Interview With Branson Wright: Back In the Day When Dwight Anderson Was Mike (Doc Trailer Added 6/6/11)
First, I have to give a birthday shout out to my son Gaston. I love you son. I’m very proud of you.
Doing what I do, you come across like minds in the field. Branson Wright is one of those good brothas who has a passion for his writing. He’s shopping around the story of Dwight Anderson. This interview is a cautionary tale for those young and old who are on the fast track to squandering their talent–whatever that talent may be. Fathers, please get a hold of your sons and give them the support they need to survive in a world ready to stroke their ego, watch them fall and then spit them out with no remorse. Don’t think it won’t happen to your kid. Snakes come in all shapes, sexes, races and sizes. Kids must learn accountability at a very young age or they will fall off the cliff and never be heard from again. Things happen, but hopefully they’ll live to tell about it. I could sense the passion in Branson’s voice when doing this interview. Dwight Anderson affected him. He speaks sadly of his early and very unfortunate demise, but is also very happy that Dwight Anderson is alive to share his story. The trailer for “The Blur” is added at the bottom.
Michael Tillery: Branson give me a brief history of your career in sports journalism.
Branson Wright: Wow…well I came out of the University of Cincinnati in ’89. For an entire year, I couldn’t find a job. I worked at a shoe store. I freelanced at the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Cincinnati Post. I was on the grind until I got my first job in Lexington, North Carolina. I worked there for a year covering everything. ACC, high schools, Charlotte Hornets…everything…it was a great first job. I did so much. It was a two man staff. I got a lot of experience doing a lot of different things. I left there and went to Winston-Salem. I covered high schools and also got to cover some Winston-Salem State sports. I covered a reserve guard by the name of Stephen Smith–better known now as Stephen A. Smith.
MT: Wow. So you covered Big House Gaines?
BW: Yeah, yes I did. Stephen A’s nickname at Winston-Salem was The Pedestrian. Every time he went through the lane he walked! (We crack up). He’s always been the same. When he graduated from Winston Salem, he interned at the paper.
So I left Winston-Salem and went to Lima, Ohio and covered Ohio State basketball. That’s when Greg Simpson was the Player of the Year in Ohio. He was the LeBron James of Lima. This was in ’93-’94. In ’94 I went to Grand Rapids to cover minor league baseball–Class A baseball–and I traveled on the bus in the Midwest League. That was a great experience. There’s a romance with minor league baseball. Going to all those small towns. I covered the CBA my last couple of years there. When my editor took me off the baseball beat and told me he was going to put me on the CBA, I thought he was crazy. I protested because I didn’t want it but it was the best thing that could of happened. I loved the CBA. I loved the hoops and loved the guys who couldn’t quite make it to the NBA and developed their craft. I covered Moochie Norris. Keith Smart was an assistant coach at Fort Wayne. Mark Hughes was the assistant coach at Grand Rapids. It was great man. I got to see Lloyd “Sweet Pea” Daniels play one year. Jeff McInnis, Damon Jones, Ira Newble, Kevin Ollie.
When I made the transition to come into Cleveland…I was doing high school stuff and when the NBA became available, nobody wanted it. The Cavs beat was open and nobody wanted the job. It was good timing on my part that they allowed me to cover it. It was good too that a lot of the CBA guys I covered were in the NBA at that time, so that helped with the transition.
Covered the Cavs the past seven years and I’ve been reassigned to do a blog.
MT: How would you describe your writing style?
BW: I try to write what I like to read. I try to write by putting the reader there. I try to featurize [sic] my game stories. I try to focus in on a certain player or a certain event.
MT: Player journalist relationship. How do you think that’s changed since you’ve been on the scene?
BW: It’s always been my strength that people feel like they can talk to me. They can trust me. It’s something I’ve been blessed with. They take a liking to me and it builds an immediate trust. I’ve found with a lot of athletes that either it happens immediately or takes a little time. There are some cats who keep there distance and LeBron is one of them. He’s nice enough, cordial enough, but he has that line.
I was told by a friend that covers boxing that Sugar Ray Leonard had that thing too. Nice guy…gives quotes…but knows how to work the media. He just only lets you get so close. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as open as some players, but I think he’s a good guy.
I’d really like you to be fortunate. I’ve had a chance to have conversations with you about other sports.
It would have been nice if my relationship with LeBron would have been better.
MT: Lets get into this documentary you have going on.
BW: Growing up in Cincinnati, I always been a fan of whose the best athlete in a particular neighborhood. Once I went to college, then I began asking people who the best athlete was from their town.
Whenever I talked to someone from Dayton, Ohio and asked who was the best basketball player, the same name would always come up–Dwight Anderson. I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to do something on Dwight. Once I became a sports writer and began to cover the NBA, I talked to a few people and Dwight’s name continued to come up. I thought that this guy must have been good if people in the NBA are still talking about him. I decided I didn’t want to write this. I was inspired by SportsCentury–the way they did their documentaries. I thought that doing something like that (documentary format) on Dwight would give it justice.
I just kept holding out saying…you know when I get some money I can have a big production and do something. Last year I decided and said to myself…you know what, I know a guy who has a camera, I know a guy who can edit…so lets do it.
My contacts in the NBA allowed me to get in touch with a lot of people.
Going back several years, during the Chicago pre-draft camp I was talking to Cedric Toney (Dwight heads the page and Cedric is halfway down) who had a cup of coffee with the Cavs. We were talking about Dwight during the pre-draft camp. Cedric said to me, “If you don’t believe me, lets go around the room and ask people.”
That’s when I went to Isiah (Thomas) and he called him Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan–and he wore 23. How about that?
I talked to Dominique Wilkins and he said, “You thought I could jump? This dude could get up!”
I talked to Mark Aguirre and on and on.
To flash forward, I talked to a guy at my church who could handle a camera pretty good and talked to him about the project and a guy I worked with at the Plain Dealer. I said let’s just do the best we can. So, we were able to do some interviews–which is on the rough cut on youtube–and some footage from NBC.
Money is still an issue, but we are still doing the best we can. We did some more shooting with Dwight. He celebrated his 30th high school reunion in August. I went and interviewed Dwight and some of his classmates.
Dwight in 1978 was the number one player in the nation. In fact, I spoke with Pat Williams and he told me that after they drafted Darryl Dawkins, their whole philosophy turned into getting the best high school players in the country and have them develop with the team.
So in ’78, they were scouting Dwight, but there was an incident on the court (we’ll get to it in the documentary), where Dwight ended up hitting a guy. Pat Williams said they walked out of the arena and they decided they weren’t going to sign or draft him.
I don’t even think Dwight knows this story yet. Chuck Daly was in the gym as well (He was an assistant with the Sixers).
Dwight was the best player in the country and was recruited by everybody. Goes to Kentucky and has a solid freshman year. Has great highlight games despite playing in a structured system. In high school, he was just so phenomenal. He was the only guy that I’d ever heard–when I talked to folks in Dayton–where there would be a crowd of people at his practices.
It was such a buzz in the city when Dwight was playing. He averaged a triple double his senior year–38 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. He was an incredible talent.
Well he transferred to USC where he got into drugs. After leaving USC he played overseas. He was drafted in the second round by the Bullets but he had a reputation of drug addiction. He bounced around in the minor leagues of basketball and ended up back in Dayton and became homeless.
He also plays in underground basketball games hosted by drug dealers–which we all know goes on. Dwight was a star in that also.
He also lived on the street.
It became so bad that he lived on his parents porch. They wouldn’t let him in. So, there on his porch was a bed, an alarm clock and everything.
There was a young man he was real close to when he was on the streets that ended up getting murdered right in front of him.
From there his life somehow turned around. He’s working with a church in Dayton and they are really helping him get through.
Dwight, 48, played in a church league. He was leading the league in scoring playing against men in their twenties.
There are so many stories of guys like Dwight. You know, guys who have all the talent in the world. They for some reason make some bad decisions. I had to do this because Dayton was so close to Cincinnati. He was can’t miss. NBA teams were in line to draft him until he fell.
The more important part of the story is that Dwight is on his way back.
MT: Damn. Like you said, you hear of these stories all the time, but this guy seemed to be incredible. Was Sweet Pea (Lloyd Daniels) incredible? His passing game was sick but was he all around incredible? I don’t know.
BW: What’s Sweet Pea doing now?
MT: I don’t know. The last time I spoke to him was a couple of years ago in Vegas but we lost contact. He seemed to have everything together. I was actually impressed.
Lloyd if you are out there, hit me up.
BW: Man, that’s a name from the past. I saw him in the CBA. He used to come of the bench and go off.
MT: Yeah, he used to go off on ‘em. He was a bad boy.
BW: You could just see that he had skill.
MT: If you are compared to Magic, then you have to have something.
Branson what are you hopes and aspirations for doing this? What are you hoping to accomplish?
BW: Well, I have a passion for it. This is something that’s been in the making since the 80’s. Like the movie Hustle and Flow, I’m trying to hustle what I can and go with the flow when we get a cameraman that we can hire to do some shooting. I want to do a lot of research on days when I come home from work and make some calls to people we need to talk to. I think in time we’ll get it done. Dwight still has some things out there. I talked to Daquan Cook, who never saw him play, but being from Dayton, he can’t escape it.
Even Ron Harper…he played with Jordan…but if you asked Harper who was the best player, he’s going to say Dwight Anderson.
BW: Who was that brotha from San Francisco?
MT: Quentin Dailey. I actually spoke to Quentin last summer when he got the University of San Francisco job.
BW: In fact, with this documentary, what we’ll look at is that Dayton is on Interstate 75. Interstate 75, goes from Detroit all the way down to Florida. In the late 70’s and into the early 80’s, a lot of drug trafficking happened along that route. It was kinda tough in Cincinnati with illegal activity, because Simon Leis (sheriff) was after hustlers…pornography…so Cincinnati was real conservative. Dayton is a smaller town with a lot of working class folk. There’s a large Black community in Dayton.
Once people began to lose their jobs, that (drugs) started to happen. One guy told me that college coaches placed a stigma on Dayton kids because of all the drugs. A lot of kids just didn’t know how do deal with it.
In fact, Dwight didn’t get involved with drugs in high school. He slowly began experimenting in Lexington, but again, when he went to USC…now you are talking about ’81-’82 when the crack epidemic was going…Dwight was right in the middle of it. That’s what got him caught up.
The documentary talks about some professional athletes that he was doing drugs with.
MT: The one good thing about top level talent now, is that it’s coddled enough to where something like this doesn’t happen as much as it did back then. It still definitely happens. This should be shown to rookies.
BW: My goal for this is that I want two parts of this documentary. A thirty minute version where Dwight can go to schools and show the documentary. I also think he can be in some coaching and mentoring. He still has a great personality. He accepts what he did and doesn’t blame anybody. He never looked back on what could have been.
I met him for the first time this summer. I never met or seen him play.
MT: Is there a lot of footage out there of Dwight?
BW: Just what you saw on youtube. There is footage of him at Kentucky and USC that I’m after. In fact, there’s a shot ESPN shows all the time of a guy going out of bounds and he shoots over the backboard. That’s Dwight. After that is when they came up with the rule. It’s called the Dwight Anderson rule where you can’t score from behind the basket. They also would show a highlight with Larry Bird doing it and they wave it off.
MT: Can he still dunk?
BW: I think he can.
When Dwight was on the street, these guys were hoopin’. Running full court. One guy quit and they needed another guy. Dwight was on the sideline. He was cracked out and had on some dress shoes. Dwight told them he would play. They were like “OK” (skeptical) but they needed a body.
They said Dwight was the best player on the court…in dress shoes.
MT: Wow, he took the brothas to church.
BW: Yeah, it’s a shame he was making his own decisions at 17-18 because we’ll never know how good he might have been.
(If the video doesn’t play, refresh the page and double click. You’ll be redirected to youtube where you can watch the video. You really need to see this for it validates the interview.)
***Addendum June 6th 2011 Dwight Anderson trailer***