When college basketballâ€™s national champion is crowned this March, Clark Kellogg will be there to call it. When it comes to mentoring young players in the NBA, Kellogg has something to say about it. Shoot hoops with the President? Kellogg has done it.
Kellogg is currently touring on behalf of the inaugural Capital One Cup, a nationwide Division I competition that will reward the top men and women programs at the end of the spring season with $200,000 each to fund graduate-level scholarships for student-athletes.
The native Clevelander and former Ohio State Buckeye took a timeout to talk with ThePostGame.com about his role as lead college basketball analyst for CBS, his duties as the vice president of player relations for the Indiana Pacers, losing a game of H.O.R.S.E. (or P.O.T.U.S.) to President Obama, LeBron Jamesâ€™ exit from his hometown and more.
TPG: In your interview with President Obama last March, you told him you fell in love with basketball at around 10 years old. Take us back to those days in Ohio and explain how you took to the sport.
Kellogg: I was exposed to basketball by my dad. My dad had been a pretty good three-sport athlete growing up in Cleveland. I did some wrestling, played some Pee Wee football and by the time I got around to fooling with that pumpkin, I fell in love with it. I seemed to be decent at it for my age, even without a lot of practice. I had kind of the size and the frame. I was always a little longer than the folks in my class, but I just loved it. I loved everything about being out there. I started reading about it, watching it and my dad would tell me stories. It was a love affair that continues to this day, and to have a chance to play in college and the NBA and to still have a chance to be involved in the game is really one of the great joys and blessings of my life to be quite honest. It has opened a lot of doors and given me a lot of joy.
TPG: As a 10-year-old, did you ever think one day you would be shooting hoops with the president?
Kellogg: Heck no, I was just hoping to make my middle school team and my high school team. But by the time I got to high school I felt like I would have a chance to not only play in college, but if I continued to develop, to realize my dream of being a pro player. But no way did I ever think I would be hanging out the way I was with our president.
TPG: Letâ€™s talk about that interview with President Obama a little bit. How nervous were you leading up to that interview compared with any basketball game you have ever been a part of?
Kellogg: I wasnâ€™t nervous at all, because of the common bond we had in terms of being almost the same age. I had never met President Obama other than when he sat with (my CBS colleague Verne Lundquist and me) in January during our broadcast of the Duke-Georgetown game. We got a chance to meet then and had a good interaction as he sat in and helped us commentate the action. That was a real treat. It was extremely comfortable because I basically tried to focus on not whom I was interacting with but what we were interacting about. And basketball allowed us to connect.
TPG: You got out to such a big lead in P.O.T.U.S. and obviously didnâ€™t want to beat President Obama too quickly, so you kept him around in the game. But how did he make his comeback and actually beat you?
Kellogg: (Laughing) The president called it exactly how it unfolded after the fact, but this is what happened: I was rolling so well and felt a little bit sorry for the president, which is not typically my nature now. Usually I want to win. But I felt a tinge of compassion, if you will, and decided I might miss a shot here or there to see if he could get going. I knew I would still have enough in my tank to beat him. That was the thought. Well, the momentum flipped and I couldnâ€™t quite get it back in time.
TPG: Did the presidentâ€™s trash talk get inside your head?
Kellogg: You know, the president started showing a little swag. He started talking a little stuff, but it was fine. I had the experience of a lifetime for myself and for my family. Itâ€™s something that we will always remember.
TPG: Did you catch any flak from former teammates or coaches for losing to President Obama
on national TV?
Kellogg: Oh man, Iâ€™ll tell you what, there are some guys still to this day every time they see me they make sure that they say, â€śI canâ€™t believe you let him win.â€ť They are jabbing me, but I think they are pretty serious about it. They took offense to that. Itâ€™s all in fun, but thatâ€™s fine. I know how they feel although I donâ€™t feel that way. But to each his own.
TPG: Who has given it to you the worst?
Kellogg: The strength and conditioning coach for the Pacers (Shawn Windle), heâ€™s really let me
have it. Greg Gumbel, my former colleague in the CBS studio, gave me a pretty good ribbing about it. (Former NBA player and current Yahoo! analyst) Greg Anthony jabs me a little bit about it but not unmercifully. But Windle doesnâ€™t let a chance go by not to mention that I let that one out of my hands.
TPG: Would you want a rematch with the president?
Kellogg: If it came about, then Iâ€™d be fine with it. He probably wouldnâ€™t, though, because he knows I would not let him up this time (laughing).
TPG: You got a degree in marketing from Ohio State, but then got into TV. What was it like to be on camera for the very first time?
Kellogg: As a broadcaster, I started on radio with the Indiana Pacers doing some pre-game interviews and then some in-game and postgame analysis. But my first time on television was in my hometown of Cleveland covering the Cleveland State Vikings. It wasnâ€™t nerve-wracking, it was just different. I was excited about the opportunity and wanted to do my best to excel and was willing to do whatever it took for me to become excellent at it. I know I wasnâ€™t excellent at it at the beginning, but I donâ€™t recall any major flub-ups because I always took it seriously trying to communicate from the other side as a former player. I started interacting with the media going back to my freshman year in high school because of my success on the playing court.
TPG: You currently work alongside Jim Nantz and Verne Lundquist, primarily, for CBS. Whatâ€™s the best piece of advice they have given you in your broadcasting career?
Kellogg: Iâ€™ve had a number of terrific partners along the way, from Cleveland State to the Atlantic 10 Network, the Big East Network, then to ESPN and then ultimately to CBS. One of the best pieces of advice I got from a number of different partners was simply, â€śTo be you.â€ť Be you and try to explain why things are happening and what might happen, not just documenting what is currently happening. Explain why and then to try to anticipate. And also to offer opinions when you feel strongly about things. But mainly the big thing is just be yourself, work at your craft and Iâ€™ve always taken that to heart.
TPG: You were born in Cleveland. Youâ€™re a Buckeye. You still live in Ohio, so you obviously have a great feel for the sports pulse of Cleveland and the state of Ohio. What did you think about â€śThe Decisionâ€ť and the way LeBron James left the Cavaliers?
Kellogg: The decision itself was no problem. The fact that he put himself in a position to be a free agent and choose where he was going to end up playing after his time in Cleveland was fine. Obviously, the way it was handled and the way it came off left a lot to be desired. That being said, Iâ€™m not one who will crucify anybody for a misstep, no matter how large or big it is. Just about any action is redeemable. Clearly, he left a bad taste in a lot of peoplesâ€™ mouths. It wasnâ€™t the best way to exit, and he deals with the consequences of that.
TPG: What was your reaction when you saw the footage of people burning LeBronâ€™s jersey in the streets of Cleveland?
Kellogg: By and large, I had no problem with him doing what he did. Just how it unfolded was the only issue. But even that, Iâ€™m not in the camp of wanting to burn his jersey and say it was the worst thing that ever happened and that it tarnished his legacy forever. Itâ€™s a part of his life story, and Lord willing he has another 55 years to live or more, and that will be only a small blip on what he does throughout the rest of his playing career but more importantly what he does in terms of how he lives his life.
TPG: How would a fellow player view LeBron making such a show out of a simple free agency decision?
Kellogg: You know, itâ€™s a function of where we are. I mean, look at what the 24-7 news cycle does, what talk radio does, what bloggers and the Internet does. Thereâ€™s an insatiable appetite for the latest and greatest and the most spectacular. So he is a product of his culture and his environment in terms of how quickly celebrities become celebrities for oftentimes insignificant, or even embarrassing, acts. The fact that he would feel OK with (â€śThe Decisionâ€ť) really isnâ€™t an indictment on him as much as it is an indictment on how our culture gravitates to that type of sensationalism. So I try to look at it from a balanced approach, and clearly I donâ€™t agree with the way it went down. But I try to understand what went into it and then ultimately each of us has to live with the consequences of our decisions and our choices, regardless of whatever it is that we do.
TPG: Say an NBA player came to you and said that he was thinking about following LeBronâ€™s lead and conducting his own version of â€śThe Decisionâ€ť the next time he hit free agency. What would you tell him?
Kellogg: I would say, â€śPlease rethink that, son! (Laughing) Are you sure youâ€™d like to go that direction? Thereâ€™s another way to do this that would serve you and the game and everybody else better. I donâ€™t mind you having an appreciation for how it went down with LeBron, but there are some instructive lessons to be learned about maybe going down a different path and choosing your own way to do it that might not be as detrimental to you going forward.â€ť
TPG: Describe your role as the vice president of player relations for the Indiana Pacers.
Kellogg: Itâ€™s a multi-pronged position. I simply try to help our players grow as professionals on and off the court, but primarily off the court. There are a lot of moving parts in dealing with 19- to 25-year-old young men who come into tremendous notoriety, income, free time and challenges. We try to help them in their career transitions from their financial education to dealing with the media. But ultimately youâ€™re trying to help young men grow into reputable professionals, primarily as people playing professional basketball.
TPG: As a player, you never had to deal with things like Twitter. (Note the black and white photo of him posting up Kevin McHale.) How much do you advise players on the use of social media, as that has become a large part of todayâ€™s culture?
Kellogg: Yep, thatâ€™s a huge issue and a part of what we do in our media training, talking about both the pros and the cons. There are a lot of good things about instantaneous communication via Twitter or Facebook, the ability to connect immediately with fans. But there are also some pitfalls and dangers. You canâ€™t tweet everything that you think. You canâ€™t tweet negative comments about cities that you play in that are part of your professional league. You have to use discretion and good judgment. You have to be careful who youâ€™re around and what youâ€™re around. These are all maturing decisions that are exacerbated when you have a bunch of money and youâ€™re visible and highly known. That brings with it a great responsibility, and a lot of these kids are kids that are being forced to try to grow up and handle this stuff at 100 mph and theyâ€™re not quite equipped to do that.
TPG: How do you balance your work with the Pacers and CBS while also trying to carve out some family time to be a husband and a father?
Kellogg: Itâ€™s a major challenge. My wife and I talk about it constantly. Our youngest son is a freshman in college playing basketball at Ohio University, our daughter is a graduate from Georgia Tech, and our oldest son is finishing up his senior year in college. Itâ€™s a challenge because you want to be available, you want to be engaged, you want to be attentive to their needs and their issues and joys and struggles, and itâ€™s a lot. Thereâ€™s no easy way to do it. I have tremendous faith in God through Christ. I have a wonderful partner with my wife and I have good friends, but thereâ€™s room for improvement and I never want to lose sight of that.
TPG: Youâ€™re calling the Final Four and the national championship game with Jim Nantz and Steve Kerr, so we wonâ€™t ask you to pick any winners. But is there a team or two that you think could do what Butler did last year and play the role of Cinderella in this yearâ€™s tournament?
Kellogg: Wow, man, the easy answer at this point in time may be San Diego State, not just because they are undefeated but because they are a good team. I like what they bring defensively and from an offensive standpoint. San Diego State would be my pick at this point, but as we get closer to March we will have one or two other teams that might fit that ilk.