In late 2019 I talked with former Seattle SuperSonics, LA Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, Knicks, and Jazz player. He led the league in FG% in 1984-85, and was the 1988 NBA All-Star – James Donaldson.
In 1980 you finally got a chance in the NBA, as a backup for Hall-of-Famer Jack Sikma. How much did you learn from such experienced center?
I learned to play the center position from the likes of Hall of Famer, Jack Sikma. But also, I learned to play the overall NBA game from a couple of my favorite teammates, Fred “Downtown” Brown and John “JJ” Johnson. Those two would ensure that I came to practice early and stayed late. Always worked on my rebounding drills and my back to the basket moves as they would play on the perimeter tossing the ball into me and I would kick it back out to them so that they could shoot and I could rebound. There is no better learning experience than that.
How do you recall playing in Seattle? Do you think that SuperSonics should be brought back?
I absolutely loved my time in Seattle. Seattle became home for me even though after my days as a Supersonic, I went off and played on several other NBA teams. I’ve been here in Seattle for almost 40 years now, and plan for the Seattle SuperSonics is a big reason why.
Yes, I am all in favor of the NBA returning to Seattle. It’s such a shame and pity that the NBA left in the first place after being here in Seattle for 42 years. Seattle has a tremendous fan base of basketball fans, and also with the success of other professional teams in the area (Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Storm, Seattle Mariners and Seattle Sounders), Seattle has a winning environment.
In 1984-85 you led the league in FG% with 63.7%. What helped you elevate your efficiency to such level?
I took great pride in trying to make sure that every shot I took in the NBA, was a “good shot”, and I learned to play the “post-position” very well, because I played against some of the best all-time NBA players in history. I remember Artis Gilmore and myself, kind of having a “friendly wager”, who would win that FG% title that particular year. Artis was breathing down my neck heavily down the stretch, but I was able to barely beat him out.
After just 14 games of 1985-86 season you were traded to Dallas Mavericks. Did you think at that time, that this could be good move for you?
Yes, I knew it would be a tremendous move for me. Matter fact I was teasing all of my Los Angeles Clipper teammate, that I had “died and gone to heaven” by joining the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas was an up-and-coming young team, that was known as a “doughnut team”, because they had a big glaring hole in the middle. I stepped right in and was able to be that complementary piece that they were looking for. I didn’t need to score a lot of points to be effective. So that was never my primary role as we had several scores on the team at the time. My primary role was to clog up the middle, grab rebound, block shots and set picks for tremendous shooters that we had.
Coach Motta and the team
In Mavs you had a chance to work with another Hall-of-Famer, Dick Motta. Can you tell something about his approach and style of coaching?
Dick Motta was the type of coach always enjoyed playing for. The type of coach to would lay down the law of how we would behave his teammates. He was very particular, about executing on both the offense and defensive ends. He was a disciplinarian, but I was used to that type of coach coming up under the coaching of Coach Calhoun, back in high school, and, Coach George Raveling over at Washington State University. That type of coaching doesn’t go well now in today’s game of basketball, but it was probably the best thing for me.
How do you recall sharing the court with Blackman, Harper, Aguirre, Perkins?
We had wonderful chemistry with the Dallas Mavericks, and I really enjoyed being part of that. Sometimes, we lacked the “maturity” and the “championship mentality” of the slightly better teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. But we always give them a run for their money, and we got so close but “no cigar”. My job, and playing with my teammates, was the free them open with the tremendous pics I could set on the defenders, and they would be wide open to score as easily as they did.
Dallas, Seattle, and LA
After few years in Seattle and LA, can you tell about the differences between Dallas and those two cities? Which one did you like most?
Wow, that’s hard to say, because all three of them are great cities. Seattle of course is my favorite, which is why I still live here. It has all of the amenities that one could look for in a great city. Mountains, oceans, greenery, clean air, not too big and not too small of the city, a clean environment and very friendly progressive people. Los Angeles, is a sprawling metropolis, that you just have to have a vehicle to get around in and to deal with the heavy traffic. Dallas is filled with a lot of “good ‘ol boy” customs and traditions of that Southern hospitality and everyone being so friendly. But, Seattle by far is my favorite.
In 1988 you became an NBA All-Star. What was your reaction when you got selected?
When I was named in All-Star in 1988, I really didn’t take the news that well, and felt “undeserving”, because always looked at the game of basketball is a “team sport” and not an “individual sport”. So, I never went out for individual accomplishments, but that’s what the All-Star nomination was all about. I actually had thoughts about not attending the All-Star game in Chicago in 1988, and after talking it over with my head coach, John MacLeod, he convinced me that it was an honor that I deserved, and I went through with it anyway.
Of course, the experience itself was incredible! Being on the same floor at the same time with some of the greatest players the NBA is ever seen. I remember being out there with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and so many other great players. What an incredible experience that was. It’s definitely an “individual highlight” of my NBA career, so I will take it for what it’s worth.
In the same year Mavericks reached the Conference Finals. How do you remember your matchup against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? How tough was it for you?
Well, anyone who played against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, could only hope to “slow him down”. There was no way you were going to totally “stop him”. He was such a great player and could easily get 30 points at night with seemingly little effort. Of course, the office was always geared to put the ball into Kareem, and then to see what you can do against him. I think some of the big left-handers (such as myself) were the ones that matched up against Kareem best. Guys like Artis Gilmore, Bob Lanier and myself, had the size and strength in height and are dominant left hand that we could try to bother Kareem a little bit more so than others could. In the end, Kareem was always a “champion amongst champions” and his play for 20 NBA seasons, demonstrates that.
In 1999 you decided to end basketball career. Are there some memories from your 20-year career that stick with you until today?
Yes, it wasn’t until my very last team, and my last game, in Lugo, Spain, that I finally won my first and only championship. That was a remarkable time. Being on a team that no one really expected us to compete for the championship, yet we one. To have the feel of confetti falling from the rafters, and balloons in celebration all through the arena, and knowing that that was my very last game as a professional, was a “dream come true”. Of course, my 1988 NBA All-Star appearance in Chicago, was a definite highlight as well.
And also, I went to the seventh game (only to lose both of them) in both the Western Conference finals (Los Angeles Lakers versus the Dallas Mavericks) and the Eastern Conference finals (New York Knicks versus the Chicago Bulls). So those are some great memories that I’ve had for my career as well.