The name Ronnie Fields can ignite a basketball conversation in Chicago to this day.
It’s been 16 years since Fields, a 1996 McDonald’s All-American, last soared through the air in a high school basketball game, but people recall his feats as if they occurred yesterday.
And unlike tales of other prep legends, the stories of Fields haven’t grown in exaggeration with time. When you stand 6-foot-3 and jump 50 inches like Fields did, the truth remains satisfactory.
Most Chicagoans begin their Fields’ stories with, “Man, I remember when he…” What often follows is how he jumped over Sergio McClain, how he jumped over (insert a number of names), how he threw down a 360 dunk against Glenbrook North in the City-Suburban Showdown, how he dropped 51 points in a morning game before a packed crowd at Proviso West, how all of his windmill dunks seemed unforgettable and how he and Kevin Garnett were two basketball freaks when they played together at Farragut on Chicago’s West Side.
Those are everyone else’s stories of Fields.
Fields’ own story of himself is different.
Field’s life story consists partly of those great basketball highs as a prep player and partly of the great lows which soon followed (fracturing a bone in his neck in a car accident, not qualifying for college, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of sexual abuse, not being drafted to the NBA).
But as Fields now explains, that’s not where his story ends. Instead of allowing the bad to trump the good, Fields kept pushing forward, played professionally for 15-plus years and has put together a life on and off the court he’s proud of.
“With basketball, especially in Chicago, a lot of kids want to try to play in the NBA,” the 35-year-old Fields said. “If you look at my story, what if that doesn’t happen? God forbid for any of the kids to have an accident or go to jail or anything transpires. What do you when you take a spill?
“From the (criminal) case to the car accident to making decisions as a kid and having so much thrown at me, a lot of people couldn’t handle that, not even adults. I know from people in my past when things aren’t going well, they just leave and stay that path and give up. For me, I was like I got to continue to just fight and not just look at the fight as for basketball. Look at life as growing, living, supporting your family, learning a lot of different things you didn’t know when you were younger, understanding the reasons you don’t make those mistakes.”
Fields has been spreading his story at camps throughout the Chicago area since retiring from basketball this past past year, and he hopes to reach even more people when the documentary, "Bounce Back: The Ronnie Fields Story," is soon finished by executive producer Thatcher Kamin and director Ryan Mayers.
In the documentary and when talking to young players, Fields is open about all aspects of his life. He doesn’t shy away from his mistakes, and Kamin was grateful for that when they decided to begin shooting the documentary two years ago.
“As a producer, I told Ronnie from Day 1 we need to cover everything that happened,” said Kamin, who runs Taste Media Group. “We talk about the (case.) We talk about these topics. We just can’t make it a fan video of Ronnie. It has to be objective or the credibility isn’t there.
“Hopefully we can motivate people and touch some lives and realize when they are down, if you hang in there, you can fight your way up in life. It’s really a story of success, failure and redemption, and it’s real. Very few stories out there whether it’s sports or not can you bring someone as high as Ronnie’s career was and go as low as it was and come out right now being as Ronnie is at peace with what happened.”
Loyola coach Porter Moser caught wind of the documentary through his assistant Rick Malnati, who has known Fields since high school. Moser invited Fields to speak at his elite high school camp last month and was surprised to see how the players reacted to him.
“He was one of the sports figures everybody knew, “Moser said. “He was one of the biggest sports figures to come out of high school we ever had. We showed his video over the video screen at the arena and then he spoke to the guys about his message of consequences, making decisions. It was such a powerful message. He was genuine. It was sincere. You could hear a pin drop.”
Farragut coach William Nelson, Fields’ former high school coach, knows exactly what Moser is talking about. Nelson jumps at any chance to have Fields talk to his current players.
“I’ve seen him from as a young man in sixth, seventh grade to all the way now, seeing him sit back and talk to these guys and steer them,” Nelson said. “They’re stuck on what he has to say. They’re stuck on every word. From being able to speak to them from personal experiences, he explains to them he was the can’t-miss guy who missed.
“I’m loving every time he talks. Every chance to hook up with him, see his smile, see him enjoy life, that makes me smile. People are like you don’t want to turn out like Ronnie Fields. When you look at Ronnie Fields, what you may call a failure, but I don’t’ call it that. He may not be where he wanted, but that’s fine. If he can accept that, why can’t you?”
Fields has accepted what his life is. While he realizes some may deem his career a failure for never reaching the NBA, he sees it now as everything turned out as it did for a reason.
“I can talk about it, look back at it and be thankful I’m still here today and still have every day to move forward to improve myself as a person and as a father,” said Fields, who played in Greece, Venezuela, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Mexico and the CBA. “I’m beyond (the NBA). I look at my life and understand how everything fell in place.
“I’m happy in terms of what I’m able to give back and share with kids. To be able to help people, I’m thankful for it.”