SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Shane Battier learned how to be a teammate from his father and Little League coach, Big Ed Battier. He was guided by Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. He played for respected NBA coaches — Hubie Brown, Mike Fratello, Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Adelman and Erik Spoelstra among them.
But it was Barry Sanders who taught him how to say goodbye.
Battier is a son of Detroit, fiercely loyal to its teams. When Sanders retired from the Detroit Lions while still able to play at a high level, Battier learned by example.
“My goals when I started this whole crazy thing, they weren’t to win championships or make the All-Defensive team,” Battier said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It was to play 10 years and to be able to walk away from the game before the game kicked me out.”
Missions accomplished. Battier played 13 years. And he’s kicking himself out.
These NBA Finals between his Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs are Battier’s farewell to playing. He is retiring at season’s end, something Battier knew would be the case when he signed with Miami three years ago. He’ll start broadcasting for ESPN soon, though it be no shock if the game lured him back in some capacity before too long.
“I wanted to come in on my terms,” Battier said. “I wanted to play on my terms. I wanted to leave on my terms. It may not be the best financial decision, but I’m kind of excited to live out that dream.”
Battier may have amassed fame and fortune, but he’s hardly a silver-spoon guy.
“I still distinctly remember the taste of a government-cheese sandwich,” Battier said. “My family was on food stamps at one point. But we always had enough. My parents did amazing things for me, to give me every opportunity possible. I just wanted more. It was no fault of my family. I just wanted more.”
In his neighborhood, he stood out in many ways.
He was the smart kid. He was the tall kid. He was the athletic kid. And with a black father and white mother, he didn’t look like anyone else.
“My white friends couldn’t empathize. My black friends couldn’t empathize,” Battier said. “When I played on the playground with my white friends, I was the black kid. When I went to the inner city to play with the black kids, I was the white kid from the suburbs. I didn’t have my first kiss until I was in high school.”
Her name was Heidi. Battier wound up marrying her.
So that first kiss worked out. Then again, for Battier, things always seem to fall into place.
One of his closest friends from his time at Duke was the team manager. His name is Nick Arison, who just happens to be CEO of the Heat. And when Battier was a free agent three years ago, Arison lured his buddy to Miami.
Three years in Miami together, three straight NBA Finals appearances, two titles — and perhaps counting.
“If Shane was president one day, I wouldn’t be surprised,” Arison said. “The two guys I was closest to there was Shane and Mike Dunleavy. They’re great guys. They just happen to be basketball players. Shane’s the type of guy who would be successful in any field at any time. He just happens to be really, really good at basketball.”
During his Miami days, Battier has been best when the stakes have been highest. He’s made six field goals in a game six times in his Heat career — with three of those six occurrences coming in NBA Finals games.
“Shane’s been unbelievable for us,” Heat star LeBron James said. “Unbelievable guy. Unbelievable player, in terms of sacrifice. Unbelievable teammate.”
And soon, a career that Battier calls unbelievable will come to an end.
He could still play. The Heat would gladly re-sign him. But Battier doesn’t want to miss school pageants and Little League games any more.
“You need a balance,” Battier said. “As I’ve gotten older, I understand that more. When I was younger, I lived basketball. I lived it. I only knew one way — put everything on the back burner and focus on basketball. So it’s time.”