DANVILLE – People may think they know former NBA player Arian “Keon” Clark through his talent of playing basketball or knowledge of his numerous brushes with the law through the years.
Now as a motivational speaker, Clark has a chance to share his story and aspects of his life then and now and inspire others to learn and grow from their mistakes too.
In talking with him now, at age 44, he seems more grounded. Also as the saying goes, he’s grown wiser with age, and he’s become comfortable with himself.
Clark, who still lives in Danville, said it was a culmination of progress through the years, with worse incidents occurring, that got him to where he is today.
“It was wake up or die, literally,” Clark said in a sit-down interview last week in downtown Danville.
Clark said he doesn’t want a pity party, and he’s taking what he’s learned in life to various groups now through his public speaking engagements.
Also don’t be surprised at some point of maybe seeing him share his story to an even bigger audience, such as on television with ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series. Clark says that's just about him agreeing to it.
He could even get back into basketball such as with Big3, a 3-on-3 pro basketball league partly founded by Ice Cube featuring former All-Stars, Hall of Famers and World Champion basketball players and international players; or maybe he might finish a book about his life. He started one, but said he wasn’t at a good point in life then and he’s going back to it.
“I’m in the best place I’ve been in years,” Clark said. “I answer to me.”
Two of Clark’s upcoming speaking engagements include serving as speaker Saturday for the Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church of Danville’s 55th Annual Lincoln-Douglass-King Banquet.
The banquet will be at 6 p.m. at Laura Lee Fellowship House, 212 E. Williams St. The ticket donation is $30. The banquet also will include the presentation of Allen Chapel’s Community Service Award to Reginald Cloyd Jr.
For ticket information, contact Virginia McKinney at (217) 446-5639.
Clark also is expected in the next few weeks to speak to a basketball team in Indianapolis and to a group at the Danville Public Library.
He continues to have a lot of support in the Danville community as a motivational speaker.
“I am proud of Keon for taking on the responsibility of being a motivational speaker. We all have had some challenges in our life. So, we need people like Keon to share how you can overcome life’s challenges. As a motivational speaker, Keon’s story about his life will inspire our youth to stay focused on the goals they want to achieve in life. However, do not let a setback in your goals stop you from achieving them,” said Sandra Finch, human relations administrator with the City of Danville.
Clark was born and raised in Danville and started playing “concrete” basketball as early as he can remember.
His tall 6-foot, 11-inch, frame served him well being a former Danville High School athlete. He moved on to playing basketball in college and then professional basketball in the NBA for several teams.
Clark was drafted by the Orlando Magic in the first round as the 13th pick in the 1998 NBA draft. He was then traded to the Denver Nuggets when he made his NBA debut. He was in the NBA until the 2003-2004 season, also playing for the Toronto Raptors, Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz.
He holds the Toronto Raptors franchise record for most blocks in one game with 12, set on March 23, 2001, in a game against the Atlanta Hawks.
In 2002, Clark posted averages of 11.3 points and 1.51 blocks per game, while also finishing ninth in the NBA in total personal fouls. He holds career averages of 8.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.62 blocks per game.
It was his troubles with alcohol and drugs that became problematic.
Clark has talked in the past about being an alcoholic, telling a judge during a hearing about his NBA years, “I never played a game sober.”
He’s faced numerous criminal charges against him, including possession of a firearm without identification, possession of a controlled substance, driving with a suspended license, battery and domestic battery and warrants for criminal trespassing and driving after renovation.
He left prison early in 2017 after serving four years of an eight-year sentence. The sentence was a plea agreement where he pleaded guilty to unlawful use of a weapon by a felon in a 2012 case and aggravated DUI with a revoked driver’s license in a 2012 case.
As part of the terms of the plea, charges of possession of a controlled substance, possession of cannabis, unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and felony traffic charges in a total of three other cases were dropped.
Clark called his prison stint a “sabbatical” and “four years of self.” He said he focused on himself, such as with addiction recovery and yoga.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow. Now I’m able to digest ...,” Clark said about his troubled past.
He enjoys now speaking about his life, always having to touch on his shortened professional basketball career, and telling people what he’s learned about himself. This is with the hope of helping others.
He said he’s fortunate to have had his experiences and learn from them.
“It prepares you,” Clark said about becoming responsible.
One of the though-provoking questions he likes to ask groups he speaks to is “Do you react or respond?” He said he used to react hard to things in his life, but now he responds accordingly.
“Life hurts at times,” Clark said. “It really is what you try to become every day.”
He said before in his life too, directness was his biggest hindrance.
“I’m an energy guy," he said.
He now says about being a motivational speaker, "I enjoy it way more than I enjoyed basketball.”
In talking to Clark last week, people walking would bump fists with him and say "Hi."
He said one time someone paid for his meal at a local restaurant to show their appreciation for what he’s done and overcome. He said that was “an endearing thing.”
Clark has two children, age 14 and 20. They aren’t following in his athletic footsteps, he said, adding that they don’t have to use their bodies for a college scholarship.
He said he had a great experience helping his cousin’s son’s basketball team at the YMCA recently.
“It felt so good,” Clark said.
Clark also calls himself an “introvert” and loves to read. One book he’s read more recently is about understanding brains and brain research.
“It’s comforting to me to be able to escape with literature,” he said.