Jim Brewer was an All-American basketball player at the University of Minnesota who also played on the 1972 U.S. Olympic basketball team. He was an amazingly gifted player and the driving force behind Minnesota’s rise from Big-Ten doormat to conference champion. When I arrived on the campus for my freshman year, in the summer of 1973, Jim had just been drafted as the second overall pick in the NBA by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was truly a big man on campus, and I was a scrawny freshman, but for some reason, just before he left campus to join the Cavaliers, Jim took the time to sit down with me to talk about a few things he felt he needed to share. These are the things Jim shared with me.
Like most freshman student-athletes, my focus when I arrived on campus was much more on athlete than student. Jim told me that he had earned his degree, despite missing classroom time to participate in the Olympics, not to mention the time spent under the demanding rigors of four years of basketball. He told me that I shouldn’t leave college owing anything to anyone. I assumed he was referring to taking money from boosters and alumni- and he was- but it was also more than that.
He told me to not take anything extra, either from the university or from anyone else. He said that I needed to be able to leave with a clean slate, as he was. When the time came, I needed to be able to leave college without having to look back and feel tied to any obligations incurred during my time there. He had seen others start out in life after college feeling as if they owed something to someone.
I nodded my understanding, but then he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Not owing anyone includes yourself, Tony.” I was surprised and a little confused about what he meant. Jim continued, saying that I had an opportunity to use college sports to get my degree, to set myself up for the future, and to make friends and build relationships. He said I should do all those things, starting with earning my degree. “If you don’t leave here with your degree,” he said, “you will have cheated yourself, and you’ll leave here owing yourself something. Don’t let that happen.”
I followed Jim’s advice and because of it, I have friends and solid relationships that have stood the test of time and distance. I left owing nothing to anyone, and I left with my degree in hand.
Some mentoring relationships last for years and result in deep friendships. Others can happen in a moment of sharing the wisdom of your experience with someone standing right before you. The key is to look for opportunities and be ready to act. In that special moment, Jim Brewer added value to my life.
Whose life are you adding value to right now?