(Tuesday, October 5th, 2010)

Adonal Foyle

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Photo: Fernando Medina/Orlando Magic

Adonal Foyle is my neighbor. I’ve never talked to him about basketball before, even though I’m a die-hard Magic fan. Instead, we’ve had brief conversations about writing and literature and his non-profit back in the Caribbean, the Kerosene Lamp Foundation. This, of course, was back when I was finishing up my book and he was writing his thesis. We’d run into each other at the same WiFi spots and eating places in Thornton Park. Recently, I haven’t seen him, not even in the elevator or at the mailboxes, which is normal during the summer. It’s when the Magic often leave the building. (Yes, we host more than one player here.)

In the fall, when the players return, I become a little star struck (or the opposite of it. It’s hard to tell). While talking to a basketball player, I’ll go out of my way to treat him like anyone else. It’s like my brain refuses to accept that he’s a superstar, yet still places him in the “Extremely Tall Man That Palms Basketballs and Drives Nice Cars” memory file. Consequently, during conversation I am careful to avoid the “B” word at all costs. Why? I don’t know. I’m happy to talk about my passions and loves when asked, and so I shouldn’t be so embarrassed to ask professional athletes about theirs. But I am. So I don’t.

With the new Amway Center opening, and another Eastern Conference title up for grabs, of course I wanted to interview someone from the Magic. It’s a moment in time that needs to be documented. Our community is transforming. When Melanie Curtsinger from the Orlando Magic recommended I interview Adonal, I took it as the Universe’s sign to finally break down the barrier. Of all the players and people that work for the Magic, she chose the one person I’ve avoided the subject with for years now. Finally, it was time to talk basketball.

Jana: Why write a poem to announce your retirement from the NBA?
: I had just finished my thesis and so much of it was about players going broke, you know, all of it, loss of social status, loss of identity. Everything was negative about players that exit the sport. I’m from an island of five hundred people, and this sport has taken me so far. It’s given me education, it’s given me wealth, it’s given me luck, it’s given me the opportunity to meet so many amazing people and travel the world. Why not just say thank you? I just felt that if I did a press conference I wouldn’t get to say exactly what I wanted to say. The thing I wanted to say was, “I love this sport. I’m gonna miss it. Thank you.” And that was it. I love to write. So I wrote the poem.

Tell me about your new job title.
Director of Player Development, um, it’s an interesting job. I told Otis [Smith], that in a way, what he’s doing is giving me less money for what I’ve been doing for some time now. I’ve always been the person to help a guy if he needs help with something, but there wasn’t any job titled associated with it. So it’s kind of a weird moment that I’m getting paid to do this thing, but it’s fun. It gives me the opportunity to help guys figure out their path and to make the transition. The playing of the game is easy, but you’d be amazed on a day-to-day basis, how many things come in front of a player.

Many people may not know that you recently received your Masters Degree in Sports Psychology. Do you think your experience or your education will help better execute your new job duties?
The one thing I tell the guys all the time is you want choices. You want as many choices when your career is over as when your career is going. Everyone wants you to do different things for them while you’re playing basketball, but when you’re done then they start looking at your credentials.

More than anything else, I’m being hired for my experience and what I’ve gone through. I think I’m much better informed to help [the players] from my education. I can talk to them better. I can listen better.  I can talk to them about goals. I can talk to them about their vision. I can talk to them about the trajectory of the end and what the retirement process is going to be like, because that’s what my thesis was on.  You may not use all your skills from getting a Master’s degree, but it doesn’t harm any decision.

What’s the transition from court to office been like?
Horrible. People say it’s difficult, but I wanted to figure it out. I’m actually doing a blog about it, “100 Days of Retirement.” I’m like at day five. [Laughs] It’s been so gloomy. I feel so bad. It’s not that I don’t love my job, but I’ve been a basketball player for the past twenty years and now I’ve been asked to move into a new position. I’ve become a spectator. In many ways, it’s gnawing at me. As players, we’re selfish. We think, “The Universe can’t go around without us. We’re the most important thing.” Now, I’m like, “I’m here! I’m here! I’m not dead! I’m not dead!” The game just goes on. That’s one thing I tried to say in the poem … the game just goes on.  The more you have the easier it is to move on, but it’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. It’s been quite difficult.

Are you excited for the upcoming Magic season? Any predictions?
Yes! What I like is that we were in the gym before anyone else, working really, really hard.  That gives me hope. When I talk to players at the beginning of the year, I never like to listen to it. It’s just talk. I like to look at what the practice is like and what happens in the preseason. That, to me, is a big indication of what a team is going to do.

We had our whole team here by the middle of September. That’s unheard of in the league. And they were working hard. They just weren’t shooting up shots, they were here running the track, lifting in the weight room, having a good yelling session. And they took that in the off season when they didn’t have to. That is what I’m most excited about.  They have put in the work this summer to be great in the regular season.

What are your thoughts on Lebron [James], the Heat and the first time we play them?
I think it’s going to be a great game, a great opportunity and a great rivalry. I think we’re going to win. There’s no denying that. I think we’re deeper.  I think the guys understand that every game we play against them is going to be a life and death situation in the East. We have to rise to the challenge every time. If we go out and play, use the depth of our bench, and because we’ve been together for a very long time, I think we’ll be successful. But it’s going to be a fight, and a great one.

How does the team feel about the new Amway Center?
Completely star struck. Every time I drive up, I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” There’s still places I haven’t been and I’ve been coming here for over a month already. I haven’t been in this part yet. [Laughs] It’s very nice.

I think part of it is seeing people’s reactions and seeing what this building has already done for this area. When people come in, their eyes light up and their mouth opens. To be the people that represent this arena, and then go out and represent the community and bring people back to see how we do things, is extraordinary. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say, “We’re so proud.” We’re so proud of the way it’s been done and proud at the way minorities were hired to do the work. It’s been done right. Everything.  I’m proud to be associated with something that’s so transformative for our community.

During one of the playoff games with the Cavaliers, I ran into Charles Barkley at Johnson’s diner. I asked him why he’s always doggin’ on Magic fans. He said, “Ya’ll are too nice. If you go up to Cleveland, you’ll know what I’m talking about. They’re crazy.” How do Magic fans compare to other NBA teams and their fans?
[Laughs]  It’s been a learning process for us. I think, no, I know that this year we’re going to move from being a passive kind of fan to being assertive. You have to think of it like this, we’ve been growing into a basketball community. Basketball [in Orlando] is still relatively young. As players, we have to help our fans understand that it’s okay to have and attitude when you come to the new arena, and to defend this arena that is yours, you know? Taxpayers helped build this arena and they should be proud of it. No one can come in here and push us around. We have to help our fans know that having an attitude, within the context of sports, is not only cool, and not only appreciated, it’s demanded! The message we need to get out there is: it’s okay to be obnoxious when you come to the game … to the other team. [Laughs]

What do you love and hate about this city?
What I love about this city is that it’s diverse. There are people from all over. It almost seems like it’s the place that at some point or another, you’re going to come to. I like that there’s a lot of tourist coming in, and the pockets of different things to enjoy.  Downtown has a different vibe than Windemere or Disney or Universal. There’s a lot of fun things to do. And it’s a very kid-friendly city.

What I don’t like about it is that I’m not here enough. [Laughs] I’m looking forward to being here more. Everyone complains about the heat, but I’m an island boy so I like to feel what that feels like. I’m a glutton for punishment I know. [Laughs]

The one thing I’ll say is that we have the new theaters at The Sanctuary, and I’d like to see more high caliber theater and arts like that around. I think there are already plans in the works to do that. So we’re on our way. We’re gonna get there.

You kind of mentioned it before, and I think it’s safe to say, you’ve achieved the American Dream. What’s the journey from small island to bigger city living been like?
Amen. It’s been the most amazing and surreal experience of my life. You can’t imagine going back and seeing where I come from, and then where I ended up at this juncture of my life. I never thought that it was even a possibility. I always say that in many ways basketball is the truest form of freedom and expression. You don’t have to be white and you don’t have to be black, you can be anybody from any part of the world, there’s no barrier, no social economic status needed, and as long as you have a good basketball IQ, you have the opportunity to completely move through this world and be at the top.

Photo: Fernando Medina/Orlando Magic

It’s the place where your skills determine your opportunities. I think there’s something so liberating about that. If you think about what this game has done for a lot of people who otherwise would have nothing, it’s amazing.

My Mom is here. We stay at The Sanctuary. She’s looking out, I’m looking out, we’re looking out over the lake, and I’ll say, “My God. Did you ever think we’d make it here?” And she hugs me.  I just keep pinching myself because it’s been a journey beyond my dreams, one that I’ll keep enjoying and living to the fullest.

If you could go back and do it all over again, would you change anything?
Nothing. I think the decisions we make along the way are made with the best information that was available.  How could you change it? I tried along my path to be as honest with myself as possible. It’s not always been the easiest thing to do, but when you do it that way you’re not surprised by the outcome. Like, choosing to go to a small school so I could have a good education, being drafted, getting the opportunity, choosing to give up a lot of money—literally give a percentage back of my contract so that I could end up in Orlando and be here—nothing seems like an accident. I did the best I could do. So I have no regrets in terms of things I can change. We could all spend less or go on one less vacation, but that’s not real.

How is Stan Van Gundy handling the new coach’s dress code? No more turtlenecks, more suit and tie.
[Laughs] Let’s just say this is going to be an on-going revolution. [Laughs] I dare to mention, that I don’t think Coach has decided how this journey is going to end up. It’s total conflict. [Laughs] It’s not a question of him having suits, I just can’t imagine him, as demonstrative and energetic as he is, not ripping up that suit in a half a game. So I don’t know. [Laughs] I’m just as curious to see how that’s going to turn out.

And the team’s flying out today?
Yes. To Texas. Houston.

For the first preseason game?
Yes, tomorrow.  It’s going to be hard for me, because up until now it hasn’t seemed real. It’s going to be real that I’m not on the floor tomorrow. [Laughs] I’m not going to be doing great, but I’ll be happy to see the team play.

Maybe you can write a poem about the experience?
I think I might. [Laughs]

*Interview date: October 4 2010

To read Adonal’s blog, visit his site adonalfoyle.com.

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