Chucky Atkins had to fight for everything throughout his 10-year NBA career. The only thing given to him was an opportunity, a chance former Orlando coach Doc Rivers gave him prior to the 1999-2000 season to show the NBA world it had made a mistake.
"He must have seen something in me that nobody else did,” said Atkins, the newest member of the Thunder after Wednesday’s trade from Denver that sent reserve center Johan Petro to the Nuggets.
Atkins went undrafted out of South Florida in 1996, overshadowed by a star-studded class that included guards Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Kerry Kittles and Tony Delk.
But Atkins was also passed over in the second round for the likes of Ben Davis, Joseph Blair and Reggie Geary, three Arizona teammates who combined to score only 263 points in the NBA.
"I thought I was one of the better guards coming out of the 1996 draft,” Atkins said Friday. "And for some odd reason I just didn’t get drafted. I could have easily given up and gave up the game of basketball, but I kept striving and fighting to try to make it.”
Atkins’ pursuit began with the La Crosse Bobcats of the Continental Basketball Association in La Crosse, Wis., population 52,000. He then migrated to Croatia — a country Atkins now admits he couldn’t locate on a map before his departure — to play two seasons with Cibona Zagreb from 1997-99.
Then came the call from Rivers.
"Not only did he give me the opportunity, he was like, ‘I didn’t bring you on this team to have you sit on the bench. I’m going to give you the ball and let you do your thing,’ ” Atkins remembered. "And fortunately for me he did that.”
Atkins played all 82 games during the 1999-00 season and averaged 9.5 points and 3.7 assists in only 19.8 minutes per game.