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by Shane Tritsch
THEN Guard, Chicago Bulls (1967–70)
Even as a young point guard, Clem Haskins was preparing for his exit from basketball. In 1968, after his first season with the Bulls, Haskins bought a parcel of farmland in central Kentucky, where he had spent his boyhood starring in hoops and also working a mule-drawn plow, cutting tobacco, hauling hay, and milking cows. “I was almost raised under a cow,” he says.
“I always had tremendously strong hands and wrists. I got that from milking 15 or 20 cows every day.”
After an NBA career of nine seasons, the first three in Chicago, Haskins became a top college basketball coach, taking the University of Minnesota to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament in 1997. But two years later, his legacy was forever stained by a case of academic fraud involving several of his players. The scandal cost Haskins his job and caused the NCAA to banish him from coaching for seven years.
By then he had amassed more than 600 acres of gently rolling farmland surrounding the property his parents had once sharecropped, and there he found solace and purpose. Today, Haskins, 68, tends a herd of 200 Black Angus cattle and grows soybeans and corn. Each day during the winter calving season, he checks his herd for heifers in labor, puts out hay, and makes sure the animals have water to drink. “If you keep your farm in tiptop shape, like I do, there’s something to do 365 days a year,” he says.
“I enjoy getting my hands in the dirt. I enjoy watching things grow—corn, tobacco, my animals, even the grass.”
Haskins says he doesn’t look back on the scandal at Minnesota, though it’s clear that the memory haunts him. “It’s not easy when you’re accused of things you know didn’t happen, but there’s nothing you can do about it,” he says. Late in 2009, he was invited back to Williams Arena in Minneapolis for a celebration honoring the 1989–90 team he led to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight. Unsure of the reaction he’d receive, he went anyway. When his name was announced, the crowd erupted in cheers, and his former players urged him onto the court, where they embraced him. “I’ve shaken hands with presidents in the White House,” Haskins says, “but that’s one of the highest moments of my life. I was crying like a baby.”
Photograph: (Haskins, then) Paul Shane/AP; (Haskins, now) Tamara Reynolds