Storyteller: How Kareem Maddox went from journalist to 3x3 veteran
There is nothing new to Kareem Maddox when it comes to 3x3.
The 32-year-old has a lengthy 3x3 history for USA Basketball. He holds an MVP honor from the 2018 3X Nationals and lays claim to two gold medals, both in 2019, from the Pan American Games and the FIBA 3x3 World Cup.
And now, he can add being a member of the 2022 USA Basketball Men's 3x3 AmeriCup team, which will compete in Miami from Nov. 4 to Nov. 6, to his healthy list of 3x3 experience. Maddox will be joined by Canyon Barry, Jimmer Fredette and Dylan Travis.
Despite all the success, there was a point in time when Maddox thought he was done with basketball. And then the 2016 NBA Finals and 3x3 roped him back in.
“I remember watching that full series, and just thinking that I still really wanted to play,” Maddox said. “I really missed the game. And [without it] something was missing from my life. I felt like I still had more to give to it. That’s when I started to really love the game.”
In 2013, he wrapped up an overseas career and wanted to find something to do post-basketball. So he volunteered at his local public radio station, KCRW, based in Los Angeles, reporting on current affairs. His volunteer work shifted into a full-time job as a news producer.
His day-to-day work involved aiding with a show “To the Point,” which covered the larger stories of the day.
Maddox also hosted “All Things Considered,” another show that covered major public affairs for NPR.
By 2016 he was a full-fledged journalist who just so happened to be a former basketball player. Storytelling came naturally to him. He attended Princeton University and graduated in 2011 with a degree in English literature. Writing and story structure were the two things he never forgot, and he really liked the work he was doing, Maddox said.
But something changed when he watched the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers battle in a series that is now an all-time classic. He started to miss his life in basketball. The one he left for the radio station.
“Before that, I always played as a kid, and I was pretty decent to play in college at Princeton,” Maddox said. “Basketball was always something I did, but, even in high school, I didn’t necessarily have plans to play in college. I wasn’t one of those kids who really wanted to play college ball. But then the opportunity came.
“I never really set my eyes on the pros, either. Then an opportunity to play overseas and travel came along when I was a senior, so I did that. But it took me stepping away from basketball to really start missing it.”
Maddox, inspired by the heroism seen in the 2016 NBA Finals, flew to Las Vegas later in the summer for a basketball camp that doubled as a tryout for players who wanted to play overseas.
He passed the eye test but explaining to coaches why he took three years off wasn’t easy. Eventually, a coach from Poland took a flyer on him, and Maddox found himself playing in the top division in the country, where his perspective on the game shifted. He now possessed a newfound, unsatiable desire to improve.
“I had that love for getting better, improving and putting in the work,” he said. “That was something I did, really for the first time – significantly – when I was in Poland. I was getting there early and staying late, and truly trying to be a great basketball player.”
In the background of Maddox’s everyday life playing 5-on-5 was 3x3. The version of basketball he had always played, informally, he said.
His connection to the sport came through an internship at Ariel Investments and John Rogers, who has played in semi-formal 3x3 tournaments since the 80s, Maddox said.
“I played in my first 3x3 tournament in 2015 through John,” he added. The team Maddox joined was Rogers’ team Ariel Slow and Steady.
Following his year in Poland, 2016-17, Maddox threw himself into the world of 3x3 because of a promise he made to himself after viewing the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
“Making it to the Olympics was always something I wanted to do,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there, but then 3x3 qualified as an Olympic sport.”
That was enough to get Maddox hooked. He joined Ariel, which later became Team Princeton on the 3x3 circuit, and he received a flavor for how 3x3 was played at a full-time high level. It took a few months to adjust, but eventually, he got the hang of the game.
Concurrently, Maddox was still working on being a storyteller. When he wasn’t playing, he was in New York, working for Gimlet Media on a podcast titled “The Pitch,” which is a Shark Tank-style podcast.
For a while, he balanced his two worlds. Until early 2020, when he stepped away from the company to focus on making it to Tokyo – a move he felt was pushing him one step closer to his dream.
And then his dream of the Olympics was deterred by the pandemic.
So he did what anyone would when one door felt like it was closing – he went back to storytelling, still playing 3x3 in select events, and buying time until another opportunity arose.
He freelanced for NBC, conceptualizing, producing and hosting a podcast titled “The Greatness,” which sought to tell the untold stories of the Olympics. Still dreaming about a promise he made to himself in Atlanta in 1996.
Storytelling and 3x3 basketball were Maddox’s life until Sept. 1, when he began working for the Minnesota Timberwolves doing personnel and video work and scouting.
Only a few short months after starting his new job, he received a call from USA Basketball to be a member of the AmeriCup team.
He is still chasing his Olympic dream, and storytelling is still near to him, but his focus, heading into the event, is merely winning another gold medal.
“Gold, that is really the goal,” Maddox said. “The goal is really that simple.”
Ian Kayanja is a freelance reporter on behalf of USA Basketball.