Me vs. Chucky Atkins

by Kenny Eller on December 9, 2014

Me with former NBA great Chucky Atkins!

Me with former NBA great Chucky Atkins!

Before our third game of 1-on-1 Saturday afternoon, former NBA great Chucky Atkins told me, “My goal is to hold you under 6 points this game.”  I replied, “My goal is to get 15,” to which he shot back with one eyebrow raised, “Well, that’s not gonna happen!”

I handed him the ball, crouched down on defense and said, “You gotta dream big!”

Kenneth Lavon Atkins, better known to most as Chucky, knows all about dreaming big.  Standing just 5’11” he’s by no means a big guy by NBA standards, but he’s gigantic when it comes to heart.

Chucky grew up in Orlando, Florida and starred at Evans high school.  From there the lightly recruited point guard took his talents to the University of South Florida where he played four years and tore up the conference, averaging just over 19 points and four assists per game his senior season.

Despite his stellar career at USF, Atkins went undrafted.  He never gave up though and continued to pursue his dream of playing professional basketball, first in the CBA and then overseas for two years.

Then in 1999, his lifelong dream to play in the NBA became a reality when he signed with his hometown Orlando Magic.

Atkins would go on to play 11 seasons in the NBA (retired in 2011) with career averages of just under 10 points and 4 assists.

It was while playing for Orlando where I first met Chucky Atkins – nearly 16 years ago.

Humility and Impact – 16 Years Ago

I began interning at the local ABC affiliate in 1997, just two years into my college life.  I was set on being a sports broadcaster and spent my nights and weekends cutting my teeth in video editing bays and behind the keyboard, doing my best to make the words I typed, “Sing and Dance!” as my former mentor Glen Dehmer would often say.

Those were fun times, and I learned a lot, but the real payoff for me was getting to go to the Orlando Magic games.  It was there that I sat courtside at the game I loved and to top it off, I got to do the post game interviews with the players.

I interviewed quite a few players in my day.  One of my very favorites was Chucky Atkins.

At that time, the press was allowed to interview players in the locker room, but once a player left the locker room they were in no way obligated to speak to anyone.

Chucky Atkins had a big game for Orlando that night and for whatever reason, I was late in getting to where I needed to be.

So as I’m making my way to the locker room, Chucky is leaving.  Atkins, now out the door and walking down the hallway towards me, stopped and gracefully obliged when I asked if I could possibly interview him.

With no scope of how most players would have reacted in that situation, this story may not seem like that big of a deal.

I’ve told people that story quite a few times over the last 16 years.  While I can’t remember what I asked him, the impact made on me that day was quite large.

Here was a guy at the top of his profession.  One of the best 450 in the World.  And he was so humble.  So down to earth.  So willing to help.

When others, at times, would give one word answers and seem bothered by anyone with a mic, it was refreshing to see someone on the far opposite side of the spectrum.

I’ve been a big Chucky Atkins fan since.

An Instagram Connection Leads to a Game – 16 Years Later

As I just wrote, I’m a Chucky Atkins fan, but I also believe that his journey correlates so well with every single person who has a dream.

His is a story of triumph from someone who was overlooked more than once.

His success, the direct result of his unwavering belief in himself coupled with his tremendous work ethic.

I hadn’t spoken to Chucky since his days with the Magic, as not too long after he was traded to Detroit, my time in TV ended as well.

But this past Thursday I decided to leave him a comment on one of his Instagram pictures, explaining my want for him to be a part of this journey.

To be clear – even with our interaction above, all those years ago – Atkins had no clue who I was.

Still, by 6pm that evening we were on the phone and I was sharing my journey to play Michael Jordan with him.

After just a few minutes of listening, the same humble Chucky said that he’d be happy to help!

And with that we were set for our one-on-one battle Saturday afternoon!

Me vs. Chucky Atkins

(Video Link)

As you saw in the video, the games weren’t close.

We played four games in total and while I did my best, Chucky’s best was far better.

The scores were:  15-10, 15-6, 15-4, 15-0

The only times I scored were when he basically let me shoot.

Even with the beatings, I had a great time!

While playing Chucky Atkins, much like when I played DeShawn Stevenson, I couldn’t help but have moments where my mind was blown that I’m 1-on-1 on the court with him.  After a nice move by Chucky, I would find myself thinking – that was sweet and then snap back and think wait a minute that was against me, compete…haha!

It was very cool.

Straight Fire

At now 40 years of age, it took Atkins about a game to get warmed up (he did no shooting or stretching prior to checking the ball in).

But once he got in the groove, it was over.  You know the saying, “It’s like riding a bike”?  Well, Chucky Atkins’ bike is on fire!

This guy started pulling from everywhere.  Looking back, it was incredible to witness, even at my own expense.

Crafty and Strong

I wanted to be more physical than I had been in previous match-ups.

The first game I played up on him a bit more and used more arms, hands and body weight, but each time he’d use it against me.  So much so, that it changed my whole game plan.

He’s strong and has really large hands.  The kind that grab a ball off the court like it’s a grapefruit.  I was surprised how tough it was for me to move when he had a hand on me.  That, without a doubt, influenced what I tried to do and resulted in some not so great shot attempts at times.

Moves that Matter

A lot of guys do moves just to do moves.  Every move Chucky does has a reason.  His ability to handle the ball and quickly get into his shot was inspiring.

I kept thinking, how is this guy 40 years old and what was he like at 25!?!?

Still Quick

For all those that will leave a comment saying I should have played up on him more after watching him rain in three after three, thanks for the post game advice.

The reality is he is quick!  Really quick!

Competitive

He talks.  At times a lot.  It’s like a transformation once he’s on the court.  Competitive confidence at its peak.

A quick example.  After blasting me 15-0 in game 4, he yelled out in my direction, “That’s what you came here for right!  That’s what you came here for!”

I loved every bit of it!  It was all in good nature of course.  It actually made me feel like I did back in the day growing up playing on the local courts, except I couldn’t talk back too much to Chucky, haha!

Kind Words and Support from a Great Guy

After the games and the pictures, Chucky let me know that if there is anything else he can ever do to help, to not hesitate to reach out and ask.  He told me he really likes what I’m doing and is here to support!

To respond to an Instagram post from someone you don’t know and to then agree to play just two days later is absolutely amazing.

As my friend Andy Gebru, who knows Atkins, said when we talked about the happenings of the last couple of days, “That’s Chucky!”

Dreams + Faith + Hard Work = Chucky Atkins

When I look at Chucky Atkins, I see a lot of myself.  Not from a basketball standpoint of course, but as a dreamer and doer.

Chucky grew up, a kid dreaming of playing in the NBA, even though he really had limited exposure to the league until the Orlando Magic came to town.

He loved the game so much that he used to sneak into Magic games and at 14 years of age even made his way into the Orlando Magic practice facility while the team practiced.  He soon realized that as long as he sat there quietly, they would let him stay and watch.

With that the dreamer began to study the game he loved so much.

Chucky understood even as a young man, that if he was going to make his dream come true one day, he had to know what it took to get there.  So he sat there, watched and learned.  He would then implement the drills and moves that he saw during those practices into his own workouts.

And every time someone overlooked him, it just motivated him to work harder.

After being cut by the Vancouver Grizzles literally hours before the start of the regular season his first year out of college, Chucky became even more determined to realize his dream.

For the next four years he played and trained literally every single day.  That’s Monday through Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Most days at least six hours a day.  Some days, from the time he got up, to the time he went to bed.

“I’d go play ball.  Then I’d do some skill work.  Then I’d go to another court and play.  Then I’d lift weights and go play some more. My feet would hurt.  My knees would hurt.  But if I wasn’t doing something with a basketball, I just always felt that someone else was out there getting better,” Atkins said.

Chucky went on, “I took my first break from basketball after my rookie season with the Orlando Magic.  By the time the season ended I had tendinitis in my knees so bad that it was tough to walk.  But I was determined to realize my dream.

I asked Atkins where his internal confidence to always believe – no matter the obstacle – came from.

“That comes from my Dad.  He always told me that if I do the work, the rest will take care of itself.  A lot of people say I’m cocky, but I don’t see it that way.  I just don’t see anything wrong with believing in your abilities.  I know the work I’ve put in, so why not be confident,” he said.

In a phone call Sunday night he shared, “Just like people have told you that your dream will never happen, but now look what’s happened and you’re over four years in.  So many people told me I’d never play in the NBA, and I ended up playing 11 seasons.  I always believed, no matter what.

“And if I had a dime for every time someone said I was too short to play in the NBA, I’d be Mark Cuban right now,” said Atkins.

Still Dreaming Big

After spending the last couple of seasons coaching Evans, his former high school, I asked Chucky what he has planned next.

“Coaching at the collegiate or professional level.  I’ve had some discussions with coaches and teams,” he replied.

Loving what I heard I told him, “So you’re still dreaming big.”

Enthusiastically, he quickly responded, “Absolutely!  Got to.  I’ve got a lot still left to accomplish.  A whole lot.

I couldn’t agree more.

Chucky Atkins is a special guy.  One that I’m happy to now call my friend and supporter!

mevsMJ.com…the journey continues!

Thank You!

Again, thank you so much Chucky Atkins for believing in and supporting my dream!  I greatly appreciate you!  Your kindness and willingness to help inspires me!

Chucky Atkins, Avery Brown, Anthony Brown and Me

Chucky Atkins, Avery Brown, Anthony Brown and Kenny Eller

Also, I must thank my guys Avery and Anthony Brown for capturing all of the great video of our games.  You are great young men, my little brothers and I’m thankful for you.

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If you’re new here, I set out in August 2010 to get a game of 1-on-1 vs. my childhood hero Michael Jordan.  This site is about that journey…through every valley, to every mountain top of triumph!

Anything Is Possible with Faith & Hard Work!

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Connect: Twitter (@KennyEller) and mevsMJ.com Facebook Page.

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