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This article was published 26/1/2018 (571 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When Todd MacCulloch was drafted in the second round of the 1999 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, he was devastated.
MacCulloch, a Winnipegger who led Shaftesbury High School to back-to-back provincial titles — made history by becoming the first Manitoban to be drafted by an NBA team.
But despite making history, the young seven-footer wasn’t happy because he believed he was going to be a first-round pick.
After all, he was coming off three straight seasons at the University of Washington where he led the nation in field goal percentage.
Forty-six names were called on draft night before the 76ers drafted the giant from the Prairies.
"I was in tears. I felt like I wasn’t worthy and that I had gone below my projections," said MacCulloch, who watched the draft live on TV with friends and family.
"I stayed upstairs until the 47th pick came and I heard a cheer from downstairs. Everyone was celebrating and I did a ‘whoop dee doo’ because it didn’t even matter. I was a second-round pick and it guaranteed me nothing."
It ended up being the best thing that could have happened to MacCulloch, who celebrates his 42nd birthday today.
As a first-round pick, MacCulloch would have received a guaranteed three-year contract, possibly with a team option for a fourth year. But as a second-round pick, MacCulloch had to settle for a two-year minimum-salary contract, but that also meant he was able to negotiate a new contract after only two seasons — if he played well enough to earn a new deal.
Despite playing limited minutes in his first two seasons with the Sixers, highlighted by an NBA Finals appearance in 2001, MacCulloch showed his potential. The New Jersey Nets liked what they saw and signed him to a lucrative six-year, US$33.75-million contract prior to the 2001-02 season. MacCulloch was making more money than the first overall pick of the ’99 draft, Elton Brand.
"I wouldn’t recommend going the second-round route if you can help it, but it doesn’t define you. It’s just a number and a starting point. It’s up to you what you do with those opportunities," said MacCulloch from his home in Bainbridge Island, Wash.
Earlier in his career, MacCulloch received advice from fellow NBA giant Shawn Bradley that you should never buy a house in the city you play in because you never know when you could find yourself on a new team.
But with a brand-new six-year contract, MacCulloch figured he’d be safe to buy a home in New Jersey.
"With a six-year deal, I’m going to be (in New Jersey) for at least three or four years. Why else would they have signed me to six?" said MacCulloch on what he was thinking at the time.
In the 2001-02 season with the Nets, MacCulloch had career-best averages of 9.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.44 blocked shots and averaged 24.2 minutes per game. MacCulloch also helped the Nets reach the NBA Finals that year, where they faced the super-talented Los Angeles Lakers led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
It was the same team he faced in the finals the year before with the Sixers.
It was the best year of MacCulloch’s career, but it was also his lone season as a member of the Nets. Two months after the 2002 NBA Finals, while on a fishing trip in the Northwest Territories, MacCulloch learned that he probably should have listened to Bradley’s advice.
"We were having lunch after a day of fishing and the guide’s son had said, ‘So, you signed a six-year contract with the Nets and you just completed one year, so does that mean you’ll be with the Nets for the next five seasons?’ And I said, ‘Well no, I could be traded right now and not even know,’" MacCulloch said.
Little did MacCulloch know, that was exactly what happened. He was traded back to the Sixers that very day, but had no idea, as there was no cellphone reception at the fishing lodge.
At the end of the day, MacCulloch was throwing darts on the deck of the lodge when the cook, who had a TV in his kitchen, came out to tell MacCulloch the Nets traded Keith Van Horn to Philadelphia for future NBA Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo.
"I did the math. I knew what Keith made and I knew what Dikembe made and those numbers didn’t add up. But if you threw my salary in there, they added up quite nicely," MacCulloch said.
"I said, ‘Hey, was I in the trade?’ but he reassured me and said, ‘Nah, this is a Canadian (sports channel). With you being one of the few Canadians, that would’ve been newsworthy.’"
It turns out MacCulloch’s math was correct. An hour later the cook came back outside to let MacCulloch know he was included in the trade.
"My agent couldn’t reach me and the GMs couldn’t reach me. I had 25 voicemails on my phone when I got back to society," MacCulloch said.
Unfortunately, MacCulloch didn’t get to play out the remainder of that contract. He was forced to retire after the 2002-03 season due to a genetic neuromuscular disorder called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease that affected his feet.
Even though he was forced to retire prematurely, MacCulloch had a four-year run that most professional basketball players could only dream of.
He played with three of the greatest point guards in NBA history — Steve Nash on the 2000 Canadian Olympic team, Allen Iverson with the Sixers and Jason Kidd with the Nets — and he played in two NBA Finals.
It’s been 15 years since MacCulloch played in the NBA and no Manitoban has played in the league since. Who knows when, if ever, another player from the province will make it to the NBA.
But one thing is for certain, MacCulloch proved it isn’t impossible for a boy from Winnipeg to make it.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
Updated on Saturday, January 27, 2018 at 8:56 AM CST: Video added.