Leroy Loggins now a friend indeed for kids in need

LEROY Loggins has campaigned for a Brisbane team to re-join the NBL, helped countless disadvantaged kids and campaigned against racism, since he retired from the game as arguably Australia's greatest ever import in 2001.

Loggins was a three-time NBL champion and MVP, nine-time First Team pick, and a 20th and 25th Anniversary Team inductee.

Sunday saw the former Brisbane Bullets star turned his hand to a bit of baseball, throwing the ceremonial first pitch at the Southern Queensland Winter Baseball League grand finals.

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APN Sport Reporter Josh Spasaro caught up with the 56-year-old after that pitch to discuss his amazing life, all things basketball and his passion for helping kids in need, through his Leroy Loggins Foundation.

Combating racism in Australia, and the Ku Klux Klan bizarrely reaching out to African-Americans, were just some of the other things Loggins mentioned …

You threw the first pitch a little better than (rapper) 50 Cent did recently, didn't you?

Yeah. But how can you throw the ball to the sideline or the dugout like that?

Were you a keen baseball player back in the day?

Yeah. I wanted to play two sports when I was here. But I just never got around to doing it, especially when I started having kids.

How's your foundation going?

It's amazing. At the moment we're contracted to the Prime Minister's cabinet until the end of this year.

We assist indigenous high-school students in literacy and school activity.

We help them make good decisions on where they want to go with their lives.

Are there any examples of anyone that you've been really proud of from the program?

I had a program going at Nudgee College. The first day I went to meet the students, they sent the school captain to greet me.

I looked at him and said 'I know you from somewhere', and he said 'you know me from Woodridge State High School'.

He was in school over there when I had my program going there.

He said 'I've got some good news for you'. I said 'what is it?'

He said 'I've just been accepted into the Air Force Academy in Canberra'.

I almost cried. Then you see other students that graduate from high school, and they come up to you in the communities and thank you for giving them some good advice.

That's what it's all about - providing as much support as you can for the kids?

That's what it is. We're in these schools doing six to eight week programs. We inspire the kids, but I must admit a lot of them inspire me.
That's what keeps me going.

These kids come from some tough backgrounds don't they?

They come from some diverse backgrounds with tough situations, but this just proves that if you make some good choices you can get somewhere in life.

You're talked about as the best import ever to come Down Under. You'd hear that a lot, but it must still make you feel proud …

My train of thought was just to make my parents happy. Through focusing on that, I guess I included a lot of other people as well.

My main focus was making my mum and dad proud, and giving 100% every time I crossed that line on the court.

That was just my attitude and all the accolades that come, it's because of all the dedication and hard work you put in.

How hard did your parents have to work to support you in your dream?

I was very fortunate because they only had to support me up until high school.

After that I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to university, and that was when my life began.

I made the decision to leave Baltimore and do something with my life.

My life changed dramatically after I left Baltimore.

From that to Brisbane. Did you fall in love with Brisbane when you first came out here?

It wasn't hard to fall in love with Australia, man, especially the Gold Coast.

But my theory was 'Baltimore begins with a B; Brisbane begins with a B'.

Maryland is known for seafood; Queensland is known for seafood.

That was what I kept telling myself - 'it's really no different'.

I still had some of the things I had back in Baltimore while out here.

What were some of the sacrifices you had to make in becoming such a great basketball player Down Under?

I had to work extremely hard, especially coming from a small basketball program in America.

I was fortunate to get drafted into the NBA, but I was only ever on the cusp of making it, and it was always 'come back next year'.

I've always put a lot of hard work in, and thought 'if I can just continue my career after college, go back to Australia and make this my NBA, I'm happy.

'I don't have to be a millionaire'.

I've got a beautiful family, and I just wanted to be happy in life.

That was what happened.

How strong is Australian basketball at the moment, in light of the fact we've got a handful of guys playing with, and contracted to, NBA clubs?

I'm so excited for those guys, because I know how close it is.

Once you get to a certain level, everyone has talent.

But it's the guys that do the hard work that normally come out on top.

It's good to see that there is another level for these guys.

At first we wanted to say 'let's get guys into college'.

Now it's like 'let's get guys into the NBA'.

Are Australians seen as being hard-working, no-nonsense athletes in the States?

Yeah. The word over there is we're low maintenance. We're very dedicated and committed to our sport.

That's the case with women's basketball too - Sandy Brondello is doing a magnificent job at Phoenix (as head coach of the Phoenix Mercury WNBA team).

Even though we have a small population, we have some great talent.

You refer to Australia as "we". When Australia takes on the US in anything, do you support Australia?

Of course. I played for Australia in the 1992 Olympics.

It's pretty hard - once you've built that camaraderie with these guys from Australia - to just turn your back on them.

I'm always rooting for Australia, mate.

What was it like playing for Australia at the Olympics?

It was off the chain. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was very proud.

In your brief time at the Detroit Pistons, did you play with any of the legendary 'Bad Boys' (the nickname the team lived up to during its back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990)?

Maybe about three or four of them, but it was early in the piece. I went to a four-day rookie camp, and they cut me on the fifth day.

What do you remember about playing with those future legends of the game (with the likes of club stalwarts Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Vinnie Johnson arriving at the club in the early 1980s)?

I thought I could play with them, and that was why I went to the Olympics, because I wanted to know that I could compete at that level, and I thought I could.

How did you feel when Detroit cut you?

I was disappointed, but I had another trial at the Washington Wizards, and they asked me to come back the following year.

But I thought 'nah man, I've got to get back to Australia and play some ball'.

What are your thoughts on Brisbane and its efforts to get a team back into the NBL?

I think the NBL office said that they're committed to bringing a team here in 2015/2016.

But I did see a recent article stating that a Canberra team would find it hard because they have to put a million dollars on the table.

They've had a change of CEOs within the NBL.

So it's like now, unless someone comes up with a million dollars, I don't know.

If that is the case for Brisbane too, then it's back to square one.

You did some work with the Brisbane bid didn't you?

I did, but I backed off because it was very difficult to get (a lot of) support.

The Bullets had some amazing glory days in the 1980s …

Yeah, but we also had some success in 2006 when Joey Wright was coaching. But there was always the feeling of 'will we be around next year?'

You're very passionate about combating racism in Australia. Are you happy with the work being done to address it?

I don't think we're ever going to get rid of racism, because it's a taught habit.

People don't learn it, they're taught it.

I guess it's passed down from generation to generation, like everything else.

So we just have to keep doing the best we can, and try to stamp it out as much as we can and keep moving on.

Is Australia developing when it comes to social awareness?

Yeah. You just have to look at what Adam Goodes is doing down there at the Sydney Swans.

He's the face of it all because he's gone through it.

I just saw an interesting article where they've got all these Mexicans coming in through the border in America, and the Ku Klux Klan is trying to get the support of the Afro-Americans now.

The NBL was so strong in your era. Do you feel as though it's starting to reach those heights again, especially with all these young NBA draft picks coming through?

Oh yeah. It's going really well. Not only are they going to the NBA, but they're also going to Europe now.

There's a lot happening in basketball now - male and female - in Australia.

That must be exciting for you …

It's good to know that you're a part of something that started back in the '80s, and to know it's just getting better and better.

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