Milt Palacio has a word of advice for anyone aspiring to play professional basketball. "I always tell guys,” says 33-year-old Palacio, who spent several years in the NBA and now plays for Blusens Monbus in Spain, to FIBA: “I even tell my son that, ‘You can't relax. No matter how good you think you are, or how good you (actually) are, you can't relax.’”
Palacio has had that philosophy from the very beginning. Fifteen years ago, when he was in Los Angeles and looking to play college basketball, Palacio wasn’t the player that every big-time school wanted to have. Yet that didn’t stop him from making it to the NBA.
“I played at Colorado State,” he says. “I wasn't heavily recruited in college or drafted in the NBA. I went through the backdoor. I went to Vancouver (Grizzlies in 1999) as a free agent, worked my butt off and made the team. I stuck around seven years.”
Do an internet search using the words “Palacio game winner” and you should find a remarkable, buzzer-beating shot Palacio made while playing for the Boston Celtics against New Jersey in 2000. Celtics fans will never forget it, a game that was played three days after Christmas. After the ball falls through the hoop, an off-balance Palacio falls to the floor and is smothered by teammates in wild celebrations. He was happy then, and he’s still happy – even while overseas – because Palacio is still living his life on a basketball court.
He is on a journey that a lot of American players make. "You can look at it like that,” he says, “but I try to make the best out of every situation I'm in. I don't come over here and sulk, put my head down and say, 'I'm overseas, now, and should be in the NBA. It really depends what journey God has for you in your life and you just have to go out there, take it and accept it and make the most of it."
So 11 years after that incredible Palacio shot against New Jersey, he plays in Spain with Blusens, a team based in Santiago de Compostela. He has also played in Serbia, Russia and Greece since leaving the NBA. Palacio, during games, just looks happy to be on the court, wearing his trademark headband and running the offense.
“I love it,” he says of the game. I love it.”
Can he imagine life without basketball?
“(Laughs) I can't,” he says. "My wife says this all the time. Sometimes in the summer when I’m supposed to be sitting around and relaxing, I just get up and start playing. She says, ‘You're 33, relax. But I can't. I have so much fun playing this game. It's what I have always wanted to do.”
When he does stop playing, Palacio says he will coach. He has plenty of things to tell the players who want to be pros. "You need luck, and I tell guys that,” he says. “I went in (to the NBA) as a defensive stopper and just gained the respect of the players. I got there (to practice) early and left late. I think that is the biggest thing. I didn't settle.”
Palacio will also drive home the importance of never, ever resting. "I can remember like yesterday the day the (Vancouver) GM told me I made the team and I never relaxed,” he says.
“But I saw guys in my year do that. The GM told them they made the team, they relaxed and got cut the next year and never played again. I saw guys drafted first, second or third and play three years and they're gone.”
As a coach, Palacio will indeed have much to say. “I want to help kids out,” he says. “You've got to dream big. I dreamt big as a kid and I kept myself to the grind. People said I couldn't shoot so I just kept working, working, working and trying to be a leader. Look at Kobe (Bryant) and those guys. Those guys are 24/7 working around the clock. They don't stop. Look at LeBron James. He may have come back to the NBA in the best shape of his life right now. So you can't relax because the next man wants to take your job.”