1995 BASKETBALL INDUCTEE
In 1978, Fresno State basketball coach, Boyd Grant, introduced a new recruit at the pre-season luncheon of the Bulldog basketball booster’s Time Out Club. The shy 6’7″, rail-thin, teenage forward from Harvey, Illinois, stood up, smiled, and waved to the crowd. Coach Grant announced to the audience, “This is Rod Higgins and he very well could become the best player in the history of Fresno State basketball.” There were some in the crowd who thought coach Grant was exaggerating a bit when the tall, 160-pound youngster got up to say hello. Little did they know that Fresno State basketball history was about to establish its greatest era of basketball since the first ball bounced in a Bulldog’s gymnasium back in 1921.
Rod Higgins was part of “Chicago Connection” that assistant coach, Jim Thrash, had recruited from the Windy City area. Bobby Anderson and Tyrone Bradley were also part of that connection and the threesome, along with others such as Art Williams, Donald Mason, Bernard Thompson, Bobby Davis, and others would give the Fresno fans a whole lot to cheer about as the Boyd Grant era unfolded. Higgins was the star attraction for the Dogs during the Grant’s 1979-1982 reign, as Rod was a four-year starter who could score, grab rebounds, and be a leader for the Dogs in their winning two PCAA conference championships and two appearances in the NCAA tournament. Under Grant, the Bulldogs were a disciplined, team-orientated, defense-minded squad, and the system worked just right for Rod as he grew in the program.
He led the team in shot blocking and rebounds and he could score around the basket posting up or driving in any direction. Higgins was also a deadly outside shooter and is still one of the top career free throw shooters in school history. During his career at Fresno State, Rod was named to four PCAA All-Star teams, the All-Freshman team in 1979, the Second Team in 1980, and the First Team in 1981, and again in 1982. In 1981 and 1982, Rod received Honorable Mention All-American honors from the Associated Press, United Press International, and the Sporting News. During his time at FSU, the Bulldogs had 85 wins.
In Rod’s senior year in 1982, the Bulldogs went 27-3 overall to reach UPI’s Top Ten national rankings for the first time in school history. They won the PCAA title, the PCAA tournament, and went on to the NCAA Tournament. They defeated West Virginia in the second round and then lost to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in the Sweet 16. The final AP Top 20 rankings that year had Fresno State finishing 11th in the nation. It was a great season and the end of a great college career for Rod. In his four years at Fresno State, Rod scored over 1,400 points, grabbed over 600 rebounds and provided leadership while winning national honors. He also had become stronger, weighing in at just under 200 pounds and he had hopes of taking his game to the next level. Soon, he would find that the hard work paid off.
Rod was drafted in the second round (31st pick overall) of the 1982 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls. He played in the NBA for thirteen seasons with the Bulls, Seattle Supersonics, San Antonio Spurs, New Jersey Nets, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, and Cleveland Cavaliers. In 1986, Rod played a year in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) and led the Tampa Bay franchise to the CBA title, raking in MVP honors and averaging 28.5 points a game. Back in the NBA in 1987 with the Golden State Warriors, Rod would play another ten years. In all, Rod played in 779 NBA games, averaging 9.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in his career.
Early in his time with the Bulls, he befriended Michael Jordan. “We met in his rookie year which was my third year in the league. We wound up being roommates and we leaned on each other early on,” says Rod, “I left that following year, but our relationship continued to grow. We started having families and our families became close and our relationship just evolved from that time.” In 1994 with his playing career completed, Rod was named an assistant coach of the Warriors, where he stayed until 2000 when he was named assistant general manager of the Washington Wizards with Michael Jordan and Wes Unseld. In 2004, he went back with the Golden State Warriors as the team’s general manager, and in 2007, Rod was recruited as a GM to work with Jordan, who was now in an ownership position with the Charlotte Bobcats. Rod Higgins worked in the NBA for over twenty-five years, as a player, a coach, and an administrator.
During Rod’s pro career, he remained close with his friends in Fresno, especially Tyrone Bradley and BobbyAnderson. “We are like the brothers that none of us had,”Bradley says with a big smile, “We went through a lot back in the day and it’s still fresh today.” For years, the trio ran the Higgins, Anderson, Bradley Basketball Camp in the Fresno area, teaching basketball to area youth, having fun, and raising money for local charities. Each of the three players had a role to make the camp successful. “Rod’s role was to get Michael and other players to come to the camp; mine was to run the camp, and Bobby was our businessman, and we had success and a lot of fun with it,” says Tyrone. People in Fresno were amazed how Michael would be winning NBA championships during the Chicago Bulls glory years, and a couple of days later, there would be MJ, thrilling the kids at the HAB camp and participating in a game at a sold out Selland Arena for the Fresno fans. This was at a time when Jordan was one of the most famous faces on the planet. It was a great display of friendship between Rod and MJ. Rod is married to Concetta and they have two children, Rick and Cory. The family lives in North Carolina.