Ennis Whatley, the starting guard alongside Michael Jordan in Jordan’s rookie year, details a winding NBA career on and off the court that started in dysfunctional Chicago.
“Guilty as charged,” Whatley said. “I’ve never seen Mike in the room. I hear the stories all the time. We were not friends where you come to each other’s room. ”
Whatley never had any run-ins with Jordan on the practice court either, but this was a different Jordan back in 1984.
“I remember Michael Jordan more of a driven wide-eyed guy,” Whatley said. “He was just hungry. None of us knew at the time who was going to be what. Everyone was just establishing themselves, or trying to.”
Whatley’s journey with drugs started in high school long before his NBA career.
“Just walking home from football practice was the first time that I experienced it,” Whatley said. We were coming up the alley, I’m from Birmingham, a guy just brought this marijuana out and I just tried it and that started a long journey of drug use.”
That journey lasted until the early part of Whatley’s NBA career when he suffered a major setback in his family life.
“My mom died of a major heart attack in1987 and my dad died two months later,” Whatley said. “It was a disrupting moment in my life. When my mom passed she was a very special lady to me and everything I did was wanting to see my Mom OK. The preacher, when he preached at my Mom’s funeral, he said, ‘Ennis your Mom loved you and if you want to see her again you better be born again,’ and that is when I gave my life to the Lord and my life started changing.”
Whatley has been sober now for over 32 years. He spends part of his time speaking about his experiences through the Washington Wizards organization. His basketball career includes 10 NBA seasons along with stops in Israel and the Philippines.
Whatley remains the Chicago Bulls’ all-time leader with 8.3 assists per game, which came in his rookie season. In this wide-ranging podcast, Whatley discusses growing up as one of 29 children during the Civil Rights era in Alabama, plus NBA stories on Jordan, Larry Bird, Moses Malone, Clyde Drexler, and more.