By Steven Shaff, NAU Media Relations
PHOENIX, Ariz. – If the Phoenix Suns win the NBA Championship next month, former Lumberjack basketball player Kevin Tucker will have to add the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy to his watch. The Suns open the Western Conference Finals Monday night against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It is something that has not been done since 1993,” said Tucker of advancing to the NBA Finals. “It would be a huge accomplishment for a team that most experts had predicted not to make the playoffs. It would be big for our organization.”
Tucker, who played at Northern Arizona University for two seasons from 1986-88 and graduated with a degree in criminal justice, is in his eighth season as the Director of Security for the NBA organization.
“My specific title and duties have not changed much,” said Tucker Monday before practice in Los Angeles. “With the players changing, you have to deal with the new players coming in and gaining their trust. From there you rely on your instincts and your education to help guide them.”
Tucker has come a long way with the team. Starting as a ball boy for the Phoenix Suns where his job was to take care of the basketballs and wipe the floor, his current role involves a much more valuable commodity - the players.
"I had the relationship with the Suns management," said Tucker, who served as a ball boy for the team in the late 70s and is remembered to this day by former players like Walter Davis and Dennis Johnson. "After 11 years with the government, I decided I wanted to combine my sports background with my law enforcement background. It is the ideal job."
Prior to joining the Suns, Tucker worked as an investigator with the Drug Enforcement Agency in Los Angeles.
"It was a great experience," said Tucker of his government position. "I learned how to liaison with different agencies."
With his role with the Suns, Tucker, who has handled security and investigation issues for NBA players like Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Reggie Miller through his association with agent Arn Tellum, is responsible for every aspect of security regarding the Suns players. He handles everything from pre-flight security at the airports for the team to incidents with fans to requested private security.
Suns Director of Player Programs Mark West, a former Suns player, says Tucker is much more than a security guard for the players, but someone they can turn to in several areas of expertise.
"Kevin can help educate the players on some things that are out there," said West. "Not all that glitters is gold. Hopefully he can point out what's fools gold. He tries to help them handle being in the public and what that encompasses. What they do is going to be magnified. We want to solve problems before they become problems."
One area he won't likely pass along advice is on the basketball court though he is qualified to do so.
"Kevin understands the mentality of being an athlete and the notoriety that comes along with it," said West. "And his law enforcement background speaks for itself."
Tucker played two seasons for the Lumberjacks, finishing his career among the all-time single-season top 10 in free throws made, free throws attempts, three-point field goals made, three-point field goals attempted and three-point field goal percentage and steals per game.
On December 8, 1987, he started against Arizona at McKale Center, a future Final Four team later that season that included current Suns general manager Steve Kerr. Tucker finished with two points and eight assists, while Kerr had 13 points.
“I remember the game because they were so talented,” said Tucker. “I think we lost by only 20 points and they went to Final Four and were beating people by 50 points. I don’t think Steve remembers me but I remind him of it.”
In fact, NAU lost by only 18 points 77-59, the same margin the Wildcats beat North Carolina by in the regional finals to advance to the Final Four.
Kerr and Tucker have embarked on a couple games of H-O-R-S-E over the last few years but Tucker says he is forced to resort to “trick shots” to get a letter on the NBA’s career three-point percentage leader. “He is still a pretty good shooter,” said Tucker.
Tucker did not need any trick shots during his senior season as he led the Lumberjacks in assists, steals, free throw percentage and minutes played during his final campaign. He also set a single-game record with a perfect 15-for-15 game from the line against Idaho during his senior season.
"I realized I was getting fouled but I did not realize I had taken 15 and made all of them," recalled Tucker.
While the perfect night from the charity stripe is the best performance in school history, Tucker ranks his final home game against Idaho State as his top collegiate moment.
The Tempe native, who also attended Marcos de Niza High School and Grand Canyon College, led the Lumberjacks with a game-high 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting and a 7-for-7 night at the line. Trailing by two at halftime, NAU out-scored the Bengals 55-32 over the final 20 minutes to post a 95-74 victory. With the game in hand, Tucker, who played 36 minutes in the game, sat on the bench for the closing minutes within one rebound and assist short of a triple-double with 9 apiece.
"If I had known I had a chance at a triple double I think I would have checked myself back in," jokes Tucker about his near statistical feat.
The original version of this story ran on NAUAthletics.com in 2007.