Tuesday, October 03, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Joe Kleine talks shop to Panther foundation

Leader staff writer

Retired NBA basketball player and former Arkansas Razorback Joe Kleine of Little Rock was the guest speaker of the Cabot Panther Foundation Cabot Schools Hall of Fame banquet last week.

Born in Colorado Springs, Col., Kleine settled in Little Rock once his NBA career was over. After retiring from the NBA he was an assistant coach at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock from 2007-2015. He coaches AAU basketball and is a volunteer assistant basketball coach at the Little Rock Catholic High School.

Kleine went to high school in Slater, Mo. He played at Norte Dame the 1980-81 season before transferring to the University of Arkansas and playing from 1982-1985. He ranks sixth on the Razorbacks’ all-time scoring list with 1,753 points. He won a gold medal on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team in Los Angeles coached by Bobby Knight.

Kleine played 15 years in the NBA as a center from 1985 to 2000. He was drafted sixth overall in the 1985 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings.

Kleine was member of the 1997-98 NBA Champion Chicago Bulls team with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.

During his career he played for the Portland Trailblazers, the Phoenix Suns, the Chicago Bulls, the New Jersey Nets, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics and the Sacramento Kings. Kleine scored 4,666 total points and had 3,991 rebounds.

Kleine also is co-owner of Corky’s Ribs and BBQ locations in Little Rock and North Little Rock, which was served at the Cabot Hall of Fame banquet.

Honored were Ronnie Abshure, Joseph Gunter, Larry Rogers, Brenda Shurley and Mike Verkler.

“Events like these bring out how important community is. Honoring these people and the accomplishments they made is outstanding. When you think of Hall of Fame you think of sports, and that’s the furthest thing. The help they did made the city of Cabot better, made the school system better and made Arkansas better,” Kleine said.

He said when a person is inducted into a Hall of Fame they think about how lucky they were and the people who helped get to the places they are today.

“You have to work as a team. Sometimes you get a lot of the credit and sometimes the blame. The best part is the journey and the people,” he said.

Kleine spoke about the importance of the Cabot Panther Foundation and the support it gives to education, athletics and other activities to promote education.

“When I was in high school our foundation were 10 guys following the bus to the games. One night we were playing in Paris, Mo. I’m a junior and I look in my bag in the locker room and I don’t have my shoes. I wear size 16,” he said.

“We were playing a big game and told my coach. One of the supporters goes out.

I sit on the bench the first quarter in socked feet. He comes back with some shoes. It was a size 16 box, but it’s a size 14 shoe,” Kleine said.

“I got my feet in those shoes. I played the whole game like that. We won, but I never forgot my shoes after that,” Kleine said.

Kleine talked about how athletics teaches toughness and adversity.

“I remember the first time with Sacramento we played the Lakers. I watched Kareem Abdul-Jabbar run up the floor. I’m sitting there thinking what I’m going to do with this guy,” he said.

Kleine continued, “He shot a hook and I’m looking at his bellybutton. Coach is yelling at me. Years later (Celtics teammate) Robert Parish would look at you and say ‘There ain’t nothing you can do with that. Just take it like a man’.”

“In the NBA you don’t know what faith is until you’re sitting there and check in the game. You have Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon, and the next night you fly to New York and have Patrick Ewing,” Kleine said.

“Dear Lord, please give me someone similar to me. You got tested every night,” he said.

“You had to rise up and fight (Ewing) him. Some nights you got him and some nights he scored 58 points.

“I was grabbing him, biting, stepping on his foot. I was trying to foul out of the game that’s back when they wouldn’t call a foul. The way they call the game now, I’d be gone in 30 seconds,” Kleine said.

“The greatest moments of my life was standing in the huddle at Hofheinz Pavilion (University of Houston). They were screaming at us and it’s just the 12 of us in there and you look at each other and say Let’s Go,” Kleine said.

“In Philadelphia when we were pulling inside the tunnel of the Spectrum (arena). You heard thumping. It’s them throwing pennies and quarters and other things at the bus. Then you beat their butt and on the way out you’re waving at it. That’s the greatest thing,” he said.

The hardest thing in sports and in life is to make somebody better. To be a true superstar in sports, make somebody on the team better.

“Larry Bird made me better because they went to guard him; I got to stand at the free-throw line wide open shooting 15-footers because they didn’t want (Bird) to shoot.

“Robert Parish made me better because a guy beat me and (Parish) blocked the guy’s shot.

Playing with guys who could give you a pass and all you had to do was lay it in. It made it so much easier,” Kleine said.