In honor of the NBA returning for another season of miraculous wins, hard work and powerful, dynamic teams, we are re-releasing Andy Bernstein’s discussion with Rick Fox. (Original Air Date: June 25, 2019.) Andy and Rick discuss Rick’s diverse upbringing, his career with the UNC Tar Heels, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers playing under three legendary coaches Dean Smith, Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson, and his experiences making it as a television and film actor and Esports pioneer.
Rick’s life was all in the timing. In the late 60s, Rick’s mother, a Canadian track Olympian, met Rick’s father, who had left the Bahamas to work in Canada. They quickly fell in love and married after nine months. A year after Rick was born, his family moved to the Bahamas as his father joined the fight for Bahamian independence. Though Rick played for the Canadian national basketball team, he kept his roots in the Bahamas. He called himself an “island boy,” and cited inspiration from hometown hero and NBA star, Mychal Thompson.
“Mychal Thompson… became for me, the blueprint, the icon of the island of the Bahamas, of ‘it was possible,’… He got drafted number one into the NBA and that was back in the late 70s… put our country on the map… I think I was… 10 years old… that was a big story,” Fox said. “He came home after a few years in the league, he opened up a Nike shoe store… and my dad took me to meet him cause the only shoes I could find in the country that were size 13 were big construction boots… but Mychal Thompson brought shoes with a size that could fit my feet… so I met him and it was in that moment that I thought ‘I wanna follow the path that he took, I wanna go… to high school in the states and then I wanna go to college and then I wanna go to the pros.’”
Rick Fox found his dream of playing NBA basketball by luck, but sharpened his basketball skills over years of commitment. When he was 15 years old, he moved to Indiana to play competitive high school basketball.
“I kind of sprung onto the map and gained attention from the neighboring schools obviously and the state at large, everyone was aware that there was this 6’6” kid… that… over the course of the season had developed into a pretty good basketball player,” Rick said.
He played two years in high school, but was ruled ineligible by the district for a third season. After committing to Roy Williams and Dean Smith’s legendary UNC program before his senior year, he still sought growth opportunities.
“My parents didn’t want me to finish school at the age of 17 and go to college… I had two years in the Bahamas and two years in Indiana and you’re only allowed four years as high school sports… so I had to sit and not play,” Rick said. “I played at the college in town, Grace College… it was the perfect step up… I wasn’t gonna play high school basketball, I had already dominated that scene, why not play… Division 3… it helped my game.”
At UNC, Rick played with NBA legends at Michael Jordan’s alumni pickup games. Under Coach Smith’s guidance, Rick grew as a shooter, playmaker and defender and prepared for the next step.
“I needed all four years to… present the case for going on to play professionally… In the summer of my junior year, I did play in the LA summer league… I played against the pros… I kind of felt that I could play in the league for sure… calling my mom and going… ‘I’m gonna make it in the pros.’”
Rick played pivotal roles for two of the most iconic sports franchises of all time.
“I got to participate with some legends… My bloodline was pretty special. I was fortunate having played high school basketball in the basketball state, Indiana… I got recruited by Roy Williams and then… I played for Dean Smith… and Michael Jordan was my mentor when I was in school,” Rick said. “And then I get drafted by Red Auerbach… these guys draft me to a storied franchise in Boston… the last year of the big three [Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish]. I started my first game of my pro career, the first five actually.”
Rick described his first encounters with veteran Celtic Larry Bird.
“It’s my first NBA game… I’m just having the time of my life, and he is just as serious as can be and I got through the layup line twice. He grabs me aside and just goes ‘hey, you need to get serious’… I think I must’ve missed a layup or something, and I don’t think I missed a layup for the rest of my career in the layup line.”
Once in the league, inspired by his childhood icon, Philadelphia 76ers Mo Cheeks, and Smith’s strategic coaching, Rick committed to shutdown defense.
“I was obsessed with making the best player… whether it was a guard or a small forward… anyone who could score, making their life miserable… I picked those skills up in Carolina, we were really taught to play defense, but it is a mindset, and it’s something I hung my hat on when I got to LA…. because in Celtic land… for two years I was the number one scorer… lead offensive guy,” Rick said. “What I think Jerry West saw in me though… a guy who understood the game because I was taught by Dean Smith, and he also understood that I defended.”
After six seasons with the Celtics, Rick signed with the Lakers as a free agent with one goal in mind: to win a championship.
“They knew how vehemently I was focused on winning a championship, but also being a Laker,” Rick said. “I just wanted to win… I saw Shaq… if you read the tea leaves… you just know that that guy was gonna win championships.”
Rick relished the incredible team dynamics, including the defensively dominant Horace Grant, Derek Fisher and Robert Horry and offensive stars Shaq and Kobe. He had always dreamt of playing for Coach Phil Jackson, who came during the 1999-2000 season and led the team to three straight championships. Andy, who was the Lakers team photographer since the Showtime days, reminisced on the three-peat NBA victory parades with Rick.
“Nothing like it… you feel like a gladiator coming home to a celebration… flipside… my son’s experience with it… by the third one… he went ‘aw not this again’,” Rick said. “He walked in and… Kobe goes ‘you’re gonna be a basketball player just like your dad’… Kyle stiffened up… said ‘I’m not gonna be a basketball player, I wanna be a paleontologist.’
Kyle never played basketball; he instead became a competitive gamer. He drew Rick into the gaming world alongside him.
“I saw the water coming up… everything about it struck me as everything about what I experienced as an NBA basketball player, just in a new expression of this generation, love for video games… being paid to play, there were sponsorships, there were media rights… and I jumped in,” Rick said. “ESPN wrote a story… I was the bridge between traditional and this new sport Esports… I traveled the country, I encouraged people to get in.”
Rick founded the Echo Fox Esports league in 2015 and multi-game platform, HiDef Inc., in 2021. He finds that the Esports business world has strong ties to traditional athletics, and the competitive world, like basketball, is highly intense.
“Being a team owner is beyond my wildest dreams… I ended up entering the space of professional sports through video games… I’m sitting in meetings about league operations and ownership of Esports with NBA owners,” Rick said. “The competition on the weekends is exhilarating… I wanna see my boys win.”
Rick always connected entertainment and athletics. In 1994, he began an acting career that now spans three decades. In 2019, he starred on Netflix’s Greenleaf and Hallmark’s Morning Show Mysteries.
“I kinda saw it as something I could do when I was retired… something I could do in the offseason… winning championships was still my focus… But when I retired in 2004… I started going to class… auditioning… experienced the real life of an actor,” Rick said. “I would say the last five I’m a working actor, like I’m on shows, series regular, I’m in movies.”
Andy and Rick have known each other since Rick’s first NBA days, but it wasn’t until the 2019 NBA Finals, when Rick finally got a chance to watch Andrew in action as a photographer.
“I got to see how you had to do it amongst all the other people that are trying to get in your space… how you use your camera… to catch these moments that we’ll see and look at for the rest of our generations…For me it was cool to watch because you’ve done that with me and Shaq and Kobe but I got to see it from the top.”
Hear more about Rick Fox’s background, from Canada to the Bahamas to the basketball state, memories with two storied franchises, laughs with Bird, Shaq and Kobe, and current expert reflections on Esports and entertainment on this episode of Legends of Sport with Andy Bernstein.