The average NBA player’s career lasts less than five years. Tim Legler’s lasted an impressive 10. Impressive because coming out of La Salle University, Legler went undrafted and divided his time between 10-day contracts and playing overseas until he finally got a chance to show his stuff in Dallas toward the end of 1993. All told, he wore six different uniforms, won the 1996 Three-Point Shootout at the All-Star Game, and ranks as the fourth-highest three-point shooter in league history. Yet Legler is adamant that had he not blown out his knee, he would have gone on to cement a bigger presence in basketball lore. “I still had four to five years to go … my resume and legacy would have been greater,” he says. Not interested in sitting idly by, Legler used his early retirement to obtain a master’s degree from Wharton and is currently enjoying his 11th year as an ESPN analyst. He’s also a devoted fan of South Jersey, having spent time here since his college days, and he currently owns a house down the Shore and lives in Mullica Hill with his wife Christina, a former Eagles cheerleader, and his two children from a previous marriage. For the fifth summer in a row, Legler will run a youth basketball camp in mid-July (see TimLeglerBasketballCamp.com or call (856) 223-1322 for details). We talked with the man known as “Legs” about his camp, life at ESPN and why a Virginia boy found a home in South Jersey.
SOUTH JERSEY MAGAZINE: How does a Southern boy wind up in Mullica Hill?
TIM LEGLER: I have friends that have lived in that area for years… I got divorced 10 years ago. When I met my [second] wife, we were both living in the city [and] talking about moving somewhere close. I don’t think there’s a better place to live.
I have two kids from my first marriage and they live year round in Stone Harbor. I have a house in Cape May Courthouse, so for the last 10 years spending half my week down there, that kept me anchored in this area to start with. Just the fact that I went to La Salle and all my friends are in this area, then I got my master’s at Wharton when I retired from the NBA and made a whole other set of friends … it’s where my roots are. I grew up in Virginia, but I’ve been here ever since.
SJM: What can you tell me about your camp this summer?
TL: Once I moved into the Mullica Hill area and knew I was going to be there for a long time, we started the camp. This is my fifth year; the prior four were at Kingsway [Regional High School], but this year I decided to relocate the camp to the Gloucester County Institute of Technology. It’s for ages 8 to 16 and boys and girls compete together.
SJM: I know you also coach your kids in AAU. How do you like teaching the game to the next generation?
TL: I can honestly tell you, since age 12, my entire life has been built around basketball and it’s probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever been a part of. I would love to just go coach some local high school near me, whether it’s young men or young women. I was very lucky to have a high school basketball coach in Richmond, and if I was ever good enough to be elected to the hall of fame, he would have done my induction speech for the impact he had on my life—all the things he taught me, the work ethic and everything else, I want to pass along. I love coaching, teaching … every time I talk, even in broadcasting, I want to educate about the game.
SJM: Is it tough being a former pro dealing with your kids? How tough are you on them?
TL: There was a time that I definitely questioned myself, not that I was hard on them; I’m very supportive, but I’m demanding and intense and really passionate about basketball. I make them want to play harder, I feel I inspire them. Now that they’re 13 and 16, they can adapt a lot quicker. It makes the practice so much better.
SJM: A quick Sixers question: Do you think the team has taken another step forward this season?
TL: I think they’ve been a great story all year. What’s happening now is they are starting to feel the effects of not having the consistency of a guy who gets 20 [points] every night. It’s hard to win against NBA competition that way.
SJM: You didn’t land in the NBA right away. Did doubt ever creep in or did that experience serve as motivation to keep plugging away to make the league?
TL: I never ever doubted that I was good enough to play in the NBA and make a mark. What I doubted was if I was ever going to get to play and grow … getting cut, going to Europe, back to the CBA, bounding around, you start to realize there’s a lot more that goes into it than being able to play. You need the opportunity; it takes a while. For me, my big break came going to Dallas on a bad team … I came in the last 30 games. They told me from the very first day, “Listen, we are going to play you, we need some guys who can shoot and are smart players.” Do you know what a relief that it is? I played the rest of that year, the next year, and then had my best year in the ’95-’96 season. The next year, two games into the season, I blew my knew out, tore three ligaments, tore my knee cap. That was rough, I was 29, I finally made it, I was second in the league in Sixth Man of the Year voting … it just got taken out from under you. I came back nine months later, but the next three years were a struggle. I couldn’t get open as well … it wore on my mind and I retired.
SJM: Now you’re at ESPN and doing some radio work. Was making the transition to broadcasting something you always envisioned doing?
TL: I never had any ideas to do it. I went to Wharton to meet some really brilliant guys and get involved in something and start an entrepreneurship. A few months to go in the program, I got a call from ESPN. I auditioned and I really liked it, but I didn’t know if I’d be any good at it. Now, I’m the longest tenured studio analyst for basketball.
SJM: You’ve never been afraid to go after players, so you’re not just a cheerleader for the league. Is that important for you to be able to remain objective?
TL: It’s the only way I could have gotten the job in the first place. I was a breakthrough guy for [ESPN]. They went after all stars, high profile names; here I was a role player. I don’t bury guys, I’m respectful, I can appreciate it, but at the same time, when it comes to selfishness and coachability, I have no problems calling guys out. I have no bias, I just say it like it is, positive or negative.
SJM: Do you ever think you’ll get into coaching at a higher level, either college or the pros?
TL: Definitely; it’s something I feel like if I don’t at some point coach a college program, I would have left something out there on the table. I feel like it’s my natural calling to teach the game, and inspire. Do I envision going to coach Kentucky and Syracuse? No. But I think about taking a team that’s underachieving and turning them into a conference powerhouse, developing teams that work together. That’s what I would love to do one day. [But] it’s tough to leave ESPN.
SJM: You’re obviously a basketball junkie, but what other interests do you have?
TL: I love to play golf. I taught my wife how to play a few years ago and it was honestly one of the best things I did. Now it’s one more thing we can do together. We’ll go snowboarding, but mostly what I look forward to is spending as much time as possible with the kids. [Christina and I] have talked about pretty soon starting our own family. I’ll be one of those guys with a 16-year-old, a 13-year-old and an infant.
SJM: Sounds like a TV show!
TL: Yeah, Modern Family, right?
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 2 (May, 2012).
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