Chris Sleckman with Rich Niemann
This year many of people have seen a new man walking around the building, you can’t miss him. His name is Rich Niemann and he spent his younger days in the NBA. The Detroit Pistons drafted him in 1968. He played in the NBA for 3 seasons before going to the ABA [Americans Basketball Association] and hitting his peak with the Carolina Cougars. He then retired and has been working with chemistry ever since.
Chris Sleckman- How tall are you?
Rich Niemann- 7 feet.
CS- Were you one of the tallest guys in the NBA at 7 feet?
RN- Yes, one of the tallest. In high school I was about 6 feet 10 and there were only about three guys in the whole area who were my height. In college every team had one 7 foot guy. Then in the pros every team had two or three 7 footers. And now every NBA team has somebody who is 7 foot 3 or so. Times have changed since when I played. Most of us really tall guys weren’t amazing athletes, but now the 7 foot plus guys are not only tall, but amazing athletes also.
CS- What is your best memory from your basketball career?
RN- When I played in the ABA [American Basketball Association] for the Carolina Cougars, it just felt good. I was in the best shape of my life and I got a lot of playing time. The people in Carolina really appreciated what we were doing, so that made it really enjoyable.
CS- When did you realize you were going to get drafted?
RN- I started to get information in about January, people would call and ask if I would like to come play for them and of course I said yes.
CS- What was your salary when you were in the NBA?
RN- The minimum when I was in the NBA was around $10,000 a year. I got signed my first year with the Pistons for $16,000. Top draft picks were getting signed for around $33,000 a year, clearly not even close to as much as it is now.
CS- Was it as physical of a game when you played?
RN- Not so much. It is much more physical today. We weren’t as good of athletes as they are now. I never lifted weights during my basketball career.
CS- What shoes did you wear when you played?
RN- We wore Converse All-Stars, which are the shoes kids wear now just to kick around.
CS- Who was the toughest player you ever played against?
RN- It would be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I played with him during training camp for the Bucks before I was cut.
CS- What made Kareem the toughest player you ever played against?
RN- He was the new generation player. When I played it was set up and get as strong as you can in the post and then catch the ball do your move. Kareem could dribble, run, jump, and he could shoot from long range, he was the beginning of the next level of basketball.
CS- Why did you retire?
RN- I had an injury and was released from Dallas, and by then I had a wife and child. I had to start looking at my future; I had to do something more normal.
CS- Do you have any regrets about your time in the NBA?
RN- Not at all, I feel very lucky. All of us can say I could have worked harder. But no, I feel very fortunate to have gotten a chance to play.
CS- What do you have to say to kids who aspire to be in the NBA?
RN- Not a lot of people ask me that. I think a lot of people on the Clayton High School team think that is where they want to go, but my answer to the question is first of all, get a good education because you may end up ruining your chance if you don’t score well enough on the ACT. Unless you are just unbelievable like Kevin Durant or LeBron James you really need to have a good education to support you if you don’t make it.