'What's driving you?': Dooling's impact on the NBA

'What's driving you?': Dooling's impact on the NBA
June 5, 2012, 7:41 am

Before he was flexing on the Boston Celtics bench enthusiastically bending his elbows in a catchy celebratory motion Keyon Dooling has been spreading a sense of camaraderie around the NBA throughout his 12-year career.

His catch phrase, Whats driving you? has been heard in locker rooms across the league, as Dooling has made a concerted effort to get to know his teammates and discover what pushes them to succeed in basketball and in life.

Its a serious question because I want to identify what is driving you, what is motivating you? he told CSNNE.com. It is your family? Is it the money? Is it the glitz? Is it the glamour? Identify those so you can become better.

So many different things drive me, but the fear of failure is something that really motivates me. I do not want to fail. I do not want to lose. I have this thing, I cant go back. I cant go back. Ive come too far. My family cant go back to where we were. And thats whats driving me, to have my family landscape changed for generations.

Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Dooling learned the importance of community at an early age. His mother, Brenda, was a teacher (she taught All-Star Mitch Richmond) and a drug counselor. His father, Leroy Junior, owned several family businesses and also worked as a skycap. Always looking for ways to help others, Doolings parents taught him early on about reaching out and giving back.

From the time he was 8 years old, his family welcomed recovering drug addicts into their home and gave them a place to stay. In other cases, his father, who Dooling referred to as a godfather of Fort Lauderdale, selflessly offered his help in the community.

My mom and my dad both had big hearts, said the 32-year-old guard. They always believed in helping people and being positive and lifting peoples days up and treating the undesirable people with care and respect. Its something I picked up from being around my parents . . . The community, we took care of each other. It was a great place to grow up in the '80s.

Dooling considers himself a child of the city in which he was raised. It take a village to raise a child, he said. A lot of people poured into me. And so, he does the same in return.

He attended the University of Missouri and was selected by the Orlando Magic with the 10th overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft. That night, he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, where he played his first four seasons.

During his final season in L.A., Dooling, a combo guard, was dealt harsh criticism by one of his coaches. Averaging just over six points, two assists, and one rebound per contest, his game was called into question.

I was told my fourth year in the NBA that I wasnt good enough to play in the league, he said. I dont shoot well enough, I dont dribble well enough, Im not a one, Im not a two, its going to be hard for me to make a living in this league. I was told that, and I never believed that. I always felt like I belonged and I used that as motivation, as fuel. But more so than that, fast forward five years later from that point, that same coach came back and told me, Hey man, Im proud of you. You surely proved me wrong. See how much I know.

Dooling isnt one to knock people down. He wants to build people up. Rather than having a sour taste in his mouth from his previous experiences, he took a positive attitude with him when he signed with the Miami Heat in the summer of 2004. A year later, he relocated in Florida and signed a deal with the Magic.

By then he had five years in the NBA under his belt. He brought his experience to a locker room that included second-year players Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, and Trevor Ariza. Though only 25 himself, Dooling took to his younger teammates, eager to share any wisdom he could offer.

Hes a great veteran to have in the locker room, said Howard. He goes out there and plays hard. He always wanted us to be together, do things together as a team, family and all that stuff. We were always together. Thats something that will help you out on the court.

Dooling began imparting some of the knowledge he had learned from Eddie Jones, a veteran teammate on the Heat, with those in the Magic locker room. Jones had opened Doolings eyes to a different NBA lifestyle one that revolved around family and stability rather than fame and the fast lane.

Eddie Jones was probably the most influential NBA player in my life, Dooling said. He did so many different things. His experienced me to a lot of things restaurants, how to dress. I really was intrigued by the way he dressed. For every event he was dressed a certain way to the theme, for every season, so I picked up that. He took me and my family on my first family vacation to the Bahamas with his family. I sat down by the pool and he showed me a different way to have fun with your family.

Its something that I implemented in my life thats brought my family closer together. Its something that I introduced to some of my friends. Jameer Nelson, Trevor Ariza, we all do these family trips and build our bonds with our families because I think thats the true core of why we all do it, to feed our family, to change our family legacy. A lot of us are from first-generation money, so our kids are going to see the world a little bit differently than we have, and I just want to make sure I put them in a better position than I was in.

Dooling quickly bonded with Nelson when he joined the Magic. They began spending time together with their families (Dooling is the father of three daughters and one son), from taking trips to the Caribbean and Disney World to planning low-key dinners and family gatherings, rather than going to clubs and late-night parties. The two became so close Dooling was a groomsman in Nelsons wedding.

I look at Keyon like a bigger brother to me, said Nelson. Since the day I met him, we clicked. We always stay in contact. Hes part of my extended family . . . Hes a great guy to be around, hes a great guy to know. Hes very positive in everything he does. I look up to him for everything . . . You dont meet a lot of guys in this profession that are as down to earth and as cool as Keyon.

During the 2007-08 season, Dooling's third and final year in Orlando, he met a big man from Poland who had been selected with the 57th overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. Marcin Gortat had his fair share of critics. Dooling was one of his biggest advocates.

I remember one thing -- he always believed and he was always supporting me in my rookie year when everybody was cracking jokes about me, said Gortat. He was the only one guy who was always saying I was going to play well one day. He always believed that I one day I was going to play on a high level.

Gortat played in just six games his rookie season, yet Dooling stuck by his side. He took the 23-year-old to dinner, asked Gortat what drives him, and offered advice. Four years later, the invitation has stuck with Gortat, who has gone on to become the starting center for the Phoenix Suns. He averaged 15.4 points and 10.0 rebounds per game this season.

I would say he was a true role model off the court, said Gortat. He gave us examples of what we were supposed to say in the media, what we were supposed to wear before and after games, how we were supposed to act, how we were supposed to prepare for a game. Thats what I remember the most from him. I think this guys probably going to stay a couple good years in the league.

The New Jersey Nets acquired Dooling from the Magic in the summer of 2008. In his second season with the Nets (2009-10), they finished just 12-70, a far cry from the playoff contenders he had played for in the past.

That year a sophomore guard had been traded from the Magic to the Nets as part of the Vince Carter deal. Like Dooling, Courtney Lee had gone from championship contention to the bottom of the standings. The transition was challenging, and Dooling was there to offer Lee his support. They talked during long plane rides, went out to eat together on the road, and found ways to stay positive in a dismal losing situation.

Keyon pretty much played the big brother role for me when I was in New Jersey, said Lee, now a guard for the Houston Rockets. Coming from Orlando to that, he did the same transition the year before so he was well-adjusted, and I wasnt. I had never been a part of anything like that that year. If it werent for him and having a couple guys just to keep things calm, cool, collected, and funny, I probably would have went insane. Instead you stay sane. He played that role as a mentor for us.

During that season, Dooling coped with something far more difficult than losing basketball games. In the offseason, he lost his best friend when his father passed away.

Thats my boy, Dooling solemnly reflected. I miss him.

Instead of shutting down emotionally, Dooling opened up. He had shared stories of his father with his teammates throughout his career and continued to do so after his passing.

It was a blessing, he said. I look at life and so many people in our league and our locker room dont even have a father figure. I share so many childhood stories from my father, so there are people who have never met my father in this league who know 20, 30 stories about him because I talk about him all the time. And hes got some amazing, funny stories. He was a character, a true character. A lot of its personal. A lot of stories are word of mouth. They arent for everybodys ears.

To know Dooling is to appreciate his deep passion for helping and positively impacting others. His willingness to share special moments of his life is one characteristic that makes him such a positive locker-room presence in the NBA.

There have been times, though, when his enthusiasm wasnt always well received. He was caught off guard the first time his passion for people was rejected. The happiness he so eagerly wants to share has fallen on deaf ears in the past.

I just get pleasure out of life, he said. Im a very, very blessed man and I know that. I love my job. I love doing what Im doing. I love being around the people Im around. Ive adopted the mindset that if Im going to be around somebody, I want to be a light and not somebody who depletes and sucks the life out of a room. Its who I am.

A lot of times it rubs people the wrong way. All the things that I am, that Im being appreciated for here on the Boston Celtics, some places it wasnt appreciated. It was almost looked down upon. For a while I was questioning, Am I too much? Is my personality too much? I did a lot talking to my family, my friends, my spiritual counselors, pastors, people I have a lot of respect for, and I liked that man that I am so I dont think I should change my behavior. Sometimes people arent going to like who you are. You cant please everybody. But at the end of the day I know I tried to do the best I can every day.

He continued, It was hurtful. It was very hurtful because I pour into people. I get emotionally invested into people. You rub people the wrong way and that could hurt you potentially down the road. I knew that at a young age I never wanted to burn a bridge. I really enjoy life. I really do. I really do.

This season Dooling received the opportunity to build a new bridge to Boston when he was traded from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Celtics last December. After missing the playoffs the previous three seasons, Dooling had another chance for title contention.

But before he began his quest to help the Celtics capture another championship, Dooling was heavily involved in 2011 NBA lockout as Vice President of the NBA Players Association.

Dooling became interested in the association years ago after utilizing its resources to help with off-the-court issues. He began attending meetings with veterans including P.J. Brown and Adonal Foyle, and eventually joined the executive committee.

I leaned on the union and they helped me, he recalled. I was like, Wow, all these resources we have that I didnt know about, how ignorant am I? So I started finding out all the programs they have, all the resources, the auditing, and all these different things they have that we pay for on a yearly basis. I was on the board with all these older guys, I was the youngest guy, and they would talk about the essence of the game, where it came from, how it is. I was always intrigued. Im truly a union man. Im pro-player to the heart. I want to see our players do well.

NBA Players Association President Derek Fisher praised Dooling for his dedication and commitment during the lockout and his time on the committee.

Keyon is one of the strongest people that Ive ever met. Not just athletes, but people in general, said the Oklahoma City Thunder guard. Hes strong in his conviction and belief and his ability and willingness to speak up, state how hes feeling, articulate his thoughts and the things that are important to him. Its just refreshing and Ive enjoyed every moment that Ive had to spend time with him and meetings and getting to know him better.

Keyon was and is never afraid to express his truth and his feelings. At some of the most difficult and pressing times, moments when things were really up and down during the negotiations, he had no problem stepping out and saying what he had to say.

There are hundreds of guys that are good guys. But Keyon signed up to be out front and be a leader and I think thats truly what he is and always will be.

Dooling brought that leadership to the Celtics locker room this season. Rajon Rondos locker was re-located next to Doolings, where the veteran has offered countless pieces of advice to the feisty All-Star point guard who has opened up and been receptive to Doolings words. (Rondo even offers Dooling pairs of his Nike sneakers to wear during games.)

Together with Marquis Daniels, Dooling has emerged as one of the leading voices on the Celtics bench. The clapping, the cheering, the flexing -- its all part of his connection with his teammates even when hes not on the court.

Following the Celtics' win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers, Brandon Bass credited "Reverend Dooling" for delivering an inspiring halftime talk in which he stressed the importance of playing for one another.

That mindset exemplifies Doolings desire for unity among players in the game. He believes the those in the league need to build stronger relationships with one another that extend beyond basketball to help in all aspects of life, both during and after their NBA careers.

Its such a short part of our life and you hear so many horror stories about guys having adversity after their careers over, not having that support system, he said. And a lot of times, its our own fault because we dont network, we dont socialize. A lot of times we dont truly get to know people enough to be able to have that support system after the game and after the glitz and the glory is over with.

I dont like that. I feel like this is a small fraternity. We all make a lot of money, some of us do very well, a lot of us dont know how to. So I have always wanted to bridge the gap between the people who dont know and put them with the people who have the know-how.

Dooling continued, I think we do a horrible job in our league in mentorship. I think mentorship is something thats so overlooked in our league and I think if weve got guys who step up and mentor these young cats, not only will they be better on the court, but off the court in life. I want to glorify those good things -- family, community, religion, all those good, positive things that arent necessarily popular. Weve got to start embracing it more.

Its got to be better. I wouldnt say were a brotherhood right know. I wouldnt say that. My goal is to, by the time I leave this league, to make sure the brotherhood is a lot stronger than its ever been because I really truly believe economically, socially, we can make a difference. We can make a difference in each individual community. And if we get together, we can really touch not only our country, we can change the landscape of the world.

Dooling would like to work in the front office of an NBA team when his playing career is over. But for now, he is focused on helping the Celtics as they fight to advance from the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.

This series he has provided a aggressive defensive spark off the bench while coming up with key shots of his own. He has been praised for his high-energy contributions and commitment to the Celtics system during limited playing time.

Keyon Dooling was phenomenal, Doc Rivers stated following the Celtics Game 3 win over the Heat.

With his first season with the Celtics still in progress, he has successfully made a positive impact on yet another NBA locker room. There are 14 other players on the Cs roster who have received a word of advice, an encouraging remark, or a lengthy sit-down conversation with the engaging veteran.

And all of them have been asked, Whats driving you?

Ive had a lot of adversity in my career, in my life, and we all do, said Dooling. You can use it for negative, you can let it emotionally drain you, or you can use it as fuel and in a positive way. I just always try to use things in a positive way.