Catching Up With... Detlef Schrempf
Detlef Schrempf has never had an empty plate. Not when he played in the NBA, and especially not since he’s retired.
Schrempf has been so swamped with charity work and seafood advocacy that he hasn’t been able to have any kind of role with the NBA, his alma mater the University of Washington, or the basketball community in his hometown of Seattle.
After a 16-year NBA career that saw him win the Sixth Man of the Year Award twice and be named an All-Star three times, the former Sonic says he's now focused on bigger issues than basketball.
He did, however, make time to guest star on a few episodes of NBC’s Parks and Recreation in 2011 — if only to promote the foundation he started when he was traded back home to the Sonics in 1993.Detlef Schrempf Foundation.
“It kind of came out of nowhere,” Schrempf said of the cameos. “I was like, ‘I’m not really into that, I’m not an actor, but if we can do it and get some exposure for our foundation, I’ll do it.’"
He was originally only written into one scene but ended up making it into three episodes. When asked to compare his acting ability to Parks star Amy Poehler, Schrempf laughed and said, “I’m not even on the same scale. I got nothing.”
The show reached out to him because of his Indiana ties — he starred on the Pacers from 1989-93 — and his foundation, which focuses on helping other children’s charities raise money by putting on events such as golf tournaments, galas and fun runs.
After hosting the first celebrity golf tournament in Seattle in 1996, the Detlef Schrempf Foundation was off and running.
“We just started getting bombarded [with charitable requests],” Schrempf said. “We grew so quickly that within the first year, … I had to hire a staff and start a foundation.”
Since then, Schrempf’s foundation has grown exponentially, reportedly raising more than $10 million for local children’s charities. His charitable work earned him the Paul Allen Award for Citizenship at the 2012 Seattle Sports Star of the Year banquet.
It doesn’t end there, though. Schrempf also sits on the board of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership and advocates for people to eat more of it — at least two times a week, he says.
“It’s a natural fit,” Schrempf said of promoting seafood consumption and living in Seattle.
While he’s taken a liking to it in the 20-plus years he’s lived in Seattle, one of the seafood capitals of the world, it’s not just about taste.
The Seafood Nutrition Partnership’s mission is right in its name. While it encourages people to eat more fish, crustacean and the like, its main focus is creating a healthier lifestyle. Seafood has long been thought to be a healthier alternative to red meat, yet Americans eat more than three times more red meat per capita than seafood, according to a 2011 study.
“Not everybody wants to work out,” Schrempf said, “so how do you address [your health]? You address it by hopefully eating a little healthier, and seafood is a part of that.”
However, it’s an uphill battle for the seafood community because it’s so divided. “The seafood industry is all about salmon vs. tuna vs. shrimp fighting each other about market shares,” Schrempf said.
He just got back from a meeting with a group of senators in Washington, D.C., asking for their support. As much as he needs help from politicians to push the grassroots program into prominence, it won’t happen without the congruence of the industry as a whole, like he says the meat industries have.
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While Schrempf is a proud Seattleite now, he couldn’t always identify as one. He spent the majority of his childhood in West Germany before his family immigrated to Seattle when he was a high school senior.
After staying home to play college basketball for the University of Washington, playing six years for the Sonics, coaching two more and establishing a permanent residence in the Emerald City, he’s adapted well to the culture.
In addition to becoming a voice within the seafood community, Schrempf is also passionate soccer supporter. He called his home country of Germany winning the 2014 World Cup “phenomenal,” also noting the growth potential it has in the U.S. Having been raised in West Germany but also having lived in the U.S. for the majority of his life, he was conflicted when the two teams met in the final match of the group stage.
“When they were playing, I said, ‘Hey, a tie will do. Both advance,’ “ Schrempf said, chuckling. Although, he didn’t mince any words, declaring that Germany was “by far” the best team in the tournament. With a World Cup trophy and a 7-1 win over Brazil under its belt, the statement isn’t too far fetched.
Schrempf would like to see the sport grow in the U.S. and thinks the World Cup played a large role in its growing popularity. “I think it helped tremendously to spread the word,” Schrempf said. “It showed in … the passion that people had for it. It was exciting.”
Post-basketball life has treated Schrempf well, but there was a bleak moment last year when Schrempf lost a mentor, and the Seattle basketball community lost a legend. Longtime University of Washington basketball coach Marv Harshman died at the age of 95 in April 2013, and Schrempf spoke at his memorial service.
“I talked to Marv all the time. … He was a great man, just a true gentleman who was loved by everyone,” Schrempf said. He also credits the man who coached him to two first team All-Pac-10 selections for “creating a basis of fundamentals” in his game with his old school style.
Harshman’s passing was somber for Schrempf, but it was not unexpected — Schrempf had been visiting him in his assisted living home in Tacoma, Wash., before his death.
From salmon to soccer to acting, there’s been a wealth of ways for the eclectic German Seattleite to spend his time in retirement. Yet, what he takes the most pride in had been in his life for nearly a decade prior to hanging it up: the Detlef Schrempf Foundation.
“Twenty-one years later,” Schrempf said, “we’re still going strong.”
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