NBA star Dwyane Wade recounted the details during his appearance on The Platform Basketball Podcast, the popular webcast co-hosted by Cole and three other well-connected basketball figures.
Cole laughed the other evening when I asked him to tell his side of the story:
“We were on the road and I was going to take a half-court shot. Before I did I told D-Wade – he’d just gotten this brand new Porsche – I said, ‘If I make this shot, you gotta let me get the Porsche!’
“He laughed and said, ‘Deal!’
“Well, I shot it and it was all net….Swish!
“And sure enough, when we got back home to Miami, the keys were waiting for me.”
If you know anything about Norris Cole – from his days at Dunbar High School, where he led the basketball team to two state titles, was a football standout and the salutatorian of his class, to Cleveland State, where he was the Horizon League Player of the Year, his first two seasons in Miami when the Heat won NBA titles and his career overseas where he’s played in five different countries and already has won two more titles – you know he’s had quite a ride through life.
That’s never been more evident than during the past few months of the COVID-19 pandemic that has totally upended our daily lives and mostly shut down the sports world.
But during this time, Cole has expanded his horizons while also being honored for his past achievements.
“Basketball is part of my life, but it’s not my whole life,” he said. “It never has been.”
Earlier this month, the Dayton Skyscrapers Visual Voices exhibit – which celebrates Cole, Dave Chappelle, John Legend, actor Dorian Harewood and several other local African Americans who have made a real difference in life – was reopened at Bing Davis’s EboNia Gallery at 1135 W. Third Street.
Davis is the curator of the annual exhibit which features the works of local African American artists. The show opened at the Schuster Center in downtown Dayton in February, but soon after the facility was closed because of the pandemic.
Skyscrapers was relaunched July 5 at EboNia and will continue until Sept. 5. The gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment on the weekends.
Thursday afternoon Davis raved about Cole, whose likeness was done by artist and Central State professor Dwayne Daniels: “I’ve just been finding out what an accomplished guy Norris is. He’s really someone special.”
On May 30, Cole – at the request of Cleveland State University president Harlan M. Sands – spoke to the school’s graduating class during its virtual commencement ceremony.
“I just wanted to encourage them to keep fighting, be productive and challenge themselves,” Cole said.
That’s what he has done with The Platform Basketball Podcast which he puts on with Indiana Pacers guard/forward Justin Holiday, NBA trainer Chris Johnson and overseas pro and Swish Cultures curator Jordan Richard.
Their guests have included everyone from actor, singer, comedian and producer Jamie Foxx to NBA coach Tom Thibodeaux.
During this time, Cole said he continues to operate The Norris Cole Foundation, which places special emphasis on the youth of the Miami Valley and especially the Dayton area.
“Dayton is home,” he said. “You always take care of home first.”
That said, he’s getting ready to leave it again. Last month he signed a two-year contract with the French club AVSEL. He has been training in Miami and is scheduled to leave for France next month. EuroLeague play is still set to begin in early October.
‘Change has to happen'
Aside from the way some factions are trying to politicize science and the battle to get control of the surging COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest social issue the past few months has been the anti-brutality campaign that has swept the nation following the on-video killing of George Floyd and the recent deaths of other unarmed African Americans by police.
“I felt a lot of emotions when I saw the video,” Cole said quietly. “I definitely felt anger…and sadness It didn’t have to happen. It’s just so tragic to see a human being’s life literally being choked out of them.
“And people there couldn’t do anything but watch it. That or fight the police and that wouldn’t have been good. There’d have been more tragic consequences.
“You don’t want violence against authority figures, but – and I hate to say it – the oppressed can only take so much. But I think you have to try to continue to move forward and try to turn something positive out of it.
“You’ve got to bring awareness to the situation every way you can. Right now I believe we are at a point where change has to happen.”
Cole has tried to tackle that issue with the podcast and with daily conversations with friends, especially white friends: “You need to have those kinds of uncomfortable conversations so we can turn this around.”
The interview with Foxx – which had funny stories about everybody from Shaq to Mike Tyson – was especially moving when he talked about being an African American man and what happened to his father.
“Yes we talk a lot of basketball and sports, but we use that as a segue to raise attention and awareness to a lot of different topics,” Cole said. “We want to talk about real life and what is going on.”
Ultimate role player
While his podcast has brought to light some of the inequalities in daily American life, it also serves as a stage for all that is possible when a black life truly matters.
In the case of Cole’s life, it shows what can come when the foundation is fortified by that never-say-never attitude.
Coming out of Dunbar at just over 6-feet – actually 5-foot-11 if you listen to Dwyane Wade’s jibes now – Cole initially had no Division I basketball offers and planned to play football at D-II Walsh University.
At the last minute Cleveland State’s Gary Waters made an offer that continues to pay dividends.
Cole played in 140 games for the Vikings, led them to an upset of Wake Forest in the NCAA Tournament, was the league’s leading scorer as a senior, had his No. 30 retired in 2016 and this April was voted the Horizon League Player of the Decade.
Although he was a first-round draft pick by the Chicago Bulls in 2011, he was immediately traded to Minnesota, which then peddled him to Miami, where he became a much-trusted role player behind Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
After four seasons with the Heat, he was traded to New Orleans, made the playoffs again and then went to China for part of a season.
He returned to play briefly with Oklahoma City and then has embarked on an overseas career that has included an Israeli League title with Maccabi Tel Aviv, a stint with Sidigas Avellino in France and then with Buducnost Podgorica with whom he won the Montenegrin Cup in 2019.
He was leading his Monaco team to the top of the French LNB Pro A League early this year when the pandemic hit.
Asked how he’s so often been able to join a team that then won a title, he paused for a moment, then said:
“I don’t know. I’m just fortunate, I guess.” Pressed for more, he finally added: “I think when you’re intention is pure – if you’re willing to play whatever role the team needs from you – and if you work hard and are able to lead people, you can be a winner.”
That willingness to do your part concept works in these COVID-19 times, too.
Since he played in China – where wearing masks is prevalent – I asked if he was more used to it than the rest of us.
“No, I’m not used to it,” he said. “I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that. Masks look weird and feel weird and they’re uncomfortable. But you’ve got to do what you got to do for everybody else. It’s how we’re going to get through this.” As we talked about the good lessons he has learned from playing around the world and the different people he has met, I wondered what was up next for The Platform: What topics might be discussed? Who were the upcoming guests?
“You’re gonna have to wait and see,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t do pre-drops. I can say we’ll continue to live in our creative space and stay relevant and find voices that need to be heard.”
You would expect nothing less from a skyscraper.