Aaron McKie can still hear the cackled bellow of former coach John Chaney. Since returning home to play for the Philadelphia 76ers and living out his dream of playing in the NBA, McKie took Chaney’s tirades as lessons beyond the basketball court.
“I just learned so much,” McKie said. “Put basketball aside, and I learned so much from him [Chaney] about life, about being a man, and being responsible.”
Born and raised in North Philly, the 31-year old McKie has been coached by some of basketball’s greatest minds. Essentially, his whole playing career has taken place on Broad Street.
As an all-Public League guard at Simon Gratz High, McKie learned the finer points of the game from coach Bill Ellerbee. Ellerbee is now an assistant for Chaney.
Already with a sense of discipline, McKie absorbed Chaney’s tough love coaching methods to graduate as the school’s seventh all-time leading scorer.
Recruited to Temple as a Prop 48 player, McKie spent his freshman year getting his academic requirements in order. It proved to be a difficult obstacle for him to deal with.
McKie admitted to feeling like an outcast because he couldn’t meet the NCAA’s academic requirements. Both he and teammate Eddie Jones went through it together. McKie said they attacked the situation like they did opponents on the basketball court.
“We worked our tails off in school,” McKie said. “So the next inner city kids, when they get an opportunity, they can look and say ‘those guys made the most of their opportunity.'”
With three years of eligibility left, McKie made the most of his time on the court, earning Atlantic 10 Player of the Year as a junior and guiding the Owls to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. Travelling to Seattle and playing Michigan in the Elite Eight was his most cherished moment as an Owl.
“I know one thing,” McKie said. “When you come out of that [Temple] program, you’re going to know how to play the game of basketball.”
Apparently the NBA felt the same about McKie’s abilities. Taken in the first round as the 17th overall selection by Portland, McKie would spend his first two and a half seasons working his way up the depth chart. He was traded to Detroit in 1997, and after less than a year in Motown another trade sent him to the 76ers.
McKie didn’t know it then, but he would be one of the key pieces to the 76ers 2001 championship-run. For McKie, returning to Philly was an unexpected and welcome surprise.
“It’s special when you have so much success as a high school athlete, as a college athlete, and now as a pro; so it’s been fun,” McKie said.
Since the trade McKie has earned a reputation as one of the hardest working players in the league by doing whatever to help his team win.
Entering his 10th year in the league, McKie, who is a natural shooting guard, is also adept at playing both the point and small forward positions. His role as the Sixers’ top player off the bench won him the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2001.
Chaney said he has not seen a change in McKie’s approach to the game.
“Aaron McKie is just a stud, in terms of what he does on the basketball court,” Chaney said. “He’s not someone who’s fancy, he’s just a person who gets down and plays great defense. And he’s been one of the offensive threats on the Sixers, maybe second to [Allen] Iverson really.”
Other than Eric Snow and Iverson, McKie is the third longest tenured player currently on the roster.
Basketball aficionado and community organizer Sonny Hill said the only difference he sees in McKie is maturity. Hill also works for the 76ers as an executive advisor. Through the summer league named after him, Hill has dealt and mentored some of the greatest basketball players in the city.
Hill said both he and Chaney stress the same things: values, family and roots.
“I’m always proud of them in terms of how they carry themselves. That to me is the most important thing,” Hill said, “McKie has always been very astute…and is very dedicated to the game of basketball.”
Over the last two seasons McKie’s play has been limited due to various injuries. Now fully recovered, he’s excited for this season to start. The Sixers added a bunch of new faces to the team, one in particular being center Marc Jackson, another Temple alumnus.
While the two have yet to trade stories about their old coach, McKie said Jackson can do a pretty good impersonation of Chaney. McKie said seeing Jackson on the team is a welcome addition to the squad. Both have a bond growing up in North Philly.
“When you’re from this city, you grow up playing in the Sonny Hill League, that’s where you see a lot of guys,” McKie added. “And we all pretty much came up under the same people.”
McKie realizes how influential these people have been, even if a father-figure role like Chaney was abrasive. McKie said he always respected the fact that his coach was just being honest with him.
Jason Haslam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org