A Coffee Shop Conversation with Robert Reid, 1985

[Robert Reid grew up as a member of a devout Pentecostal family in small-town Texas, praising the Lord and playing basketball in his free time. He came to excel at the basketball and played four years in the mid-1970s at St. Mary’s University, then an NAIA school. With his sturdy 6-foot-8 frame and unusual versatility for a big man, Reid caught the eye of a Houston Rockets scout. After wasting a pick in the 1977 NBA draft on forward Larry Moffett, a part-time nightclub bouncer from UNLV, the Rockets took a chance on Reid late in the second round

Reid thrived on and off the court in Houston—maybe a little too much for his peace of mind and Pentecostal upbringing. “We’d hit three nightclubs after a game,” Reid explained. “I was even a prize on a radio contest—win a date with Robert Reid. It got so I had to run a gauntlet of women when I left the locker room . . . I had to get out of that scene.” 

And so, at age 26, Reid walked away. He retired, swearing off the NBA lifestyle and vowing to save his soul.

Reid stayed retired for just one season. Upon his return, he explained, “I have grown up . . . I have confidence now about walking in my own footsteps. Before, I was too easily influenced. Whichever way the wind blew, I was gone.”

In this article, published in the March 3, 1985 issue of the Los Angeles Times, columnist Scott Ostler allows Reid to elaborate on his reasons for leaving the NBA and why he returned. Ostler was a top columnist in the 1980s, and he doesn’t disappoint here.]


Robert Reid walks into the hotel coffee shop and one waitress does a semi-swoon. Another calls darling and brings his order with the kind of speed and enthusiasm that win employee-of-the-month awards.

Girls like Robert Reid. A few years ago, Robert Reid spent a lot of time liking them back. “I rode that wave,” Reid says chuckling. “I rode that bad boy. Rode it five miles out, and took my time coming back.”

But girls are only part of the story. Even in the bizarre world of the NBA, there’s no story quite like Robert Reid’s. I’ve heard of people having religious objections to war . . . or medical operations . . . or sex education . . . or even sex.

But basketball?

That’s the way it was for Robert Reid back in 1982. He was one of the NBA’s most-exciting young players on the court and off. He quit. He turned in his jock and his little black book and his $300,000 contract and went back to church.

A season later, he returned.

Reid, a 6-foot-8 forward, showed up on the NBA’s doorstep in 1977. He had played ball at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and was drafted by the Houston Rockets way down the draft list. He arrived at training camp in a taxi five bucks short on the fare.

Reid made the team. Then he made the starting lineup, ahead of Rudy Tomjanovich  Reid played with flair and grace. He and his team were approaching greatness. The center was Moses Malone. The quarterback was Reid. [Note: Rudy T. got clobbered by Kermit Washington during Reid’s rookie season and underwent a tough recovery. I don’t think this detail about beating out Rudy T. is quite accurate, especially with Reid playing mostly in the backcourt or at small forward.]

“I’d say, ‘Moses! Here!’ He’d come set the screen, and I’d jack it up.”

Reid shakes his head, thinking back. “You come out of nowhere, you make it, everything is going fine, you’re really enjoying yourself,” he recalled. 

What more could you want?

“Then you come into big conflict between your lifestyle and what the church considers a proper lifestyle. That’s when you have doubts. You start second-guessing yourself.”

Reid’s church is Pentecostal. His grandmother and mother are devout. The time spent on the court and in the nightclubs, they reminded him, was time spent not in church. He didn’t smoke or drink or do drugs, but Reid is a bright, gregarious guy, and he did set NBA records for nightclubbing and friendship-making. The girls called him Bobby Joe, and they called him often.

His elders urged him to quit basketball. “You have loved ones who are not interested in money and fame, they’re just concerned about your soul,” Reid says. “I decided to quit. I was through with professional basketball. It just wasn’t important to me. I made my decision, and I felt good.”

Robert went home to Miami [actually, to his grandmother’s Pentecostal ministry]. When he got bored, he took a job in a discount clothing store. Within a week, he was promoted to manager and was raking in $223 a week, exactly $5,546 a week less than he had made in the NBA. But he didn’t care about the money.

“I was able to learn a lot about people, what they go through,” Reid says. “A family of six comes in, the father with his unemployment check. A boy comes in and doesn’t have enough money to buy a shirt. I would let kids work in the store, and I would put my own money in the register.”

A man came into the store one day, scooped up an armload of clothes and ran. Reid chased the man outside and around a corner to a car where the man’s buddy was waiting, pointing a .38 at Reid. End of chase. “I’m no Joe Mannix,” Reid says.

A couple of times, the cops called him at home at 3 in the morning. The store had been broken into. Reid would go down to the store, pull out a cot, grab a baseball bat, and guard the store until morning. “It was a rough part of town,” he says.

Then he went to work at a cement plant, putting in 14-hour days and taking classes at night. He was studying to become a fireman. “I got a feeling for what it was like to work long hours, come home, shower, and eat your dinner with your left hand holding your head up,” he says, “I started to realize what working fathers, husbands, go through.”

He was about to join the fire department when the Rockets called and asked him if he would come back. For a week, he walked lonely beaches, looking inside his soul. He was married now, with a child, but he didn’t miss the money. He missed the ball.

He decided that his personal religious beliefs were not in conflict with his athletic goals. In many ways, in fact, they were complementary.

His mother, grandmother, and wife objected. But this time, Robert felt strong inside. “This is Robert Reid’s life,” he told himself.

He went back to Houston. Last season, he averaged 14 points. This season, the season of the Twin Towers [Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon], Reid is no longer a starter. He is a key player off the bench. He can live with that. He has what you might call a unique perspective on the game.

Reid looks around the hotel coffee shop. It’s sunny outside. He has an afternoon to kill. He’s working on 20 bucks’ worth of shrimp and guacamole and milkshakes. “I sit here and think about people,” he says. “The guy who carries your bag in, the guy at the desk who checks you in. Their whole lives are governed by a clock. They might get a half-hour for lunch. We complain if the coach makes us go an extra hour after practice.”

When the complaining starts, Robert just leans back. “I smile to myself and say, ‘Hey, if you only knew.’”

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