News - From Hawk to Globetrotter
Donnie Boyce finds a home away from the big time
The day Donnie Boyce asked me to move my car, I knew his short NBA career was over.
It was after practice four years ago. Donnie, the Hawks' second-round pick in the 1995 draft, had missed most of his rookie season rehabilitating a broken leg. I don't remember now which of the Hawks I was interviewing when he popped back onto the court at Life University. Life was the Hawks' practice court then, before the team had one of its own at the yet-to-be-built Philips Arena. The Hawks contingent had to double-up in the few parking spaces the chiropractic school roped off for them; my car was blocking Donnie's.
"You know, Donnie," I said as we walked together to the parking lot, "you shouldn't be leaving practice before I do."
"I have to pick up my dry cleaning," he replied.
And that's when I knew.
Donnie called the other day from Los Angeles. He played in Europe for a while after he wasn't re-signed by the Hawks, for whom he played 30 games in two years; he scored 79 points, blocked five shots, had 25 rebounds, 13 steals and 16 assists.
Today, he's in his second year with the Harlem Globetrotters. The Globetrotters field several touring squads; one of them was in town last Saturday. Donnie's group plays some of its games against Division I schools in addition to the Globetrotters' usual opponents, the New York Nationals. "So I get an opportunity to still compete," he says. It seems enough.
"Right now," he tells me, "we're touring the U.S., so we've been going about four months. We're gonna get a week or two break, and then we're going to Europe. I've already been to 10 different countries. I get to experience different cultures. Maybe if I was playing in the NBA or some other professional league I wouldn't get that opportunity. It's been great! My teammates are the best. There's some guys that played in the NBA. Just about everybody tried out for an NBA team. I think the level of play is right up there with any other professional league.
"My whole basketball career, I couldn't regret anything. I had a great experience with the Hawks for two years. I really enjoyed that. Of course I wish it had went a little better. But I'm enjoying my experience with the Globetrotters. I'm loving what I'm doing. Not too many people can say they've experienced a lot more things basketball-wise."
Donnie plays for fun now. He plays to see the amazement in kids' eyes when he spins a basketball on his finger. The original Globetrotters, once the only professional option for a black male, revolutionized basketball with their behind-the-back passes and other flashy moves that are standard now in the NBA.
"I'm getting to do what I always loved to do," he says. "It's a different form of basketball but it's still basketball."
He tells me he's on his way to a two-hour practice where he is certain his squad is going to have to go over a dance routine they messed up the previous night.
I head for the Hawks-Grizzlies game where I seek out former Hawk Grant Long in the visitors' locker room. I have vivid memories of Long and Steve Smith spending an hour or two every day working with Donnie, trying to toughen him, trying to light a fire inside him.
"Just the way he carried himself left the impression that he didn't care," Long remembers. "I told him all the time that he needed to show more enthusiasm, to run up to the scorer's table when the coach wanted to put him in. I think he was tops in his high school and maybe didn't understand how hard he had to work.
"I don't know what is was," Long says quietly. "There was just something that wasn't there."
I tell him my parking lot story. "That's it!" he says, eyes brightening in recognition. "That's it, exactly."
Long, a 13-year veteran of the NBA, thinks Donnie was ahead of his time: "If he were in the league today you'd never notice [his blasé attitude] because that's how all the young players are now."
Long rises from the turquoise folding chair in front of his locker. "I'm glad he's playing basketball again," he says. "Maybe he can make it back."
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