James Donaldson on 'Standing Above the Crowd'

April 8th, 2012

Part one: James Donaldson

Jon Teitel: Why did you decide to write the book, and how has it been received so far?

James Donaldson: I decided to write "Standing Above the Crowd" because as I was reflecting on my life and career so far, I realized that there are several commonalities in place that I have used (and that most successful people use) and implemented along the way to help me in regards to my various career paths. I also wanted to show that it takes "more than just being 7=feet tall" to be a basketball player and "more than just starting a business" to be successful.

I do not think that anything that I have accomplished so far (becoming a college graduate, a 20-year professional basketball player, or a small business owner for over 20 years) has been all that extraordinary. However, you get people who look at these accomplishments and think to themselves that you are either lucky or that it just came easy to you.

JT: Early in the book you quote a proverb that says, "Your failures in life come from not realizing your nearness to success when you give up." What was your biggest failure, and what was your greatest success?

JD: I am not one who dwells on failure or shortcomings too long. I never would have been able to play in the NBA as long as I did if I dwelled on failure too long. In the NBA you are going to lose almost as many games as you win. Looking back, I guess my biggest failures (I prefer to call them "coming up short of my goal") are "I could have been a better student" or "I could have talked to the girl of my dreams when I had the chance." I really do not try to dwell on those things, but I can look back and see where I could have done better.

My greatest success was becoming a college graduate from Washington State. That is something that no one can ever take away from me. Do not get me wrong, the NBA was great and being a small business owner is great too, but those things will come and go. No one can ever take my education from me, and it shows that I am educated and qualified.

JT: You give a lot of credit to your father James for the way you turned out. What made him such a great mentor, and how did he balance "tough love" with "taking a strap" to you?

JD: I had a Pastor at our church speak on the fact that he has two children but does not love them equally, he loves them "adequately." That is how my father raised myself and my siblings. He did not raise us equally, he raised us adequately. When I needed tough love I got it, when I needed a strap taken to my behind I got it and when I needed praise and recognition I got that too! I was raised in a home where we got what we needed, but not always what we wanted.

I think it was a great way to grow up because I did not have a sense of entitlement or being spoiled. I also grew up with a "work ethic" and some discipline. I know that a lot of children do not get the opportunity to be raised like that anymore, but parents can still do a better job of raising their children and preparing them for the "real world" that awaits them.

JT: A major key to your development as an athlete was losing almost 100 pounds during your junior year of high school due to diet and exercise. How hard was it to do that, and what advice do you have for young people who want to get in shape?

JD: Do your push-aways!!! Push away from the extra servings and junk food. When I took it seriously to lose 100 pounds in one year, I stopped eating all of the junk food that I used to gorge on every day at school and after school. I used to live off of junk food in middle school and it was no wonder that I found myself obese by the time I was a high school student.

It was no problem to have 4-5 McDonald's burgers and fries...every day! Plus all of the soda, chips, candy, ice cream: you name it. So when I got serious I stopped all of that and started eating more sensibly (lean meat, salads, and cut out the junk food) and started to walk, jog and run every day up to 4 miles a day. That is how I was able to do it.

JT: Your book contains a lot of quotes and lists. What is your favorite quote, and why are lists so important?

JD: It is hard for me to narrow down my favorite quote. I love great quotes, especially the ones that you can live your life by. Here are a few favorites: "Be the change that you want to be" (Gandhi), "Whether you think you can or can't, either way you're right" (Henry Ford), and almost any quote by Martin Luther King Jr.). I also really like short poems such as "If" (Rudyard Kipling), "The Cold Within", and "A Flock of Geese."

Making a list is important because it helps you focus on your goals and the tasks at hand. Not only is making a list important, but just putting pen to paper helps your thoughts become a reality...along with follow up, hard work and dedication.

JT: You also discuss religion in a few of the chapters: what role does God play in your own life?

JD: God has been the "Centerpiece" to my life. My religion has been very important to me for as long as I can remember. Faith (even more so than religion) is something that you will always have with you, no matter where you are in your journey throughout life.

JT: There is an entire chapter on supplements and steroids. How prevalent are they in pro basketball, and how dangerous are they?

JD: The great NBA athletes take care of themselves if they want to have a long and productive career. Of course the younger ones tend to eat way too much junk food, but as they realize that their body is the only one that they will ever have they start to eat better and get their rest (along with proper nutrition).

Nutritional supplementation is very common among most NBA players, but steroids are virtually non-existent. Along with being a great athlete you still have to be flexible, quick, fast, and put the ball in the hole at some point if you are going to be a great NBA player, so steroids are not going to help you there.

JT: You played over 600 consecutive games during your NBA career, which is among the most ever. How were you able to remain so durable, and how proud are you of that streak?

JD: I was very proud of that streak and took great pride in the fact that I would play with aches and pains, injuries, sickness and illness, and just being plain doggone tired at some points. However, I worked hard to be in great shape and have my body hold up well under the grind of the NBA travel schedule.

I ate well (actually becoming a vegetarian midway through my career), exercised year round, did Taekwondo (martial arts) throughout the year, got my rest, and just pushed myself to be the best that I could be.

JT: You draw several connections between the world of sports and the world of business. How similar are the two fields, and are sports ever not a business?

JD: Sports and business have a lot of similarities in that they both require a game plan, focus, teamwork, setting goals, staying positive, learning from your setbacks and successes, and so many more things. I love the "Team Concept" that I am able to implement into both sports and business.

JT: During your career you played against a majority of the greatest players in NBA history. Who is the greatest player you ever saw, and which of today's players do you think will eventually be considered among the greatest?

JD: I did play against about 37 of the NBA's All Time Greatest 50 Players during my career. I broke in playing against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and ended playing against Shaquille O'Neal, and so many other greats in between that span. I always say that Abdul-Jabbar was the most unstoppable (with that beautiful "sky hook" of his), but once he started winning championships Michael Jordan had to be the very best player that I ever saw. Wow!!! He was so good, plus he was able to make his teammates even better than they actually were, all in their quest of capturing 6 NBA titles!!!