AARON McKIE walked the floor at the Liacouras Center on Temple's campus about 90 minutes before a game recently and helped direct the team through pregame warmups. The 44-year-old has the same athletic body that carried him through three years under coach John Chaney with the Owls and 13 more seasons in the NBA, including the magical Finals run with the 76ers in 2001. He strides across the floor on the campus where he was a king back in the early 1990s and softly instructs players through their pregame routines. McKie's is a quiet voice, but one that demands respect.
Toward the end of the pregame routine, fans started entering through the doors of the arena on North Broad Street. Two teenagers pass near the Temple team and McKie. One says to the other, "See that guy," pointing to McKie, "He's best friends with Allen Iverson."
McKie, who honed his game all over the city at various playgrounds and rec centers, played for legendary coaches Bill Ellerbee at Simon Gratz and Chaney at Temple before his NBA career, which encompassed close to 800 games. He was an assistant with the Sixers for six seasons and now is on the bench at his alma mater for his third year. Allen Iverson's mentor is as happy as ever.
Three years McKie's senior, Doug Overton was an NBA vagabond for 11 seasons while suiting up for eight teams. Like McKie, Overton began his basketball education on the streets of Philly, played with Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers at Dobbins Tech where they captured the Public League title in 1985. He moved on to La Salle and paired with Lionel Simmons to form one of the best basketball runs ever both at 20th and Olney and in the Big 5. Last May, Overton was named head coach at Lincoln University. While his NBA basketball life consisted of chartered flights and five-star hotels, Overton now finds himself taking long bus rides for games, such as Wednesday's six-plus hours to Fayetteville State University.
"There's no place I'd rather be," Overton said.
McKie and Overton are two branches of the always expanding tree of local players who absorbed all this city has to offer in basketball education, took their talents to the highest of levels because of it and now feel obligated to share their lessons in the sport and in life.
"Everything I learned playing in the streets of Philly continues to guide me though my basketball career, whether it was playing or now in coaching," McKie said. "Back then, you went to the playgrounds, waited your turn and if you lost, you sat. You learned that winning meant playing team ball, learning the fundamentals. AAU ball wasn't prevalent, so it wasn't about the individual, it was all about the fundamentals.
"That's where I learned to be the player that I was, which was a team player. I had a good run in the NBA, because I was a guy that wouldn't hurt the team, could be relied on to do a bit of everything. It goes back to playing on the streets. It was all about winning and losing. When you won in pickup games, you played. When you lost, you sat. I love the game. That's how I grew up playing it. Now, kids play so many games (AAU tournaments and the like) that wins and losses don't factor in as much. I want to teach what I learned. Not just basketball. I came from that urban life, like many of the kids I recruit. I want them to learn, like I did, that there is so much more to bring to life than just basketball."
After his assistant coaching duties ended with the Sixers and before his stint at Temple began, McKie analyzed Sixers games for Comcast SportsNet. Overton is doing the same, double-dipping just to be around the game he loves as much as possible.
"The knowledge that you get from just growing up playing basketball in this city is unbelievable," said Overton, 47, whose NBA career included 499 games. "The coaching comes from what we received when we were growing up. John Hardnett and what he did for us; he first introduced me to Sonny Hill back when I was 11, when I saw my first Palestra game. They had such an impact on my life. Then learning more from Rich Yankowitz at Dobbins. It was a basketball family. All those coaches were legends. Coach Chaney would stop me and tell me something, and I didn't even play for him.
"You go around the city and talk hoops and write down plays on napkins. So coaching, to me, is a natural. I can't just sit around and sell real estate. More to it, I want to give back and teach the fundamentals. I want to share the experience of bus rides at La Salle with L-Train and Bobby (Johnson) while being coached by Speedy (Morris). We played for great guys and great minds. Those coaches are geniuses who taught us the game. It's like we owe it to them to keep it going. We would be selfish if we didn't. We have to do this.
"You get a master's in basketball growing up in Philly. I think it would be selfish not to share the knowledge and experience. Playing in the Big 5 and going to games, that never changes how you go about it. I don't think we would have gotten anywhere without the guys that came before us."
Now both McKie and Overton are looking to become those "guys that came before us" to the kids they are now teaching. They fully feel the responsibility of passing down the lessons passed down by Hardnett, Ellerbee and Yankowitz. By Chaney, Morris and Hill and the scores of other Philadelphia basketball professors who have helped form their basketball minds.
"Nothing really changes with the game of basketball," McKie said. "It evolves and expands, it's global and worldwide, but dribbling, passing, shooting and defense are still the same. My coaches taught me to think the game. Obviously, on this level, guys have the talent. What holds them back is ability to think. I try to teach guys to think the game."
Said Overton: "There is something that's calling me at this level. I'm like a professor of basketball. It takes you back to the days that you had. Four years at college take you to the best time of your life. I just told my guys that I could be selling real estate with my wife or go to Florida with L-Train. But there is nowhere else I'd rather be.
"To watch kids get a degree and for me to be a part of that, I love it. I want them to appreciate these trips, these times. I want to teach them how to do it and share some of the great experiences I had. This is a Division II school, so the NBA probably isn't something in the future. But there's so much more to basketball than that."
For McKie and Overton, the NBA was a reality. They lived the dream, got paid handsomely, played for a long time in the best basketball league in the world. While losing sight of where it all began could have been just as real, neither let that happen. Not for a minute on the court during their playing days and not for a second now that they are giving back, never losing sight of the realities of what they taught.
"I don't sell dreams," McKie said, "I preach reality."
"This is grass roots," Overton said. "I'm just looking forward to teaching about life, on and off the court."
Philadelphia has made both uniquely qualified.