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How Antonio McDyess, Nick Van Exel showed real leadership

Nov 3, 2011, 2:57 PM EDT

a_vanexel_ht AP

If you get the chance ESPN Films’ Unguarded, the story of Chris Herren and how he battled drug use throughout his college and brief NBA career. It’s compelling.

But among the stories lost in the waves drugs can be how, during Herren’s time with the Nuggets veterans Antonio McDyess and Nick Van Exel went farther to stop his use and turn him around than any coach or family member had before.

Tom Ziller describes it well at SBN:

Other than those who ran the treatment center that helped Herren turn his life around, the only people mentioned in Unguarded who actually kept Herren from destroying himself were Antonio McDyess and Nick Van Exel, veterans on the Nuggets team that drafted the guard. During training camp, McDyess and Van Exel pulled Herren aside and told him that they knew all about his struggles with addiction, and that he wouldn’t be partying at all that season. Every night, he would be checking in with them, and when the Nuggets were on the road, he would be joining them for dinner instead of going out drinking.

And it apparently worked. McDyess and Van Exel did what no coach, no family member, no friend, no mentor had been able to do for Herren: they held him accountable. When the Nuggets sent Herren to the Celtics, that support system was gone and Herren reverted.

That is veteran leadership. We often oversell what that leadership can mean on the court, especially because it’s not something you can easily quantify. But it does matter. On the court, and sometimes more importantly off. And if Herren had run into guys like McDyess and Van Exel earlier or more often, this might have been a very different story.

  1. sonofsambowie - Nov 3, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    For the record, Herren has said that George McCloud was in fact the one who gave him this speech, and was the leader of the group than included McDyess and Nick,

    • sonofsambowie - Nov 3, 2011 at 5:47 PM

      Why are people giving the thumbs down to a factual statement?

  2. edmazeing1 - Nov 3, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    Its a shame Van Exel was not able to help his son!!!

  3. cosanostra71 - Nov 3, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    not going to lie, Van Exel doing this surprised me. He never seemed like much of a leader when he was with the Lakers.

    • jrhall888 - Nov 3, 2011 at 5:57 PM

      People grow and mature throughout their lives, and I’m sure the same can be said for Van Exel. Early in his career when he played with the Lakers, he may not have been as mature or as much of a leader, but later with Denver that could have changed. As far as his relationship with his son goes, sometimes the people we listen to least are the people closest to us- especially our parents.

      • cosanostra71 - Nov 3, 2011 at 8:50 PM

        I didn’t mean it in a negative way. I’m glad to see he grew. He was always one of my favorite players in the NBA. My number one memory though is him shoving the ref into the scorer’s table and having to be restrained by Magic (I believe). Not exactly leadership at its finest!

      • cosanostra71 - Nov 3, 2011 at 8:52 PM

        and for the whole son thing, I did not know about that until just now. That is unfortunate. One young man’s life lost, another’s forever altered as well. Nothing good there.

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