Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Updated: June 30, 12:08 PM ET
Riding with ... Larry Hughes
By Jemele Hill
ST. LOUIS -- Larry Hughes is thoughtful and quiet. It's not accurate to call him distant, but he's not always eager to share. The best way to peel back Hughes' layers is to ask him about two things -- his tattoos and his cars. He owns 10 cars and has 20 tattoos. Some people collect stamps. He collects wheels and ink.
Hughes, traded to Chicago in a three-team, 11-player deal in February that brought Ben Wallace to Cleveland, was the latest athlete to participate in Page 2's "Riding With" series, in which we interview athletes in their cars. Turns out that despite his quiet nature, Hughes has a lot to say. He gave us his side of what happened in Cleveland, why he never completed a dunk at the 2000 NBA All-Star Game and whether his wife got jealous when he cuddled with Destiny Child's Kelly Rowland in his buddy Nelly's "Dilemma" video.
Hughes also opened up about a very sensitive subject -- the death of his brother, Justin, who died two years ago at age 20 after battling heart problems.
What happened in Cleveland?
Nothing really happened. A lot of things went on in my life as far as personal stuff. Cleveland just wasn't a happy place for me. I needed something fresh to kind of change the scenery.
How much of your experience (in Cleveland) was tainted by the death of your brother, Justin?
A lot. I realize it every day that a part of me is gone. I have to move on, knowing it's not going to be easy. Playing basketball doesn't make everything better. Making money doesn't make everything better. That's really what I'm dealing with now.
Do you feel the same way toward basketball as you always did? Or did some of that change because you suffered such a tragic loss?
To be honest, some of the emotional side of playing basketball has suffered. Sometimes it is tough to be excited or be happy. Different things may take you back to a place where you were before, as far as the memories. My thing is, I know I can play. It's just having fun doing that and getting better in my personal situation and moving on from there.
How much longer do you think you'll play? (Hughes is 29.)
I told myself I'd play until I was 35. If I play until I'm 35, that will be 16 years in the league. That's a long time. But I'm feeling good. I've been injured a lot, and I think that's kind of helped me as to how my body feels now.
When you heard you were traded to Chicago, what was your reaction?
I welcomed the trade. I talked to management, talked to my teammates and my agent. Like I said, a part of me needed something different. A part of me didn't want to keep traveling those same roads once I found out I lost my brother. A lot of those things were tough for me. I really wanted that chance to kind of move past it and get into a situation where the style of play was how I wanted to play basketball.
From a basketball perspective, did you feel your skill set fit in more in Chicago than it did in Cleveland?
I think it does. Once we have an opportunity to go through a training camp and obviously now we'll have a new coach and a whole new situation going on where I won't be the new guy. I'll be the guy that's been there a couple months. To get more comfortable and understand what John Paxson wants and the type of guys that are on the team. I feel like it definitely benefits my game to be in Chicago at this point in my career.
Who should the Bulls draft No. 1?
That's tough. Obviously, you have the top two guys in (Derrick) Rose and (Michael) Beasley. Rose did great things, especially during that run in the tournament. I can see myself playing with either one of those guys. Obviously, running alongside a guy who's explosive and quick and a point guard who also can play some off-guard, and Beasley is a guy
I call him an animal. He gets it done on the block, outside.
But Derrick Rose is a point guard. You're a point guard. You don't want to see another point guard, do you?
Well, I like to play both positions. If I'm next to a guy who can handle and also play the off-guard, that best suits my game. When I can slide off the ball and come off screens, that's what I want to get back to. When I say I want to get back to the way I've been playing, that's the style that it is. Playing with a really good point guard only helps my game.
You've been with five different NBA teams. What's the worst part about being traded?
The move. The hotel and that new city. There's a lot of negatives to being traded, especially in midseason. It's a constant road trip from your normal routine and where you've normally been staying.
Every time you play a game, you're leaving from a hotel and returning to a hotel. It's tough.
I'm going to take you back to the slam-dunk contest in 2000, which I'm sure is your favorite thing to talk about. What happened? You were the only guy who didn't complete a dunk.
I think I enjoyed myself a little too much. I had too much fun before the contest. I didn't go out there as it being a business trip. I went out there as a new guy, being in the league to have fun. I had all my friends out there. I didn't practice any dunks. Obviously, you can tell.
You have an affinity for cars, but also an affinity for tattoos. How many tattoos do you have?
Um, I stick with the number 20 because I had some add-ons. I had some writing. I figure if I count every one, then the number would get too high. I go with 20.
Twenty tattoos, 10 cars. Should you be in some kind of 12-step program?
We all have our little things that we do. I've always done it. I started getting tattoos when I was 15. I only write things on me that are meaningful. I really started buying the high-end cars once I could really afford it. I'm a guy who takes things to the extreme, but I kind of go at a pace where it doesn't really affect everything.
One of the tattoos you have is teardrops, which you got to symbolize the loss of your brother. What was your reaction when people criticized you and said the tattoo was gang-related?
I really didn't pay any attention. I get the question of "What's that?" or "What are those for?" all the time. A lot of times I just let people get their own opinion or figure out whatever it may be related to on their own, because a lot of times I don't want to go into why I have them or the significance behind them. It doesn't bother me. I'm too old to be in a gang. I'm too old to be doing things that will get me locked up. It's definitely meaningful to me that it's something positive.
You started a foundation that helps organ recipients and donor families. How have you seen your foundation impact people's lives?
It's a blessing for me to have the opportunity to help families help themselves. I think that's probably our main goal. You don't just want to give people money just to say you gave it to them. You want to make sure the bills are paid. If a family has to travel to place X, that they're able to get there and take their mind off whatever is going on and be more focused on that family member or that friend or whatever it is they need to do. We always stay positive because a positive attitude and positive reinforcement cures all.
How much has your attitude and life changed because of your brother's death?
A piece of me is definitely missing. I think it's a process I'm going through now as far as talking about it more, being more open about it. A lot of those things I'm getting because of basketball. I'm trying to flip those things around as far as making people aware of what's going on with organ and tissue donations, making kids aware that there's a positive route to take if you want to go to school and want to go to college. It's not just about basketball and making money now. None of us knows how long we're going to be here. The impact we make now can affect a lot of people and, obviously, you affect one, there's a possibility you can affect another.
It sounds like you've fully embraced being a role model.
I think I can be a role model. I'm a humble guy. I try to lead by example, not with words. I'm not going to scream the things you need to do at you. So if you just follow me and trust, I'll try to lead you in the right direction. I always tell our management, I'm not a guy who is going to scream at the guys to show leadership, but my teammates will know that I'm out for the betterment of what they want to do and how this team wants to win. I'm enjoying it that way. I'm enjoying just being able to express myself the way I do.
You mention you're humble and more of a behind-the-scenes guy, but you've got quite the career going in terms of acting in music videos. You were in Nelly's video "Dilemma." How did you and Nelly become friends?
We were playing on the same basketball courts back in the early '90s. We met that way. He was doing the rap thing. I was doing the basketball thing. He was trying to get on a major label and we just kind of connected. We stayed in contact, and here we are today with the opportunity to make a lot of money. But at the same time, we're going to turn it back and make sure everything we've done to this point is not for nothing.
He cast you in the video with Kelly Rowland. Whose idea was it to have Kelly leave you for Nelly in the video?
Probably his. He called me and said, "I need you to come out to L.A. and do the video." He didn't give me any details. He didn't tell me what the script was or how everything would play out. But I'm the one who gets asked, "Was that my car she went and picked him up in?" It was a fun experience for me.
Well, was it your car?
It definitely was. He got the girl in the end. The video turned out great. I got a lot of pictures from it. I was happy to do it.
What did your wife think about you and Kelly getting all cozy in the video?
She knew it was acting. I hope.
You and Nelly have a sports bar together, but you guys also are working on a plan to create a $30 million sports facility in St. Louis. Why is it so important for you to invest in St. Louis?
I think it just happens to be business. Money is something that makes everything go in a straight line. This is where I'm from. This is where I come when I want peace, when I want to be around people I know. Anything we can do to help St. Louis to make the city better, make people migrate here and be attracted to the city. That's what we're trying to do with the Skybox (his sports bar with Nelly) and the sports facility.
It shines light on our city, but it shines light on us also.
Now comes the part where we play a little rapid fire. Craziest teammate you've ever had?
In a good way, Gilbert Arenas.
He's liable to do anything. As a young guy, when he first came in, the young guys bring in the doughnuts. He licked the doughnuts and put them in a box. He just did things grown men usually don't like.
Most overrated food?
French fries, because they're not always made good. They're not all like McDonald's fries.
Best rap video ever?
I'll stay with Nelly. I'll go with "Hot in Herre."
Favorite athlete from St. Louis?
What you want most for your 30th birthday?
A house. It will be something I'll probably buy for myself, but 30 is getting close to being done playing basketball. I want to be settled. I want to have that nice big house to come home to.
That's a tough one, because I watch everything. I've seen a lot. I've seen the so-called chick flicks.
Last chick flick you saw?
I watched a little bit of "27 Dresses" the other night. I'm not proud of that.
Jemele Hill can be reached at email@example.com.