Fire in the Belly

Rice's new basketball director reveals the secret of his fall from NBA stardom

In August, after the radiation treatments, there appeared to be just a few remaining cancerous cells, which they killed with more radiation. Since then the cancer has been in remission, although it took him almost three years to get back to his normal weight. He never got his footing in the NBA and bounced around in backup roles for Toronto, Dallas and Phoenix. With the Suns in 1999, he saw in teammate Jason Kidd the reality of his own struggling career.

"I just saw how effective he was at what he did, and I was like, God, I used to be like that, you know? Just thinking, like, it was effortless at what he was doing," says Respert. "It just seemed like those guys were so powerful. And here I was just struggling to be an average player. And I said, well, you know what, I'm not going to get any better sitting."

He left for Europe and posted solid numbers in leagues in Greece, Italy and later Poland, where he fulfilled one of his grandfather's final wishes, to see him get back to MSU form. His age and his creaky knees convinced him that it was time to finally hang it up. Last summer Rice hired him as director of basketball operations, and he hopes to get a feel for front-office work for another NBA run one day.

One month ago, he decided to go public with his cancer story.

"Maybe the question is 'Why now?' Well, it doesn't make a difference now. I'm not playing; I'm done. Nothing to gain at all. Nothing. It was just some closure, I guess," he says. "I had to tell people that this was what was going on and, you know what, maybe even on top of that, this is how I dealt with it and it's okay. Cancer is not as bad as you think if you're prepared mentally to just kind of endure."

Some players leave a legacy of winning, big plays or gaudy statistics. If Shawn Respert has a legacy, it speaks quietly of endurance.

"It's not a quick sprint to the end," he says. "It's a marathon."

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