Tyrone Corbin MVP- Most Valuable Pop
Sharing the Love, Lessons and Laughter of Being a Dad
By Michelle Harris
Tyrone Corbin has worn many hats – NBA player, NBA head coach, DePaul University Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, second round draft pick and many others. None are as important to him as the hats he wears at home – husband and father. He and his wife, Dante, have two childrenTyjha and Tyrell. We sat done with him at his Columbia home to have a conversation about the life and love that he shares with him family and of course the game of basketball.
Q: Did you see the position of coach as being a father figure or a leader to the young men on your team? How have you seen that leadership role make a difference in their lives?
I think it’s a leadership role, father figure, authority figure. Modern day athletes seem to have a harder time with respect for authority and how to deal with being told “No”. They have a harder time dealing with what’s best for the team and not what best for “me”. And at the pro level it’s really difficult because that may be the first time they have heard it. I have had to tell them “I don’t care what’s best for you I have to do what’s best for the team.” They have to accept that while they are making a lot of money doing it. We would get a lot of kids that that was their first time hearing that kind of talk because they were the best where they were from. But in the league everybody’s the best. Now it’s about the team and what is best for the team. It’s an interesting dynamic. The coaches have to play that father role a lot more now than when I was a player.
We grew up respecting any adult – 21 and older that was an adult. We had to listen to that adult. They were the grown up you were the kid. Shut up and listen. Period. It’s a different animal now. It’s a whole different approach to be able to communicate with kids and reach them without compromising who you are and what you stand for in the process. These kids are used to breaking those barriers down to get to where they want it to be which may not be the best thing for anybody.
Q: Has growing up that way had an effect on how you raise your children?
Absolutely. I think you are a product of a lot of experiences and things that you come from. That’s who you are – your make up. Now you can always learn and watch what’s going on around you. I know my momma beat our butts, they weren’t spankings and there definitely weren’t any time outs. I tried to be what I knew for my kids. Our kids are great. You would have to discipline them at times but they weren’t the knuckleheads my brothers and I were. So it wasn’t necessary to do the things to them that our mom had to do to us. I parent based on the way my mom parented and then my community – Gonzales Gardens. I grew up there and everybody knew my mom all the older kids knew my family and if they saw you doing something wrong they would ask you what you were doing. If they saw you doing something crazy or hanging out with somebody that they thought was shady they would ask “What are you doing?” If they came into a park and trouble was coming they would say “Y’all get out of here.” So the community raised kids. Especially those older cats – even if they were into drugs and things. I can only speak for me. I can’t tell you the number of times they would tell us “Y’all get out of the park and don’t come back here tonight – something’s about to jump off.”
Q: So they were protective even if they were in it?
Yes and they didn’t push what they were doing on the younger group. My experience was that the guys who were into all of that stuff – they weren’t trying to push that on me. They knew my brothers or my mom or they knew I played ball. They knew I was doing something good. They would run me off from trouble. There was community all around. Gonzales Gardens, we would go over to play Jaggers Terrace. Drew Park had their group, Hendley Homes, Pinehurst and Melrose Park and they would compete. And then you would play top against bottom within your own community – it was community pride. I think we’ve gotten away from that.
Q: What did you and your wife do to instill those kind of values in your children considering they didn’t have some of the struggles you were talking about? I’m sure you have seen how privilege can ruin kids just as much as other factors?
It was a though balance because my blessing is that we can afford to give our kids whatever they want but for me… growing up where I did and seeing the examples of what I have seen after leaving Gonzales Gardens, going to DePaul University and then going to the pros I’ve see rich kids. They grew up wealthy but turn out to be not so good because they would get in a tough spot and they can’t figure it out on their own. They were so used to people doing it for them and giving to them. You can’t hide your blessings from your kids and if we tried, the other kids would tell our kids what we didn’t tell them. I can remember a time when my kids would come home and say “Daddy we’re rich. I’d ask ‘Who told you that?’” And we were blessed, our kids were good kids they’re great young adults now. They went through things – peer pressure – people saying “Well you guys have this and your family has that” and the battles kids face trying to be cool with the wrong group. It was tough to not give them everything and try to make them work and earn things on their own. But we have been blessed they are good kids and working to be better adults.
Q: They are 26 and 21, correct? Who’s older?
My daughter is 26 and just finished her masters last June. She graduated from undergrad at Clemson and then she did her masters at Westminster in Salt Lake and now works for the University of Utah hospital. Our son is a rising senior at Cal State Bakersfield.
Q: Take me back 26 years to when you first held your baby girl.
Oh my goodness. She was born in Atlanta. I was playing for San Antonio and I had come back to Atlanta that summer because Dante had finished school in Atlanta and was working there. I don’t know – at that point I was out of school and working at my first real job in the league and it’s just about you trying to figure things out. When our daughter was born – man to hold her for the first time. It feels like ‘Wow’ I’m responsible for this little person and my whole perspective changed. I just felt like I had to be careful and be a good example for her because I felt like she would be watching. I promised God I would and asked Him at that time to help me understand what I needed to do to help her be a better person. It all changed. My perspective changed on how and what I had to do.
Q: Was there a difference in the way you raised your son and your daughter? If so what did you do differently?
You know the difference between my son and my daughter was not really in protection because you protect both of them but my daughter was more cautious – a planner and paid more attention to what was going on around her. My son was like a typical boy. He would walk over there and fall down, get up dust off and walk over there and fall down again. I would say to myself “Now you just did that” but if my daughter did it I would try to help her through it, but with a boy you just sort of let him go through it. You say “Well they’ll figure it out”. If your daughter falls down you will say “Oh baby come here let me help you” with a boy you say “Oh well he’ll get it”. I mean he was going to have to learn how to figure things out for the rest of his life. For me I would watch him and I didn’t want him to get hurt – too bad – but he had to figure it out. So if he slid one way and it didn’t work then I’d see him go and try it another way -until he found something that worked. When my son was little I used to take him back to the Gardens (Gonzales Gardens), Drew Park and Pinehurst. I’d take him with me to play ball and back in my old hood kids didn’t play by the rules all the time. Some of the schools and the places we went they would have rules and they competed in a certain way, but I didn’t grow up that way. I grew up with kids that If you crossed over and scored on me once – scored on me twice well you’re going to pick yourself up off the court next time. So I would take him over there and tell him “You go and play, now these kids play a little different.”
I remember we were in New York. I took him to New York and of course they had some pretty good players – even the young kids. He crossed the kid and laid up and the kid hit him in the stomach. I saw it happen. He looked over at me. I turned my head.
Q: What were your thoughts?
I wanted to see what he was going to do. I can’t bail him out. The game’s on! I said “You crossed him over, you scored on him, you did it to him twice, He wasn’t going to let you do it to him every time. His friends were laughing at him.” So I turned my head. He was all right. He took a deep breath and got back out there again.
Q: So that was a life lesson?
You’ve got to learn. So after we finished we got in the car and we’re going back and we had a conversation about it. Everybody’s not going to play by the rules and sometimes you are going to have to figure things out on the fly – in tough situations. As a man when you get your own family and you may be going through tough times and things aren’t going well and you’re feeling sorry for yourself but you’ve got kids at home that have to eat. What are you going to do, go crying to somebody? Or are you going to pick your pants up and find something else to do to feed your family?
Q: Tell me about your childhood. You have mentioned your mom. What about your dad?
My mom and dad separated when I was five. That’s when we moved to Gonzales Gardens. They never divorced and we saw our dad but my mom was the one who really raised us. Dealing with the school and sports stuff and all our mischievousness. My mom had that voice. She’s still living, she is 82 years old and she is wonderful. Just a tough, wise, good mom. I think she’s the best. The sacrifices she made, the struggles. She worked in a dry cleaners for as long as I can remember until I went to DePaul. Then came the time I was blessed enough to ask her to not work anymore. But you think back about the lessons and preparing meals out of a little bit of nothing. Making sure we were where we should be. Getting our butts in the house after school and staying there until she came home. Just those little things that we did in the projects – that she made us do allowed us the opportunity not to get in trouble. To know discipline and to be accountable for who you are. I attribute those things to her and who she was and the way she raised us.
Q: How do you feel about some men who say they can’t be a good father because they didn’t see one in their house?
You know what, I hear their argument but my mom – I don’t know, she was woman enough to teach me how to me a man. We had examples in our community too. We went to Bethlehem Baptist church – we had deacons around there and I was baptized when I was young. There were men around the community. Not a lot of dads but older men and my older brothers – who showed examples. People like Butch Ford and Doug Hutchins. For me they just showed me an example of what a man is supposed to be. But my mom was a hard-working lady and I just didn’t want to make it any harder for her than it had to be. I knew how much she loved us and she didn’t hesitate to beat our butts if we were wrong. With her, if you screwed up there was a price to pay.
Q: What do you think about setting high expectations? Do you feel like your mom set high expectations for you and your siblings?
My mom always told us that God would give everybody something to make a living with. You need to figure out whatever that is for you. Everybody has a skill. Her expectations were to go to school, be a good person, sit your butt there and listen. We couldn’t just go to her and tell her that the teacher didn’t like us. She would say “Well the teacher isn’t there to like you they’re supposed to teach the class.” She always said something I still say today “Right it right. Whether you are my kid or on not right is right.” So you couldn’t go to her when you were wrong trying to make it right. She wasn’t going to buy that.
Q: Is that what you used when setting expectations for your children?
Yes. Especially with me with the blessings and success that I’ve had in my career and life. I didn’t want my blessings to be a curse for my kids. It was hard because my son played ball. I wanted him to play because he wanted to play, not because his dad played. And I wanted him to enjoy the game and enjoy playing at his level and not try to get to my level – unless that was his plan and his blessing. From the time he was little he was a really good player and people would try to make comparisons. I always told him “Don’t try to play because I played. I don’t care if you play or not. Just go to school and get a good education.” He got into it because he wanted to do it.
Q: So what’s next for you, besides you and your wife being on your second or third honeymoon?
Oh yes. From there we are just figuring it out – with my career in coaching and the kids getting off on their own. It depends on how much longer I want to work. I’ve always enjoyed coming back to Columbia to live. I’ve always planned on making this our permanent residence. I don’t know what God has for me next. We’ll just have to wait and see. I’m in a good place now. We still have a lot of opportunities – in the business and out of the business. I still enjoy coaching. I look forward to still doing that a little bit. I’m open.
Q So just imagine you have a new father in front of you, holding his baby for the first time – what advice would you give him?
Embrace it. Don’t be afraid of fatherhood. Step up to it.