December 21, 1987
In June 1990, Rory Sparrow was vacationing in Hawaii when a woman in a hotel elevator recognized him. " Rick Barry was talking about you on TV," the stranger informed the 6'2" Sparrow, who had just finished his season as a guard with the Miami Heat. "You've been traded to Sacramento." Sparrow was hardly fazed by the prospect of changing cities: The Kings would be his sixth NBA team in 11 seasons. A year later Sacramento chose not to re-sign him, and he bounced in rapid succession to three more teams. In 1992, worn down by what he calls "the cold business of pro basketball," he quietly retired, leaving behind solid numbers (career averages of 9.0 points and 5.0 assists) and a reputation as one of the game's truly good guys.
Shakespeare wrote, "There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow." Freed from his migratory existence, this Sparrow settled in Montclair, N.J., 16 minutes from the Paterson projects in which he was raised. Here he could devote full attention to his wife, Jacqui, their three sons and hundreds of underprivileged kids. Sparrow spends Saturdays in a bleak school gymnasium in Paterson, volunteering for Positive Impact, a nonprofit organization stalled by Joe Butler, a childhood rec-league teammate, and Joe Grier. When he's not teaching 12-year-olds zone defense and long division, Sparrow, in his job as the NBA's player-programs director, counsels newly rich twentysomethings on how to make the transition from college to pro life.
For his volunteer work with youths in New York City and Paterson, Sparrow was named one of SI's eight Sportsmen and Sportswomen of the Year ("Athletes Who Care" was the cover billing) in 1987. He says he has "always felt in a special position to help and guide others." Even in the middle of a basketball game this inclination was evident: Sparrow had 400 or more assists in four consecutive seasons as a Knick. At Villanova, where he earned an electrical engineering degree, Sparrow won five games with shots at the buzzer.
Sparrow, 41, spends most evenings in the glow of a computer screen, pecking away at Love Thy Brother, a roman � clef that's one of his two novels in progress. Although he is unsure if he will reveal his literary talent to the world, he's determined to complete both manuscripts in the near future. After all, Sparrow firmly believes in a credo he often repeats to his young charges: "It's not where you start, but where you finish."