EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a monthly feature focused on “gems” in the Sea Coast Echo’s circulation area. We all have interesting and sometimes riveting stories from certain times in our lives that should be shared to inform, entertain and inspire. This feature appears the first Saturday of each month.
It’s hard to imagine someone having a more improbable journey to get to Hancock County than Billy “Coach” Reid.
“I was born in New York City in the South Bronx, which is the worst part of New York you can grow up in. It was a pretty rough childhood growing up. I saw a lot of things and was involved in a lot of things.”
South Bronx was a haven for drugs and crime, but not the gun violence plaguing cities today.
“You’d use your fists instead of guns and that would be it. You’d see a guy the next day on the basketball court and you would make up. I had a fight with a guy every time we saw each other. We fought for a month and then both of us got tired and said, ‘Let’s be friends.’ ”
Gangs were different then also.
“The guys in the gangs, and it’s kind of funny it would happen, they’d see me going to play basketball and I kind of got a pass. Sometimes they’d stop me and I’d have to fight a new member of the gang they were trying to initiate. Other days they’d say, ‘Go ahead. Go play basketball. We know you’re going to try to make something out of yourself.’ ”
The South Bronx was not a place for kids to dream big.
“Growing up in New York we didn’t really think of going to college or anything like that. We thought of being maybe a policeman because they helped us out. It was either the police, the fire department or go in the Army – one of the three.”
A career as a policeman was most likely the career Reid would have pursued had he stayed in the Bronx.
“Those guys were on the beat at that time and they always would help us out and kind of come put a foot up our butts and make us stay out of trouble. I would talk to them a lot and that really helped.”
Reid’s career choices expanded when he “escaped” New York at age 15 and moved to attend a private boarding school in North Carolina.
“It was Laurinburg Institute. They had kids from all different states that were headed toward having problems and their parents would send them there to get them away from wherever they lived. The police were actually the ones that bought me the bus ticket to go to North Carolina.”
The school and wooded grounds could not have been more different from the South Bronx and it was a tough adjustment for Reid.
“When I first got to Laurinburg I was sleeping in class and the principal called me into his office and said, ‘Hey, you’re going to get kicked out because you’re going to sleep,’ and I had to tell him I’m not used to it being this quiet at night. It was so quiet you could hear bugs chirping and I’m up at night looking around and I couldn’t sleep. It was just too quiet. In New York, all the sirens and the kids playing outside – that puts you right to sleep.”
Once he adjusted to the quiet nights, Reid did well in school and he excelled in the basketball program.
“I became an All-American when I was there and was able to visit different colleges after that. I went to the University of New Mexico for a year and then transferred to the University of San Francisco. We were the No. 1 team in the nation while I was there.”
He was the co-captain of the championship team due more to his dedication than raw talent.
“I was the first one there for practice and the last one to leave.”
That dedication propelled him into the NBA, but it went down to the wire.
“I was actually the last player picked in the draft.”
He signed a three-year contract with the Golden State Warriors and suddenly found himself playing with basketball legends and living the big life in California. It didn’t go as planned.
“I made it, played for a year and a half and then just got complacent. I just thought I was bigger than what I was supposed to be, and life showed me that I wasn’t. I began to be the last one to practice and the first one to leave and doing it that way I got injured. Before that I was in tip-top shape with no injuries. I was going to church and I stopped doing that because I was this cool guy driving around in a Porsche. As soon as I got hurt though, I grabbed my groin and said ‘oh, my God.’ That was a sign.”
Reid’s path to NBA riches came to an abrupt end, but his road to wealth was just beginning.
“I was able to come back from my injury and it’s kind of like God gave me a little spanking and said, ‘I’m going to take care of you. I’m going to let you play overseas.’ I went to the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, Venezuela, France, Italy, Spain and Morocco, and got, not necessarily rich, but wealthy.
“And that’s what I always taught my kids. You can be rich, but sometimes if misfortune happens you can become poor right away. But if you’re wealthy with knowledge, travel and things like that, you can always be wealthy no matter what happens to you.”
A long road to Hancock County still lay ahead for Reid. From 1992-2000, he coached and played in France and then returned to the US to coach, scout and recruit at the University of Rhode Island, University of San Francisco and Stony Brook University.
Next was a stop back at his former high school – Laurinburg Institute – where he coached the team to a 24-1 record and a No. 5 ranking in the National Prep polls.
Finally, in 2006, Reid made it to Mississippi when USM Head Coach Larry Eustachy hired him as the director of basketball operations. Reid was successful at USM and didn’t foresee leaving until his second son, Malcolm, was cut from his high school team.
When Malcolm was born his hips were displaced, he was bow-legged, and his growth was stunted. His height was more pronounced when he was on the basketball court with boys who were taller than average. At 4 foot, 9 ? inches (and he insists on emphasizing the half inch) what he lacked in height, he made up for in heart.
“He got cut from his high school team in Hattiesburg. The coach told me he was too short to play and so after the USM practices I would train Malcolm myself.” Reid also began searching for another school where he could coach and his sons Malcolm and William could play on the team. The school he found was Saint Stanislaus, and the head coach was Jay Ladner.
“Jay was a big part of my coming down, and Stanislaus is a good school that made the decision easy.”
Reid’s two sons played and their team won a state championship.
While teaching and coaching at SSC, Reid felt the pull of law enforcement. He began working part-time with the Waveland Police Department and the thought of becoming a full time law enforcement officer took hold when his sons graduated high school.
Reid talked with Hancock County Sheriff Ricky Adam.
“The sheriff knew I was good with kids and I had a good name around town. He hired me here, and I’ve been moving up. I was a part-time deputy at first, deputy, sergeant, lieutenant of a command, an investigator and a lieutenant investigator now. So, I’ve been making progress and it’s because of him giving me a chance kind of like those officers gave me a chance when I was growing up.”
He said he owes his life to the South Bronx officers who mentored him.
“I would have been like most of my friends. Most of the guys I hung out were either killed, overdosed on drugs, or in jail.”
Reid has held basketball camps in Bay St. Louis and in South Bronx. His stories resonate with kids, less about basketball and more about his life after South Bronx.
“When I talk to kids I don’t have 30-point stories to tell them because I’ve never scored 30 points in a game, but I can talk to them about work ethic and how to be a good person and how to play the game the right way and do life the right way. I have more of those stories than 30-point stories.”
If you would like to share a story from your life or would like to nominate someone to be a “Gem,” e-mail Bill at: firstname.lastname@example.org.