A two time NBA champion (1994 and 1995) with Houston Rockets, Venezuelan power forward Carl Herrera (50 years old) is definitively a basketball legend in South America. I had the opportunity to met him and discuss about many parts of his career!
His basketball first steps
I started playing basketball at 13 years old in Caracas, the main and biggest city in Venezuela. We built a small court in a park, we put a rim on the wall. We started playing 3 against 3 with some of my friends, and I started practicing and getting better. Then I participated to some tournaments, and the national team called me to practice and then to play for them. They invited me to go to Portuguesa, the first professional team I played with. I was 16 years old, so I was very young to play pro. But I had a lot of potential, and a lot of people saw that potential. We were young guys playing but we had the hype, we learned so much about the game that our understanding became really fast. Then I went to College. Of course, I started going to school in Venezuela but over there, at the time, they used to practice volleyball. But afterwards, I went to Jacksonville, Texas, in 1986. I came to Junior College, I played there for two years and a half. Then I went to the University of Houston. After being there, I went to Real Madrid in 1990, which I played there for one year. Before that, I had the opportunity to play for the national team. I represented Venezuela and we won the South American championship.
His crazy ascension and the NBA player life
So many things had happened so fast. One behind another, I would say in Junior College I think I had one of my best years, putting up my numbers and taking the team to the championship in Kansas, that was the first time that Jacksonville done something like that. We were 7th best team of junior college in the nation. They named me in the All-American list. The second year, I was All-American with Larry Johnson. I had a great time in Houston too. I was averaging like 16 points and 9 rebounds. I was named the newcomer of the year. Then in Real Madrid, I think I had a decent year but the team didn’t had a chemistry. We won the King Cup « Copa del Rey », but that was the only tournament we won that year. After, going to the NBA, I had to adjust for myself to understand the NBA game, the players were the best at that time of the world, the toughness of every travel, understand the coach mentality, the changes of hours from one city to another city, etc. People only see the glamorous part of life, the way you dress, the car you drive, but they really don’t know how is your life. You feel lonely, far from your family, and you have to be one place one week and be on another place the next week. It was really hard but I think players have a tough mind. So many things in Venezuela prepared me for the life in the NBA.
I enjoyed each moment. I did enjoy the tournament in America with the national team because it was the very first time we took Venezuela to the Pre-Olympics. When we won the South America tournament, it was the first time too. Every moment was a great moment.
On his two consecutive NBA championships titles (back-to-back) and his impact on the following generations
I was the first latino american player to win two NBA championships. After years, you can understand what that mean. Now, when you see all these guys winning championships, I do understand what I did. I opened the door for a lot of latino americans to go to the NBA. At that time, we didn’t see more latino americans playing into the NBA. Even europeans, Kukoc, Petrovic, they played in the NBA and were great but they were only a handful.
I think everybody take pride in what they do. If you evaluated the years that we played at that time, the players that we had will make it happen. Before that, Houston never had won a championship. They went to the Finals against the Lakers but they never have won a championship. They had (Charles) Barkley, (Scottie) Pippen, « Dream » (Olajuwon) and Clyde (Drexler) together. All four guys are Hall of Fame and they didn’t won it. Then they had Yao Ming and many players. The thing is we understood how to play at that time. We were very humble, we worked hard and we respected the people who had the ball in their hands. Hakeem (Olajuwon), we gave him the ball and we had space, we were just playing basketball. We didn’t play for the money, for being more famous… The fans loved that team and they still talk about that team. That’s part of the best time of the history of Houston Rockets.
His role as an NBA player
My role was to change the tempo of the game. I mean, if we were down, I had to go play defense against guys like Karl Malone, Barkley, Davis from Indiana. I had to defend on the four position and guys are really tough. I had to grab rebounds, etc. just do the dirty work that people don’t like to do. That is the job we did in Houston with players coming from the bench like Mario Elie or Sam Cassell and myself. When I understood what I had to do, it was easy.
About his NBA draft and his trade to Houston Rockets
Miami Heat drafted me at the second round and Houston Rockets wanted me there. That’s why they did a trade with Miami. Actually, Rockets wanted to draft me at the first round but I had already signed a contract with Real Madrid. When they called me, they said « We still want you, so we will send our pick to Miami and they will send you over here ».
The Boston Celtics interest about him during his Junior College career
Boston was also interested when I played Junior College. They went to one of my games during my first year and I scored 27 points. They said I had the NBA caliber but I wasn’t ready at that time. They said « we have to wait maybe one or two more years, after you go to division 1 ».
His contract with San Antonio Spurs
When my contract end with Houston, I had offers from Miami (only a one year contract), Boston (a two years contract) and San Antonio offered me a contract for four years. San Antonio is also a two hours and a half drive from Houston, and I still had my house in Houston. Moreover, in Texas, you don’t pay state taxes.
At that time, San Antonio wasn’t as competitive as now. I think my second year was the worst year of the Spurs. Everybody was hurt. We had to play the all year with 8, 9 or 10 players. Everybody else was hurt. For me, individually, it was my best year into the NBA because I play the whole season. I didn’t get hurt and I get minutes, points. I doubled all the stats that I had in Houston. In Houston, I played for four years, I had two championships, I developed my game there, I get much much better, but in San Antonio that year was my best year.
His retirement as a pro basketball player
I retired in Venezuela in 2008. After I became an assistant coach. Afterwards, I became a head coach in the first Venezuelan division. It’s a different situation of your life.
About his current relationship with the NBA
I did some things for the NBA. I went to the All-Star Game in Denver and some games to Houston.