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.