MADISON, Wis. -- Nearly 17 months have passed since Michael Finley last played in a professional basketball game, yet the word retirement has not officially spilled from his mouth. He is 38 years old now, far removed from possessing the skill set that once made him a two-time NBA all-star. Still, a glimmer of hope remains in his voice.
He is a man who sounds content with his place in life. But he is also a man who certainly wouldn't mind one last shot to latch onto an NBA team. Whether that opportunity presents itself again remains to be seen.
"I'm semi-retired, so to speak," Finley said. "With this lockout, I don't really know what I want to do. Hopefully if the lockout ends, I can get a chance to join a team. But if it doesn't, so be it."
Retirement -- or semi-retirement -- was just one of many topics Finley addressed on Friday during a short press conference inside the Kohl Center. The former University of Wisconsin men's basketball standout was in town for the weekend to announce that he had established an endowed scholarship benefiting African-American student athletes. The scholarship comes courtesy of the Michael Finley Foundation, a not-for-profit organization he created in 2003.
Finley played at Wisconsin from 1991-95 and helped lead the Badgers to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 47 years during his junior season. He was a two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection and is one of just two players in Badgers history to score more than 2,000 career points.
Finley said he was not highly recruited among Big Ten teams while coming out of Proviso East High School in Illinois during the early '90s. Only conference schools Northwestern and Wisconsin had expressed an interest in his talents. His recruiting trip to Madison represented the first of five planned visits to campuses around the country.
"Once I got here, I just fell in love," Finley said. "I remember going to a football game and hanging with the football players. It was as if I was already here, a part of the university. I don't know if they do that to all the recruits. But at that time I felt kind of special. I went home and thought about it and I thought this was the right place for me. I think I made the right decision."
The lessons Finley learned in leadership at Wisconsin, he said, carried over to an NBA career that lasted 15 seasons. During that time, Finley averaged 15.7 points per game and won an NBA title while with the San Antonio Spurs in 2007.
Finley last appeared in a professional basketball game on June 15, 2010, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals for the Boston Celtics. The Los Angeles Lakers won the series in seven games. When Finley's contract expired following the season, he was not picked up by another NBA franchise.
Since that time, Finley said he'd been staying in shape where he lives in Texas -- just in case he receives one more phone call to revive his career.
"Anybody who knows me knows that I'm a gym rat," Finley said. "I love to work out. Regardless if it was a lockout, if I was playing, if I wasn't, I'm still going to work out and stay in good shape. It's just the way I am. Now if someone does call me to join a team, I'll be ready physically to join them. That's not a big deal with me."
If that call never arrives once the NBA lockout ends, Finley said he would continue to pursue local and national charitable events related to the Michael Finley Foundation.
According to basketball-reference.com, Finley made more than 138 million over his 15-year NBA career while playing for the Phoenix Suns, the Dallas Mavericks, the San Antonio Spurs and the Boston Celtics.
Finley said he hoped the endowment scholarship, awarded annually to one African-American student-athlete, would extend his legacy at Wisconsin for years to come.
"I think my scholarship just gives other African-Americans an opportunity to attend a big time college," Finley said. "It's an opportunity that may not have been there without my scholarship. The beauty of it, I think, is I'm a result of what can happen when you get out of a not-so-great environment and come to an environment like this, which is different. It can make you a better person.
"Hopefully by me having that scholarship available to African-Americans, they can experience the same things that I experienced here and make them a better person in life."
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