Kelvin Trent Tucker, a retired professional basketball player who played 11 seasons in the NBA, is on the show. Trent led the University of Minnesota to a Big Ten Conference championship in 1982 and had an active role in making the Chicago Bulls a NBA champion in 1993. He talks the importance of discipline, unselfish leadership, and the ingredients to success.
Bobby: Thanks for joining us today Trent. Let’s just hop in. Tell us about your past and how you got to where you are today.
Trent Tucker: Yeah, I grew up in Flint, Michigan. I was fortunate enough to have both a mom and dad in the household. Today, if young people are able to grow up in a two-parent household, that is critical to development. Having a male figure in the household taught me and my brother about what it takes to be a true man.
Then coming from Flint, Michigan, sports was everything to me. It taught me so many life lessons that I wasn’t able to learn in education. It taught me how to communicate, how to accept others of all walks of life. It challenged me to leave my city and grow as an individual.
Bobby: Okay. Well let’s jump into your NBA career.
Trent Tucker: So I went to the University of Minnesota, then was fortunate enough to be drafted by the Knicks after four years of college ball. It was a challenge; the people of New York expect so much out of you. You know, the journey there was a testimony to those people around me. I didn’t get there alone. Everyone around me who helped me along the way got me there.
Towards the end of my career I won a championship with the Bulls. But a year before I won the championship, I was having a difficult time. Things were shaky. I only played about 25 games with the Spurs then didn’t have a team to go to. That summer I didn’t get any calls and I just continued to workout and work on my game. It was hard. But then suddenly I got a call from the Bulls and they wanted to give me a chance to play with them. I knew it was my opportunity to show that I still had it.
I want young people to know that you have to stick with it even when things get tough. You have to be ready for your big break. Just be your best and be ready. Because when I got that call I was ready and got to win the Championship with the Bulls and play with Michael Jordan.
Bobby: Amazing. So, you obviously put in a lot of work. What does it take to become a professional?
Trent Tucker: There was a ton of sacrifice. I had to turn down parties, some friends, etc. And with all of that sacrifice, you still will not be guaranteed anything. You just have to get as good as possible. When I was younger I would be playing basketball right away in the morning then bike from gym to gym finding open gyms. Then at 9pm, at the park where the lights were on, I would go play basketball until 1am or 2am during the summer. I was really self-motivated. I understood that if I wanted to become really good then it was up to me to make it. Nobody else around me knew what it would take to get to the ultimate level.
Bobby: Sounds hard. So when did you actually think the NBA was a real possibility?
Trent Tucker: Right. Well, when I got in high school, the varsity team was old and pretty good. And I thought to myself, if I could compete with these guys as a 13 or 14-year-old, I thought I could get to college.
I thought I would probably play JV my freshman year. Then the varsity coach came up to me at practice before the season and said that I would play varsity. I played the first game and made some plays in the Fourth Quarter. The next game I was a starter. That’s when I thought that I could actually do something special with basketball. I started to find others who have been down a similar road in Flint. I wanted to pick their brains to shape my own route to success.
And I didn’t just talk to athletes but successful business people. I learned about discipline, being a student of the game, building positive habits. I mean athletics to me are very educational and cognitive. You need to learn execution. Also, you need to learn the dynamics of the team and how each individual supports the success of the team.
Bobby: So what is the difference between an okay player and a superstar?
Trent Tucker: Well from high school to college, college students have a lot more talent. They are athletic and have lots of skills. Then in college, to be successful at basketball you must know how to keep your head on your shoulders.
The jump from college to the NBA is then more about being a really smart basketball player and individual all together. You have to deal with intense traveling schedules, with a bunch of sponsors, players and more coming after you. You have to navigate a lot more even outside the game of basketball.
Bobby: Awesome. So, you played with Michael Jordan. What made him so different?
Trent Tucker: Talent. He was incredible. I grew up watching Magic thinking he was the best ever. Then I saw number 23 and there was no discussion. I can’t explain it. He had something else.
Bobby: How have you stayed so humble after so much success and fame?
Trent Tucker: You just need to keep a healthy perspective. I stayed grounded with my family and always knew how lucky I was becoming a professional athlete. You really have to remember that at any moment, your career could abruptly end for whatever reason.
You know, the chances of becoming some Bill Gates, Warren or some other business guy is probably higher than becoming a professional athlete. And so many people grew up knowing Kevin Garnett but not Bill Gates, when Bill Gates could buy every NBA team!
Bobby: True. So, the quick fire questions now. What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
Trent Tucker: Good question. One day at my friend’s house, there was a monkey hanging out in the corner. I thought it was stuffed animal or something. But it was an actual monkey, his pet monkey.
Bobby: That’s great! Next question, what skills does a young professional need to have to be successful?
Trent Tucker: For me, I’d say that he or she needs strong communication. Also, that person needs to have the mindset to make adjustments. This is because after college, everything is different. Things are always crazy and changing. You have to figure out how to move forward regardless.
Bobby: What do you believe you have to sacrifice to become successful?
Trent Tucker: A lot. You have to give something inside of yourself. You have to give up something to make things better for others and yourself. I had to give up a certain lifestyle and become unselfish.
And I’m talking about team success here. For instance, I was once the backup for a very good player who had never been outscored by his backup. And I had the opportunity to outscore him, because he was sitting out the rest of the game. We were easily going to win the game and I had open shots to outscore this other player but I chose not too. I knew the game’s headlines would become about me and not about the team’s 12th win in a row. I knew that me not outscoring the other player would be the best thing for the longevity of the team. So that’s what I did.
And from this point, I’d like to say… you will achieve your individual success from team success. This is true of most things, not just in sports. The most important thing is to have the team do the job and succeed. You succeed through the team.
And this is true of leadership as well. A leader becomes a great leader when he or she can create and maintain a team better than him or herself. That mindset will work in any setting. Think about this in business.
Bobby: Last question: What is one life hack that listeners can do this week to become successful?
Trent Tucker: Carve out a plan for where you want to go. Understand how to navigate the road you want to travel. Know the good and bad on that road. If you have no plan, you have no direction. And even if that plan doesn’t work, you at least still have a direction.
And write out this plan for your next five years. You need to write out your game plan and how you are going to defend yourself from things that may try to knock you down.
Bobby: That’s awesome. That is all the time we have for now. Thank you Trent for joining us today.
Some reminders from this podcast:
1. As Trent stated, you must be ready for your lucky break. You never know when an opportunity will open up for you. When it does, be ready.
2. "A leader becomes a great leader when he or she can create and maintain a team better than him or herself.”
3. THIS WEEK: Create and write out a plan for your next five years. If you have no plan, you have no direction.