The Night a Spirit Walked Into Madison Square Garden

By Trent Tucker

In 1983, my second year in the NBA with the New York Knicks, there was a month-long stretch where I wasn’t playing. Players always want to play so I was looking for an opportunity to get in the game somehow, someway. Remember, we’re talking about a kid who was 23 years old who thought basketball meant everything.

Two veterans on the team, Louis Orr and Truck Robinson, were nice enough to give me a helping hand during that period. They helped me understand what I needed to do to keep in shape, so that when I got the call I would be ready to go. And they enlightened me about what I needed to do in order to grow, not only as a basketball player but as a person as well.

I’m not the most religious guy in the world but I have a strong faith and I believe in God. You know how you hear people talk sometimes about a spirit that came and uplifted them and moved them in the right direction? Well, one night, a spirit walked into Madison Square Garden and gave me an opportunity to play basketball again.

Ray Williams, one of the guys who was playing in front of me, went down with an ankle sprain. All of a sudden, I felt something come into the Garden. I looked up and saw this spirit coming down the aisle at the opposite end of the court down by the visitors’ bench behind the basket. It looked like a cloud. I knew right away it was a higher force, a positive force, and that what was happening was very real. I could feel it remove all the tension and apprehension I was going through, and I could feel it telling me, I’m here. I’m going to support you. You have done what you were supposed to do. It’s time to go out and play now. Your time has come.

The vision stayed for four or five minutes. I remember feeling very at ease, very calm; it was a pleasant feeling. It was unfortunate that Ray went down, but I knew that this was how my prayers were being answered. Sure enough, in the second half of that game, I went from not playing at all to starting. A few weeks later, when Ray had recovered, our coach, Hubie Brown, said, “Trent, I’ve got to go with the guy who started in front of you because he’s a veteran and he’s been here longer.” I said, “Hey, that’s cool with me.”

I was at ease, and just thankful that I got a chance to help the team during that stretch. It felt good to be a contributor. I went back to the bench, but this time, I was a regular player off the bench — before that, I wasn’t playing at all. Then we got to the playoffs and the coach made some adjustments. He decided to put me back in the starting lineup because I was a better fit with the other guys who were starting — and he thought Ray would be a better guy coming off the bench.

But the important thing was that going through my experience gave me a whole new perspective on life. It had been a lifetime dream of mine to get to the NBA, and I thought that sitting on the bench and not playing was the end of the world. My encounter with that spirit allowed me to understand that there were more important things I could be concerned about than not playing in a basketball game. I realized that I should be thankful that I had the privilege to play at the NBA level because I was very lucky to be one of the few guys who had a chance to do that for a living. But when you’re young and you want to play, you don’t see those things right away.

From that point on, I could always see the bigger picture, and nothing seemed to bother me. I became a person who was at ease in whatever situation I was in. I could react to situations and talk to people differently because I had removed myself away from myself and it wasn’t all about Trent Tucker anymore.

I became a thinker instead of a reactor. I learned that when you feel that a situation isn’t going in the right direction, you have a better chance of dealing with it in a positive way if you sit down and think about things and put a plan together before you react — because if you react before you think, you can put yourself in a worse situation.

Today, as a 58-year-old man, I can still see that spirit as clearly as I saw it back then. I thank God every day that I was able to see and feel that spirit because it changed me, it broadened my horizons, and it made me a better person.

Trent Tucker, one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history, played for the New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, and Chicago Bulls in an 11-year career, winning a world championship with the Bulls in 1993. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, Tucker serves as Director of District Athletics for the Minneapolis Public School District. He’s also a broadcast analyst for a Minneapolis sports-talk radio station. A longtime community activist, he founded a nonprofit to empower youth to make positive choices, elevate their self-respect, and develop a positive vision for the future.

This story appears in Phil Bolsta’s book, Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything. To order your copy, click here.


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This article appears in: 2018 Catalyst, Issue 3: African American History Month