"Miracles do happen"
I wasn't supposed to go to the Rocky Mountain Revue with the Rockets.
Of course I wanted to go--it would have been my chance to actually be seen by scouts in The League who had otherwise never heard of Dan Kreft from Northwestern University. I knew that the Rocky Mountain Revue, an annual NBA rookie and free-agent showcase, could make or break me and my chances of getting my foot in the door of the NBA. You bet I wanted to go...especially after what happened last year.
The summer of '96 I was invited to the Chicago Bulls' rookie camp. I did the best I could considering that I had broken my foot 2 months prior and wasn't in the greatest shape, but I was told on the last day of camp that I wasn't going to be traveling with the team to Salt Lake. I made the cut "very difficult" and that "if it were based upon sheer hustle and enthusiasm alone", I'd have made it for sure, they said. I was devastated... my career was over. I had no agent and had no idea how to find one. I walked out of the meeting room fighting back the tears. I had just learned how to have fun playing ball and it looked like it was all over.
Little did I know then that I'd face this scenario many, many more times. I lost my first professional job after a month in Turkey due to a cartilage tear in my knee. I got cut from the IBA's St. Paul Slam! despite the fact that I made my nearest competitor look as if he wasn't even on the court. I lost my second job with the IBA's Magic City Snowbears due to alleged "salary cap problems", and this summer I was told by a team in Puerto Rico's Superior Basketball League that "we'd rather have an NBA player" the day after their head coach told me that my ticket would be at the airport the next morning. I've been through it all, I thought..I'd been cut before they'd even seen me play!
If you're not a marquee player coming out of college, getting cut, jerked around and cheated is a part of life. One learns to live with it, but he never quite gets used to it.
But this time was different from the rest, and I knew it in my heart. I'd successfully prevented Shaquille O'Neal from dunking on me half-a-dozen times! I'd played and fared well against the very same guy from whom I asked for help finding shoes some 5 years earlier! I'd gone out there in front of the Rockets' general manager and coaching staff and made them all believers for 10 full days. "This is definitely going to be my year" I would say to myself after practice. "There's no way in the world they're going to cut me! I'm GOING!".
It was Saturday--a bright, beautiful, sunny, humid-as-the-Amazon summer day on Houston's west side. Fresh out of the showers in front of "my" locker (I think it was next to Barkley's), I stood reviewing the game schedule. I skimmed it, looking for "Rockets vs. Bulls". I couldn't wait until I got out there against them. I wanted to return to camp with Chicago this year but their scout told me their roster was replete with big men and that I would not receive an invitation. I wanted to go out against Chicago's team and pound their big men into the ground-- statistically speaking, of course. I wanted them to kick themselves for not taking me this year. I wanted it so bad I could taste it.
"Hey Dan." It was Assistant Coach Jim Boylen just over my left shoulder.Rudy Tomjonovich, the Rockets' head coach, wanted to talk to me!. "Wow! I must have *really* impressed him!" I said to myself. "Coach T. hasn't really said much of anything to anyone throughout camp! He's probably going to tell me that he's very impressed and is looking forward to having me on their roster. Maybe he'll give me a few tips that I can use in their system."
Led like a lamb to the slaughter, I followed Coach Boylen to a meeting room just across the narrow hall that runs between the locker room and the showers. As I passed the bathroom door to enter the meeting room, a thick cloud of shower steam moistened my face. I greeted Coach Tomjonovich with a firm handshake and solid eye contact. But as my eyes met his, I knew that I wasn't about to be congratulated. I wasn't going to be invited to training camp with the veterans. I wasn't going to Salt Lake City. I was getting cut . . . again.
"Dan, if there's one part about coaching that I hate..." I was already way ahead of him. It felt like a bad case of deja vu. Just like in St. Paul, I was getting cut despite my performance. But if there is one thing that I can say though about Rudy T. and the Rockets' staff in general is that they are by far the most sincere, willing-to-help people I've met yet in my limited experience with NBA teams. The Rockets made me feel as if I belonged--I felt at home there. But I was getting cut. Again.
"I completely understand your position, Coach." Went my closing with Rudy T. "Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I really appreciate you taking the time to work with me--I've learned a lot."
I was a little depressed. Okay...I was a lot depressed, but this time around I wasn't devastated. My world hadn't collapsed on me like it did a year ago with the Bulls. I was not a failure. Sometimes (lots of times) this just happens. Sometimes it just turns into a numbers game--or just plain politics.
I walked back to my locker, picked up the schedule I had laid on my gym bag a few minutes prior and found the date for the Houston/Chicago game. "I guess I'll see you guys next year" I whispered to myself. I placed the schedule on the chair beside me and walked away.
One by one, I tracked down each member of the coaching staff and said my "Thank you"'s. Assistant Coach Robert Barr looked as if someone had just run over his dog...he didn't want me to leave. I don't think anyone wanted me to leave...but promises were made to other players and their agents and a promise is a promise.
For the past four months or so, I'd been living with my agent on the southwest side of the city. When he picked me up after practice that day, I didn't say a word. Neither did he. He didn't know, and I didn't want to tell him. I didn't want to think about the fact that tomorrow the Rockets would be in Salt Lake City and I'd be stuck in Houston. Eventually, though, I had to tell him. "Well, now we'll just have to wait until training camp starts and try to get you in with some other team. Until then, we just keep working."
I was both mentally and physically exhausted. I went to bed early that night, wanting that day to end so I could start a new day--a new week--at church the next morning.
Normally I dread mornings--there's just something about them I don't like. But I had recently started to look forward to Sundays. I would look forward to the drive my agent and I would make across town to Brentwood Baptist Church. It is the first church I'd ever been to that actually felt "alive"... it's the kind of church in which you just cannot fall asleep. If the reverend can't keep you awake, the music will most assuredly will (it's a "black baptist" church so there are no stuffy, boring, rhythmless, 200 year-old hymns being sung there). Despite my most recent setback, I felt a peace come over me as I listened to the sermon. The topic escapes me now, but the miracle that I was about to experience is one I will not soon forget.
"Excuse me," a voice whispered in my left ear, "are you Dan Kreft?" I had to be...I was the only white guy in the sanctuary. It's not like she had to look very hard for me.I picked up the phone to hear my agent's roommate on the other end. He was quite excited, chattering away at a bazillion miles per hour. I handed the phone to my agent for an interpretation.
The translation went something like "the Rockets want you on the first flight to Salt Lake City. They're at the airport right now--you'll meet up with them later in Salt Lake".
I was so overwhelmed, tears began to fill my eyes. This was nothing short of a miracle straight from the hand of God Himself...there was and still is no doubt in my mind about it.
I was going to the Rocky Mountain Revue with the Rockets...it was meant to be.