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Renaissance Man
Chris Ballard
December 16, 2002
Warriors center Adonal Foyle has more on his plate—politics, poetry, a master's degree—than just hoops
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December 16, 2002

Renaissance Man

Warriors center Adonal Foyle has more on his plate—politics, poetry, a master's degree—than just hoops

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Special Effect

Adonal Foyle is one of the most proficient shot blockers in the NBA, as he was in college. Though he plays only 19.1 minutes per game, he was averaging 2.5 blocks through Dec. 7 to rank seventh in the league. Here are his career block stats as a pro.

Season

Minutes per game

Blocks per game

1997-98

11.9

.95

1998-99

14.0

.98

1999-00

21.8

1.79

2000-01

25.1

2.69

2001-02

18.8

2.13

2002-03

19.1

2.50

Once, and only once, Golden State Warriors forward Troy Murphy tried to talk to teammate Adonal Foyle about Democracy Matters, the organization Foyle founded last year to promote campaign finance reform. As Foyle explained the group's purpose, Murphy nodded, crinkling his brow in a quasi-intellectual manner. But somewhere between community coalitions and the perils of soft money, Foyle lost him. "I tried, but I had trouble understanding it," says Murphy, a second-year player from Notre Dame. "It was a little over my head."

Other Warriors feel the same way about the poetry the 27-year-old Foyle often reads aloud late at night on the team charter. "First time I heard that," says one teammate, "I thought he was talking to himself." Foyle smiles and shrugs. "Sometimes," he says in his rich Caribbean lilt, "one has to read a poet aloud to understand his work."

That's a sentence seldom heard around the NBA, a league in which most players are more familiar with NBA Live 2003 than with Maya Angelou. But for Foyle, who grew up without running water or electricity on the tiny island of Canouan (in the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent), there is no time for video games. Not when he is getting his master's degree in sports psychology at John F. Kennedy University in the Bay Area, trying to start a poetry-writing group for NBA players and helping to run Democracy Matters. "He's a Renaissance man," says Warriors general manager Garry St. Jean. "There aren't a lot of us in the NBA carrying a briefcase, a computer and four newspapers every day."

Because of his position on campaign finance, it's tempting to think of the 6'10", 265-pound Foyle as John McCain with a jump shot. The only problem is, Foyle can't shoot the jumper. As graceless on the court as he is eloquent off it, Foyle bumps and bangs on offense, relying on putbacks, short hooks and follow dunks. (Through Dec. 7 he was averaging only 4.5 points per game.) His defense is another story. Even though he averages only 19.1 minutes per game, Foyle was seventh in the NBA in blocks (2.5).

Foyle didn't play basketball until he was 16, when he moved from Canouan to Union Island. From there, his story is Horatio Alger meets Hoosiers. While playing in a tournament in Dominica, another island nation, he was spotted by Jay and Joan Mandle, Colgate University professors who were helping spread the popularity of basketball in the Caribbean. The couple sponsored Foyle's entry to the U.S., and he lived with them briefly in Hamilton, N.Y. Foyle went to Colgate, where he set the NCAA career record for blocks (492) as a junior and then left for the 1997 NBA draft. After Foyle was chosen eighth by the Warriors, he spent the summer and fall finishing classes for his degree in history.

Four years later, with the assistance of the Mandles, he started Democracy Matters. To further the organization, which encourages college students toward activism and has chapters at 30 U.S. universities, he makes speeches, runs a website and meets with student leaders. "Seeing how dismissive young people are of the political system, I thought they needed a voice—and not just going door-to-door begging for money," he says.

So how do his teammates and coaches view Foyle's activities? "The criticism I get is that [I should focus more on basketball]," he says. "I mean, how hard is it to read a book? There's a built-in hypocrisy when coaches say they want smart players. They really want dumb players. The buzzwords are, Don't overthink. If a coach gives a speech and it's horses—-, I see through it."

Foyle thinks there are more politically active athletes in the league than people realize, but he agrees that the game's culture doesn't lend itself to intellectual pursuits. "Part of it is the loneliness of the league," he says. "If all you've done your whole life is play basketball, it's no surprise a guy would spend 80 percent of his nonbasketball time playing video games. What else is he going to do?"

That is a question Foyle answered for himself long ago.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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