Taken from us way too soon in 2000, Malik Sealy's memory lives on far beyond the center of his greatest accomplishments, St. John's University. (Photo courtesy of RedStormSports.com)
On this day twelve years ago, a piece of basketball stardom was prematurely taken from this world when Malik Sealy, an NBA journeyman who had just wrapped up his second season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and eighth overall in the professional ranks, was tragically killed in a car accident outside Minneapolis. Sealy had been driving home from the 24th birthday celebration of teammate Kevin Garnett, who wore No. 21 with the Timberwolves to honor Sealy; who himself had worn that number both in his earlier years in the pros and in the collegiate ranks at St. John's University in Queens, where he still ranks to this day as the Red Storm's second-leading all-time scorer behind Hall of Famer Chris Mullin. The Bronx native is still regarded as one of the greatest players to ever don the red and white, as he received the school's basketball legacy honors after his death; and his life and times are still celebrated on campus, where one of his NBA jerseys and several media clippings hang in the Johnnies' Taffner Field House practice facility.
Aside from being a fellow New York City product, Sealy and his career hit close to home for me as well. Those who know me well can vouch for the fact that the University of North Carolina and Michigan State University are my two favorite college basketball programs, but it was the 6-8 swingman Sealy who provided me with my first college hoops memory when I saw him lead the then-Redmen to victory from my home in Queens as a 5-year-old in 1991. I do not remember the team Lou Carnesecca's bunch defeated at Alumni Hall that day, just that Sealy was the main catalyst in the triumph, and came away thinking he would almost certainly be making an impact at the next level sooner rather than later. The Indiana Pacers made this vision a reality the following year when they selected him 14th overall in 1992, making Sealy part of a draft class that included the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Christian Laettner, Robert Horry, Hubert Davis, Latrell Sprewell and P.J. Brown among others. Sealy's college teammate Robert Werdann (whose uncle Tony Missere was the sports management department chairman while I was a student at St. John's, and whose cousin Phil walked on during the Norm Roberts regime) was a second-round selection that year as well.
Sealy's greatest years came with the Los Angeles Clippers, where he averaged double figures in each of his three campaigns in the City of Angels, highlighted by a career-best 13.5 points per game in 1996-97. The Clippers also provided the New York legend with his first opportunity as a full-time starter, which he not surprisingly took advantage of immediately. A year in Detroit and two in Minnesota capped off a career that was just entering its prime before he met his unfortunate demise at the tender age of 30.
There is no doubt in my mind that, had he been able to spend a few more years in the NBA, that Malik Sealy would have rejuvenated his career. In addition, he would have been one of the biggest supporters of the captivating run St. John's enjoyed in the 2010-11 season, advancing to the NCAA Tournament under head coach Steve Lavin. Yet, as fate would have it, one of the greatest stars St. John's has ever seen is still guiding the program to this day, offering assists from above as the program in which he added new chapters to an already rich tradition tries to recapture the magic that he was once spread across Red Storm nation two decades ago.