Through the Fire with Renaldo Major: A Three-Part Series

By Nick Robinson | November 24, 2021

Renaldo Major is the all-time leading scorer in G League history (5,058 points). He owns G League records in four other categories: minutes played (11,555), field goals (1,702), free throws (1,486) and steals (502). Major is fifth all-time in rebounds (1,628) and has played in 400 G League games (good for second all-time). He is a G League champion (2006-07), G League Defensive Player of the Year (2007-08), All NBA G League First Team and All-Star (2007-08) and G League Sportsmanship Award recipient (2014-15). After a 15-year professional career, Major has turned his attention to coaching, as he is in his first year as an Assistant Coach for the Sioux Falls Skyforce. The following three-part series takes an in-depth look at growing up in Chicago, falling in love with basketball, the highs, and lows of the professional game, coaching and what the future holds. We continue in September 2000 in Chicago, Illinois.

With no offers on the table, Renaldo Major was questioning everything.

Is this the right move? Should he put his efforts into something else? Is this the end of a relationship with the game he loved?

“My dad called me and said, ‘Look, you’re not you’re not going to just sit in the house, you either need to get a job, or you’re going to enlist in the army,’” Major recalled. “I really started thinking like I don’t want to work a job and I was thinking about the Army. I didn’t want to eventually be called Major Major, so that one was thrown out of the conversation. I just needed a week to figure it out.”

Finally, Major received a call from a longtime high school coach in the Chicago area with connections.

South Plains College in Levelland, Texas needed a player to round out their roster.

“I flew out and made the team on a try-out,” Major expressed. “I went from the last guy brought in last minute as a try-out player, to the best player on the team.”

Major led the Texans to the National Junior College Athletic Association Tournament with a 30-5 record in his second and final season with SPC.

Despite the success, Major was left with minimal interest from division one coaches.

“After all that, here I was, again not being recruited,” he said. “Wichita State had some interest, but they said I didn’t play any defense, so they weren’t going to offer me. The whole summer I just kept my nose down and hooped. Someone would eventually find me.”

David Fizdale, current assistant for the Los Angeles Lakers, was on a recruiting visit to watch one of Major’s teammates. He went with the intention of offering one player.

That changed after the workout.

“He came to watch my junior college teammate, Jonathan Woods,” Major said. “He ended up getting a hold of the head coach and I earned a scholarship from Fresno State. They wanted me to tour the school first. I said, ‘No, this is destiny. I will be there and ready to go.’”

Collegian • Sports • Renaldo gets Major role

Major spent two seasons at Fresno State, posting an average of 10.22 points on 47.7% shooting and 4.17 rebounds in 41 games (13 starts). He flashed pro potential throughout his collegiate career.

He had one encounter, when looking back, prepped him for the next level.

“I will never forget going to play Creighton in the Bracket Buster,” Major said. “I had to guard Kyle Korver. I knew he was good, but after that, it changed my perspective. He worked me down and was constantly moving. I was drenched in sweat by halftime. After the game, I asked him what he did to get in such good shape, and he said he just conditioned and conditioned. At that point, I told myself I would be the best conditioned player on the court every time I played.”

It was also a time of reflection of how far he made it. He recalled his time at Fresno State.

“My dad said he wanted to see Major on the back of a jersey. I wanted to make that possible. I did that,” Major pointed out. “All that hard work started to pay off and it made me even more hungry. Plus, I got to wear number-one, because of Tracy McGrady. I wanted to be like him when I was in college. It was a blessing; the people were great; the school was amazing.”

In the blink of an eye, his time in college was over. For the third time in five years, Major found himself without a plan forward. He attended many professional camps and workouts in the summer of 2004.

“I went to every camp, and I did not make a team,” he noted. “Once again, I was left without a team. I was at home, not knowing what I was going to do. I was walking down the street with my buddy, about to go apply at a factory he was working at. Duane Ticknor of the Gary Steelheads called me and asked me to come out for a tryout literally on my way there.”

He did not think he was in any shape to play professional basketball. However, his worth ethic on the court proved different.

“I was not in any type of playing shape at that time. I had a great camp and got that last spot,” Major expressed. “I remember crying in Dale Osborne’s office. I thought, jokingly, to change my number at that point to seven, just because of how lucky I felt. But I still wanted to be number-one. That was my number. The trainer came back to me and said they only had one jersey left: number-seven. What are the odds of that?”

Major recalled how the Continental Basketball Association was in his rookie year.

“You could play two games and get cut in the CBA. You couldn’t have a bad game,” he said. “You could not go through the motions. It was cutthroat. In today’s game, in the G League, the veterans are 24-to-27. In the CBA, the vets were 33 or 34. Being around guys that age helped me a lot early on in my career.”

After spending part of the 2005 season with the Dodge City Legends in the United States Basketball League, Major found himself in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with the Skyforce.

“It is a first-class organization. It was when I played, and it is now,” he said of the Skyforce. “The love they have for basketball here is crazy. They’re the most supportive fans I have ever had. When I came to Sioux Falls, the crowd was rocking every game and the fans really loved us. Kids wanted your autograph and they made us feel like real superstars.”

Major averaged 12 points per game on 52.9% shooting and 4.9 rebounds in a Skyforce jersey, before being traded to the Dakota Wizards. The stint was shorter than he wanted, as it was the first place that Major felt he was a priority.

“Greg Heineman was the absolute best, too, Major said. “I didn’t even know he was the owner until someone told me. We would talk before every game, and he would give me a big hug. That was truly the first time I felt wanted on the basketball court. This place felt like home.”

During that time was when current Skyforce head coach Kasib Powell had first heard of Major, when he was playing for the Dakota Wizards.

“It was tough. He was a guy, every time you knew you played against him, it was going be a tough game,” Powell said of Major. “He made you work for every bucket. He made you work for every pass. He made you work for everything on the court. We always had respect for each other. And even after games we would talk; the mutual respect was there from day one. We had some good battles.”

In different stretches with the Skyforce and Wizards, both just missed playing on the same team together.

“I think if we ever would have played together probably would have been the best two-three wing defensive combination you could put on a court and a minor league,” Powell proclaimed. “I wish I played with them. It would have been great to have that kind of warrior on the floor with you. Someone who kind of mirrors how you look at the game and approach the game. To have that with you on the same team would have been something special.”

Major feels the same way and compares the two to a very familiar duo on the court.

“Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen,” Major said with a grin. “I don’t know who would have been who, but we really would have been a dynamic duo. We were fierce competitors and held our teammates accountable. We would have won a few championships. We were so close. Now to coach with him, is the best feeling ever, probably better than it would have been to play together. It means more to be teaching these young men versus doing it ourselves.”

In the 2006-07 season with the Wizards, Major was having a great season, and finally reached the pinnacle.

He, ironically, got a call while at the G League Showcase in Sioux Falls. After all that work, the ups, downs, triumphs and letdowns, Major made it to the NBA.

“I froze when I got that call,” Major recalled. “Immediately, I called my dad and we just cried together. All that sacrifice and hard work. The dream finally worked out. I got my 10-day with the Golden State Warriors.”

Major played in one game during his 10-day contract with the Warriors. He posted five points, two rebounds and two steals in 27 minutes of play.

“That was the quickest 10 days of my life,” Major said. “Jason Richardson came back from injury and took my spot. I wasn’t mad and I didn’t even take my jersey. I told everyone, ‘I’ll be back. I can get it then.’ I never made it back, but you can’t be greedy. A lot of guys work their whole life and never make it to the league.”

The momentum continued after his 10-day contract when he returned to Bismarck with the Wizards. He helped then-head coach David Joerger win a G League title in 2007 and also earned Defensive Player of the Year honors.

“It all moved quick. I got back to Bismarck right after that and locked in,” Major said of their run to a trophy. It was bittersweet to win the championship that year. I am still mad; I came second to Randy Livingston that year for MVP. I joke with Kasib that should have been mine. He got one and I didn’t.”

Things were finally on Major’s side. After an illustrious run, he finally had options, too.

“I had an offer to go overseas. My dad wanted me to go,” he said. “I decided against it. I had an opportunity to get to the NBA with the Nuggets. I felt that in my heart and turned down the guaranteed money. I was playing basketball to make it to the league. I had a chance, so I went with it.”

He entered the 2007-08 season on the training camp roster of the Denver Nuggets with the likes of Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, and JR Smith. Pre-season talks with George Karl had him feeling confident he would get a crack at the league.

“George Karl told me I was going to be his secret weapon,” Major recalled. “He told me the league had no idea what they were missing on me. He boosted me up and helped my play. I was having a great camp, working so hard. And then during a physical, they noticed something with my heart. We took a day to sit on it.”

His heart skipped a beat.

It couldn’t be the case. He had worked so hard and got so close.

The doctors said he had a loose aortic valve in his heart and in order to fix it, they would need to crack open his clavicle, do the repair and stitch it back up.

His problems, now, got a lot bigger. To continue playing, he would need to have surgery.

“It was devastating and took me out of game. I had to stop everything,” Major expressed. “I went to Chicago to get surgery and the doctor told me it would cost $75,000. I didn’t have that, but bless that doctor, he did it without charge and told me when I make it back to the NBA, I need to get him tickets. I still have that on my list.”

The surgery was successful, and although dark days were ahead, he worked hard to return.

“I had to really hone in on my mental skills,” Major said of his rehab. “That was half the battle. I, again, was questioning everything. It took a lot out of me.”

To be continued.