The NBA Executive who invented the “Step Back” decades ago

Kiki VanDeWegh has served as a general manager, head coach, writer and analyst.

He has overseen all aspects of the game related to the playing of the game. For the last seven years he has worked as the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations for the National Basketball Association.

A couple weeks ago the NBA playoffs were in doubt. Players had grown tired of living in a bubble. Many wanted to support the protesting for police reform taking place in the streets.

Players were feeling separated from family and the drain of being in isolation was taking its toll also on coaches. Surely it was VanDeWeghe and Malik Rose, vice president of basketball operations, who played key roles in the sensitive navigation of a successful and peaceful resolution.

VanDeWeghe’s background is certainly one that makes him one of the most influential people in today’s game.

He was born in Wiesbaden, West Germany and raised in Los Angeles. The son of former NBA player Ernie Vandeweghe and the 1952 Miss America pageant winner Colleen Kay Hutchins, the combination of sports and public relations are second nature to him.

As expected, basketball also became the platform for Kiki’s talents to shine. Yet, due to his success in various NBA management roles, fans can easily forget that Kiki VanDeWeghe was a star player and a prolific scorer.

When he got to UCLA, the program was in transition after the departure of John “The Wizard of Westwood” Wooden. In his four seasons, he had three coaches. His senior season, the legendary Larry Brown coached a team known as “Kiki and the Kids”. After being the 48th and final team selected to the tournament, they made it past #1 DePaul and their stars Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings all the way to the National Championship game. There, they lost to Louisville and their star player Darrell Griffith, known as Dr. Dunkenstein.

The Dallas Mavericks made him the 11th pick in the 1980 draft, but Kiki refused to play for them and somehow forced a trade to the Denver Nuggets (ironically, he would later become an assistant coach for the Mavericks where he is credited with the development of Dirk Nowitzki). His negotiating skills were already evident. In Denver, he joined David “Skywalker” Thompson, Dan Issel and Alex English, perhaps the greatest Nugget to put on the uniform, who took Kiki under his wings.

Together they played a game never seen before.

VanDeWeghe once remarked “We played a little bit like how Phoenix used to. Everybody played different positions depending on the situation. It was an amazingly fast game. We ran, shot and played.”

In thirteen NBA seasons, Kiki’s best years were as a member of the Nuggets and Portland Trailblazers, where he played with Clyde “the Glide” Drexler. He averaged over twenty points a game for seven consecutive seasons, from 1981-82 to 1987-88, including a career high 29.4 points in 1984. Unfortunately, he played at a time where nobody in the Western Conference was getting past Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers.

He was a two-time NBA All-Star and had an outside shot that could not be stopped. That was because he perfected a move that many decades later would become the signature move of NBA stars like James Harden and Steph Curry. It was called the “Kiki Move”. Today it is known as the “Step Back”.

During the 1987–88 season, Vandeweghe suffered a back injury, was traded to the Knicks, and never fully regained his form. Waived by New York in June 1992, VanDeWeghe signed in October with the Los Angeles Clippers and played one final NBA season.

As much as he does to make the game better for today’s fans and players, those who saw Ernest Maurice VanDeWeghe III play in the 1980s remember him doing the same back then. A strong argument exists for him to be in the Hall of Fame, despite his injuries, especially considering his overall impact on the game.

That was readily apparent down in the Bubble.