By MATTHEW BONNETTE, McNeese Sports Information Director
LAKE CHARLES — A night to remember. A night to cherish. Fans young and old packed into the Legacy Center at McNeese last Thursday night to witness a ceremony that honored the greatest basketball player in McNeese basketball history – Natchitoches native Joe Dumars.
An unveiling to officially announce Joe Dumars Court prior to the Cowboys’ Southland Conference men’s basketball tipoff against rival Northwestern State, ironically Dumars’ hometown school, was received with a standing ovation from more than 3,300 fans, a lot of those who watched Joe electrify the crowds for four seasons at the Lake Charles Civic Center from 1982-85. Before then, he shined under coach J.D. Garrett at Natchitoches Central High School.
The soft-spoken basketball legend, both collegiately and professionally, addressed the crowd in only a way you knew he would.
“I’m proud to be from here, proud to be from McNeese and proud of Lake Charles,” he said standing with wife, Debbie, a Lake Charles native, children Jordan and Aren, and McNeese Director of Athletics Heath Schroyer. “You don’t do this alone. A lot of people in your life make this happen.
“My family’s name is here on the court, not just mine. I thank you and appreciate all that has been done for me and them.”
Later, in a TV interview, he also reflected on his upbringing in Natchitoches as the son of Joe Sr. and Ophelia Dumars. Now the NBA’s vice president of operations, he said his core values are simple and rock-solid.
“Work hard, and be humble. That was the foundation for me from my upbringing to now, from Natchitoches and Lake Charles to Detroit and now New York City. I have the same approach. That was instilled on me from my days growing up in Natchitoches,” he said.
“My mother and father, that’s all they really cared about. ‘We need to make sure you’re a hard worker, and you treat people extremely well.’ If you got off that path in Mrs. Dumars’ household, there was a problem coming. “
His mother worked at NSU. His father worked two jobs to support the big family. As Dumars headed down the stretch of his senior season at NCHS, college recruiters came calling – not as many as there should have been, but some from brand-name schools. Reflecting his nature, Dumars didn’t choose Kentucky or LSU, he picked McNeese. Wayne Yates, the Demons’ coach at the time, took some heat from fans who thought the hometown team should have gotten the local kid, but Dumars had other plans, he said.
“There was nothing Northwestern could have done to keep me in Natchitoches for college. It was time for me to get out on my own and McNeese gave me a second home.”
The McNeese athletic director put it perfectly when calling for the curtain to be pulled to officially unveil Joe Dumars Court.
“You are simply the absolute best,” Schroyer said. “From now on, generations will know what you did for and what you mean to McNeese. I’m proud to say you are one of our own.”
A member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, along with Louisiana Sports, McNeese and Southland Conference Halls of Fame, Dumars is one of just three players in Southland Conference history to be named first team All-Conference all four seasons and was selected as the league and Louisiana’s Player of the Year in 1985 while also garnering All-America honors by The Sporting News.
He continues to hold the McNeese school record and is second in the SLC with 2,607 points scored, all before the three-point line was established for college basketball.
He advanced those talents to the Detroit Pistons where he was a first round draft pick in the 1985 NBA Draft. In 14 seasons with the Pistons, he was regarded as one of the greatest defensive players in the game. He’s a two-time NBA Champion, 6-time NBA All-Star, 3-times named All-NBA, and 5-times named to the NBA All-Defensive Team. He was also named the 1989 Finals MVP and a 1994 World Championships Gold Medalist as part of the Dream Team 2.
While his play on the court was exceptional, he exemplified the ideals of sportsmanship on and off the court with integrity, respect and fair play. For that, the NBA Sportsmanship Award, which he received in 1996, is named in his honor.
With more than 30 years of experience in the league, he was named the 2003 NBA Executive of the Year and currently holds the position at the NBA as Executive Vice President, Head of Basketball Operations.
His number 4 jersey is retired by McNeese and the Detroit Pistons. He wore 25 on his NCHS jersey, and it is retired and on display at the school. There’s also a large tribute mural saluting Dumars in the Chief Dome gymnasium.
Someone like Joe Dumars only comes around once a generation. Luckily for McNeese fans, when the younger generation inquires about Joe Dumars Court, the ones who witnessed him play will be able to educate and pass down their stories of his greatness for years to come.