Former Marietta High School standout on what a former NBA superstar does for his second act
Dale Ellis in the Marietta Blue Devils locker room.
Dale Ellis knew early on. He knew that whenever he had a basketball in his hands, good things could happen. So he pushed himself. He took the rock, as they say, and pushed himself from the playgrounds and courts in Marietta, to the University of Tennessee and on into the NBA. The game would become his destiny – his salvation in the face of every non-believer and obstacle life would place in his path. Sometime during his sophomore year at Marietta High School, Ellis dared to dream where the game could take him. The dribbling and passing and shooting came easy. So he took his talents to Knoxville, where as a Vol he would become the school’s all-time field goal percentage leader and sixth all-time scorer. He was a two-time All-American (‘82, ‘83) and a three time All-SEC performer (‘81, ‘82 and ‘83). Twice he was named the SEC Player of the Year (‘82, ‘83). He was a member of the 1982 SEC Championship team. And there was the shot. In his first NCAA Tournament game against VCU, Ellis hit the winning jumper in overtime. The shot, Ellis would admit later, actually was his validation. From that moment on, the dream became real. The Dallas Mavericks took Ellis with the ninth overall pick in the 1983 NBA Draft. But with a team featuring the likes of NBA stars such as Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper, Ellis had to settle for being the ninth man. So the Mavericks shipped him off to the Seattle Supersonics (now the Oklahoma Thunder) in 1986, where he responded by being named the league’s Most Improved Player. He scored 27.5 PPG, an NBA record 17-plus points improvement. He would finish eighth in scoring that year and help lead the Sonics to the Western Conference Finals, where they eventually lost to the Los Angeles Lakers. Ellis’ 25.2 PPG during the postseason lead the team. For 17 years, Ellis arguably was one of the premier three-point shooters in the history of the league. His picture-perfect release landed him in the NBA record books, where he holds, among other records, the distinction of being the first player in league history to hit 1,000 3-pointers. He ranks 24th all-time in 3-point percentage at 40.3 percent. “I told myself early on that I would be one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” Ellis says. “It was a dream come true. I had teammates, good NBA players, who sacrificed their games to get me the ball. That was my job – to shoot.” Ellis smiles when he recalls a game in his fourth year when head coach Bernie Bickerstaff ask him to sit by him on the bench. “He told me that I could either start shooting the ball or I could sit next to him and watch the game every night with him. So I started taking my shots.” At 52, Dale Ellis still trains as if his NBA career depended on it. He works out five days a week with a regimen that includes push-ups, sit-ups and crunches, and at least 100 miles per week (20 miles a day) on a bike (a routine he supplements with trail running). “If you work your body, you work your mind,” Ellis says. “When I work out, it puts me in a good place. When I was kid and I had any kind of problems, whether it was in school or at home, wherever, playing basketball took me away for a bit. It helped me refocus. That’s what exercise does for me today.” Upon retirement, Ellis traveled the world as an ambassador of the game. For 12 years, he visited places such as Asia, Europe and South America. He spent time in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait visiting the troops. Today, as president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA), he helps the more than 140 retired players who live in the Atlanta area make that transition from the court to life after the game. “You spend your whole life doing one thing, so it’s a real big transition. I know what is what like. The game is all you know. And then comes the reality of, ‘What do I do now?’ It’s hard.” Partnering with Olympic track & field athletes Mel Pinder and Kevin Young, and Olympic hoops star Debbie Miller, he also is working with kids through a summer camp program, something he did a lot of during his playing days. “We’re teaching them simple life skills to complement their athletic skills. We tell them that it’s okay to reach for the stars when it comes to athletics, but the most important thing is education.” Ellis recently moved back into the home he bought 25 years ago off Dallas Highway to help take care of mother, who suffers from diabetes. Of all his accomplishments, it is the one he’s most proud of. “I’m just happy that I can be there for her. She did so much for me.” And there’s Dale Jr., his two-year old son, who Ellis says is helping keep him forever young. He also has three grown children: Nicholas, 32, Christian, 28, and Ashley, 27. Whether it’s his family, or the NBA players and kids he works with, Dale Ellis offers the same advice. “Figure out what it is you want to do with your life and do it. Reach for the highest level, because if you don’t make it, you’ll always find something in between that is rewarding.”
Dale Ellis on …
Best High School Moment – Shooting around with Marietta Coach Charlie Hood at practice Best NCAA Moment – Overtime shot to beat VCU in his first NCAA Tournament game Best NBA Moment – Beating the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 1986 playoffs – the team that drafted him Best NBA Player You Played Against – Michael Jordan Best NBA Teams You Played Against – Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics Favorite NBA Player Growing Up – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Los Angels Lakers) Best Coaches You Played For – Charlie Hood (Marietta High School) and Bernie Bickerstaff (Seattle Supersonics) Best Advice You Ever Received – Visualize the ball going into the basket and believe that it will every time you shoot Favorite Thing to do in Cobb County – Play golf at the City Club in Powder Springs with Charlie Hood (former high school coach), Rupert Raines (his godfather and former assistant police chief for City of Marietta, and Ray Broadway, executive director Georgia Athletic Coaches Association)
Dale Ellis Bio
High School: Marietta High School College: University of Tennessee (two-time All-American); named to Vols’ All-Century Team NBA Draft: Dallas Mavericks, 1st round (9th pick, 9th overall), 1983 NBA Draft NBA Debut: October 29, 1983 NBA Career: Played 17 years for Dallas, Seattle Supersonics (now Oklahoma Thunder), Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte Hornets NBA Stats: Played in 1,209 games with a career averages of 15.7 PPG, 3.5 rebounds per game, a .479 field goal percentage and a .403 three point field goal percentage; first player in league history to hit 1,000 3-pointers; ranked 24th all time in 3-point percentage at 40.3 percent Stat You Should Know: Holds NBA record for most minutes played in a single game – 53 in 69 minutes (out of a possible 73) for the SuperSonics in a 155-154 loss to the Bucks in five overtimes on Nov. 9, 1989