"I want to be the kind of person who anyone would be comfortable around," says Moncrief. "Someone with a common touch. That's the key. I think of Doc. He has more respect as a person than he does as a basketball player. To me, that's really the ultimate compliment an athlete can get."
In Milwaukee, Moncrief is a working-class hero of such stature that his popularity didn't wane two seasons ago when he engaged in blue-collar heresy—renegotiation. Though Moncrief quadrupled his contract with a five-year, $5.2 million deal, he did it without holding out or engaging in a bloodletting with management. He is not in love with Milwaukee's winters, but he donates his time to good causes in a community that is close to its athletes and respects their privacy. "People are friendly in Milwaukee," he says, "and they use a small spotlight."
In Arkansas, Moncrief has been an institution ever since he keyed the Eddie Sutton-coached Razorback teams of the late '70s that put the sports-crazed state back on the athletic map. "Sidney has always had the big valentine," says Sutton, now head coach at Kentucky. "He played so hard it just made the whole state proud." When he is introduced at the numerous clinics and community functions he attends in the off-season, it is often as "the most beloved athlete in the history of Arkansas." Says Arkansas Democrat managing editor John Robert Starr, "Sidney has done more for race relations in this state than anyone in the last 20 years."
Since turning professional, Moncrief and his wife, Debra, have spent each off-season in Little Rock. Their home is a spacious ranch-style house, with a tennis court and swimming pool in the backyard. They met in third grade and were married before Sidney's senior year at Arkansas. Debra has seen Sidney at his lowest point—after tough, exhausting losses, when his knees wouldn't stop aching—but admits she still hasn't gotten to the bottom of her husband's strength.
"There are times I think Sidney is almost too solid. Nothing scares him, and not very much bothers him. He's not unfeeling, but I don't think he knows what real empathy is," says Debra, who is a registered nurse. "He cares, and he can feel sorry for someone, but he can't really feel what someone else does."
"She's right," says Moncrief. "I don't get right down to the core of other people's feelings. My own, either. I don't think in terms of my proudest moment or biggest hardship. That's past. I've just always gone forward. And things have gone so well in my life that if they suddenly went bad, I'd have to learn how to react."
For now, he is hedging against such a time, laying the groundwork for a business career after basketball. With the help of an attorney, a banker and an accountant as advisers, Moncrief is planning his financial future carefully. "Sidney has very sound business sense, and he absorbs information like a sponge," says the attorney. Jay Dickey Jr.
Moncrief has numerous investments in real estate, owns three Arabian horses and is a director on two major corporate boards. He is an advisory director with Savers Federal Savings & Loan in Little Rock, where he worked part-time last summer to learn banking principles, and he holds a full voting position with ARKLA, a public utility with assets of more than $1 billion. Moncrief began working for the utility the summer before he entered Arkansas, digging and installing gas lines for $1.69 an hour. His industry so impressed company president Sheffield Nelson, who also comes from a nonaffluent background, that when Nelson resigned from the company last year in order to pursue a political career, he sponsored Moncrief as his replacement on the board.
Moncrief is the only black and the youngest member on both boards, but he sees his background as an advantage rather than a liability. "People are essentially right when they say that if I didn't play basketball, if I wasn't Sidney Moncrief, I wouldn't be part of the Establishment," he says. "But that doesn't take away from the fact that I am and that it puts me in a position to help people who need it. When there is a cause to fight for, I'll be able to solicit help. Even if I don't get it right away, I'll be adding a viewpoint that needs to be heard in these circles. But right now my main objective is to listen and learn."
Actually, some of Arkansas's liberal power brokers, including Sheffield Nelson, believe Moncrief has the ability and popularity to become the state's first black governor sometime around the year 2000. Governor Bill Clinton recently joked at a fund-raiser for the benefit of Little Rock's Philander Smith College, "The only comfort I can take in having the smallest governor's salary in the nation is that it might stop Sidney Moncrief from running against me."