By Corey Hord
One of the Big Blue Nation’s most beloved basketball players earned the nickname Monster Mash during his playing years. Today he’s a Monster Man who has become a monster success in every way, including being the consummate gentleman.
Twenty years ago UK’s legendary basketball program was still dusting itself off from a recruiting scandal. Following a three-year probation, UK basketball journeyed to the Elite Eight in 1992, only to be defeated by Duke University on a Christian Laettner buzzer-beater in an overtime that still bedevils the Big Blue Nation.
But believe it or not, that’s one of the memories from his collegiate years UK Athletics Hall of Famer Jamal Mashburn is most fond of. And why wouldn’t it be after he and his teammates rescued UK from basketball purgatory?
A couple of decades later, the fond memories have followed Mashburn long after his playing career ended.
Mashburn, a New York native, attended Cardinal Hayes High School in Bronx, N.Y. He helped the Cardinals’ basketball program to a city championship during the 1989-90 season. After high school he ventured south to UK, where he transitioned the skills that he learned in Harlem’s legendary Rucker Park to the Rupp Arena floor.
He was adored by UK fans who bestowed upon him the nickname “Monster Mash.” He mentioned that his college nickname resurfaces from time to time. Even his 10-year-old son, Jamal Mashburn Jr., believes the novelty song by Bobby “Boris” Pickett is about his dad.
“My son runs around the house reciting all the words and says, ‘Dad, are they talking about you?’” Mashburn said through a subtle laugh.
At UK, Mashburn averaged 18.8 points per game, helped the team to a Final Four and Elite Eight appearance and left UK with the fourth highest point total in program history. Mashburn hasn’t forgotten that Elite Eight appearance.
“The coaches took a step back and let the players play the game,” he said.
Mashburn played three seasons before entering the 1993 NBA draft where he was selected by the Dallas Mavericks as the No. 4 overall pick.
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“I can still remember draft night when my dream was about to come true; walking across that stage and shaking David Stern’s hand,” Mashburn said.
Mashburn averaged 19.2 points and 3.4 assists per game and was voted into the NBA’s All-Rookie team during his 1993-94 season with the Mavericks.
In 1995 Mashburn suffered a left knee injury that reduced his value and would eventually lead to a trade during mid-season in 1997 to the Miami Heat.
Mashburn mentioned that his surgery was very difficult and that it was the first time he had a joint operated on. “I didn’t know where my career was at or what kind of player I would be afterwards,” he said.
“I couldn’t jump as high or move as fast. I had to rely on experience and my intellect,” Mashburn said. “A lot of people look at this as a limitation, but I looked at it as an opportunity.”
During his time with Miami, Mashburn played a limited role in the Heat’s offense, averaging 15.8 points per game and 3.42 assists. After 4 years in Miami and a plunge in offensive production, Mashburn made his way to the Charlotte, N.C., in 2000 where he served as a leader and top scorer for a young Hornets’ team.
There Mashburn was at his most consistent, even through the relocation of the Hornets’ franchise to New Orleans, La., following the 2001-02 season. In 2003, he was named a NBA All-Star.
Mashburn returned for his fourth year with the franchise during the 2003-04 season as the prolific scorer he was known to be, but was plagued with a right knee injury throughout the season, limiting his play. As a result of his injuries, Mashburn made the difficult decision to sit out the 2004-05 season.
“I got to the point where my knees wouldn’t respond to the pounding,” Mashburn said. “They wouldn’t allow me to live to the expectations I had for myself.”
Mashburn averaged 20.9 points per game and 5.03 assists for the Hornets before being dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers in 2005. He would never see the court for the 76ers and made the decision to retire from the NBA in 2006.
“I didn’t want to be regulated to a bench player. That wasn’t who I was,” Mashburn said. “Your body only has so many runs and jumps in it and I preferred to leave my mark and my game at a certain level. So I chose to retire.”
Success after basketball
While Mashburn’s 12-year playing career is over, he has ventured out in various ways as an entrepreneur, philanthropist, social visionary and even a basketball analyst. Success has continued to cling to him even after his days of running up and down the court.
He didn’t venture far after his retirement, joining ESPN as an NBA studio analyst for the 2006-07 season. He even had the privilege to call UK’s 2,000th victory in program history in December 2009.
Off the court, Mashburn has endowed UK with the Jamal Mashburn Scholarship – which 40 students have received – out of his yearning to lay an educational foundation for kids with the desire to succeed. As a scholarship recipient himself, Mashburn understands the importance philanthropic giving and providing financial support for prospective UK students.
Mashburn is also a founding member, officer and director of the MAP Foundation and Mashburn Family Foundation, both of which are non-profit corporations.
The MAP Foundation’s mission is to provide “support to programs benefiting young minds by supplying ongoing opportunities for mentoring as well as the development of well-rounded individuals who will be of benefit to their communities,” according to Mashburn’s website, jamalmashburn.com.
The Mashburn Family Foundation’s mission is to “provide resources and services to organizations that advocate for children who are at risk in their environment due to the lack of a traditional family structure,” according to Mashburn’s website.
Mashburn also has ownership interest in 38 Outback Steakhouse restaurants, 32 Papa John’s pizza restaurants, three Dunkin’ Donuts, Lexus of Lexington, Toyota on Nicholasville, real estate and the thoroughbred horse racing industry.
Each of Mashburn’s businesses endeavors participate in their local communities by making donations to various charitable organizations.
“I’m always looking to give back,” Mashburn said.
Currently, Mashburn is living in Miami Beach, Fla., with his wife Michelle, but he makes his way to Kentucky a couple of times a month. The Mashburns have two children: Taylor and Jamal Jr., who are 15 and 10 respectively.
“Living in Miami, it helps make it easier getting through the winter. When it gets cold my knees start to feel it,” Mashburn said.
Mashburn mentioned that Kentucky has always been a home to him despite growing up in New York.
“Being a part of the Kentucky tradition. Being recognized as one of the great ones,” he said, “It’s a pretty unique situation for a kid from Harlem.”
“I always will be remembered by Kentucky,” Mashburn said, adding that he tells folks that “if you ever get a chance to experience Kentucky it’s much more than horse country, it’s one of the greatest places in the U.S.”
Mashburn said that “a lot of people remember me for my college basketball years,” but at the rate he’s going, he might will outperform the success he saw on the court.