He was part of a throw away tweet, in which Phil Jackson was trying to convey another message to Carmelo Anthony on why he’s not working out in New York.
Michael Graham, the former Georgetown bruiser, was the example Jackson used to describe a player that either can’t or simply refuses to change. Turns out, Jackson was wrong about this Michael Graham.
“I wouldn’t say a leopard can’t change his spots,” Graham told The Daily News on Wednesday. “My life is good. I’m married, I have children, I’m a business owner and I have a foundation that helps kids in the D.C. area. I’m good.”
Graham found himself in the crosshairs of an on-going feud between Jackson and Anthony on Tuesday after Jackson tweeted a response to a critical column about Anthony that was written by Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding.
“Bleacher’s Ding almost rings the bell, but I learned you don’t change the spot on a leopard with Michael Graham in my CBA daze,” Jackson wrote.
Graham was picking up his wife from work when a former Georgetown teammate, Gene Smith, broke the news to him.
“Phil still loves you,” Smith told a confused Graham.
Smith added that the tweet likely is being directed at Anthony.
“I said ‘are you serious,” Graham asked Smith. “Honestly, it didn’t bother me.
“Phil is the master of the mind games. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I appreciate the love. He woke up the dead.”
Graham, 53, spent part of the 1986-87 season under Jackson with the Albany Patroons. Graham had made a name for himself as the intimidating and scowling power forward on John Thompson’s only national championship team in April of 1984, one month before Anthony was born.
Playing alongside Patrick Ewing, Graham overpowered Houston and Hakeem Olajuwon in the title game and landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
He was later suspended for academic reasons and transferred to the University of the District of Columbia. He never played a game for the Division II college before entering the 1986 NBA Draft where he was selected by Seattle.
Graham was the Sonics last cut and he eventually signed with the Patroons, who were coached by Jackson.
“He knows the game,” Graham says of Jackson. “He can be a little weird at times but overall he was a good guy. I tried my best to learn a lot from him. I never understood trying to run that triangle.
“I realize he wanted me to rebound. That was my strength. He didn’t want me to score. I still don’t know why my name would come up in a conversation about him and Melo.”
Graham admits that his first year of professional basketball was difficult. His mother died and Graham had to care for his two younger brothers as well as a two-year-old son.
“I really wasn’t thinking about the basketball part of it,” he said. “I had to focus on the things I needed to do. I didn’t remember him cutting me. We went out to play in West Virginia and he called me into his room. He looked upset. He told me I was being traded to the team we were playing that night. And that was it.”
Graham bounced around basketball’s minor leagues until retiring in 1994, the same year Ewing led the Knicks to the NBA Finals. The player who had academic issues, Graham earned a Bachelor’s degree in business and is currently working on a Master’s degree from Georgetown.
His foundation, aptly named Bounce Back, helps provide mentors for disadvantaged and troubled youth in the nation’s capital. Graham also has had luck on his side. In 2013, he won $1 million in a D.C. lottery.
And this week he somehow found himself linked again to Jackson as well as Anthony.
“I would tell Carmelo continue to play hard and play for the Knicks,” Graham said. “Phil Jackson doesn’t own the team. Don’t pay attention to that. I know it’s hard. Just stay true to yourself.”