‘Revolutionary’: Former Professional Basketball Player Michael Kennedy Lauds the Elite 1 Caribbean Basketball League

P.H.A.S.E.1 Academy’s commitment to developing a professional basketball league in the Caribbean has earned the admiration of Jamaican-born former professional player, Michael Kennedy. 

Kennedy, whose basketball journey began in the 1970s in Kingston, Jamaica said a professional league will do wonders in altering the mentality of aspiring Caribbean professional players. 

“I really admire what he’s [Wayne Dawkins]  trying to do to put a professional infrastructure in place. I hope that respect comes with that and that sponsors see it as a viable platform. It’s revolutionary thinking to have a professional league in the Caribbean,” he said.

The dream to play professionally was planted in Kennedy when he was 13 years old playing tennis at the YMCA on Hope Road in Jamaica. Towering at 6 feet 4 inches, he remembers watching another player of similar stature playing in front of American scouts, and thought to himself, “well, if he can do it, so can I”. Immediately, he dropped his table tennis racket and picked up a basketball and set out to make his dream a reality. 

Best player in the country

“I did everything I could to become the best that I could be, and I became the best in the country,” he said proudly.  Adding that he started playing at the YMCA and at the National Stadium. 

At that time, Kennedy was enrolled in the Kingston College evening school which was for students who performed below average academically. One evening while playing around on the school’s basketball court, the high school coach Winston Harvey saw him and recruited him for the school’s basketball team. 

“This motivated me to work hard. I started training harder, and it all worked out. I was transferred to the day school, and they say I was the best player in the school, and in the country. I played a couple of years for Kingston College and we won every championship we were involved in,” he said. 

Kennedy’s basketball journey started in the 1970s

The Allman Town resident also played for a club called Aqua Youths while in high school. It was actually a swim club that had a basketball component. The club was based at the National Stadium, and that became a second home for Kennedy and his clubmates who’d gather there after school to train and play. 

That home was headed by one of his first mentors; Enid Angus. 

“She was like all our moms. She made sure that everybody was happy-we did a lot of events that she would plan, and she made the club such a family environment,” he said. 

Kennedy and his clubmates would swim, play basketball, and netball in between buying their snow cones and soup from vendors nearby all while navigating the violence that permeated Jamaica in the 1970s. 

“Those were some violent times and sometimes they shoot up the court. We had to duck to avoid gunshots and then after they were done, we just go back to playing. Basketball was our escape from reality. When we were playing that was our escape from the violence around us,” he said. 

“We would walk some very treacherous areas on a regular basis to get to Crossroads to get a bus to go home or we’d walk home. Lots of time I had to walk home and get home at 2 AM in the morning and then I had to get up and go to school the next day. It was always an adventure. It was all a part of the journey.” he said. 

Culture Shock

In 1981, the next step on his basketball journey took him to the Tyler Junior College in Texas where he spent a year before being recruited to play for the San Diego State University. Kennedy detailed the transition. 

“The culture shock was very interesting because being in a country where 99 percent of the people look like me, to going to a school where maybe two per cent of the people looked like me; I had to learn their ways, and their mannerisms, how they think. My place in that community, the value that I brought to that community was a part of my culture shock,” he said. 

But although he had an impressive university career, his dream of making it to the NBA was not realized as he was not drafted. 

“I went through a period where I felt like I disappointed my friends and family back home because I didn’t get drafted. I couldn’t face my friends and family so I didn’t even go home for a few years. That was the goal- you get a scholarship from Jamaica, the goal is to get to the NBA, and then do some good with the money you make,” he said. 

Nonetheless, he managed to rebound and played a lot of pickup basketball games with NBA greats like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Micheal Cooper. He also played in the LA Summer Pro league with a lot of professional players such as  Barron Scott and Reggie Miller. 

Kennedy was a skilled power forward

These platforms enabled him to be scouted by European teams and in the summer of 1985, he sighed his first professional contract with ITU, in Istanbul, Turkey- one of the most successful clubs in the history of the Turkish Basketball League.

This was the start of his 15 years European career where the 6’9” power forward played with nine different teams across fifteen different countries and competed in all major European Championships. 

Kennedy retired at at 38-years-old after playing his last game with Montpellier in Betclic Elite.

“My wife at the time got pregnant and we decided that was enough its time to raise a family. She had been travelling around with me it was time to focus on some other things in life,” she said. 

But the desire to still be involved in the sport that has given him so much was still very active. So he started his own basketball development programme in Canada where he settled. Through his programme Kennedy met and worked with Wayne Dawkins of P.H.A.S.E.1 and Grassroots Canada. 

Kennedy remains very active in the basketball community

He also enjoyed a very illustrious coaching career in China for seven years, the last two of which were spent coaching the national team.

Kennedy coached the Chinese National Team for two years

In the early 2000s while in his 40s, Kennedy got the opportunity to play for Jamaica’s National team.  He described it as a very proud moment for him. 

“It felt really good coming to Jamaica and playing for my Jamaican people, and being able to travel all over the Caribbean and play in front of Caribbean people. It was an honour.”

His stint on his native country’s national team also had some unexpected effects. 

“After playing with the Jamaica National team in 2004, I went back to Toronto and made it to the finals in the Nike Battleground. I was 43 years old at the time.  It really knocked the Canadian community on its heels because I was beating the sh**t all these young kids,” he said bursting into laughter. 

I really admire what he’s [Wayne Dawkins]  trying to do to put a professional infrastructure in place. I hope that respect comes with that and that sponsors see it as a viable platform. It’s revolutionary thinking to have a professional league in the Caribbean

Micheal Kennedy

But even more impressive was the fact that he did that again the following year. 

As the now 58-year-old Kennedy reflects on his basketball journey, he feels fulfilled and credits the sport for making him a very well-rounded individual who was able to direct others-including his brother Philadelphia 76ers Andrew Kennedy to the game. 

“I had the ability to travel around the world and meet different people, speak different languages and enjoy new cultures which were very impactful in my life. I was able to build a lot of relationships and also to develop talent in Toronto by helping a lot of young men and women get scholarships to the US,” he said. 

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