Renaissance Man Warriors center Adonal Foyle has more on his plate--politics, poetry, a master's degree--than just hoops

December 16, 2002

Once, and only once, Golden State Warriors forward Troy Murphy
tried to talk to teammate Adonal Foyle about Democracy Matters,
the organization Foyle founded last year to promote campaign
finance reform. As Foyle explained the group's purpose, Murphy
nodded, crinkling his brow in a quasi-intellectual manner. But
somewhere between community coalitions and the perils of soft
money, Foyle lost him. "I tried, but I had trouble understanding
it," says Murphy, a second-year player from Notre Dame. "It was a
little over my head."

Other Warriors feel the same way about the poetry the 27-year-old
Foyle often reads aloud late at night on the team charter. "First
time I heard that," says one teammate, "I thought he was talking
to himself." Foyle smiles and shrugs. "Sometimes," he says in his
rich Caribbean lilt, "one has to read a poet aloud to understand
his work."

That's a sentence seldom heard around the NBA, a league in which
most players are more familiar with NBA Live 2003 than with Maya
Angelou. But for Foyle, who grew up without running water or
electricity on the tiny island of Canouan (in the Caribbean
nation of St. Vincent), there is no time for video games. Not
when he is getting his master's degree in sports psychology at
John F. Kennedy University in the Bay Area, trying to start a
poetry-writing group for NBA players and helping to run Democracy
Matters. "He's a Renaissance man," says Warriors general manager
Garry St. Jean. "There aren't a lot of us in the NBA carrying a
briefcase, a computer and four newspapers every day."

Because of his position on campaign finance, it's tempting to
think of the 6'10", 265-pound Foyle as John McCain with a jump
shot. The only problem is, Foyle can't shoot the jumper. As
graceless on the court as he is eloquent off it, Foyle bumps and
bangs on offense, relying on putbacks, short hooks and follow
dunks. (Through Dec. 7 he was averaging only 4.5 points per
game.) His defense is another story. Even though he averages only
19.1 minutes per game, Foyle was seventh in the NBA in blocks
(2.5).

Foyle didn't play basketball until he was 16, when he moved from
Canouan to Union Island. From there, his story is Horatio Alger
meets Hoosiers. While playing in a tournament in Dominica,
another island nation, he was spotted by Jay and Joan Mandle,
Colgate University professors who were helping spread the
popularity of basketball in the Caribbean. The couple sponsored
Foyle's entry to the U.S., and he lived with them briefly in
Hamilton, N.Y. Foyle went to Colgate, where he set the NCAA
career record for blocks (492) as a junior and then left for the
1997 NBA draft. After Foyle was chosen eighth by the Warriors, he
spent the summer and fall finishing classes for his degree in
history.

Four years later, with the assistance of the Mandles, he started
Democracy Matters. To further the organization, which encourages
college students toward activism and has chapters at 30 U.S.
universities, he makes speeches, runs a website and meets with
student leaders. "Seeing how dismissive young people are of the
political system, I thought they needed a voice--and not just
going door-to-door begging for money," he says.

So how do his teammates and coaches view Foyle's activities? "The
criticism I get is that [I should focus more on basketball]," he
says. "I mean, how hard is it to read a book? There's a built-in
hypocrisy when coaches say they want smart players. They really
want dumb players. The buzzwords are, Don't overthink. If a coach
gives a speech and it's horses---, I see through it."

Foyle thinks there are more politically active athletes in the
league than people realize, but he agrees that the game's culture
doesn't lend itself to intellectual pursuits. "Part of it is the
loneliness of the league," he says. "If all you've done your
whole life is play basketball, it's no surprise a guy would spend
80 percent of his nonbasketball time playing video games. What
else is he going to do?"

That is a question Foyle answered for himself long ago.

COLOR PHOTO: NOAH GRAHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES IMPORTANT STUFF Foyle urges college students to become activists.

Special Effect

Adonal Foyle is one of the most proficient shot blockers in the
NBA, as he was in college. Though he plays only 19.1 minutes per
game, he was averaging 2.5 blocks through Dec. 7 to rank seventh
in the league. Here are his career block stats as a pro.

Season Minutes per game Blocks per game

1997--98 11.9 .95

1998--99 14.0 .98

1999--00 21.8 1.79

2000--01 25.1 2.69

2001--02 18.8 2.13

2002--03 19.1 2.50

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)