The NBA was a great place for Theo Ratliff to pick up a nice paycheck and continue his education.
Now, after playing 16 years at the game’s highest level, the former University of Wyoming basketball star is making a transition to the next part his life after announcing his retirement in late December.
He is living comfortably in Atlanta, enjoying time with his wife, Kristina, and their six children — daughters Stacia (15), Yasmeen (14), Alexis (11) and Sasha (9) and twin sons Adonis and Darius (4) — and overseeing his business ventures.
“I am very comfortable with my decision. When you play 16 years —and I’m almost 39 years old — I think I did my part and made my mark,” Ratliff said with a laugh. “I think I got all I could get out of my time in the NBA.
“I’m happy to be able to move on and take on new challenges. I like taking the kids to school every day and being on my own schedule.”
Following his senior year at UW, the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Ratliff was selected in the first round of the 1995 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons. He was the 18th overall pick.
He went on to play with nine teams: the Pistons (1995-97 and 2008), Philadelphia (1997-2001 and 2008-09), Atlanta (2001-04), Portland (2004-06), Boston (2006-07), Minnesota (2007-08), San Antonio (2009-10), Charlotte (2010) and the L.A. Lakers (2011).
“Every single stop I made, something great happened,” Ratliff said. “It didn’t matter if I was on a losing team, it was always a blessing.”
During his career, he played in 810 games, 533 in as a starter. He scored 5,809 points (7.2 per game) and had 4,596 rebounds (5.7) and 1,968 blocks (2.43).
He was voted into the NBA All-Star game in 2001 but did not play because of a fractured wrist. He was also selected to the NBA’s All-Defensive second team twice (1999 and 2004).
“It was a dream really, me growing up in a small town, being a little skinny kid from Alabama,” Ratliff said. “To have the opportunity to see the U.S. through all the many teams I played on and to be able to meet all the many people from the stars to the average fan was a dream.”
While Ratliff enjoyed a long NBA career, what he did off the floor has set him and his family up for life.
He’s now involved in real estate as part owner of Global Asset Alternative in Atlanta, a holding company dealing with the hotel business and apartment buildings.
“I have tried to take my experience in the NBA and do a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff,” said Ratliff, who was on the executive board of the NBA players union for 13 years. “I was able to learn a lot about business and networking with a lot of different people.
“Just that alone has been so rewarding. It is something that I never would have gotten in an average situation. I’m thankful for being able to take advantage of that.”
Ratliff is also in partnership Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, and entrepreneur Daymond John in the TV show “Shark Tank.”
“I’m very close with those guys. They respect me because of how I did it as a basketball player,” he said. “That’s not just on the floor, but because of my wisdom and knowledge from being part of executive teams.”
Involvement with kids has always been one of Ratliff’s passions. He was a member of the NBA’s All-Star Reading Team as well as its Read to Achieve program.
That’s why he is excited about one of his businesses, Future Phenom, a company he started three to four months ago.
“It amounts to giving kids inspiration through photography and design,” Ratliff said. “My company does special background designs for kids’ posters in all sports.
“It’s very rewarding to see the enthusiasm the kids have when they see themselves on their own posters as NBA or college athletes. It’s exciting because I feel like I am giving them something special.”
Prior to his NBA experience, Ratliff played at UW from 1991-95 and earned a degree in communications.
He played his first two years under coach Benny Dees and his last two under Joby Wright. During that time, UW compiled a record of 56-57
Ratliff played in 111 games, including 78 starts. He finished with 1,142 points (10.3 average), 655 rebounds (5.9) and 425 blocked shots (3.83).
He was named first-team All-WAC his senior year (1995) and was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. At the time, his 425 career blocks ranked second in NCAA history behind former Georgetown great Alonzo Mourning.
With his heavy NBA schedule, Ratliff hasn’t had much of a chance to get back to Wyoming, but he said that may change in the near future.
“Wyoming is where it all started,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to go on and be able to take it to the next level.
“It also was where I grew up and became a man. It’s something I will always cherish, being part of the Cowboy Land.”