Legends interview: The X-Man speaks out

Xavier McDaniel, far left in third row from bottom, had his best seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics.
Chuck O'Donnell
Chuck O'Donnell

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When Xavier McDaniel retired from the NBA in 1998, he left behind an impressive resume. Regarded as one of the toughest, strongest, and most colorful players of his era, the X-Man averaged 20 or more points in four seasons, played in one All-Star Game and averaged 15.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game over his 12-season career.

In college at Wichita State, he became the first player to lead the nation in scoring and rebounding in the same season.

Most any day you can find him poolside with his three children. Xavier Jr., Xylina, and Alicia. He splits his time between cribs in Seattle and South Carolina. He dabbles in renovating properties and the stock market to make a few bucks. Sometimes he plays a little ball at the local YMCA. Every day is an alley-oop pass just waiting for the X-Man to dunk.

So that must mean he’s mellowed from that shaved-head, iron-pumping bully who would just as soon tear down a rebound as tear off your head (just ask Michael Jordan about the 1992 playoffs).

Wrong. Pick a topic, any topic, and X has no problem playing Malcolm and speaking his mind.

X-Man, didn’t Jordan steal your shot and your, ahem, hair style?

“When people see a turnaround jump shot, people are like, ‘Oh, that’s the shot Michael was doing,'” McDaniel says, “And I’m like, ‘Mike did all the dunks. I’ve been shooting the turnaround for years.’ Even with the bald head. That’s a trend I started. I go back to 1985 with the bald head. By 1987, he was going bald.”

You played for years against Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird. Who was the greatest?

“I grew up idolizing other guys, Doctor J — that’s my man. To me, he’s the greatest. Bobby Dandridge, Bobby Jones. Wes Unseld. I drew up watching those guys. I have a very good knowledge of the game and of former players. My shooting ability and my dunks were patterned after Doctor J. But my turnaround was definitely patterned after Bobby Dandridge and the Big E [Elvin Hayes].”

So how good was your fadeaway jumper?

“It was automatic. I felt it was just as lethal as Kareem’s [sky hook]. Mike Mitchell had the fade along with me.”

Do you still think about your messy departure from the New York Knicks?

“I thought at the time we had the best front line in basketball. I feel like Dave Checketts and Pat Riley blew it. I had two years left on the contract I opted out off. I said I was going to wait, let them sign a couple of players, and then I was going to let the Knicks come in and sign me.

“Then the Knicks turned on me. They offered me a contract for less than the one I gave up. And when they started talking like that, t had to do was best for myself and my family. The day I signed [and offer sheet] with the Boston Celtics, Dave Checketts went on TV and said they were going to sign me for more money than that. That’s f — b–.

“Let’s be honest. I had a letter from Pat Riley that could dispute it, and a couple of reporters wanted the letter, but I would not give it to them because I said, `Look, what’s been done, has been done.’

“They offered Harvey Grant six years and $18 million. The most they offered me was like a two-year deal, $1.5 million with 30 percent deferred and $2 million with 30 percent deferred. I was like, ‘I gave up $1.8 and $1.8 million, and I gave up $500,000 to get out of my contract.'”

What did you think about taking some heat during your short stay with the Phoenix Suns?

“When things went bad, people pointed the finger at me. I was the fourth option, [it was] Tom Chambers, then Kevin Johnson, then Jeff Hornacek, then me. If you make me the first option, then I’ll take all the responsibility.”

Do you think you should have won the league’s rookie of the year award in 1986?

“Yeah, Patrick [Ewing] won it. He got hurt. He only played like 50 games. When I see him, I always say; `You’ve got my award, When the rookies are supposed to hit the wall, you weren’t even around to hit the wall.’ But BASKETBALL DIGEST split the award between me and him that year. That was cool.”

The game I’ll never forget. By Xavier McDaniel.