Missoula, Montana native Larry Krystkowiak was a star basketball player at Big Sky High School during his formative years. A power forward, he’s still the all-time leading scorer and rebounder at the University of Montana 35 years after his last game. He stands as the only player to be named Big Sky Conference MVP three times. His jersey hangs in the rafters of the Grizzlies’ arena.
Krystkowiak was selected in the second round of the 1986 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls. He spent the majority of his career with the Milwaukee Bucks as well as suiting up for the Spurs, Jazz, Magic and Lakers during his decade plus NBA career.
After retiring from basketball, he became a successful assistant and head coach in the college ranks and at the professional level. He coached for teams including the Nets, Bucks and most recently spent 11 years at the helm at the University of Utah.
He’s preserved his life in basketball through an impressive collection of memorabilia.
I recently talked with him about a variety of topics including his collection and some interesting behind the scenes moments with Michael Jordan.
Tony Reid- You have 58 total cards in the various card databases. With your long career in the NBA, do you have a collection of your own cards and or memorabilia displayed?
Larry Krystkowiak-Yeah, I have quite a collection of stuff. We just sold our home in Salt Lake City. I had a perfect basement for it with a lot of walls and shadowboxes made for the Jordans, the Birds, the Magics and the Shaqs. You name it. I have a lot of jerseys, a lot of balls and a lot of sneakers.
I have some really unique items. For the 1993 All-Star Game they hung a bunch of big banners in the arenas to encourage everyone to vote for the All-Stars that year. I think those banners are about 6 feet by 15 feet. They were basically an oversized ballot. I just finished that off a few years ago but I got everybody’s signature on it. I kept it rolled in a big tube and over the years I made it a point to get guys that were an All-Star that year to sign it. That is a unique piece. I put Plexiglas over it and it has been mounted on a wall for a number of years.
I got a cool jacket from the All-Star Game in 2007 when I was coaching the Bucks. I think Hamilton designed it. It’s a really sweet leather jacket. I got both coaching staffs and every player that was in the All-Star Game that year to sign it. One half of the jacket is East and one half is West.
I had that hanging on a mannequin for a while. I am without some walls right now. I have a few temperature controlled storage units with a lot of fun stuff.
TR-If you could walk us through the mancave that you had to recently disassemble, what would we see?
LK-Coming down the stairs I had a few Jordan shadowboxes. I got a pair of Jordan Vs and Jordan VIIs that were game worn. I had those in with jerseys.
I bought a 1986-87 Fleer unopened box at a show. I actually bought two boxes. My buddy and I got carried away. We ended up opening all of them. We got six Jordan RCs in that box. I still have the other box. I am considering selling the other box. I put his rookie card and rookie sticker in the shadowbox.
I was on the Bulls when we opened the United Center. I have some memorabilia from the first game. That was the season Jordan came back at the end of the season after playing baseball. I have those shadowboxes. Then I have the Shaq shoes in a shadowbox. The size 22 shoes and jersey. There is a photo in that shadowbox where Shaq is shooting a floater over me. He signed it really cute, too. Penny Hardaway was next up.
Moving around the room we go from Bird to Magic. I have a bunch of Mark McGwire stuff, too. I was fortunate to spend a weekend with him at Spring Training in Florida. It’s fun. I have always been into it. There is something about handing it down to my kids that is really a motivation. We have five kids and to someday be able to pass this stuff down, and the market has gone crazy lately, it is special.
TR–A lot of the items you are talking about passing down are more than just a shoe or a piece of cardboard. They are a piece of history, a piece of Americana. The icing on the cake is that fact that you are a long time NBA vet. That just adds to the unique and special nature of your collection.
LK- Yeah, I would agree with that. It has the built in provenance. To be able to say Jordan gave me a pair of shoes in 1990, that matches up exactly when I was playing and it matched up to when he would have been wearing the fives. A year and a half later I asked for another pair and that would have been the sevens. Having a personal relationship with some of those guys made it really accessible but it also made it a little bit more special.
TR–Michael Jordan is basically my sports idol. I’m far from alone in that sentiment, so being so close to him and being around him, is there an MJ story that you could share with us?
LK-I think one of the coolest things was the year he came back from playing baseball I had an appendicitis. I was working back at Deerfield, at the practice facility. About a week into my rehab Michael started showing up and working out. He would work out on one end of the court and I would work out on the other end of the court. We would do some shooting drills together. We were shooting free throws and I remember wondering if he was really coming back. I thought it would be my chance to get a ring. Unfortunately, I kicked a field goal right between the two Three-Peats.
He asked me what I thought about him wearing number 45. The first thing that came to mind was that everyone on the planet that had one of your 23 jerseys would probably feel inclined to go buy one of your 45 jerseys, so from a money and marketing point of view it wouldn’t be a bad idea. To be on the inside when some of that stuff was developing was special.
I took my camcorder into the locker room the day he announced he was coming back. I was behind the scenes filming stuff. It was crazy. I went into the bathroom and I see these Jordan’s underneath the toilet stall in the crapper. I did a little interview with him which was pretty cool. It was actually one of the first pieces of footage. I said ‘Michael Jordan, this is Larry Krystkowiak from such and such radio station. Is there any truth to the rumor that you are coming back?’ He said ‘I’m not coming back. I am back.’ I said ‘OK. Back to the studio.’ That was minutes before he went out and told the world that he was back. Some of that stuff is pretty cool and I have a lot of fond memories of it.
TR-As a young kid, whose cards did you want to collect or whose posters did you have hanging on the wall?
LK– I grew up in Montana. The Denver teams was about as close as we got. There wasn’t a lot of sports on TV growing up. I remember being blown away by Wilt Chamberlain. He was always my favorite big man, with the power and force he played the game with.
I remember when Bird and Magic played in the NBA Finals. That would have put me at 15 years old. We were playing hoops after school, prior to the championship game Monday night. One of my buddies called me Bird. We had the same first name but to be compared to someone like that, I was always a dreamer. I wanted to be a part of it. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be on the court facing him a number of times.
I had a lot of respect for the whole league. Everyone there has a different story and strengths and weaknesses.
TR–If you could go back to your playing days and jersey swap with anyone, who would you choose?
LK– I think Dr. J was in his last year during my rookie year. That was one of those special people on and off the court that I really admired. A lot of the guys I mentioned already weren’t interested in my jersey, so we didn’t do a jersey swap but they were kind enough to give me theirs. I have an awful lot of those jerseys of very impressive people and I am proud to say that I have them.
TR–How did you become such a passionate collector of sports cards and memorabilia?
LK-One of the things that drew me a little bit closer to the hobby was the fact that I suffered some knee injuries. I was at the arena and I was at practices but I wasn’t 100% focused on trying to win games. I had a lot of idle time on my hands. I think that exposed me more to the hobby. If you are in the middle of a professional season you really don’t have a whole lot of time to jump in a collect. That was one of the bright spots about having some injuries, it drew me closer to the hobby of collecting.