How Antonio McDyess, Nick Van Exel showed real leadership

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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.