I saw my NBA dream clipped
LA clash stirs Copeland regrets
FOR Sydney Kings assistant coach Lanard Copeland, tomorrow’s historic pre-season clash against Los Angeles Clippers will be a bittersweet moment.
On one hand, Copeland is pumped for the Kings to play against a world-class side in a picturesque place such as Hawaii.
Conversely, seeing a Clippers singlet will also bring back memories of his last NBA game for the franchise in 1991.
“My last play was a dunk on Larry Johnson from the Charlotte Hornets but I came down and hurt my knee,” Copeland recalled, shaking his head. “I went straight into the locker room to see the doctor and the next day I didn’t train. Thankfully, they said I’d be on the injury reserve list but I’d stay at the club for the rest of the year.
“I was happy, so I called my parents to say I’m staying in the NBA but a few minutes later another coach came in and said they won’t let me do it.
“So I went from the highest of highs to a lowest of lows in 15 minutes.”
Copeland was devastated but from the frustration came another chance to continue his career, moving to The Philippines before heading to Australia in 1992.
Twenty-six years later and Copeland is considered an Australian basketball legend after a successful career in the NBL with Melbourne Tigers, Brisbane Bullets and Adelaide 36ers.
And while he’ll forever be filthy his NBA tenure was short-lived, he knows his sliding-doors moment worked out for the best. “Absolutely,” he said. “I won championships in the NBL, met my wife and had kids. It was heartbreaking to leave the Clippers but I’m happy I came to Australia.”
For all his success, Copeland has days when he wonders how long his NBA career could have lasted.
“I think that all the time,” he said. “Sometimes I lie in bed and think ‘what if I had stayed around for just one more year’.
“I’d see some guys that stayed in the CBA League and went on to play three or four years in the NBA.
“You never know what could have happened.”
Instead, Copeland has moved into coaching with the Kings.
Tomorrow morning he’ll get a chance to go to work against LA Clippers.
“I never ever thought it would happen; an Australian team playing an NBA team,” he said. “I mean, it still blows my mind.
“It will be a bit weird and emotional, but it is crazy how things work out. Now I’m coaching against the great Doc Rivers.”
Copeland also trained alongside Rivers at an Atlanta Hawks rookie camp in 1990 when he got cut by Philadelphia 76ers.
“I was working out with Doc and Dominique Wilkins every day for two or three months,” he said.
“It is crazy how things work out in life sometimes.”
Kings assistant coach Lanard Copeland and (inset) a shot from his Clippers spell. Picture:MarkDadswell