Tyrone Nesby was a star on the college basketball scene during his time at UNLV. His professional basketball career spanned nearly a decade as he played all around the world including spending time in the CBA, the NBA, the ABA and beyond.
A native of Cairo, IL, Nesby is currently the men’s head basketball coach at Muhlenberg (P.A.) High School. This past season, he led the Muhls to the schools first District 3 championship and a run in the state playoffs. He was named Pennsylvania’s 5A Coach of the Year.
Nesby averaged 13 points per game with the L.A. Cippers in his second season of NBA play, then joined the Washington Wizards during Michael Jordan’s final seasons.
He shares stories of his time shadowing MJ, his childhood Boston Celtics themed bedroom and signing rookie autographs until he couldn’t sign any more.
TR–Being a star in high school and college as well as being an NBA veteran, when was the first time you were asked for your autograph?
TN-The first time I was asked for my autograph was when I was in the Slam Dunk Contest in Illinois. I had the opportunity to dunk against all of the top dunkers in the state. I ended up winning the contest. A kid came up to me after the event and asked for my autograph. My first thought was that I didn’t even know how to sign in! I just wrote my name in cursive. It was cool to know this kid asked for my autograph. I must have done something special for this kid to actually ask me for my autograph. I will most definitely remember that moment.
TR–As an NBA player, you have inspired countless people over the years. Who inspired you growing up?
TN-Larry Bird. He was my guy. He is still my guy to this day. What intrigued me about Bird was that I was always shocked to see a guy who really wasn’t that fast, who really wasn’t that athletic but he knew had to play the game. That is what shocked me. He’s not the ‘ohh and ahh’ type of player but he had me glued to the TV.
I will never forget when my mom got me his poster. She put it up upstairs. Well, Bird is 6’9”. I’m 6’6”. My room is in the basement and when I walk into the basement my head is right at the ceiling. So, I wasn’t thinking. I took the poster downstairs. I tried to stand the poster up. I had to bend his head into the wall at the ceiling because I wanted the poster to be in there. My mom said I was destroying it but I wanted it in my room. It had to be down there. I will never forget, I had this brown carpet in my room. My mom said she did something to improve the room. I went down there and she made my carpet green. I was in heaven! You couldn’t tell me anything. I thought it was the world to have green carpet and have Bird in my room. People don’t even know I’m from Illinois. That was the time when Chicago was doing their thing. I was the only kid in school walking around with a Celtics hat on.
TN-I was one of those players that had a ton of questions. I would always take advantage of any moment I had the opportunity to ask a question and learn from him. I would sit right in front of him on the bus. I was always over by Mike on the plane. I would ask him what motivated him. It turned out it was the same thing that motivated me. He said what motivated him was that he was stepping on the court knowing that somebody in the building hadn’t seen him play before. He wanted them to walk out of the building saying he was the best. I had the same motivation. I didn’t want someone walking out of the building thinking ‘Nesby sucked. He’s not even good.’
Jordan said something else that stuck with me, too. He said ‘When you are out there playing you enjoy the game but you never die with a loaded gun. You gotta go out there and shoot and shoot and play and shoot. When you get back to the locker room you know you did what you had to do, win or lose.’
TR-You told me one of your prized pieces of memorabilia in your collection is the Michael Jordan autographed ball. Did you get that when you two were teammates?
TN-Yeah, so what happened was every year before the season started they would do team signed, autographed balls. Mike’s stuff had to be staged. Everything had to be right. We were the step kids. You guys go out and do your stuff. Sign the balls and leave (laughs). Then Mike would walk in for the grand finale. The cameras were there. There was lighting. Mike had to sign every ball. They would put the sticker on the ball immediately. It’s legit. They gave us a certificate of authenticity. They wouldn’t let anybody else in there other than Mike, the cameramen and someone from the organization. I have not seen Michael sign one ball. We weren’t allowed in there. Honestly, I just wanted to get home!
TR–Your rookie card came out for the 1999-00 season. Do you remember seeing those cards for the first time?
TN– Yeah I thought that was pretty cool. I’ll be honest with you, signing cards is the most boring thing to do. I hate to say that. I had to sit in a room and sign for Upper Deck. I sat in my living room, with a camera on me and sign 50,000 cards. He brought them in 10,000 at a time. Any time I took a break I had to text him. He would write down that I took a break. I could do what I need to do and come back. I got done with all of that and a few months after, a kid came up with one of my cards. It was really cool to see it and see myself on the card.
TR–You said you have a sneaker collection. What kicks do you have in the collection?
TN– I am old school. I have a pair Karl Malone signed for me. I talked to Karl a lot. He had a store in Utah where he sold boots. I wanted some of them. I’m a southern Illinois country boy. I enjoy stuff like that. After a game in Utah I was getting back on the bus and this lady ran onto the bus asking for me. It was Karl’s wife. She had boots in the car for me. These boxes were so huge. I am trying to carry five huge boxes on the bus. Everybody was wondering what the heck was going on. Karl hooked me up.
I also got Gary Payton to sign his shoes for me. I have a pair from Shaquille O’Neal from back in the day. I have Penny Hardaway’s shoes. I got a pair from Scottie (Pippen) after I played against him when he was in Houston. Of course, I got a pair of Jordan’s. He signed them in the locker room. I keep the collection out in Las Vegas and I’ll pass them on to my kids one day.