On-on-One With Andrew Lang
By Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Posted: Sept. 8, 2011
After playing four productive seasons for the Suns, Andrew Lang was one of the players involved in the trade that brought Sir Charles Barkley to Phoenix. Since retiring from the NBA in 2000, Lang has gone on to become an ordained minister and team chaplain for the Atlanta Hawks. Suns.com was able to catch up with the former Suns center and chat with him about the famous trade, his time in Phoenix and his post-playing career.
Suns.com: What was the proudest moment of your time as a Sun?
Andrew Lang: I think making it in the NBA was great and I think the first time I started a game was one of my proudest moments. (University of) Arkansas was great, but playing in the NBA is something you always dream about. So I guess my proudest moment as a Sun was making it through my first training camp and knowing that I had a place there. Everything else fell into place after I found my niche. I had proud moments on the court, making a block or getting a basket, but my proudest moment was probably just making it and establishing myself with good guys and a good coaching staff.
Suns.com: What do you remember about your time in Phoenix?
Lang: My first year, we made it to the Western Conference Finals. There were so many high moments, but the people and just making it stood out. Phoenix was a city of firsts for me. It was where my first NBA job was, I bought my first home there and my first child was born there.
Suns.com: So you remember it most as a city of firsts?
Lang: I remember that and the fact that when you leave school, you come into a city and you just want to do well. I met really good people, who were always straight up with you. Cotton Fitzsimmons, who is deceased now, was always straightforward with me and told me to work hard, play good defense and to be a presence on the court. At that time, I needed that. I needed teammates like Mark West and Eddie Johnson, who were seasoned veterans, to show what was possible. After watching them in their day-to-day, I found my challenges to be doable. I didn’t know that they cared for me or that everyone liked me because it’s high-intensity, but over the years I learned that these men and those teammates were important people in my life.
Suns.com: Who was your favorite teammate of all-time?
Lang: All of those guys were great, but my favorites were the ones I probably learned the most from like Mark West and Eddie Johnson. I think I learned the most from them because they were always prepared and they always seemed to be willing to do the little things to help the team win. One was an offensive player, whereas the other was strictly defense and rebounding; much like myself. I thank God because there are so many young players that go to organizations or teams that are “every man for himself.” Men like Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, Tyrone Corbin, Ed Nealy and Kurt Rambis were quality people that went about their work in such a way that if you could just do your part (which you also learned from them), we knew we’d be successful. Then there was a young man, my own age, in Dan Majerle. Awesome. We worked harder than anyone. I also learned so much from Jeff Hornacek. So what I needed to learn, in order to propel myself in the NBA, I picked up in Phoenix. Dan, Jeff, all those guys were instrumental in my development. When you encourage a big guy, believe me, it sticks with him.
Suns.com: What were your memories of being involved in the trade that brought Charles Barkley to Phoenix?
Lang: Well, that wasn’t as bad looking back on it. At that time, it was another first. I had never been traded and I never had the opportunity to play for someone that wanted me more than the Suns. As we mature, we make financial and career decisions and I decided to move on from Philly (after the trade) and sign with Atlanta as a free agent. Even when I saw the Suns in the Finals the next year, it made sense for them. I was happy for those guys and my life moved forward. I did get paid to play. I was compensated, so everything worked out fine.
Suns.com: So it didn’t bother you to watch the team in the Finals the next year? You still tuned in?
Lang: Of course I watched it. When I saw people like Paul Westphal and Lionel Hollins, who were assistants that worked with me in the summers on my free throws and improving my offensive game in their element, I wanted them to do well. I wanted them all to succeed. Certainly Kevin (Johnson), Tom (Chambers) and Dan (Majerle), who were all outstanding players, I wanted them to win. Now, I never played with Charles Barkley, but he made them a viable force for a championship. Had they won it, I would have had no problems congratulating any of those guys when I saw them afterwards. Jeff (Hornacek) and Tim (Perry) came to Philadelphia with me and my wife and I were thinking about our plans for the future. My family started to grow then. The only bitter part was being in Philly and not winning. But the NBA is such a blessing and to have the ability to play pro ball for a living is such a blessing. You can get consumed in where you are and what you’re doing, but I always wished the Suns well. They always were and have been very special.
Suns.com: So what do you miss most about the city? Do you ever get back here?
Lang: Every now and again I get back and I miss warm winters the most. And there are no bugs either. I think I miss the pool in your backyard and having a good quality of life. But that can be carried over elsewhere. The other thing that I miss was that before the Suns made it to the Finals, the city was is in the wonderful position to support the team. We played in the gymnasium called the “Madhouse on McDowell,” and the arena that is now well-known was brand new then. So that transition to a new arena never occurred, but what I do remember was that the city supported us and was really there in spirit. That’s really rare because in some NBA towns, winning is really taken for granted. I think those four years that I was there the fans were really appreciative of the team winning. And it just carries over. When you’re in the supermarket or at the gas station, people aren’t saying bad things about the team (laughs). I’ve been in different cities where people will say things about your team and you want to say, ‘Ouch!’ But grown men don’t do that. We have to press on.
Suns.com: Since retiring you’ve become the team chaplain for the Hawks. Is that something you always knew that you wanted to do?
Lang: Not necessarily, but I’m glad that things worked out. My kids call me a basketball monk. They always ask about different cities and things that I did and I think they’re waiting on me to tell them some hairy or late-night stories. But for me it was always pretty much going to the gym, the hotel, airport, gym, hotel and the airport. And my kids are like, ‘You’re a monk or something. Did you ever do anything?’ And I tell them that I did everything that I was supposed to do and I had a great time doing the things that I was supposed to do. All I do now with the young men is just remind them of things that they’re supposed to do and listen to them because times have definitely changed. There’s more distractions now, more social interaction with not only the fans, but with everyone in general. If they need someone to talk to or if they need someone to remind them of what to do, hey, there I am. I enjoy it and it keeps me close to the game that has provided so well for my family. Why not? It’s a great opportunity to witness and there are a lot of opportunities where players feel like I’m helping them, but they’re really helping me.
Suns.com: Are you an ordained minister?
Lang: Yes. I’m an evangelist. What I actually do is I travel and speak at special events, youth conferences, programs and things of that nature. I still live a pretty quiet life. I have a few rental properties that I still manage, but outside of that, it’s just straight evangelism. That has been great for me.
Suns.com: What particular faith do you follow?
Lang: I’m Christian. The service that I run here in Atlanta is non-denominational. I’ve had young men come in of different faiths. Some are inquisitive, whereas some may just need to stop in and use the rest room (laughs). But at the end of the day, when a big 300-pound guy, or 295-pound guy depending on whether or not I’ve been at the gym that day, shakes your hand or hugs you, they’ll remember that. It’s not in me to close my door to anyone. A lot of guys have come by throughout the years. Sometimes you’ll see a person’s struggles without saying anything. And it doesn’t matter what your faith is, you want to extend yourself. Because what I literally hate is to pick up the paper and see where a young man has had an issue, and maybe I crossed his path, and he could’ve said something and he didn’t or maybe I crossed his path and he did say something and... At the end of the day, I just want to know that whatever I could’ve done, I did do.
Suns.com: Do you have your own church?
Lang: At one time I did, but my family and I decided to go in a different direction. We’re moving forward and thanking God for it.
Suns.com: For your congregation, do you ever recommend any books for them to read that make them think or reflect?
Lang: I recommend different books to different players, but in my experience, I think players have done well with biographies and life stories. I always recommend the Bible, but Coach (Tony) Dungy’s books always seem to touch the heart of players who read them and conversation seems to stem from them too. One thing you always want to be aware of when you ask someone to read something is whether or not they’ll talk to you about it and give you any feedback. His books have always been responded on after the fact and that’s what I look for.
Suns.com: Do any of your kids play basketball?
Lang: Yeah. I’ve got two boys. Trey is graduating senior at the University of Massachusetts. And my youngest son, Chad, is a redshirt freshman at Belmont University. Both of them are playing ball. Trey walked on. I don’t know why he went so far away from home to walk on because he lives in Atlanta. My youngest son, Chad, is right in Nashville and we see them both pretty regularly. I’m just really thankful because when I was in college, and my wife also played in college, both of my parents worked and couldn’t travel as much to see me play. My mother taught in school and my father was a welder. But my wife and I have the opportunity to go and visit. Not for long periods of time, but enough time to check up on them. I don’t think Trey will pursue it after college, but I do think it’s helped him become very well-rounded. Chad is just getting started. He never even wanted to play until pretty much the end of his junior year in high school. So we’ll how it goes. So far he loves Nashville and from all reports, his coaches are pretty pleased with him.
Suns.com: As someone know for his defense and shotblocking, who was the best defender and shotblocker that you played against?
Lang: Hakeem Olajuwon. Or someone of that caliber that did more than just intimidate and cover his teammates’ weaknesses. Every center wants to have a presence and you could be as soft as a potato chip off the court, but when you’re on that court, you have to have a presence and you can’t be anything other than someone that your teammates can count on. And I think that he’s someone that I probably learned the most from on film in how he would position himself and react. It seemed effortless, but if you realize what you’re looking at you realize that he was always on balance to go either way. Also, most centers, when they got tired, we’d stand up. We’d always do things that would take us out of attack mode. Well, what I began to realize was that he wasn’t as graceful as he was prepared. I picked that up from Mark (West) too. He was always down and ready to move. I had a big body, really quick feet and could really explode so I figured why not be there when guys needed you and protect the middle. But Stacey Augmon was a great defensive player, Dan Majerle bodied up everybody and then you have to look at Jeff Hornacek. When you look at the film, you’d be amazed how someone of his size and stature could hold his own against the Clyde Drexlers, the Michael Jordans and the people of that nature… I have a bad habit of answering questions in six or seven-minute blocks. It’s just hard for me to say what really the best is (laughs).
Suns.com: When you look back at your career, who was the best guy you ever played with and who was the best guy you ever played against?
Lang: There’s a thing I say: there’s not one type of best. There are different bests. The best player that I ever played with overall was Mark West because he had a workman-like mentality and I needed to see that, emulate that and eventually become that. Then I would say, on the flashy end of things, I played in Atlanta with Dominique Wilkins. Like Tom Chambers, he could score at will. But once things came to my attention as far as different styles of play, and East Coast play back then was so physical, dunking and intimidating took on a new life because this was the era of Chicago and Detroit. And he would go up over these people. At first you would think that he’s all offensive-minded, but the more you get to know someone the more you get to see their will. Kevin Johnson had a tremendous will. He would go up over anybody at any time, but he would also back it off and distribute the ball. There were so many great offensive players that I could say were the best if I played with them, but I wasn’t paid to do that (laughs).
Suns.com: What about the best player you ever played against? Was it Michael Jordan?
Lang: No. He wasn’t a center (laughs). I think tunnel vision has served me well and sticking with the main business has served me well, so the best players I ever played against were Hakeem Olajuwon, Portland’s Kevin Duckworth was phenomenal for a couple of years, and Patrick Ewing always had that fierce mentality. What I realized soon in my NBA career was that when a team throws someone the ball 30 times and they’re expecting that person to get 20 points, you’ve done a great job if you stopped them 16-17 times. But the best player I ever played against would have to be Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal). Even though I was older and he was younger, the intimidation part, the brute strength, his willing of himself to the rim, he did some things that most players wanted to do consistently and he did them naturally. He was winning championships, three or four in a row there. It’s hard to say that there’s been a center as dominant as him in the modern era, other than maybe Olajuwon. Olajuwon just looked so great doing things that I think everyone fell in love with that. But here I go again, you ask me a simple question and I go running off at the mouth (laughs). The post isn’t what it once was, but at some point it will come back. Guys like me always look around to say what’s going on near the rim. When I see a guy like Dwight Howard, I’m awfully impressed because he runs like a gazelle and has that same defensive ability of an Olajuwon. If the game ever evolves back to the post, I’ll be a happy fan.