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February 05, 2003

Outtakes with Wally Szczerbiak

Dan Patrick hoists some 3s with Wally Szczerbiak

UNCUT OUTTAKES: A condensed version of Dan Patrick's interview with Minnesota Timberwolves guard Wally Szczerbiak appears in the Jan. 20 edition of ESPN The Magazine

Wally Szczerbiak
Who's the best pro athlete in Minnesota? Szczerbiak says he's biased: It's him or Kevin Garnett.
DP: By the way, what is the nickname of your alma mater, Miami of Ohio? The red...
WS: RedHawks.
DP: What exactly is a redhawk?
WS: I don't know. A red bird. That's as much as I know. We used to be the Redskins, but we changed that after my sophomore year.
DP: You went politically correct?
WS: Yes, exactly. Hey, ESPN's NBA commercial turned out great.
DP: Oh, I thought those were funny.
WS: They were hilarious. Everyone loved them.
DP: I've got to give the commissioner credit. He's a good sport about that stuff.
WS: Yes, he is. He sure is. He did a good job on it, too.
DP: Oh, yes.
WS: Having him in the line afterwards, that was great.

DP: Does anyone call you Walter?
WS: Uh, no. That's my dad's name. My dad will call me Walter once in a while when he's mad at me.
DP: So your mom never gives you that Walter when she's angry?
WS: No, normally not.

DP: Could [T-Wolves GM] Kevin McHale still score in the NBA?
WS: Oh, definitely. There's no question about that. I think he still probably has one of the biggest wingspans of all time with his long arms.
DP: But how would you rate that body?
WS: Very long, that's all I'll say.

DP: Give me your personal Wally World. Place, weather, food, music -- what is Wally World, in your mind, that would be ideal?
WS: The place would have to be in Las Vegas ... like a house in Las Vegas close to the strip, with a lot of fun stuff to do around there. It would have to have a golf course right on the premises so I could take all my friends out.
DP: Music?
WS: I'm just into any new music that's out. I'd have a billboard of top-chart hits and anything on the radio, stuff like that.
DP: You've got to give me a "for example" on that.
WS: Let's see ... I like Creed a lot, so I'll be playing some of that. I like JB a lot, Ludicrous, all that type of stuff.
DP: What about the people who would be there, aside from regular friends. Anybody else?
WS: Well, there was just an article in the paper here, in the Star Tribune here in Minneapolis. My posse consists of my brother, my sister, my mom and my dad, my wife and my two dogs. That's my posse, so...
DP: That's not an intimidating posse.
WS: No, not at all, and that's how I like it. I'm still close to all my friends from Miami of Ohio, so I would definitely have them there.

DP: You were born in Madrid, Spain. What do you remember about it?
WS: I remember going to games and sucking on lollipops pretty much the whole game because I wasn't really old enough to watch the game. And I remember the stories about a cloud of smoke being above the court because all the people went to the concession areas to smoke their cigarettes and then the smoke would come in -- it was like a little mushroom cloud that hung over the court. I always remember that.
DP: Could you play for Spain in the Olympics?
WS: No, I can't, now that I play for the USA team.
DP: But you could have?
WS: Yes, I could have, and it wasn't until I played in the Goodwill Games -- I think it was my junior year in college -- that I gave that up.

DP: Favorite WNBA player?
WS: I gotta say Sue Bird, because she was nice enough to mention me in her Outtakes.
DP: Yes, but she didn't like you for your game. She wanted to see you in Playgirl.
WS: I mean that I like to see my fellow Long Islanders do well. She grew up 10 minutes away from where I grew up, so it's nice to see someone from that sector of the northern part of Long Island doing well. I just think she's a great player. She plays the game for fun. And, you know, I'm a married guy so...
DP: I can actually hear the blood rushing to your face.

DP: Is there an unappreciated part of Kevin Garnett's game? DP: His desire to win and his desire to play and practice hard every single day he steps out on the floor. His competitiveness is just incredible every time -- anything he does, he wants to compete. Any practice drill he does, he's competing. That's what you need to be great in the NBA, and he's really passed that on to me.

DP: Would you have voted for Jesse Ventura for governor?
WS: Definitely.
DP: Why?
WS: He yells at the same referees I would -- that's one reason. I just think he's a cutting-edge guy ... if he needs advice as far as political stuff, you can surround yourself with cabinet members who can advise you well. But as far as a person who people can rally around, who better?

DP: What would you not want to do for a living?
WS: Probably be a stockbroker and wake up at, like, 4:45 in the morning, be on the train at 5:30 in the morning and not get home till 6:30. A lot of people did that where I grew up in New York. They were on the Long Island Railroad and waking up real early and putting in their time at work and sure, they're successful and all, but that just wouldn't be my idea of a fun life.

DP: Give me one guy in the league who's better than you thought.
WS: Hmm, let's see ... I think Jason Kidd and all that he's accomplished, especially last year as far as he took the New Jersey Nets. I never expected him to do that, and I just think it's a tribute to not only his skills and his abilities on the floor but also his ability to make his teammates around him better.

DP: Who's the best pro athlete in Minnesota?
WS: Any sport?
DP: Yes.
WS: That's up for much debate. I'm biased towards our team, so I'd have to say either myself or Kevin Garnett.
DP: What about Randy Moss?
WS: Yes, he's a very good athlete, but...
DP: What about Torii Hunter?
WS: Yes, he's very good too. I didn't follow the Twins as much, though.
DP: You just pissed off Randy Moss.
WS: Oh, well.
DP: Well, stand in line.
WS: I don't think I'm the first.

Wally Szczerbiak
Szczerbiak says that Kevin Garnett has helped teach him to play with desire every play, every day.
DP: Would you change the Timberwolves' uniform if you had the chance?
WS: No, I think we have great uniforms. I really do.
DP: If you had a chance to change them, you wouldn't do anything different?
WS: Maybe they could make a slight little design change, but I think we're in the top 20 or 25 percent as far as uniforms in the NBA. I think they've done a great job. My favorites are the teal ones. A lot of people don't seem to like the teal ones, but I think they're great uniforms. I really do.

DP: Do your looks ever work against you when you're on the basketball floor? Do guys mess with you about your looks?
WS: Yes, they always do.
DP: Give me some lines that you hear.
WS: Sometimes they call me a "choir boy" or "pretty boy" -- but that gives me extra motivation to work hard. ... Then when we're sitting on the bench, all the guys will be teasing me, like, "look, all the girls are trying to get your attention." And I'll just say, "whatever, whatever." And I just go about my business.
DP: Yes, but who calls you choir boy or pretty boy? When's the last time you heard that?
WS: NBA players are always joking with each other, so...
DP: Well, this is the opposition though, isn't it?
WS: No, I was talking about teammates. DP: Teammates call you pretty boy and choir boy?
WS: Right.
DP: Yes, but that's not a compliment.
WS: I don't care. I mean, I call my teammates ... let's see, sometimes we call different guys different names and, you know, it's not always a compliment. It's just how NBA players are. They try and get under each other's skin.

DP: Best nickname on the team?
WS: We have some good ones. Marc Jackson is Big Jack. I would have to say the best is the Big Ticket, Kevin Garnett. Wait, Felipe Lopez has a good one: Papi.
DP: The Spanish connection, huh? You guys are wildly creative there.
WS: Yes, we're creative.

DP: What does Szczerbiak translate into in another language?
WS: I don't know ... it doesn't translate into anything, as far as I know.
DP: It doesn't mean "gunner" or anything like that?
WS: No.
DP: "Man who likes to shoot"?
WS: No.

DP: A favorite TV show.
WS: "Sopranos."
DP: And is there a character you can identify with?
WS: Not really. I'm not like any characters in that show, but obviously I like Tony the best.
DP: What about a TV show that you're not proud to admit that you watch all the time or you used to watch all the time.
WS: Maybe wrestling, like "Monday Raw." I'm into that stuff.
DP: You are?
WS: Oh yes. Big-time.
DP: And who's your favorite wrestler.
WS: My favorite wrestler? Goldberg, although he hasn't been around for awhile, but I'm hoping he comes back one of these days.
DP: Wow.
WS: Yes.
DP: OK, I'm surprised.

DP: When is the last time you used your fame to get an advantage?
WS: All the time to get reservations in a restaurant.
DP: How do you do it? Does your wife have to make the call?
WS: Yes, I normally like her to try it, but she's normally not very good at it, so I have to just do it myself.
DP: And you do it in a subtle way?
WS: Yes. I'll just be like, "how're you doing, can I speak to the manager, blah-blah-blah." On Valentine's Day last year, it was booked solid. Ocean Air was the name of the restaurant. I called the manager and he got a romantic table for myself and my wife in no time, on Valentine's Day.

DP: What are you afraid of?
WS: Losing loved ones, losing those who are most dear to me and care most about me.
DP: What about snakes or flying or heights?
WS: Yes, I am afraid of cats.
DP: Cats?
WS: I'm not very fond of cats. They're kind of eerie. You can never figure them out.
DP: Was there an incident when you were a kid?
WS: No. But this summer a black cat walked across me as I was getting ready to hit a 9-iron on the golf course, and I was just thinking to myself, "I'm not too fond of cats. I wonder if I'm going to shank this." I had the best round going in my life, and I ended up just shanking a 9-iron dead right to the other fairway ... and that cat had something to do with it.
DP: Blame it on the cats.
WS: Yep.
DP: Are you afraid of dogs?
WS: No, we've got two dogs.
DP: Oh, OK.

DP: Is Minnesota a baseball, football, basketball or hockey town?
WS: Basketball, as far as I can tell.
DP: But they love their high-school hockey up there.
WS: They love their ice fishing and hunting up here, too.
DP: Have you ever gone ice fishing?
WS: No.
DP: It's fun.
WS: I'm sure it is. I've driven past the lakes when it's about minus-20 and seen a lone little soul out in the middle. I've joked with my wife, and she says to me, "That would be the last thing you would ever do." The one thing I would like to do is snowmobile. That would be fun. I haven't done that yet.
DP: Are you allowed to do that with your contract?
WS: I don't know about that.
DP: Is there something strange in your contract that you're not allowed to do?
WS: Yes. Sky diving.

DP: What's a uniform you couldn't see yourself wearing in the NBA?
WS: Maybe Toronto, just because it's in Canada. I just couldn't see myself playing in a Canadian country and having to deal with all those tax laws ... plus the customs every night going on and off the playing court. That would become a big hassle.
DP: So it's not really the color of the uniform.
WS: No. Purple isn't my favorite color either. Any pink uniforms in the NBA? If there's any pink, I could never see myself wearing that.
DP: I don't think pink is going to make the NBA cut. Maybe the WNBA.
WS: Right.

Wally Szczerbiak
Szczerbiak would like to see the 3-point line moved in a bit ... but not this close.
DP: Biggest misconception about you? You're cheating because your wife is helping you.
WS: Yes, she is ... she said it's that I'm a jerk. ... I don't know. I didn't know people thought I was a jerk. That's the thing, I don't know how people perceive it.
DP: But you must know if there's a misconception about you.
WS: OK, maybe there's a misconception that I don't feel comfortable around some of my teammates, but that's not at all the truth.
DP: How did that misconception happen? I mean, that took on a life of its own.
WS: I don't know. Maybe because we come from different backgrounds, and maybe people thought there would be some uncomfortableness, just because our daily routines and daily lives are so different. But in my case, when we go to work and step out on the floor, we're all for one, one for all.
DP: Do you think that being white plays a role in that, consciously or subconsciously?
WS: I don't know.
DP: I would think so.
WS: As an outsider looking in, maybe, but you're never going to get me to believe that. I just step out on the floor and enjoy playing with who I'm playing with. I enjoy the locker room, who I'm hanging out with, and just go from there. That's why I don't know how people perceive me, so to speak. I can only say how I perceive other people.
DP: Was your wife being facetious when she said that people perceive you as a jerk?
WS: I think I can be a jerk at times.
DP: On the floor?
WS: No, I don't think on the floor. Everyone has their bad days where they get a little bit moody. But on the floor, if it's perceived as being a jerk when you go out there and try to win every game and play hard and do whatever it takes to win, then so be it.

DP: What did you think of Terrell Owens' touchdown celebration with the Sharpie?
WS: Oh, that was very innovative.
DP: If you were on the opposing team, would you have a problem with it?
WS: No, I don't think the opposing team should have a problem with it. Maybe it makes you wonder about the guy having a pen in his sock while you're playing. I think that's kind of interesting, but I don't think it was anything derogatory towards the other team.
DP: But let's say Kobe dunked on you, had a pen in his sock, grabbed the ball, signed it and gave it to his agent in the stands. Would you have a problem with that?
WS: Yes, I guess if you put it that way, I might have a problem with that.

DP: You're commissioner for a day. What's one thing about the NBA game you would change?
WS: That's a good question. I would probably move the 3-point line in a little bit -- back to where it was that one year.
DP: Really.
WS: Yes.
DP: It's a little too far for you?
WS: No, not for me, but I think it would make for more exciting games, like in college.
DP: What if we took out the dunk?
WS: No, that would be terrible, because that's what truly separates the common person from the athleticism that we NBA players have.

DP: Last concert that you went to see?
WS: The only concert I've been to is Dave Matthews.
DP: And that's because your wife wanted to go?
WS: No, actually, she didn't go. It was just me and a friend.
DP: That's the only one?
WS: Well, no, I've also been to a Julio Iglesias concert. Those were the only two.
DP: What was that all about?
WS: I went when I was, like, 7 years old. My godfather was his manager. So our families were really kind of close.
DP: Have you seen Enrique Iglesias?
WS: No, but I would like to see him. That's on my list.

DP: Are you a Vikings fan?
WS: Yep ... I'm also a Dolphins fan.
DP: How'd that happen?
WS: I'm pretty good friends with [Dolphins defensive end] Jason Taylor ... we play basketball together in the summers. But I've been a Dolphins fan ever since the Marino days, and now even more because I know Jason pretty well.

DP: Is there somebody playing another professional sport who you think could play in the NBA? Tony Gonzalez tried out with the Miami Heat. Randy Moss has talked about playing basketball.
WS: I'm sure someone like Tony Gonzalez could make it with his athleticism ... but unlike a lot of other sports, I think the NBA takes a wide variety of skills and talent in order to be successful. ... I don't think there's ever been a player who's played both football and basketball professionally at a high level. If anyone could do it, I would have to think Tony Gonzalez would be the one.
DP: What about Randy Moss?
WS: I don't know. I'd have to see him shoot a jump shot first.
DP: He was Mr. West Virginia. They talked about him being the best player ever out of West Virginia.
WS: Yes, you're right.
DP: You don't sound too impressed.
WS: Well, with his athleticism and his speed and quickness and talent, I think it's a distinct possibility.

DP: The first time you played against Jordan last season, was it weird?
WS: It was exciting. I mean, I really was excited to play against him, and it was a lot of fun.
DP: Yes, but you had to look at all the videos. You saw all those highlights, and then all of a sudden he's out there. Now granted, he's not the same as he once was, but...
WS: Right.
DP: I mean, you'll tell your kids that you played against Jordan.
WS: I sure will, and it's something I'll never forget, because he's thought of as the greatest player in the world and I got the opportunity to guard him for two games. But at the same time, it was my job, and the reason why I'm paid is to go out there and try to beat him along with all the other teams -- and that's what I try to do.
DP: See, I would think it'd be just a little weird because, you know, you don't want to take advantage of an old man, right?
WS: Believe me, if you don't take advantage of him when you can, he'll embarrass you pretty bad.

DP: Could you see yourself playing another sport? What's your second-best sport?
WS: Baseball.
DP: Really?
WS: Yes. I won a state title my junior year in high school. I was the winning pitcher.
DP: Who would you be like in baseball right now? Who's got your game?
WS: Well, I played shortstop and pitcher, and a lot of people used to kind of compare me to Cal Ripken because I was really tall at shortstop and had good range because I was long. And as far as the pitcher, no way near Randy Johnson because I didn't throw that hard. But I was 6-7 on the mound, so probably a tall pitcher who throws kind of slow.
DP: You didn't play baseball at Miami of Ohio, did you?
WS: No. They asked me to, but I didn't need to.
DP: Yes.
WS: I couldn't take those doubleheaders every weekend.
DP: Oh, come on. Where's your love for the game?
WS: Baseball just never sparked my interest much.

DP: Your best nickname.
WS: I would have to say Uke.
DP: Uke?
WS: It's because I'm Ukrainian, so they shortened it to Uke.
DP: Now that's creative.
WS: It is. It's very creative.
DP: I like that.
WS: They used to call me the Ukrainian Wonderboy. But it isn't an NBA-given name. This is a high-school nickname. High-school baseball, actually.
DP: I don't think anybody in the NBA is going to call you the Ukrainian Wonderboy.
WS: No, I don't think so.
DP: Are there other great Ukrainians I might not be aware of as far as athletes or actors or...?
WS: Hmm. I'm not sure. My dad is the only one that I know. He was a pretty good athlete back in his day. ... Oh, [T-Wolves coach] Flip Saunders is Ukrainian.
DP: Oh, so there's a little favoritism there.
WS: Yes, we stick with our own kind. He takes me out for pierogies once in a while at the local Ukrainian church.

DP: You've got a chance to ask the commissioner one question. What are you asking him?
WS: Let's see. Are we ever going to have regular-season games in Europe?
DP: Huh! Would you like that?
WS: I don't know if I'd like it as a player, but eventually it might be good for the league.
DP: Are you surprised at the influx of international players?
WS: No, not at all. We might as well embrace it, because the NBA has the ability to really reach out to other countries and grow as a league on the international front.

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Wally Szczerbiak joins ESPN's Gary Miller on Up Close in June 2001.
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Gale Sayers and Wally Szczerbiak join host Chris Connelly on Unscripted in November 2001.
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