Carlos Boozer isn’t going to lie. Statistics nearly broke him.
“That was the hardest B-minus of my life,” the Duke University graduate said in a phone conversation. “But I got an 85 on the final. And I got that paper.”
That’s right: Boozer now has the diploma to prove he’s a Duke University graduate.
Boozer, who turns 39 in November, accomplished plenty during his basketball career.
He won a national championship and All-American honors at Duke before declaring for the 2002 NBA Draft after his junior season. He played on two Olympic teams, including the 2008 gold medalists. He earned two All-Star appearances with the Utah Jazz and roughly $146 million over a 13-year career that ended in 2015.
That included four strong seasons with the Bulls, which led the NBA in regular-season victories in 2010-11 and 2011-12 with Boozer doing his double-double thing.
But something was missing.
“I always told myself when I left to pursue my dream of playing in the NBA that I’d get my degree,” Boozer said. “I always had plans to finish."
This year has featured a whole lot of yuck. But there’s some brightness amid the darkness, some inspiration from various acts of positivity and perseverance.
“One of the few great opportunities with the COVID situation is it enabled students to take online classes,” Boozer said. “That ended up being the perfect opportunity for me to be able to go back and finish my degree remotely. I could be on my computer on the Zoom calls with my classmates and my professors over summer sessions.
“It was something that I promised myself. When I start something, I like to finish it, and being a Duke graduate meant a lot to me. I also wanted my Mom and Dad to be proud of me. And I wanted to set an example for my kids. I’m not saying don’t follow your dreams. My dream was going to the NBA. And I did that. But I was able to come back to school and knock out something that was very important to me.”
Boozer needed three credits to complete his sociology degree. He actually looked into taking classes at Cleveland State when he played for the Cavaliers, and the University of Utah when he played for the Jazz. But he said Duke wouldn’t accept credit from either school.
Boozer said Duke does accept credit from Northwestern, and he briefly entertained taking classes there while playing for the Bulls. But the demands of the NBA and traveling while also raising young kids proved too much.
So this year, over the course of two summer school sessions, Boozer knocked out his three remaining credits. He got an A in Game Theory, part of his sociology major. He called it “eye-opening to learn about some of the incredible people who have been forgotten about in our history books” as he received another A in a class called “Race, Identity and Power.”
And then, he white-knuckled his way through Statistics.
Boozer credited many for helping him on his journey. He cited Duke president Vincent Price for advocating for online educational opportunities. He shouted out Kenny King, an academic advisor for Duke basketball players. And, of course, longtime Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who he talked to for close to an hour this week.
Boozer also said the NBA and National Basketball Players Association encourage players and former players in the process, including reimbursing them for class fees. Earlier this year, Nazr Mohammed, a Chicago native and another former Bull, wrote an essay in The Players’ Tribune about returning to Kentucky for his liberal arts degree after his 18-year NBA career.
“I gotta hit up Naz,” Boozer said. “Celebrate with him.”
Boozer may not be done. He said he’s got the education bug so badly again that he may now attend business school. He has opened an investment firm and dabbles in real estate.
“There’s more that I want to learn,” Boozer said. “And Duke has a really great business school.”
Boozer joked that the online option also allowed him to stay in his beloved Miami instead of going to Durham, N.C., although he has fond memories of his time there.
And if the COVID situation allows Duke to hold a graduation ceremony next spring? Boozer already told Krzyzewski that he plans to attend and walk across the stage in his cap and gown.
He wants to do that for many reasons, the biggest of which is for the example it sets for his children.
“Go for greatness,” Boozer said. “Being a Duke graduate is something incredibly great. It’s never too late to accomplish something.”