The Starting Five Chats With Kiki Vandeweghe: The Mind of a Scorer

Kiki Vandeweghe was as great a scorer the NBA has seen.

In the early 80’s, the Lakers dominated the Western Conference. It seemed there were three teams fighting to merely finish second…Phoenix, Seattle and Denver. Denver had a triumphant of players who scored at will: Alex English, Dan Issel and Kiki. The Nuggets were all about putting the ball in the basket before you blinked and each player could put up 30…quick. Vandeweghe was a player I followed because his jumper was good money from anywhere. He was a beast and had those Kevin Durant great white shark eyes…eyes that wanted to destroy whoever was attempting to guard him. He was going to get his no matter what and everyone knew it. His Dad, Ernie Vandeweghe, played six seasons with the Knicks and his Mom, Colleen Kay Hutchins, was the 1952 winner of the Miss America pageant. After retiring, Kiki’s Dad was  physician in the Air Force and was stationed in Germany…where Kiki was born. In addition, his uncle, Mel Hutchins, was a four time NBA All-Star, Kiki’s sister Tauna swam in the 1976 Olympics and his brother Bruk medalled in beach volleyball during the 1994 Goodwill Games. His niece, Co Co Vandeweghe, is a professional tennis player.

Kiki, out of UCLA, played thirteen seasons in the NBA with the Nuggets (’80-’84, Trail Blazers (’84-’89), Knicks (’89-’92) and Clippers (’93). He averaged over 20 points for 7 consecutive seasons and his teams made the playoffs 12 out of 13 years. He was a two time NBA All-Star and averaged a career high 29.4 points in 1984. This was conducted when Kiki was the Nets General Manager. He coincidentally took over for current Sixers GM, Ed Stefanski when Ed was hired away from New Jersey. In Dallas, he is credited in developing Dirk Nowitzki and in Denver, as GM, he hired George Karl and drafted Carmelo Anthony. Kiki is one of those cool cats who is always accessible. When New Jersey played in Philly,  Kiki was one of the few GM’s who chilled in the press room during halftime (After taking over for Lawrence Frank, Kiki’s contract wasn’t renewed by incoming owner Mikhail Prokhorov). My aim is to connect the NBA historical dots, so he was one of the players I had to speak with because Denver’s offense was dynamic. Just wish I had more time to pick his basketball brain…

Michael Tillery: That Denver offense you played in was amazing. I talked to Alex when Toronto came in and he spoke of you and how prolific the Nuggets were those days. I’ve always wanted to ask you about your tenacity. You were a machine. Could you comment on that sense of basketball passion?

Kiki Vandeweghe: I was very very lucky in that when I came into the league I had role models. Alex and I became very good friends. He pushed me from the beginning. He could have been threatened by me because I took a lot of shots and played basically the same position as he did. He wasn’t threatened at all. He was great and showed me the ropes and how to be successful in the NBA. I will always be grateful.

MT: How did that work so well? You guys were just basketball players who really didn’t play an specific position.

KV: We played a little bit like how Phoenix used to. Everybody played different positions depending on the situation. It was a very fast game. We ran, shot and played.

MT: How did you grow in the game? Was there a certain player or coach you watched that help you develop your style?

KV: There were a lot of guys. When I got to Denver, I watched Alex a lot because the game came so easy to him. I learned a lot of things from him people don’t see.

MT: I couldn’t wait for the newspaper hit the door growing up and I would go straight to the NBA leaders column in the sports section obviously. The names I saw heading the scoring list were you, George Gervin, Adrian Dantley, Doc and Alex. That’s how my hunger for the game was formed. Stats are easy to find now but then it was such a big thing because you got one shot when the paper came in the morning. How do you think the game has changed with the advent of the Internet?

KV: There’s just a lot more information. It’s almost an information overload. A lot of times people get caught up in the statistics of the game and lose sight of the fundamentals. We do it too (Interview conducted when Kiki was Nets GM). We use lots of different formulas when we evaluate players.

MT: Was it a natural progression to the front office? Was that something you visualized?

KV: No. What I really enjoy doing was working with players. I enjoy teaching…player development. In a camp I worked with young players for 25 years. I really enjoyed the players I had a chance to work with. That’s really what I thought I would be doing…more of the coaching. I do like this side and enjoy what I’m doing and I still get to do a little player development.

MT: Does your niece (Tennis pro Co Co Vandeghe) ever ask you for professional advice?

KV: A little bit, but not a lot. Shes becoming a pretty good tennis player and I just enjoy watching her play. Anytime she asks me anything, I’ll be more than happy to give some advice. She has a great head on her shoulders.

MT: Does watching her offer a respite from basketball?

KV: I had a great time watching her match at the US Open (juniors).

MT: I’ve always wanted to interview you and wish we didn’t have to do this during halftime and I remember seeing you out in Vegas during the USA Basketball exhibition vs. Canada. I looked up and there was Chuck Daly (RIP), you, Clyde Drexler, Dominique Wilkins, Spencer Haywood…was that set up by the NBA? There were so many legends in that section.

KV: I came because I wanted to see the players. I wanted to get a good feel for what was going to go down in Beijing.

MT: You were tenacious. What would you say to young players who have the talent but not necessarily the drive to take their respective games to the next level?

KV: That’s something that has to come from within. You have to spend a lot of time in the gym. It’s a cumulative effect. There has to be so much time shooting by yourself.

I think it was my first or second year in the league. I was in the men’s gym at UCLA and Magic was there. He’d already been an all star and won a championship. He used to come play every day. There was a guy who wanted to play…a good player…but he wasn’t a regular.  Magic told him he couldn’t play and said “I’m an everyday player. I like guys who play everyday.”

MT: Thanks Kiki

KV: You got it. Hope to see you around. Good luck.

2 Responses to “The Starting Five Chats With Kiki Vandeweghe: The Mind of a Scorer”

  1. michelle says:

    Nice. I was a KIKI fan.