CHICAGO - We first met last December 6, 2015 when I drove to The Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan to witness Kobe Bryant's last game at the iconic arena that used to be home of the Detroit Pistons.
He was impossible to miss, a familiar face, a hulking 6-foot-10, 240-pound dude whose presence lit up the media room. Not only was he a member of the notorious Pistons "Bad Boys" of the 90s, he was feared as "the baddest of 'em all."
I requested an interview, which he cordially declined because he had pre-game chores to do as a radio analyst for the Pistons. "Let's do it when we're in Chicago." he told me.
Last Saturday, nearly three years after that encounter, I saw him again at the media dining room of the United Center. where the Bulls hosted the Pistons.
He wore a well-tailored suit and spoiled his feet with dress shoes that gleamed with Italian leather. His watch was enormous, the expensive kind that makes jewelers rich. A bracelet dangled gloriously on his right wrist, perfectly matching the platinum wedding band on his left ring finger.
He occupied a corner table and took a seat with his back against the wall. He had nowhere to go.
And that's when I finally collected on a promise and interviewed Rick Mahorn.
SPIN.ph: In today's NBA, unlike your time, the fouls aren't as aggressive and physical. What happened?
Rick Mahorn: Well, things change. It's more free moving, a lot of times when you look at the game everyone's either shooting threes, or you know, it's more individual. You can't really play that kind of zones anymore. But I mean it's fun to watch if you're a basketball fan.
SPIN.ph: Comparing different eras is a thing in sports, but personally I think the Bad Boys could play against any generation. Do you feel the same way, or would the Warriors' 3-point shooting force you and the other bigs out of the paint and away from your comfort zone?
Rick Mahorn: You see, that's the thing, you know. It's all in how you interpret because at the time, when I played we had the dinosaurs - Bill Lambeer and myself - and you had the thoroughbreds like John Salley and Dennis Rodman, so we learned how to change and adjust.
And that's what basketball is about; adjusting to different rules and different situations. I may sound like an old head to a degree, but I mean, I always look at guys now who can play back in my era. I look at guys like LeBron James, and I'd look at guys like Kevin Durant, and also you look at Steph Curry, guys that can really play, are very multi-talented, not necessarily one-dimensional.
SPIN.ph: Back in the day, you used to be, I won't say hated, but more like unloved because of the specter of being a Piston and a Bad Boy. But now when you come to any arena, fans give you love and respect. How does that feel like?
Rick Mahorn: You know, it's just they hate you when you don't play for them. But they love you when you're finished and their team does not have to deal with you anymore. I had a great time, I loved to be booed when I would go into different towns because it felt like if I had on their uniform they'd cheer me because they loved the way I play.
SPIN.ph: "Malice in the Palace." I don't want to bring up.
Rick Mahorn: Which one. There's three of them.
SPIN.ph: The one where Ron Artest was involved in.
Rick Mahorn: Well, I've been involved in all three.
SPIN.ph: Anyway, players in this era seem easily hurt compared to your days and a lot of them rest during the course of the season, which has led some to believe the league is getting "soft." Your thoughts?
Rick Mahorn: It's not that guys are soft, you know, you're gonna get older. And there's a lot of precautionary things that they're doing. Is it good for what these players are thinking about? Yeah, you're an investment. I'm not mad at guys taking a night off, or something like that, physically they just can't deal with it. But, back then, you were afraid to lose your job. So, I don't know, different eras.
SPIN.ph: Lastly, back in the 90s there weren't many international players, the late Drazen Petrovic and Vlade Divac, to name a few. This season NBA rosters have 108 international players from 42 countries. What can you say about the NBA's globalization?
Rick Mahorn: The globalization of the game is great because it brings a lot of countries into the best basketball in the world, and that's the NBA. The thing is, when you expand your rosters, it's more time for guys to come make a team and be more invested in what they do. And I think these guys have really taken the game to another level and it's fun.
Basketball opens doors for the people around the world. You got guys like (Giannis) Antetekoumpo and Ben Simmons, you know, you find guys that can play. You have to find guys that can play in this league and understand that your rules have changed totally and that they can perform well.
POSTSCRIPT: This I swear, hand on Bible, I was intimidated and nearly balked at talking to Rick. Who wouldn't? He's a remarkably large human being whose past includes a dark reputation of having happily bullied men his size, if not bigger.
But his warm handshake and easy smile washed away my fears, resulting in one of the more effortless and truly enjoyable interviews I've had as a reporter.
In his 18 years in the NBA, Rick, now 60, made $8 million in salaries. Steph Curry will make $37.4 million this season alone. Not fair, yes, but Rick ain't losing sleep over it. Like he said, "different eras."
Rick left Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in 1980 "with about 12 credits left" before graduation. In 2015, according to Mitch Albom of The Detroit Free Press, Mahorn finally earned his bachelor of arts degree.
Thirty-five years is never too long or too late for something as important as a college diploma.
I guess it's time to retire the Bad Boy monicker.
It should now be Rick Mahorn: Proud father. Devoted husband. All-around good guy.