Leapin' Leroy's hard road to NBL stardom
THE mere mention of the name Leroy Loggins conjures up fine memories for anyone old enough to remember the golden days of the NBL.
His enduring and stellar career with the Brisbane Bullets in the peak of their national league success made Leapin' Leroy a household name in southeast Queensland and beyond.
But there was more to it than just pure sporting talent and solid work ethic; Leroy also had a charisma about him that endeared him to Australians. His willingness to become an Aussie, representing his adopted country at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, was a big part of the positive reception he enjoyed here.
How a young African American fella from the rough streets of Baltimore, Maryland made it to our neck of the woods in the first place is a story in itself, and it tells you a lot about what drives the man to do the work he does with Ipswich kids to this day.
Leroy was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey on December 20, 1957, but he has very little or no memory of his place of birth.
His spiritual home is actually in Cherry Hill, a suburb in South Baltimore where Leroy moved as a four-year-old and remained until he got his break.
Made famous in the recent HBO Series The Wire, Baltimore hasn't received the best of publicity over the years, and Leroy can understand why.
"The Wire was a TV show, but I was living it,” he said. "Growing up it was really tough man; a lot of crime, a lot of drugs, and every day was a challenge - you just don't know what's going to happen from day to day.
"It's a tough situation to be in and very hard to get out of. I was very fortunate to play basketball and believe in myself.”
From the age of 11, Leroy started telling everyone who cared to listen that he was going to be a professional basketball player. He turned out to be right, but not before almost getting caught up in the cycle of crime in Baltimore.
Even Leroy went through a bad patch of sniffing chemicals, and stealing cars.
"As soon as you walk out your front door in Baltimore it's on for young and old mate,” he said.
"We were walking down the street one time, me and my friend Dennis, and this car just pulls up in front of us and the guy gets out on the hood and starts shooting.
"I don't know why but he might have mistaken us for someone, which happens a lot in the neighbourhoods. I've seen people die. In Baltimore, tomorrow is not promised”
Neither is an education.
After enrolling himself into community college at the age of 17, Leroy found himself stuck in night-time classes which he didn't take well to. He threw his text books in the bin and ended up on the streets again.
"I had to do a lot of soul searching before I realised basketball could be rewarding for me,” he said. "In my first game in community college at Baltimore, I scored 47 points and I thought I might be able to do some damage.”
Basketball became everything to Leroy. He used to walk around dribbling a ball at night and practicing his skills. When he wasn't playing or watching basketball, he was dreaming about it. He earned a scholarship to Fairmont State College, West Virginia, and from that he was selected as one of a dozen Americans to travel to Australia for the what was then known as the American-Australian Basketball League.
Leroy played for the Gold Coast Cougars, had a great season and immediately took a liking to the place.
"I had a big crush on Olivia Newton-John,” Leroy said. "I thought to myself, maybe I could be walking along Surfers Paradise on one of those beaches and run into her by chance. It never happened.”
But Leroy did find his way back to Brisbane after being signed with the Brisbane Bullets. He played his first season for Brisbane in 1981, before signing with West Adelaide for two years.
He won his first NBL title with Adelaide, finishing runner-up the next year. On his return to the Bullets in '84, he contested the grand final again.
"My life is like a boomerang, 'cause I will try to throw it away but it keeps coming back to me,” he said.
Australia was also where Leroy's life took a turn for the better. He met his wife and the mother of his children here. Leroy kept playing until the ripe age of 43, when the Bullets ended his contract.
It wasn't the way the Brisbane legend wanted to go out, and to this day he insists he could have almost continued to play until he lifted the bat for the half-century.
Unfortunately, the end of an era for Australian basketball hit Leroy as hard as it hit his fans. He suffered a bad bout of depression over the next two years, which forced him to reconsider his place in the world.
"I thought at the time that I enjoy working with kids and interacting with people. An opportunity came up for me to volunteer my time at Glenala High School,” he said. "After that I started making plans to set something up in schools myself.”
So the Leroy Loggins Foundation was born. The program takes Leroy and his small team to schools right across the country. Numeracy and literacy is a key focus.
"Next year will be my 16th year,” Leroy said as he described a few of the stories of troubled kids who'd gone on to bigger and better things after going through his program.
"We only get a small slice of the pie but it's four of us that work on the program, including my son, Leroy Jnr, who is 23 this year, plus Lisa and Mark.”
Leroy gives Bremer kids a sporting chance
IN OCTOBER, Leroy Loggins was at Bremer State High to celebrate One Tribe Day with students through sport, art, music and food.
Bremer community education counsellor Sandra Anderson said Mr Loggins had served as an excellent role model to the school's Indigenous population, which stands at 220 students, or about 12%.
"Leroy is unbelievably good as a role model who the kids love having here,” Ms Anderson said.
"When he starts off, he tells them his life story, which shows them how we can strive to be anything we want to be.
"He chose basketball to get himself out of what he was going through, and the kids just love hearing about that. It's about encouraging them to believe in themselves and knowing there's nothing that can keep you down.”
The Loggins organisation runs programs known as The Game and Youngstorm in schools including Bremer High, Leichhardt, Silkstone and Riverview state schools. Leroy says he is passionate about working with Indigenous students.
NBL Most Valuable Player (1984, 1986, 1987)
All NBL First team (1982-1988, 1990, 1993, 1994)
NBL Grand Final MVP (1987)
NBL Defensive Player of the Year (1987, 1990)
NBL champion (1982, 1985, 1987)
NBL 20th Anniversary Team (1998)
NBL 25th Anniversary Team (2003)