Former NBA Athlete Mark Blount Reveals What Basketball Taught Him About Being A Businessman Based In Hobe Sound
Former NBA player and current Hobe Sound resident Mark Blount reveals the unwritten rules of the game—and how they apply to life.
Over the years, several NBA slogans have sought to capture the love fans feel for the game of basketball. Some swished: “NBA…It's FANtastic,” “I Love This Game,” and “Where Amazing Happens.” Others, such as “It's All Good,” bricked like a bad shot.
But the unofficial phrase, “It's a make-or-miss league,”—a favorite of coaches, broadcasters and legends—best describes Mark Blount's entry into the pros.
“I was a young, snotty-nose punk,” Blount remembers. “[I'd] been cut everywhere and was trying to make the team. [I] didn't know anything. I was still trying to learn the game.”
The game was a humbling teacher. Blount's journey from NBA rejection to a steady and respectable pro career involves more twists than a dunk contest. The lessons learned along the way made lasting impressions, and they shine through when the retired athlete talks about his career, business pursuits, charitable interests and his current life in Hobe Sound.
Everyone is bad when they're a beginner—and some beginners are worse than others.
Growing up in Yonkers, New York, Blount's mom put his little brother in basketball to help him lose some weight. Blount tagged along. Even at 6-foot 11-inches, Blount didn't fool anyone into thinking he had skills. Then one day, the teams were short a man.
“They put me in,” he says. “I'd be running up and down the court. Didn't know where the ball was. They'd hit me in the back of the head with the ball.”
Still, he stuck with it, playing whenever possible. At the start of high school, his family moved to Summerville, South Carolina, and that's where he had “that moment.”
“First year of varsity, they pulled me up from JV,” he says. “Playing against some of the varsity guys—that's when I knew.”
He knew he could play. After moving to Virginia, he played on a two-time national championship team at Oak Hill Academy. When the family later moved back to New York, the now 7-footer dominated at Dobbs Ferry High School. Averaging 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks per game, he was named Gannett Suburban Newspapers Player of the Year, Mr. Basketball for Westchester County and a Parade All-American.
Talent is great. So is luck. Sometimes, your luck is someone else's misery.
After two years at the University of Pittsburgh, with strong interest from scouts, he expected to go early in the 1997 draft. He didn't. Nor did he go early in the next round. Finally, the Seattle SuperSonics selected him as the 54th pick of the second round. After weeks of grueling workouts, he failed to make final cut.
Unbowed, Blount spent the next three years playing in the Continental Basketball League (Yakima Sun Kings and La Crosse Bobcats), the United States Basketball League (Atlantic City Seagulls and New Jersey Shore Cats), the International Basketball League (Baltimore Bayrunners) and in France. Finally, he got that shot with the Boston Celtics. His short-term contract nearly ran out before starting center Tony Battie got hurt in practice. With that, Blount landed a full contract.
That first year, he swatted down 76 shots, a team record for rookies beat only by Kevin McHale.
Forget everything you think you know, except all the stuff that you can't afford to forget.
Only a few traits from his high school and college playing days mattered in the pros.
“Everything you've learned, throw it out the window,” Blount says. “If you know how to shoot, and can do a two-dribble pull up, you're ahead of the game.”
His strong jump shot served him well, saving him some banging with the big guys under the boards. But as a 7-footer, he was obligated to play in the “painted area” under the basket, where the brutal physicality of the game often goes overlooked by casual fans.
“It's football,” Blount says, “without the pads. I've seen knees go out, fingers dislocated, elbows dislocated. It's war down there.”
That war for positioning beneath the basket can inflict serious wounds, especially to pride.
“My rookie year I tried to go down the lane and (All-Star New York Knicks legend) Patrick Ewing just knocked the s--- out of me,” he says.
Although impressed by the style and sharp shooting of Stephen Curry, league MVP of the championship Golden State Warriors, Blount prefers performances by veterans of the game.
“Kobe,” he cites as one of his favorites. “He's methodical in everything he's doing.”
For nine years, Blount played on four NBA teams, including the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Celtics again, Minnesota Timberwolves and the Miami Heat. Little wonder he refused to name a favorite team.
Stay flexible, versatile and fit—especially if your post-playing job involves sampling pretzels and cinnamon buns.
Blount counts fellow NBA veteran and Pitt graduate Charles Smith as a close friend and personal role model, and he chose a good one. A Big East Player of the Year who played nine seasons in the pros, Smith is a picture of post-NBA success.
Retiring 18 years ago, Smith returned to college to earn his master's and founded a center in his hometown where inner-city kids can study after school. As executive director of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, Smith created the transition assistance program—a first for the NBA—to help players prepare financially for retirement. Many reports show 60 percent of NBA players suffer bankruptcy or financial distress within five years of leaving the game.
On Smith's advice to look into food franchising, Blount owns a Cinnabon at the Treasure Coast Square Mall in Jensen Beach. In West Palm Beach, he owns one Auntie Anne's and one Auntie Anne's-Cinnabon combo—one of few in the country. Closely involved with the day-to-day activities at the shops, he cites how truisms from the playing arena translate to the business arena.
“(On the court) I did the work and put the time in, and that goes right into business,” he says. “Knowing how to lead, and being part of a team. As the CEO, you know the accountant, you know the shift leaders and the mangers, and the lawyers. I may have the vision, but if I don't have my team, I'm nothing.”
To stay in shape, he works out in front of his house, running a series of short sprints—throwback drills from his playing days.
“The neighbors look at me like I'm crazy,” he says. “Who runs 400 yards?”
Give generously because…just because. No reason needed.
No grand strategy unites Blount's broad-based philanthropy. For him, it's really very simple.
“Just, if you think you can help,” he says.
During the past few Thanksgivings, he's given away thousands of turkeys to tenants who live in the residential properties that he owns in Palm Beach Gardens. He's given away turkeys to soup kitchens and churches—anywhere with need. Last year he showed up at the Dunbar Center, which provides child-care programs in Hobe Sound, with a carload of turkeys.
“I helped him unload,” remembers Lori Dallak, front-desk coordinator at Dunbar Center. “He gave us quite a [few] turkeys. We were very surprised. We had no idea. It was very thoughtful and kind.”
In addition to donating food through Cinnabon to United Way of Martin County's Day of Caring, Blount surprised Carol Hodnett with a crateful of toys—which took four people to carry—for the White Doves Holiday Project. He's the only pro athlete who's ever supported the charity, which enables local families in need to “shop” for Christmas gifts for their children.
“That absolutely was a treat,” says Hodnett, vice president of community impact with the United Way of Martin County. “I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is just so cool.' I was a little panicked as to how we were going to get all those toys home. Thank goodness I didn't get pulled over driving home from Palm Beach because I had very little room to see out my windows.”
Blount is also a big supporter of Habitat for Humanity of Martin County.
“He has been a great friend and advocate for our affordable housing initiatives in the community,” says Margot Graff, executive director of Habitat for Humanity.
In June, he wowed kids in Port Salerno by showing up to play ball with them at the New Monrovia Community Summertime Kickoff. He loves charity golf events, too, though he admits this is one sport where he has no game.
“I'm horrible,” he says. “But I love going out. I hit two good shots every time I go out.”
Always have a quiet place to rest your head.
The NBA travel schedule is grueling. In the 82-game season, 41 games are played on the road.
“That's the hardest thing—time, managing time for yourself and for your family,” says the family man.
Since moving out of Palm Beach Gardens, he's embraced the laid-back lifestyle of Hobe Sound. He loves William G. “Doc” Meyers Park, Hobe Sound Public Beach, dining at Flash Beach Grille, and the privacy and peacefulness Hobe Sound offers.
“It's great,” he says. “They roll up the streets at 4 p.m.”