

Also, don’t forget the book I have called, “Shooters.” It’s a book I came up with 3-years ago about my life of growing up in a small town of Brownsville, Tennessee and making it to the NBA. I got a few projects going on. It’s all on www.tldelkenterprises.com. The book is there along with the three different wines. The Riesling, Chardonnay and Cab are all aged for one year in Blanton Bourbon Barrel. And lastly, you can also find my training, basketball clinics and also buy some gear at www.tonydelk.com. They got some nice hoodies and t-shirts clinics that I’ve had over the years on there.



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