Depending on your point of view, the story of Curtis Malone is either downright shocking or simply par for the course.
A prominent Washington D.C. AAU figure, Malone built two hugely successful empires over the last two decades. One of them, we knew about (that would be basketball). The other one, we did not (that would be drugs).
Malone, as Pete Thamel details in the Aug. 25 issue of Sports Illustrated, was operating a large cocaine and heroin ring that generated $80,000 a month in profit. Yes, Malone – who has produced three NBA lottery picks and helped hundreds of basketball players get Division I scholarships – was making hundreds of thousands of dollars off drugs.
So, what did Thamel learn by doing this story? As it turns out, not a whole lot.
“I think that the most telling thing is that I probably didn’t learn a ton because I knew it already,” the college basketball writer said on The MoJo Show. “I’ve covered this stuff for so long. (AAU) is essentially an unregulated, fairly corrupt sort of world that is always constantly shrouded in controversy. No one’s able to regulate it.”
“Curtis’ story, to me, was an interesting one because he’s a complicated guy,” Thamel continued. “He’s a guy who obviously was a large-scale wholesale cocaine/heroin dealer, and he also did some good for some kids too. So it’s just not a clean (black and white) kind of thing, which I think made it so compelling for me to work on.”
According to Thamel, Malone used his smooth-talking abilities to communicate with people and make them feel at ease – for both good and bad reasons.
“Curtis Malone, for all his ills, was a charismatic, engaging and likable guy,” Thamel explained. “I spent three hours with him in prison a couple weeks ago, and it was an enjoyable conversation. One of his great gifts is that he’s charming and (has an) ability to put people at ease. It’s sort of paradoxical, but I enjoyed visiting with him. We had good debate; we had good back and forth. He’s a very smart guy. He’s a very savvy guy. He obviously built two booming empires: a drug empire and an AAU empire.”
If Malone feels remorse for his actions, he didn’t show it to Thamel.
“He did not express to me in the time that I spent with him a tremendous outpouring of guilt,” Thamel said. “I’m not saying he does not have it – because that’s not my place to judge – but in the time there, he did not express a ton of remorse. But you have to remember how he grew up, too. He said he knew six people who were in that federal prison where he was already. That’s how he grew up. These types of things happen to people who grow up like Curtis Malone. That was the way he knew how to make money. He knew how to make money from selling drugs.”
Interestingly enough, Malone said that it’s a lot easier being a drug dealer than an AAU coach – mainly because as a drug dealer, you know what you’re dealing with every day.
“It’s a complicated world,” Thamel said. “Drug dealers rip your throat out and you know it. In AAU, you never know whose motives are where.”