Finally, a Chance to Win

Associated Press

Tony Massenburg might be the world's foremost expert on bad professional basketball. In the last 13 years, he has played for 11 NBA teams, two Spanish League teams and an Italian club -- and nearly all were terrible.

When Massenburg took the court in the Sacramento Kings' season opener Wednesday night against Cleveland, he tied Chucky Brown's NBA record by playing for his 12th team.

This fall, the 36-year-old Massenburg hopes, his epic journey finally will earn him a bit of personal respect and team success. After a career on bad teams, the power forward is a key backup for the Kings, a veteran squad with designs on another playoff run after back-to-back Pacific Division titles.

"I know you have to be in a winning situation to get respect in this league, and I never got into one," Massenburg said. "When Sacramento called, I just thought, 'Finally!' This is a really, really great situation, and I jumped on it. You can lose a lot of games, but you never forget how much fun winning is. That's in your bones."

To the hundreds of players who have been his teammate, Massenburg is known as a sharp dresser, an unselfish worker and a gritty defender. Though he might lead the league in moving expenses, he has outlasted most players his age, countless coaches and even two NBA cities that lost the teams for which he played.

"He's been around. He's been everywhere," said Mike Bibby, Massenburg's teammate in Vancouver and Sacramento. "There's not a lot of guys out there who could play that long. Most guys who move around like that are home right now."

Massenburg hasn't kept many souvenirs from his travels beyond the odd jersey or gym bag, but he recently began thinking about the possibility of adding one more keepsake: a championship ring.

"I think I've still got a lot of basketball left," Massenburg said. "Nobody has ever had to challenge me or challenge my commitment. I do that to myself. When you're on bad teams, you learn how to motivate yourself."

Massenburg has comprehensive experience in losing. After 13 seasons, he has just six playoff games on his record: one in his rookie year with San Antonio in 1991, and five last season with Utah against Sacramento.

While in all those dismal situations, Massenburg learned survival skills that always attracted another employer. He attributes his inability to stick with a club to the lousiness of those clubs -- and the Kings agree.

"When you're on bad teams, they constantly make changes that don't make sense," Massenburg said. "They're only concerned about the draft picks and the guys they pay the money to. If you're one of the ordinary guys who's just doing a good job, you get the leftovers, at best."

Massenburg has trouble remembering every line of his resume. Starting as a second-round draft pick out of Maryland in 1990, he has played for San Antonio, Charlotte, Boston, Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Vancouver, Houston, Vancouver/Memphis again, Utah and Sacramento.

"He's always been on really bad teams, and he's always deserved something better," Kings' Coach Rick Adelman said. "A lot of people make fun of all the uniforms he's worn, but what that means is he's pretty darn good. Unfortunately, he hasn't been in a situation where people can recognize that."

During the 1991-92 season, Massenburg set the NBA's single-season record by playing for four teams -- the last three on a series of 10-day contracts. He also played four games for an Italian League team during his spare time that season.

"People don't understand how it happened," Massenburg said. "I played for four teams in one year. I got traded and then traded again. I moved around a whole lot for a little while. Now that I've had a long career, it's a little bit deceiving. It's not as bad as it looks."

The Kings faced Massenburg regularly in the Western Conference for the past six seasons -- though Massenburg wore four different uniforms during that time.

They're counting on Massenburg to provide the sort of less-tangible contributions they got from Scot Pollard, a hard-nosed backup traded to Indiana in the offseason. Massenburg's savvy has been valuable with Chris Webber out with a knee injury.

"It's an exciting style of basketball, and it's exciting to be a part of it," Massenburg said. "I'm just really looking forward to everything that's coming up."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World