Former Kansas State and NBA standout
Rolando Blackman, born in Panama and raised in New York, was a three-time all-Big Eight basketball player at Kansas State, a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that boycotted the Moscow Games and a 1981 first-round draft pick of the Dallas Mavericks. Blackman played 12 seasons with the Mavs, made four All-Star teams and has worked for the franchise in a variety of areas since 2000, from coaching to corporate to community relations.
I was eight years old, coming to New York City on a student visa. For two years, I played soccer in the school yards, kicking the soccer ball around, until I decided to see if I could get some friends and walked over to the basketball court and took the vilification process. “You take Ro.” “No, you take him, I don't want him.” People would snatch my basketball, push me to the side. But it helped a great deal. At that point, I really couldn't play the game. It propelled me into learning this game.
My grandmother and her first son came to New York to establish the family. Seven, eight years later, it was my turn and start an educational process. Should I drop out or not go to school or not do the right things, they would send me back to Panama. This was a super opportunity. 1967 was my time and my sister's time. I didn't see my parents for three more years, until they got a chance to get out of Panama in 1970 and put our family back together.
The most fun I've ever had playing was growing up in Brooklyn. Junior in high school, those days were fun. That's when I first saw my name on the train station, Bill Travers (New York Daily News) wrote that I was one of the hottest young prospects in Brooklyn. It was such a high. If I could bottle what came out of my brain ... from what my coaches were saying to what those words were, I was driven to make sure that that happened. I was not going to let go of that kind of thing. I held on to that. It was a matter of coming from getting my ball snatched from me, hearing “I don't want Ro, you take him,” to the point where I was getting picked first. “Ro, you playing?”
Kansas State, it reminded me of Panama City. I got back to a place where it was green, grass all over the place, trees growing. Very nice people. It was like just back in Panama. But the biggest thing, when I had my visit with Jack Hartman, I knew Jack was a fantastic coach. Why? Because he coached Walt Frazier at Southern Illinois. Walt Frazier became a fantastic player. At the time, he had Mike Evans, a fantastic All-American, and before him Chucky Williams. I knew this guy could coach guards into becoming very, very good players. It was Kansas State all the way. I'm glad I made the right choice.
The thing I remember most about Jack Hartman was the discipline. Not only the discipline of basketball, but the discipline of life. Having someone there every day holding you accountable. And keeping you on track for the things that would help you later on in life. Just trying to develop, not only on the basketball court, but when you left him, be a viable part of society.
Coming from Brooklyn, New York, I had a good background, but he put the good toughness on you, too. Being mature. Being able to be yelled at. Playing under duress. How you should act. What you should be thinking of. Things that need to be going on. The preparation that needs to be taken care of. Not just practice, but the intensity of the practice.
The 1980 Olympics, one of the greatest disappointments in my life. It's the apex, the pinnacle of what you are as a college basketball player. To beat out everyone, to become an Olympian ... to be able to establish who the Olympic starters were going to be, to be able to go into Moscow and take the gold, it's a big deal and opportunity. To hear the Russians are in Afghanistan, what does that have to do with sports? It remains an opportunity lost. I'm still an Olympian today. I went to those trials and put my cards down on the table. I feel very good about that. I feel disappointed that the political scene cut us off.
Spending this long with the Mavs, I think it's being able to establish relationships and really having the opportunity to help the Mavs on many levels. Mark Cuban asked me to be a part of what's going on; he was going to buy the team, which was a great opportunity for me. So with every area, I've got the chance to put the Maverick brand out there and represent this great organization. Have the chance to represent Mark Cuban in the right way. I really do enjoy that very much.
Working for Cuban, it's a great opportunity because I understand what he wants to do. I understand he wants to win. He wants to do the very best job he possibly can to put people in the right job in moving this franchise forward. I've done that, helped him on the court, off the court, working at the sponsorship level, business development. I do Mavs Foundation work. I do all the peripheral stuff. I just do Mav work. That's me. Whatever they have, that's me.
I know the history of the game. Especially from 1960, with Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, all the way throughout the years I played. I can tell you about being a star and I can tell you about getting cut, too, right at the end of your career. I can tell you all the different feelings.
I enjoy the NBA. I think it's at the best point. I came from an era where it was a front-line grind. No matter what era you're looking at, you're still watching some fantastic players. The Jordans and Kareem Abdul-Jabbars, Walt Fraziers and before that Oscar Robertson. I love watching players of today. You have every piece of the puzzle. You have some guys that can hoop.
I enjoy the value of a good track record. Try to keep yourself clean, try to keep yourself moving forward. I've been able to excel with the game. I'm a college graduate. I have a story, being an immigrant into this country. Have a chance from the ground up and put a success story together. That's important to me. I feel very proud of that. I feel proud of my mom, Gloria Blackman, who still comes to games. Feel proud that I listened to people, and the people talking to me were saying the right things.