Rafael Addison Brings Knowledge to Classroom

Photo Courtesy of Rafael Addison
Photo Courtesy of Rafael Addison /

After spending years of their life chasing the dream of playing professional basketball, many players won’t want to give it up even as their playing career nears its end.

With that in mind, oftentimes players will make the transition into a coaching or front office role so that they’re able to stay close to the game that they love. For others like former New Jersey Nets forward Rafael Addison, they decide to make an impact in a different way.

For the past 16 years, Addison has devoted himself to giving back to the community by way of teaching elementary school, as well as night school. While he had a storied playing career at Syracuse and spent time playing professionally, his career in teaching has already outlasted the years that he put into the game that he loved.

While he has enjoyed the steps that he’s taken to get where he is today, as Addison tells Nothin’ But Nets, it was only by chance that he ended up getting to Syracuse in the first place.

“Early on in my junior of high school I wasn’t highly rated, but I went to the Five Star Basketball Camp in Pennsylvania and had an excellent week that nobody expected from me. Syracuse wasn’t even there, but they were told about me and since I wanted to be relatively close to home, but not too close, Syracuse was the perfect fit once they offered,” Addison said.

As Addison went through his time with the Orange it was easy to see that he had a professional career ahead of him. He was named Second-Team All-Big East in his sophomore and senior years, while being named First-Team in his junior year alongside players like Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin.

After that junior season in which he was named to the first team, expectations were high for Addison and he was considered to be a potential first round draft pick.

Following a severe ankle injury that he wound up playing through, however, his numbers saw a bit of a dip from the previous year. Though he was still a strong player and even wound up seven points of the all-time Syracuse scoring record, his draft stock had taken a major hit.

He faced quite a bit of adversity, especially with the ankle injury at such a key moment in his career, but his head coach Jim Boeheim was there to lead him all along the way.

“Jim Boeheim had a tremendous impact in terms of guiding me to do the right things and even to this day he has a big impact on my life because he’s a straight shooter and he’ll tell you the truth. He doesn’t beat around the bush at all and I appreciate him for that.”

His college career didn’t end the way that he would have liked, but NBA teams still viewed him as a potential contributor. The Phoenix Suns agreed with that notion and they selected him with the 39th overall pick.

“To be honest, I didn’t even watch the draft because I was still hurt after not going out the way that I wanted to go out. Some people have storybook endings in their basketball careers, but I was really depressed at that time. Since I wasn’t watching, I didn’t even know that I had been picked.”

He was frustrated due to the end of his college career, but he didn’t let it impact him once his professional career kicked off. With a summer tournament for the Suns set to get his season going, Addison turned in a motivated performance.

“The process started when I had to go to the pre-draft camp and play in the Aloha Classic. I felt like I was finally healthy for the first time because I hadn’t ever given my ankle a rest. I had to put everything behind me and I performed well in the pre-draft. I went to the Suns rookie camp and I led the camp in scoring.”

Phoenix had switched coaches mid-season, but Addison was able to get an ample amount of opportunity to prove himself throughout his rookie season. Scoring 18 points per-36 minutes over the course of 62 games, he looked ready to prove himself going into the next season.

Much like at Syracuse though, there was a roadblock in the way that knocked him off of his intended course.

“There was a lot of stuff going on with the Suns, they had a drug scandal down there of some sort and the coach that drafted us was fired. When I led the rookie camp in scoring, there were a lot of coaches that saw me play. One of the coaches was from Italy and he tried to bring me over, but I was determined to play for the Suns.”

With all of the turmoil during his rookie season, the offer became a bit more appealing.

“The coach from Italy tried to get me again and after the rookie year it sounded better with all of the uncertainty in Phoenix and the financial reward in Italy was a lot better. It always feels very good to be wanted and he wanted me over the course of years. It was a tough, tough decision though.”

With his decision to head over to Italy, he was going to be facing a new set of challenges. He was very early on to his professional career and now he was going to have to adapt to a whole different set of customs and a new language.

“Not being able to speak the language was tough and I had to adjust to their eating habits. Basketball is universal, but it was a tough challenge. The hardest part about being the most talented player coming to Europe, you need to be able to adjust to their culture and be open to doing new things. I never really wanted to come back; I enjoyed the culture and the life there, they are much more laid back.”

After four years playing for Pallacanestro Livorno, Addison made the decision to take the jump back stateside and sign with the New Jersey Nets.

“What made me come back was that I was thinking about my future. In order to receive an NBA pension, you had to have three years in. I was thinking like that back then, I don’t know why but that was my determining factor. I didn’t want basketball to use me, I wanted to use basketball.”

His return to the NBA was also an opportunity to play in his home state of New Jersey, just around 10 miles away from where he grew up.

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“Coming back home was great because I had lost so much time with my mom when I was Italy. It’s nice to be home, but it’s bittersweet because it’s much tougher to focus and concentrate with friends and everything always around.”

Addison was able to work his way into the rotation and the team wound up making the playoffs in his first year back from Italy. The team followed that up with another playoff appearance the following season.

“It was exciting because something about the arena was popping. In both years we lost to Cleveland, but we played them tough. We had some great young players with Derrick Coleman and the late Drazen Petrovic and the playoffs are like a completely different season.”

While he and the team had been doing well throughout his time with the Nets, he was facing some battles off of the court. His mother had fallen ill and prior to his third season with the team, she passed away.

He had considered giving up basketball, but instead decided to return to play in Italy. After one season there, he came back to join the Detroit Pistons.

“I had one guy tell me that once a person goes overseas, they never come back because it’s too tough, but I did it twice. There was some adversity along the way, but I managed to do it.”

From there he moved on to the Charlotte Hornets and while the team wound up going .500 during his first year, they jumped all the way to 54-28 under new head coach and NBA legend Dave Cowens.

“The move from Bristow to Cowens got us going a little bit more up-tempo, then we made the trade for Alonzo Mourning and a separate one that sent Larry Johnson out and brought Anthony Mason in and I think there was just more chemistry. We still had Muggsy pressuring the ball and Dell Curry and Glen Rice shooting it, so we were really competitive.”

After one more season in Greece, Addison decided to call it a career at just 32-years old.

“It was tough, there was a lot of traveling with being all over the place. It’s inevitable that you’ll have to do something else at some point, so I thought that it was the time to start my second career. I was worried at times, but once you start, you need to go 100% in whatever you do.”

He first chose to go into real estate and renovated a few properties over the course of the next couple of years, but it was at a motivational speaking event that his true second career came to be.

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“I was speaking at a banquet for a basketball team and one of the superintendents saw me and was saying that I would be great for the school district. He was my PE teacher and said that I should try it out. He called me up to his office and told me to give it a try, then once I started working with the kids it was a natural fit.”

16 years later he remains committed to teaching and works to improve the lives of his students on a daily basis. It may have been unexpected, but it’s something that he was drawn towards.

“Once I got my Master’s Degree I was able to make a second career out of this. I knew that basketball was going to end at some point, but I also knew that my mind would stay with me so I had to try to prepare for the second step. I know that this career is probably going to last at least double the time that my playing career did.”

He’s taken a bit of a non-traditional route in his second career, but Rafael Addison’s work after his playing career has come to an end are going to benefit the world for years to come.

Quick Questions

Why #12?
That was the first number that I had at Syracuse so I just kept it. My other number, #7, was more significant to me. I wore #7 with the Pistons because I was with my mother on her death bed on Sunday, the 7th day.

Who was your favorite player growing up?
Dr. J. There wasn’t a lot of social media and stuff like that where you could follow these guys all the time, but I used to watch him even in the old ABA. He had the sneaker deal and the afro and I just liked the ABA players a lot; The style, the colorful basketball and the getting up and down the court style that they played was really appealing to me.

What is something that you wish you would have known before you made the jump internationally?
I wish that I would have taken foreign language more seriously in high school and college. Other than that, I thought that what helped me the most was that we didn’t have a lot of Facebook and social media because I feel like that would have made me more homesick.

What was the highlight of your time with the Nets?
I would say that I remember making the playoffs with Bill Fitch and how happy the team was. I remember Drazen going down with injuries and I had to take over his position and I played well. I knew my role and I played well in a number of games. Just being a competitor and making the team and living out my dream and playing in front of the hometown crowd, how many people get that chance at the professional level?

What did you learn in your basketball career that you’ve been able to apply to teaching?
Obviously hard work, don’t take days off, commitment, the same things that everyone preaches. If I come to work in basketball every day I’m going to get better and if I work for teammates, my teammates will trust me. It’s the same with the classroom, if I work for my kids and work to help them, my kids will trust me. I work in a tough, inner city neighborhood so they have to have trust, so I learned that. A house divided cannot stand, so making my class like a house, the same way many of the teams that I was on operated; That’s why I think I’m so successful at it.

Who is in your all-time starting five?
PG: Magic Johnson
SG: Michael Jordan
SF: Larry Bird
PF: Tim Duncan
C: Wilt Chamberlain