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Rolando Blackman

WILDCAT LEGENDS: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?!

Article by Tyler Jackson

Photography by Provided by Kansas State Athletics

Rolando Blackman, Kansas State Basketball 1977-1981

  • 1995 Kansas State Athletics Hall of Fame 
  • 2015 National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame 
  • AP All-Time All-Big Eight basketball team
  • 1980 Big Eight Player of the Year 
  • 2 x First Team All American 
  • 3 x First Team All-Big Eight 
  • 3 x Big Eight Defensive Player of the Year 
  • 1981 NBA Draft Round 1 / Pick 9 / Dallas Mavericks 
  • 4× NBA All-Star (1985–1987, 1990)
  • #25 jersey Retired by Kansas State 
  • #22 jersey retired by Dallas Mavericks 

Rolando, it’s truly an honor being able to speak to you today. Thank you for your time. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, taking a step back, what was your path to coming to Manhattan, Kansas? 

The main thing for me was to being able to continue to grow in basketball and really having the opportunity to get an education. Coming in from Brooklyn was something very special after going through the recruiting process. Syracuse had too many sophomores and freshmen there, so I knew there wouldn’t be any playing time soon. Going into Marquette after that, I'm so happy someone told me that Al McGuire was leaving so I never went there. Going into Centenary College (of Louisiana) because of Robert Parrish and their independent schedule was this, that and the other. But, when I took my fourth visit and came into K-State and had a chance to sit across from Jack Hartman, knowing that he had coached the great Walt Frazier when he was at Southern Illinois. He had coached this great pro out of the New York Knicks, and he just had a super All-American just left in Chuckie Williams. I'd be a freshman, and he'd be a senior, and that would be the great Mike Evans. I knew this gentleman knew how to take me where I wanted to go, plus I was going to get a great education. So, after that visit, I didn't go to my visits at USC and UCLA. I didn't go. I stopped and that was it. I was ready to sign with K State, and that's my path. That's my path right there. I had lots of people helping me also, too, to make sure that I was making the right decisions on going into the right places for being a true student-athlete. I came from a caring environment, and I came into another caring environment, which really helped me to flourish through the opportunities that were there for education and for athletics. Because playing and doing things with Coach Jack Hartman wasn't easy. 

So what was your experience at Kansas State like during those four years? 

It was tremendous. It was a tremendous time, I think, other than the first year. The first year was kind of tumultuous in trying to get through the process of understanding what they were going to do with Curtis Redding, and how that was going to prospectively be a part of our team. And then, trying to grow in understanding what the parameters were to go to class. Understanding exactly what the coaches needed, and what the league was all about. Just learning and understanding and making sure you understand who to listen to. That was the important thing, who to listen to. Who’s going to give you the concepts that were going to move you forward? For me, I learned and found that Jack Hartman and also the great Mike Evans were people that I had a wide-open track to understanding what my greatest information cycle would be, so that I understood what I needed for the future. 

Also, my English instructor, Sandy Bussing, who is retired now, was just great. Sandy was just fantastic in teaching, learning, caring, and really having the opportunity to set the table as to what everything was all about. Plus, my foster parents at the time, the Glasscocks. Terry was the mayor. Marlene was teaching and doing some things around. So it was the Glasscocks, and also the Bussings, Mike Evans and Jack Hartman. 

They made my stay a tremendous time. I wanted to tell people also too, that after my first two months, my mom and stepdad were there. My mom and stepdad lived on south Claflin avenue.

I would see them once a week, every Sunday. Every Sunday I'd go there for dinner and, come back on campus. That was also very special because they weren't on the inside or involved in all the things that was going on at the college. But, I could say that my parents were there, and I really saw them once a week, that that Sunday was theirs. That’s what I did. 

 My biggest takeaway from that: if you would have went to a USC or a UCLA or Kentucky or Syracuse, or any of those, you might not have been as well, dare I say, protected? Like you said, it was important about who was around you. 

Your assessment is perfect. That's what counted for me. Because at the end of the day, what was important was that I was talented, but I still needed development. I still needed care. I still needed the understanding, but in a caring way. I didn't need to be in that kind of an environment. What I needed was to be able to show that I wanted to play, and show that I could do things to help make the team be better. 

I needed that to be an under caring guidance. That's what I had in New York, coming out of Brooklyn, New York. I was under care of my mentor, Ted Gustus, in New York City. That's the thing about it. When I went out into the street, I was with a group of guys that was led by Ted Gustus, who was still doing the same thing today in Brooklyn, New York. It was important that I stayed under the same umbrella when I came to Manhattan, Kansas, and I was with Jack, and with Michael, and the Glasscock family, and the Busing family. 

And my mom was there also too. So that, that was a good situation for me in that I was able to grow under care, but under high levels of intensity to be able to get to the upper echelon of what K-State basketball is all about. 

That’s amazing. That's also a testament as to ‘why Kansas State?’! What was it about Kansas State? And it always goes back to the people. 

All the time, every time. It was like anything else. In the NBA prospects, it was so much fun. It was so much fun because you're coming off a situation where you're a little bit more grown now. Now I'm 22, now I have a full understanding of my capabilities and understanding I'm one of the best in the country, you know what I mean? I was the starting shooting guard on the 1980 Olympic basketball team. We didn't go, but believe me, when we were in Colorado for those two weeks, it was a fight like crazy to see who was going to start, and who was going to come off the bench. Rolando Blackman, little eight-year-old immigrant coming into this country, who built himself going through basketball, getting cut in the seventh grade, eighth grade, ninth grade, 10th grade JV team to make it to Kansas State. Then to make it all the way through to the Olympic opportunity from a small country of Panama. Now I'm in the ninth in the draft. And here it is now coming to an expansion team. I was just ready to learn, ready to move forward and ready to learn about those capabilities too. Those first years were tough because it's learning a different speed, a different capability, and a different level of nastiness that was required to do that. I got up to speed quickly. Once you learn, it's nice to walk through that jungle with a couple of machetes. 

So from Mr. Gustus in Brooklyn, to Coach Hartman and your mentors around here, including Mike Evans, they were everything to you. It sounds like you had the physical ability yourself, they just really helped you hone-in on the mental toughness that it took to get to the next level. 

Oh, yes. See, you're hitting it on the head, Tyler. There's so much you can do by being a nice guy outside the court. It's wonderful because I enjoyed that deeply, very much. But what I learned was that nice guy Ro had to change to a different guy when I got on that court. It's almost like coming down that tunnel. And you are walking down that tunnel and you have that Ironman suit hitting you. 

Boom, boom. It's coming around your ankles and coming around your forearm. Then the chest plate, boom, boom, boom. And, then the fun part of once you step on that court, that top lid to his face comes down, boom. <laugh> Out of all the superheroes, I love that transformation the most. You must transform. And that's what I needed to learn more of too, because sometimes I take that nice guy on the court, and that doesn't work for high level play. It doesn't work because everything isn't all right. Everything isn't okay. 

At the end of the day, if you don't know that, if you don't understand that, then you are behind the eight ball, and you don't want to be behind the eight ball in professional sports. 

I’m sure if you could ask Michael Jordan right now, what was most important to you during your time in the NBA? Was it all of your personal defensive championships? Was it all of your stats and awards? Or was it the wins? He would probably tell you it was the team wins, and it was the championships. For someone at a high level like that, winning is all that mattered. That certainly comes back with that mental toughness, no doubt. 

Mental toughness. Rolando Blackman had that mental toughness and that what leads to a long, long career of playing professional basketball. If you're in a leadership position, it changes from when you're in junior high school to high school, to college. Once you get to a pro level where everybody is all something from somewhere, and you have 12 to 15 of those people on the same team. They've come from different conferences. They're All-American from this place. They're Player of the Years, and you all get together. And at the end of the day, you're coming together to win. 

The winning is what's most important in that realm. You've got to learn that early and learn that quickly so that you can formulate the life that you'd like, and the opportunity. You can still be a nice person and all the good things around. But once you get on that court now, you better be ready to go. 

So after a nice & long pro career, what are you doing in your retirement? What are you up to these days? 

For starters, I want people to know I went over overseas after the NBA and played in Athens, Greece for AEK. I then played in Olimpia Milano for the Olimpia Milano team in Milan. We won the championship there. After that, it was time to come back home and be a part of what's going on here. I was in broadcasting for ESPN and CBS sports for a bit and joined the Mavericks in 2000 and have been here ever since here. The important fact with that is I've taken on so many different jobs now from player development coach to defensive coach, to having the chance now to be in the front office. I'm vice president of corporate relations right now, and I'm a diversity and inclusion ambassador for and on behalf of the Dallas Mavericks. 

With that, I get a chance to be a part of many of the departments. I just go and help. I get my dossier and I understand what the sponsorship department wants to do, what the media department wants to do, and what the basketball operations department wants to do. And I come in and help. I'm a part of whatever they'd like me to be a part of, and I come in and help with that kind of a thing. It’s a very, very special piece of the puzzle as I go through the year, and go through the mixers that are there before the game and during the game. I also help with the Mavs Foundation, with the community development that they have here in town. I love doing that with all the kids and people that we meet that are interested in education and community uplifting, which is very important. 

Also, I'm an ALO Global Goodwill Ambassador to the Office of Drugs and Crime for the United Nations, the UNODC program, and also a representative for the Office of Migration. I do work there and really can try to uplift the world around us and make sure that people have an opportunity and try to work with different community communities and different committees to try to see if we can't solve some of these world's problems. 

A difficult world is made better by good mentors and good people like you. 

It's important to take a stand on the road that you'd like to see us all go down. And I'd like to see more people have opportunities like me, and like me, just giving the opportunity and the chance to move forward. Making sure that they're worthy of the chance of the movement forward. And to try to make the world a better place in that kind of a way. There are people of all kinds of backgrounds, colors, creeds. And the important factor is to follow the steps of what Martin Luther King said: being able to judge a person, not the color of their skin, but the content of their character. 

 Amen. 

That is how I grew up though. It's how I grew up. The things that I was taught when I was younger too. I can remember growing up in Brooklyn and I was an altar boy. I was an altar boy for four years in high school. I was an altar boy, and I can remember spending time going to the church, going to basketball practice, going to school. I'm telling you, Tyler, I cannot find a more blissful time than those four years. I cannot give you a more blissful, more directed, more focused time in my life. I cannot. It was just something that was there in that kind of a way. It galvanized me. It helped me, and I'm still moving with it today. I'm not a perfect person. I'm not perfect or anything like that too. I still want my piece of cake, and I want the chocolate bar after that too! <laugh> I want be able to enjoy life as life is in front of me with others who want to enjoy with me. I do. I do very much. It’s very important. But I want to make sure that I have a full life and an open life. 

 Well, my friend, you've taken all the steps your whole life to ensure that happens. And, by you being the best version of yourself from ninth grade on up, you have just helped the world out. 

I try to. Believe me. I consciously try to, that's for sure. Because I'm educated, I understand the path all the way through, and I understand the discriminatory pieces that go on with anytime you have color on your skin. But I understand also too, that there are good people out there. And the important factor is that they have to see, hear, and understand that, just like you. I want the same things for myself, family, and people all around. I want a great world prosperity. 

But remember, there's people who look different than you. And we all want the same thing. So, remember that when you make your legislation, when you put your policies together, make room for me too. 

Oh my goodness. You are powerful. I love this. Amen. 

Tyler, it’s just real. It's real people. The selfishness has to stop. We can't make it without incorporating the world we live in, and that incorporates everybody else also. 

Amen. 

Well, my friend, I got one more question for you. I sure appreciate your time. I really do. This has been an honor. What is it the most that you miss the most about Manhattan, Kansas? 

The thing I miss most around Manhattan, Kansas was for me was the camaraderie with the community. Meeting the people who would come to the games, that I would see every time around town. Just being around campus and interacting with all the students. Just the overall comradery of being near a college campus. Because being near a college campus, I got a chance to see people from every different background. The guy that's at K-State in engineering from India, or the person that came in from Africa, or the person that was right there from Manhattan, Kansas, telling me about little Manhattan, Kansas. And I'm telling them about big, big, big Manhattan, New York! <laugh>. We would always get into conversations about the differences in our towns and where we grew up. Then, you find out that you have the same situations of family, friends, and the things that you want out of the same background. So, I just miss all the comradery and the overall feeling of preparing for the future. It was always futuristic for me. The feel of ‘we're gonna do this’, ‘we're gonna do that.’ We're here for a reason to uplift ourselves, and our communities, and our families. That’s what I miss about Manhattan is the comradery of a town that cared. 

It’s always a good to come into a visit and always do a lot of good reminiscing, to just walking up and down Poyntz. Walking up and down the campus and sitting in the student union, really walking by and reminiscing about a lot of the pieces of the puzzle. 

The only thing I don't reminisce is, walking from Edwards Hall to campus. <laugh> The only thing I don't reminisce because it was so dang cold. You had to step in the student union to warm up a little bit before getting a chance to get back out there and get to class. It’s a wonderful place. I grew up there, and it’s where I had a chance to grow up into a young man. And it was special because people helped me all along the way. I didn't do it alone. It was a community effect and people really cared. Which is exactly where I came from, even though I came from Brooklyn, New York City. 

Manhattan’s a good town, and it’s in a good place these days. 

The town's, oh yes, the town's in a good shape. And then coach Jerome Tang is the right man for the job. 

You’ve got to have someone, first of all, with great knowledge and understanding of what that he's trying to teach. But they also must galvanize the spirit. Once you galvanize the spirit, now you have access and knowledge can be poured into it. And once you can pour the knowledge into it, and you can do that in unison, now you have power. And with that power, now you can go do great things, which is what I love about Coach Tang. 

You make me want to run through a brick wall! 

Hey Tyler, it's what I was taught! You have got to have mentorship. You got to have people who know the path, and then follow those people along that path. A path of unity. That's the path of unity is the path to go. 

There's so many lost people in our world these days that don't have a quality mentor around them. They just feel like they're floating through space and time, and they don't make anything of this beautiful gift of life. 

No doubt, Tyler. But, that's back on us to recognize to be good leaders, set good examples and keep that warrior mentality each and every day. It's important. It's an inclusive piece of the puzzles. I think when people are inclusive, they have an opportunity to help others also, too. 

I deeply appreciate this conversation, and I deeply appreciate you, Ro! 

Thank you so much, Tyler. I appreciate it! Take care! 

Wildcat Legends: Where are they now? is brought to you by Community First National Bank. With two locations in Manhattan to serve you, Community First National Bank is helping to create the legend in you! Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.

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