After injuries forced his retirement a decade ago, the former New York Knicks All-Star is back in the game, bringing his managerial skills, passion for basketball, and fatherly approach to the Westchester Knicks.

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Free time doesn’t come easily for Allan Houston. The former New York Knicks star is scheduled for a photo shoot, but that must wait. Right now, the father of seven is attending to his duties as the general manager of the Westchester Knicks, a National Basketball Association Development League team he helped assemble over the past three years. 

Worried about the players’ psyches, he asks the photographer to hold off until the team clears out of the gym. He doesn’t want the players thinking he’s taking their spotlight. So Houston sits on a table inside the New York Knicks’ Tarrytown training center, silently watching the practice. A banner adorned with Patrick Ewing’s retired number 33 hangs directly over his head, a nod to the last bit of the Knicks’ glory days Houston was a part of in the late ’90s. During those years, Houston entered Knicks lore. His shot—one of the purest and prettiest ever to grace the NBA—sent a generation of New York kids to the closest park to try to emulate it. His last-second leaning floater in Game 5 of the 1999 playoffs’ first round forever ensconced him in Knicks history. When the ball fell through, the Knicks beat the Miami Heat, and for only the second time ever, an eighth-ranked team upset a first-ranked team in an NBA playoff game. The Knicks went to the finals that year—their last bit of success in a decade and half. 

The franchise has been lying in a grave of mediocrity ever since, reaching the playoffs only five times during the last 14 years. Now, sitting quietly in the training center, Houston is part of the executive team clamoring to help the franchise claw its way back into respectability. After his knees could no longer hold the weight of his playing career, Houston officially retired in 2005 and started a gradual transition into a managerial role in the Knicks’ front office (he’s currently the assistant general manager), something easier said than done. The list of former players who’ve failed in the shift to the front office is long and varied, from Isiah Thomas to Steve Kerr to Michael Jordan. “When you’re playing, you practice and you go home,” Houston says. “It’s hard going into a management capacity, because it’s a different skill set.” 


Allan Houston is part of the executive team clamoring to help the Knicks franchise claw its way back into respectability.


To steady his feet in the transition, Houston shadowed Donnie Walsh in 2008. Walsh, one of the most respected front-office figures in the NBA and then Knicks general manager, took the time to explain the finer points of being general manager to Houston and helped him sidestep traps others had run into. “It’s like any other corporate job; you have to be prepared to be there as long as it takes to do whatever you got to do,” says Walsh. “He caught onto that pretty quickly.”

As an affiliate of the New York Knicks, the Westchester team, which plays its home games at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, is a training ground, a place to develop players coming out of college before they (hopefully) make the leap to the NBA. As GM, Houston serves as the franchise’s eye for young players, the one responsible for making deals and mentoring the players. It’s why, when speaking to him, he likes to mention the word “value.” “You really want to help players increase their value as people—they’re growing and don’t know what’s in front of them,” Houston says. In that regard, it’s a fatherly role for which the 43-year-old has been training his whole life. 

Houston learned the value of fatherhood growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, as the eldest of Wade and Alice Houston’s three children. Wade, a teacher and basketball coach, and Alice, a part-time teacher, met in college, and have now been married for 45 years. The family lived in a Christian household on Grand Avenue in the middle-class, more-urban-than-suburban West End of Louisville, two houses down from where Muhammad Ali grew up. (Ali even attended Houston’s 2nd birthday party.) 

Houston’s parents, Alice and Wade (left); Houston’s sweet shot was his defining trait as a New York Knicks star

Constantly surrounded by basketball, Houston took his first steps in a high school gym and never really left, playing organized basketball from age 6 at a local YMCA. During the summers, the family packed into a van, and zigzagged across the country  to drive Houston to different basketball camps. There were trips to the Poconos, and to Virginia, Georgia, and Indiana. It was a time when Wade threw his son into the fire, putting him into tough situations that would test and challenge him. 

“He was always a student of the game and always wanted to get better,” Wade Houston says. “I wanted to make sure he became the best player he could and wouldn’t have put pressure on him if he didn’t want it.” And the pressure was usually on, like the time in the seventh grade when Houston was practicing with the University of Louisville’s basketball team. Wade, an assistant coach for the team, and head coach Denny Crum had Houston stand at the foul line and told him he had to hit seven out of 10 shots, or the entire team would run sprints. Houston hit eight. “If you’re a singer, you got to get up on stage and get booed, just to know what that’s like,” Houston says. “We’re afraid to do that with our kids sometimes, but those are the things that shape you.”


The family man with his wife and seven children


The learn-by-fire method proved valuable. During a state tournament when Houston’s Ballard High School played in front of 22,000 fans in the University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena, the sophomore scored 32 points. “At the end of the game, I looked at his mother and said, ‘He’s got a chance to be a pretty good player,’” says Wade. “And, of course, she said, ‘Pretty good? He’s going to be better than pretty good!’” When scouts from legendary programs like the University of Kentucky came knocking, “it took me like three seconds to say no,” Houston says. “Family was more important to me than going to play somewhere just to play somewhere.” So the “pretty good player” followed his father to the University of Tennessee, where Wade became head coach in 1989. 

After four years as a star at Tennessee, Houston fell a bit flat on his leap to the NBA. No longer under the guiding eye of his father, Houston struggled after being drafted in 1993 by the Detroit Pistons, a team that was on a downward spiral after years of being at the top of the NBA. Players like Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, who’d brought two championships to Detroit, were still the leaders of the team, leaving Houston to idle on the bench. “It was difficult, because he was coming out of college where he was the guy, and all of a sudden he’s sitting on the bench,” says Wade. “We had a lot of conversations about how to adjust, where I told him ‘You can sit on the bench and sulk, but that would be a big mistake—the key is to be ready when your number is called.’” After a few teammates were injured, Houston seized his opportunity and snagged a place in the team’s starting lineup. 

After Houston’s rookie year, the Pistons drafted Grant Hill, who was heralded as one of the best college players ever. The two had known each other for years and immediately gravitated toward one another. The first time Hill ever saw Houston was at an NCAA Final Four game in 1986, before either was even in high school. Houston, there because his father was coach for one of the teams, was shooting around between games—and he wasn’t missing. “I remember I was jealous,” Hill recalls. “And I found out years later it was Allan.” 


“You really want to help the players increase their value as people—they’re growing and don’t know what’s in front of them.”


Though Houston and Hill carried their off-court chemistry into the games, the team still struggled, winning just 28 games. But the duo hit their stride the following year, with Houston budding into a star. “His third season you saw, ‘Okay, this guy really is a star,” says Hill. “He was a shooter, he could put the ball on the floor, he could dunk on you, he was athletic.” Houston helped the Pistons improve to 46 wins in his third season. But when Houston’s rookie contract expired and he became a free agent, he ended up leaving the Pistons. “It hurt what the team could become—I think the Pistons botched the whole thing,” Hill says about the franchise letting go  of Houston. 

The quiet and reserved Houston ended up signing with the New York Knicks in 1996, and faced the biggest shock of his career: the ceaselessly glaring media spotlight of New York, which scrutinized Houston for being too laid-back and too devoid of emotion to succeed in the New York market. But he never let the spotlight burn him. “I wasn’t going to try to be someone else,” Houston says. “I saw myself as someone that could help the team win and wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of my role.” The newly signed Houston replaced fan-favorite John Starks in the starting lineup and played the role of the sharp-shooting three-point specialist alongside Patrick Ewing, Latrell Sprewell, and Charlie Ward. 



After leading the Knicks to the playoffs each year during his first five seasons with the team (including a trip to the NBA Finals in 1999), the Knicks continued to see value in Houston, to the tune of a $100 million contract paid out over six years. But Houston’s knees seemed to buckle under the contract’s weight, and he suffered through a series of injuries and knee surgeries. He tried to soldier on, playing through the pain, but only did further damage to his weakened knees. Despite hiring doctors and trainers to help him rehab at home, Houston never fully recovered, playing only three more seasons after signing the contract, and appearing in fewer than half of the games during his last two seasons—all while collecting nearly $20 million a year. Fans still blame Houston’s hefty paycheck for crippling the Knicks throughout the last decade. “People don’t know what I had to go through,” he says of the injuries. “People just like to be negative, and you can’t get mad at people when they don’t understand.”

His low-key media persona and unfulfilled contract aside, there was little to complain about Houston as a player. Through nine seasons with the Knicks, Houston was a bona fide star. The two-time all-star (who also earned a gold medal as part of the USA team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics) ranks fourth on the Knicks’ all-time scoring list, second among all-time Knicks in three-point field goals, and sixth in minutes played. And, of course, there’s that most famous of shots: the game-winner in Game 5 of the 1999 playoffs against the Heat. It’s something that fans still approach Houston about today. “I’ll look back until the day I die and say, ‘You had a play that’s cemented in people’s hearts and their emotions,’” says Houston. “To be on the good side of that was a blessing.”

Still, the most memorable 48 hours of Houston’s career were a few weeks after that game-winner—Game 6 of the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers. Houston doesn’t remember the 32 points he scored in the game. All he remembers is a sort of out-of-body experience; he knew that the next day his wife, Tamara, would be giving birth to his first child, his daughter Remie, now 15. Though it brought him “a sense of peace,” as he puts it, it was also an emotional overload for Houston. “After everything I had gone through, coming to New York, and the criticism I took, now all of a sudden you’re in the NBA Finals, and you have a daughter. It was too much to handle at one time. I’d go into the bathroom and just start crying sometimes,” he recalls. 


As tough as it was for Houston, it was even tougher on Tamara. “I know he understood the gift of a baby, but I think it was hard for him to appreciate the whole thing because he was doing something every NBA player dreams of: playing in the finals. And he had to be all in, totally focused and ready,” says Tamara. Further complicating the matter, Houston headed to Puerto Rico for pre-Olympics qualifications right after the finals, so he wasn’t home full-time until Remie was 8 weeks old. “It was hard,” says Tamara. “I missed him. And you have to learn to not resent that, but embrace it.” So Tamara turned to her mother-in-law, Alice, who’d dealt with the same lifestyle when Wade Houston played professionally overseas. “Thanks to her mentoring, I was able to embrace it,” Tamara says. “Now it’s just a part of our life.” 

Time apart has always been a part of the couple’s life. Now married for 18 years, they met when mutual friends introduced them on New Year’s Eve 1993, when Tamara was a senior at Michigan State and Houston was a struggling rookie for the Pistons 75 miles away in Detroit. But they’d talk on the phone or fax each other messages. And when they did see each other, it was always a fun time. “He was great, always a jokester playing silly little jokes on me,” says Tamara. One time, when she got to his house to go to the movies, Houston told her he’d drive. When they walked to the garage, Houston’s car was parked sideways inside the garage. So, like a scene from Austin Powers, he spent the next couple minutes inching forward and backward to pull his car out. “I’m just thinking, ‘Is this guy serious?’” Tamara says. “But it was fun; he kept it light.”

The couple married the summer he signed with the Knicks. Even though 18-year marriages in professional sports are as likely as a Knicks win these days, and despite the year-round, 24/7 commitment of Houston’s career, the couple has made it work. “It was never Allan Houston the Knick, it was Allan Houston my husband, who just happened to work for the Knicks,” says Tamara. “We still maintain that mindset, that value system with our children.”

When he’s at his palatial Greenwich home, Houston finds value as a hands-on father to his seven children. In the mornings, he leads his family in a devotional and prayer, and then he heads off to the training center and the kids go off to school in Rye. He’ll make videos with his older kids, or play hide-and-seek with the younger ones. Or for one-on-one time, he’ll take one or two of the kids to Westchester Burger Company to eat or to Grand Prix New York in Mount Kisco to race go-karts. “When he’s around, he just fits right back into the fold,” Tamara says. Houston credits his father’s example, saying, “I learned so much from him about being a man. He’d say something, and it was like, ‘Look, he’s doing it.’ He was humble. He was a leader. He was strong.”

To instill the value of fatherhood into future generations, Houston founded the Legacy Foundation in 2001. Since its inception, the Foundation has served thousands of families across the country (though it’s now focusing more attention on the New York and Westchester areas). The Foundation works with individuals from all economic backgrounds to instill family values and economic empowerment through programs like the annual Father Knows Best Basketball Retreat (a family engagement initiative between children and their father figures designed to strengthen their relationships) and the Allan Houston Business Education and Development Program (which provides business classes and an incubator for entrepreneurs). “As Allan transitioned from player to eventually an executive, he’s always kept the foundation a key component of his life, setting the vision, contributing to its strategic development, and utilizing his personal and professional assets toward its success,” says Jonathan Herman, who was executive director of the foundation from 2004 to 2014. Says Houston, “The foundation is really about merging the child’s needs to the authority figure’s example and to make a fun and entertaining way for kids to self-reflect, grow, and develop.” 

Houston brings that same mentality to his job as general manager. Back at the training center, the Westchester Knicks’ practice has finally cleared out. Houston stands in front of a row of signed basketballs, a gift to the team’s season ticket holders, ready to have his photo taken. He doesn’t quite know what to do with his hands, so he awkwardly sticks them in his pockets, then crosses his arms. “I feel like Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights,” he says, showing a flash of his jokester persona. “Sweet baby Jesus,” he continues, quoting the Will Ferrell movie. 

He sees one of the Westchester Knicks players in a one-on-one matchup with head coach Kevin Whitted. “Give him the business!” Houston shouts across the gym. His level of comfort with the players makes it hard to believe he never saw himself in the role of a general manager. During his playing days, he saw himself retiring, settling down into fatherhood, and perhaps coaching one day. But when his career was abruptly ended by knee injuries, he had to reassess his value. “I never wanted to view my past history with the team as something that would carry me,” he says. “You always have to be open and willing to accept the path God has for you next, and this is what it was for me.” 

Though sitting on the other side of the bargaining table has been a change for Houston, he lets his past inform his players’ futures. “I never forget I was on that side,” he says. “I like to ask the players questions about where they see themselves, their motivation, what they want to get out of this, because they want to be helped.”

And with that, Houston enters dad mode and heads out of the training center. He has to pick up his son from school before heading to Madison Square Garden, where he’ll again be Allan Houston, the Knick.

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