Forgotten Stars: Remembering Rodney Rogers' Impact On The Game Of Basketball

I remember taking some time and visiting a friend in Durham, North Carolina, for the first time. I lived about two hours away, and my friend who had gone to school a year earlier was there. I was visiting one of my friends who attended Duke University, and he along with everyone else kept talking about a kid still in high school and how good he was.

Seriously, it was like people telling old wives' tales about guys who were superhuman. At one point I thought the guy they were describing was eight feet tall and could jump as high as David Thompson. They kept talking so much about this kid that it started to sound suspect and hard to believe.

I was still in high school myself so I thought why in the hell would I ride all the way to Durham from my house to go see a high school kid play. It just didn’t make sense to me.

I am a skeptic, and honestly I wasn’t going to go watch a guy play high school basketball when I was on a campus full of fruitful college women, but my homie and his suitemates made me feel like this was the thing to do.

So we geared up and headed over to Hillside High School. At the time, Hillside was across the street from North Carolina Central University, which was essentially a buffer between the university and the hood. We roll up into the gym, and all I see are signs that say you are in Mr. Rogers' House.

I am not going to lie: I got caught up in the hype at this time. The visiting team was warming up, and then I heard an eruption. The Hillside Hornets came out to the sounds of Big Daddy Kane’s “Ain’t No Half Steppin” blasting. Seriously, I have never seen anyone so fired-up to watch a game. Then Rodney Rogers came out looking like he was a giant on the floor. Naturally I was like, “He is supposed to be good; he’s bigger than everyone on the floor.” But honestly, I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see.

Off the tip, he tips it to Larry “Gene” Johnson, and then he goes left and throws his hands up. They throw a lob from half court, and he threw it down with aggression. Then he grabs a rebound, gets it to the point guard, and then runs to the baseline and knocks down a midrange jump shot. Two possessions later he comes down on the break. I am expecting a dunk, and he pulls up and shoots a left-handed three pointer and it’s all net. After that, he never looked back. He kept putting on a show for the people, but he was doing it without trying to. He was really just that good.

I went back home after that weekend and everyone was expecting stories of how drunk I may have gotten or how many chicks I got with, but all I talked about was Rodney Rogers. The only people that seemed to care were the Wake Forest fans who lived in my hometown because they were excited he was coming and that they had validation that he was as good as they had heard.

Fast-forward to college, and Rodney Rogers never disappointed. Watching him at Wake Forest and watching him dominate made people start talking about a new era of power forwards. The game had guys who were tall and graceful but played on the perimeter, and the game had guys who were big who dominated the post, but the game hadn’t seen anything like Rogers, who was big enough to do both and do both well.

Putting things into perspective, Rogers was ACC Freshman of the Year over Grant Hill and his teammate Randolph Childress. Rogers was dominant and just seemed to get better every year. By 1993, he was the ACC Player of the Year and put up numbers that had the NBA begging him to submit his résumé.

Rogers entered the NBA draft and was selected eighth overall by the Denver Nuggets. I remember the summer before he went to the NBA, he was working out pretty hard and I could tell he was a different breed. Most guys about to make money shy away from hard work, but Rogers was different. He was a throwback player who always pushed himself to the limit. I remember thinking that if you want to be a professional, you have to work hard like one. That is probably why I had the senior season I had in college because I started thinking and working out like Rogers was to prepare for the bigger picture.

When Rogers got to the NBA, he was rarely called on his first season. It was as if the Nuggets didn’t really want to throw him to the wolves. You could see the frustration on his face, but honestly he looked like a man that was just waiting for his moment to shine.

When Rodney came back to the Bull City that summer, I was expecting to see a spoiled NBA superstar who was comfortable getting that guaranteed money. Instead he was in the gym working hard every day. At the time, we were sharing the same agent so I was going hard and I was trying to work as hard as he was so I could get my chance, but he wanted to be pushed. He got his bench press up and his squat level up, and then he went back to Denver to push himself with their people.

That second NBA season he got his chance, and the career took off. From then, he never looked back. His impact on the game is well-noted, and although his career may have ended before it should have, he will be remembered by many for his accomplishments on the court.

When that career was over Rogers still had funds, but he was still no stranger to hard work. He actually drove a big diesel truck and did real labor work, enjoying every minute of it. He also volunteered a lot of his time helping the youth in the Durham area.

Today, Rogers is still fighting to show people that a person can overcome odds. Rogers was a well-noted motorcycle rider in the Bull City. His love of motorcycles and ATVs is known by most. I remember when I got my motorcycle I couldn’t wait to ride with Rogers and his crew. Turns out, I only got to ride with them once before he had an accident on his dirt bike.

In 2008, Rogers was riding dirt bikes with his friends and he flipped over the handlebars and landed awkwardly. He was paralyzed from the shoulders down. This took everyone here by surprise because everyone knew that he loved riding as much as he loved playing basketball.

Rogers has been working towards getting himself back on his feet again and hopes to someday walk on his own. I am an advocate and a friend of the Rodney Rogers Foundation, and you should join in too. It just doesn’t seem right to not help out a person who gave so much to the community as Rogers did. I am also a believer that he will take those steps again as well. One day the man known as “Tree Top” will stand amongst the trees again.

Stay breezy ~ I’m Out!

13 Replies to “Forgotten Stars: Remembering Rodney Rogers' Impact On The Game Of Basketball”

  1. Man, back in the day, Rodney Rogers was off-the-damn-chain. That dude could play some basketball, and while I am guilty of not following his college exploits, I got to see him do work in the League, and he was a damn good player.

    It's crazy how small the world is and that you're cool with the brother. I'm glad to see he's doing well and doing his part to make his community a better place.

    1. Yeah man it was crazy how we met and he is such a cool dude. I remember when the strike hit and he was a little out of shape and was trying to get back into shape. He was like man I need you to push me and foul me so I can get back used to the contact of the NBA. Dude worked hard.

  2. Thanks for this article Joe. What's even worse was playing against him in football. Since I grew up in Durham we played Hillside twice a year and Rodney used to be a running back. Let that sink in for a moment. Tough hitting that DDR and he wasn't the bigger dude in their backfield. On the basketball court all I can remember is that lefty game he had. He was that big and a lefty. Could shoot from distance and could get on the blocks. We played a game in McDougal and he was coming on the break and LJ (who should have made someone's college team) dropped off a pass and Rodney dunked on little Mike (coaches son) but the worst part was his crotch was on Mike's forehead. The gym almost emptied on that one.

    All around good dude. It was sad to see what happened to him with his accident, but he's still living and that's what we're all here for.

    Whatever happened to LJ and Dre (Andre McCullum)? They were the two guards on that HS team and they were pretty good.

    1. Larry Johnson went to Murray State and played over seas for 12 years. He just came back about 5 years ago and is hooping in the area. He still kills the pro's in the summer league. When he put 41 on Iverson and then 40 on Stackhouse in back to back games everyone knew he was for real.. Best step back jump shot I have ever seen period.

      Andre McCullum is back in the bull city as well. He played college ball and went to Europe and came back and played in the D League when it started. He played for a couple of NBA teams but never stuck. He is still hooping and working out here. Getting into coaching a little and he can still play as well.

      That team was so loaded. It was a treat. They could have beat some small college teams with ease.

  3. Yo, Mr. Simmons, this is just an absolutely tremendous piece. I was a huge Rodney Rogers fan when he became a high-flyer and do it all for the Nuggets and Suns, and even appreciated him stretching the floor late in his career with the Sixers.

    Such a shame when anyone loses the use of any extremities, and it's sobering reminder about how dangerous vehicles can be and how things can be snatched away in an instant.

    Definitely make a donation to the foundation as part of your holiday experience.

    Excellent work.

  4. I remember seeing this cat play at WF and noticing how "grown" he was compared to the other cats. This was one cat who knew how to use his big body to make moves in the lane, yet nimble enough to put on a show. I forgot all about Rodney, I'm glad you posted this.

  5. I am going to try and find a pic, but you guys should have seen him in those Hillside outfits,....they didn't make them big enough for him, but I bet you dollar to donuts you weren't going to say anything to Tee Tot about it. Plus he was the biggest diesel dude in Durham.

    LJ and Dre could flat out ball.

  6. Dope piece man.. Rogers could get buckets flat out.. and he was a lefty.. so I've always been a Rogers fan.. being a lefty myself .

  7. This guy is strong...I remember watching him play years ago, he was a beast...I'm a Wizards fan, wish he'd go talk to the wizards team, those young guys need some help of what it's like to play as a team with confidence. I wish Rodney the best, I will pray for his recovery, he deserves it! God Bless!

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