When Scot Pollard joined the Sacramento Kings during the 1998-99 season, he was brought in as the team was ascending to top of the NBA.
Pollard is known for his funky hairstyles and humor, but on the court he was a solid player for the Kings, usually in reserve role behind Chris Webber and Vlade Divac.
The team went 61-21 in the 2001-02 season and came within a game of the NBA Finals (let’s be honest, that team would’ve smacked around the New Jersey Nets if they got there). Pollard started 29 games that season and averaged a career high 7.1 points and 6.4 rebounds.
The big man was traded to the Indiana Pacers before the 2003-04 season, ending his time in the city.
Pollard works as a real estate agent in Carmel, Indiana. I talked to him about his time with the Kings and playing with the best teams in the franchise’s history.
Q: You were on the NBA reserve list with the Atlanta Hawks and eventually were able to look for a new team. How did you decide on joining the Kings?
Pollard: I called me agent and asked him what to do. He said, ‘give me a couple of hours and I will figure something out.’ Four teams wanted me, Sacramento was one of them, my agent counseled me and said the Kings were probably the best fit, they have something good going on over there and had just signed some other big free agents. They had Chris Webber and Vlade, had Peja coming in, he was drafted the year before, J-Will of course. Looking back, my agent was correct, that was the best fit for me. The Hawks cut me and I joined the Kings the next night in Philadelphia the next night. I was really happy to join the team, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to stick in the NBA at that point. I thought, ‘maybe I’m not good enough.’ I didn’t fit in with Detroit and I didn’t fit in with Atlanta and they wanted to do. I wasn’t sure I was going to play. It just turned out that Chris and Vlade would get in foul trouble. Karl Malone would kick our ass. I got a shot against him and played decent and slowed him down quite a bit. You can’t completely stop superstars, you can just try to slow them down and that’s what made me an NBA player. That’s how I made my money in the NBA. Who is the big guy on the other team that is hurting us? Whether it was Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Tim Duncan, whoever. I played against my childhood idol Patrick Ewing. I was happy to be in Sacramento. I love that place. I love Sacramento to this day. I just don’t have a cause to live there, if I had a job or something there, I would jump on it and move back. It’s a great part of my career and my life, I will aways be a California guy.
Q: You guys made the playoffs that season and lost a close five-game series in the first round to the Utah Jazz. Could you see the makings of a juggernaut with that squad?
Pollard: Yeah, with the NBA or any team sport, consistency is one of the biggest factors in how successful you’re going to be. We glued and jelled well. We all really liked each other, so when pieces would leave or get traded, it would hurt, but that wasn’t in our control. We didn’t make the executive decision. So when Jon Barry or J-Will would go to another team, it would hurt. It all started with chemistry. We all enjoyed playing together and sharing the basketball. For those days, we had the ability to play more than one position. We all had our strengths, but we could all move the basketball around. We helped each other out on defense and that helped out with our chemistry. I could see great things on the horizon. We played Utah a year after they lost to Jordan and the Bulls in the NBA Finals. They were the No. 3 seed and we were No. 6 and took them the distance to five games. It was a good series and we thought we had a chance to build into something special.
Q: You guys played the Lakers in the playoffs three years in a row. What was it like being on the court during those games?
Pollard: The reason that became a rivalry was the continuity. It was basically the same guys on both teams and that is how the rivalry was born. You get to know the other players. Shaq and I didn’t talk a lot of trash to each other. I liked the guy. He was always really nice to my mom whenever he would meet her and we would talk on the court before games. We didn’t talk much to each during the game though, other than a, ‘hey man, how are you doing?’ it was more chit chat than anything. But, we would play them in the preseason, play them a bunch of times in the regular season and then you’re playing again in the playoffs. We played against them more than anyone else during my time in Sacramento. We got familiar with each other, we hated each other, we had a rivalry with them and felt, ‘hey, we are going to take these guys out.’ That 2001-02 season we though, ‘this is the year we knock them down. We are going to get there.’
Q: The team won 61 games in 2001-02, what was that season like for you guys when you were dominating the NBA?
Pollard: No team that I have ever been on, or even heard of had more fun beating the sh!t out of everyone in the league than we did. We knew it. We called it “The King Show.” During our pre-game hype up, we circle and do a dance and say, ‘whose house? Kings house, whose show? Kings show.’ Everywhere we went it was crazy. We didn’t have a Michael Jordan on our team, but we had people waiting at the hotels for us in most cities we went to. When you’re on a Michael Jordan Bulls team, or a Kobe Bryant Lakers team, you’re expecting to have a bunch of people waiting for the superstars at the hotel. Chris Webber was our biggest star, but he wasn’t Michael Jordan, even then we were having crowds waiting for us as if Shaq and Kobe were on our team. So, it was the Kings show. It wasn’t just one player on our team that drew crowds on our team. We would go to hotels and be like, ‘are you kidding me?’ we are in Minnesota and there are people at the hotel waiting for us. This is crazy. We are just the Sacramento Kings. Then, going east, playing against teams from the other conference and we would have people waiting for us pre-game in Chicago or Indiana and people are lining up asking for autographs. Especially later during my time there, I had been in the league for six or seven years, you know this isn’t normal, most teams don’t get that kind of attention. But man, that year we had a 61 win team and we loved it. We would go out and beat them up and then go out together after the game. We would go for dinner and have a good laugh about it. Then, we would go out the next night and do it again. We were together. It’s too bad we didn’t film a show or do a 30 for 30 on that year, because of all of the pranks, all of the jokes. I still have lots of memories, some I can’t share because of the brotherhood. That team, I never had so fun being an NBA player than I did that year. Winning solves a lot of problems, but when you look at the characters we had on that team, I mean come on, it was hilarious all the time. The 61 wins, it was almost easy. That was the year we thought this was it.
Q: The 2002 Western Conference Finals is one of the greatest NBA playoff series of all time. The officiating is a topic for another day, but what was it like being a part of it?
Pollard: Moving towards that playoff series, we thought we going to beat the Lakers. We beat them in the regular season, we had their number, we felt we had jelled. That rivalry was coming to a head. Multiple times fists were thrown, purses were thrown, bench clearing brawl. The familiarity brought the competitiveness. It brings a higher level of play. We were going into that series thinking, ‘we are going to take them.’ All we had to do was win our home games. We had home court advantage. Let’s sweep them if we can. We had the best crowd in the world at that point. Our Sacramento Kings fans were unmatched in the whole NBA. It was a crazy place to play. I can’t breakdown each game, because it’ll take me an hour-and-a-half, but you know that Horry shot or Game 6 and all of those strange, weird calls, we were like, ‘ok, all we have to do is win this one game.’ Honestly, we laid an egg in Game 7. There is no other way to say it. Whatever you think about that whole series, this happened or that happened, we had Game 7 at home, we had the best crowd and we laid an egg. We didn’t play up to our capabilities that game and lost that series.
Q: Looking at the style of play of that team, the way you guys shared the ball and the system Rick Adelman implemented, what was it like playing on a team like that?
Pollard: The thing that was great about Rick is that he was a players coach in the sense that he knew what the talent could do. He knew if we ran a bunch of plays it wouldn’t stifle us as players. I never had a coach encourage me to shoot as much as Rick did. My theory on that was, I would say, ‘Rick, I know I can hit that 17-footer, but I am five feet away from Peja Stojakovic, who I know is going hit the three. If he misses, I will go tip it in, because I am a better rebounder than that guy.’ Peja’s not going to set a screen for me, or anyone else in the world (laughs) we were close, we used to joke about that all the time. Good coaches lets the players play, him and [assistant coach] Pete Carril would draw up plays, Rick would put it on the whiteboard and we would go score, or at least get an excellent shot. Pete Carril was the X’s and O’s guy. We ran basic sets and we just knew each other and trusted each other so much because Rick Adelman and the assistant coaches trusted us so much. We worked on those threes. We just knew each other, especially Chris and Vlade, they had an amazing mental connection between them. We were kind of a hybrid of what it is now, where it is basically position-less basketball, but also the older style of play, where everyone did have a spot. We stayed in our spots for the most part. Chris and Vlade would step out shoot threes, I didn’t because I would rather have Peja, Mike Bibby or J-Will take it. I’m not going to jack threes, even though I could make them, but I wasn’t going to make them at the level Jon Barry or Bobby Jackson would. In my head, I am going to do what I do best, even though I could play position-less basketball, I also knew that the best way to help my team was to do what I do best. I think that was our mentality and why we could all play out of position, because we trusted each other and knew each other so well and we would help each other out if there was a part of the game that we weren’t our best at. If you’re on Peja’s side on defense, you know if he gets hit with a screen, it was like a wall for him, he’s not going to move past that screen, but you knew that, so you can help him out. I don’t mean to throw Peja under the bus, but that is just how well we knew each other. While it wasn’t exactly position-less, I believe we were kind of ahead our time as far as sharing the basketball.
Q: Your final season in Sacramento was 2002-03, you were injured for most of it, but how did you feel going through that season and what was your reaction to hearing the news that you had been traded?
Pollard: The 2001-02 season, our singular focus was to take the Lakers out and then we didn’t. So, we thought let’s retool, and we did. We came back that fall and at training camp I remember doing a jump stop and feeling something snap in my spine. I tried to play through it in camp, but I couldn’t. I actually had fractured the bottom bone in my spine. There was a lot of question marks. I got an MRI and got three different answers from three different doctors. One said I needed career-ending surgery, one said it could be cancer and one said do nothing. I went with that one, I stayed off it for four months and came back, played pretty well. We got bounced by the Mavs and then in the summer, I didn’t want to leave. I had just built a house in Sacramento and only lived in it for nine months. I went back to Kansas for my summers, like I always did to train and rest. I saw on TV that I had been traded to the Indiana Pacers. I didn’t get a phone call first. I had no idea, it was a huge letdown. Especially when you put five years of your life and your career into one organization and you get hurt, then come back and play well, then that summer, they were like, ‘man, we are going to go with someone else.’ They made the playoffs in 2003-04, but that was kind of it. As a player, you feel like you’re a piece of meat. You get traded like a pork belly on Wall Street, you don’t get to those make decisions. It certainly hurt me, there is a whole lot of things I wish I could have done and one of them is staying in Sacramento. I wanted to be there for the rest of my NBA career.
Q: What is one of your favorite off-court memory from playing with that team?
Pollard: We always had the rookies bring in donuts or whatever, Vlade was known as a prankster, he was always playing jokes on people on the plane, on the bus, it was also known back then that there was a war going on in his home country, so he usually the last one to come in because he was talking to family and making sure they were still alive because of the war. You would never know that, because he was always happy and joking around. So, he shows up late and the rookies had brought in some Krispy Kreme donuts, and before he came, we thought, ‘we are going to play a prank on Vlade.’ I grabbed a couple of the donuts and dipped them in wax, which we always had there for swollen joints because it helps with the healing process. I dipped the donuts in there and put them back in the box. Of course, Vlade comes in last and I had told everyone else, ‘avoid these two donuts,’ and those are the last two left. He comes in, grabs ones and takes a bite and we all start dying laughing and he goes, ‘what?’, and I go we dipped them in wax! He didn’t even care, he just kept eating it. He still just stuffed his face with it.
Q: You were known for your funky hairstyles, what motivated you to have a different look?
Pollard: That’s always been me. I dyed my hair for the first time in the seventh grade. I had a mohawk in seventh grade, I had a flat top in elementary school. I’ve always been a guy who kind of did things my own way. I think Roy Williams, my college coach, said it best, he said, “You do things that get attention, but I don’t do them in order to get attention.” I don’t think it was attention seeking behavior, but especially in the NBA, it was weird for someone to have a mohawk like I did with the Cavaliers. I just did my own thing.