- George J. Tanber
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"Scrubs" star Donald Faison loves his job. But he is equally passionate about NBA basketball, especially the New York Knicks.
As a youth in his native New York, Faison -- a 6-footer -- could dunk. But basketball was not his game. Theater was. His parents, Shirley and Donald, were active in the National Black Theater in Harlem and mentored their son. He debuted on stage at age 5. One of his earliest memories is watching his mother direct rehearsals in the empty theater.
Donald Faison played Murray Duvall in his first hit, the movie "Clueless," a role he reprised in the subsequent television series, which ran from 1996-99. He played Tracy on "Felicity" and appeared in "Remember the Titans." He has secured his greatest fame as Dr. Chris Turk, the cocky surgical intern on "Scrubs," the NBC sitcom about medical interns. In its sixth season, "Scrubs" might be headed for a final season next year. Or not. Faison, 32, isn't talking about the subject. But, for Black History Month, he weighed in on a number of sports issues, including thoughts on his beloved Knicks.
What would you be doing if you weren't an actor?
It would be somewhere in sports. If I wasn't playing basketball, one thing I would love more than anything would be to work for the Knicks.
The Knicks have been awful, and their coach, Isiah Thomas, is under fire. How can the team be turned around?
I think they are turning it around. With what he has -- a lot of one-on-one players -- I think Isiah is doing a great job. They're winning games. Since they're in the East, they have a chance of making the playoffs. My advice? Trade Steve Francis for a big man.
African-Americans have made great strides in athletics, but lag in leadership positions, such as ownership. What needs to happen for that to change?
I just think there needs to be more people stepping up, like [Charlotte Bobcats owner] Bob Johnson. We have our first Super Bowl winner. [Black] coaches must continually strive to be the best. We now have a number of minority owners in the NBA. That's great. It gives you something to strive for. When I'm older and am focusing on other things, maybe I could own an NFL team or an NBA team. Moves like this need to happen in every community, not just African-American communities. Money is one color: green.
Young and talented African-American athletes sometimes place professional sports above all other goals. Many don't make it and, as a result, are left with limited choices. How can that mind-set change?
It's kind of messed up. In the ghetto or the hood, there are two ways out -- selling drugs or playing basketball or some other sport. Period. That's the only way out. A lot of these kids come from families who don't have money. It's one reason why they're so hungry. They get one shot to get out from where they came from and be paid like Michael Jordan or LeBron James. That's why they're leaving early.
[Yet] I think they should make it a lot tougher on young athletes to get into college. Raise the test scores. Academics are important in high school and college. A lot of these athletes, when they go to college, what do they study? Golf?
If you were commissioner of the NBA, name one thing you would change.
I would change the age limit. Make it so kids could turn professional right out of high school. They are grown men. They are able to vote. If you want to lose out on learning the fundamentals, if you want to miss the experiences of youth, if you are willing to risk all that, you should be allowed to go. They are told they are so great and are going to be in the NBA, and then they break their leg at 17 and can't fix it. Or they don't grow as tall as they thought they would. If you make it past all of that, go for it.
Even the best athletes choke from time to time. Tell us about a time when you choked on camera.
I did an interview with a New York TV entertainment reporter. I had flown in from California the night before and had to get up at 4 to do the interview. She asked me how it felt to finally play a grown-up [in "Remember the Titans"]. I paused and said, "I'm playing a teenager in this movie." She said she meant playing in a [serious] movie, not just fun and games. Now I was confused. I paused for five or six seconds. I froze. That was my choke moment.
Name an African-American athlete you admire and why?
Michael Jordan. He's the best ever. And he's the reason we have bald heads. He's just a man who worked real hard to be what he was. And when he got there, he went hard at it and made it work.
The Michael Jordan of acting is Denzel Washington.
Imagine you're an NBA player. Name your dream moment.
Make a last-second shot to win the championship, like Michael Jordan did against the Jazz.
All-time favorite sports moment, either as a player or fan.
When John Starks dunked on Michael Jordan and Horace Grant [in Game 2 of the 1993 Eastern Conference finals]. I watched it on television and screamed and ran around the house. It's called The Dunk. Of course, the Knicks lost that series. But it was the biggest thing I had ever seen.
George J. Tanber contributes to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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