In 1988, Chris Piper did something special. But he doesn't make a habit of reminding people about it.
Chris Piper could stock his office with artifacts from glory days that truly were glorious.
He doesn't, but he could, and the possibilities are staggering. Maybe a framed photograph of Piper and his teammates on Kansas University's national championship team hoisting the NCAA title trophy.
Maybe a display case with his jersey and championship ring. A shot of him and former President Ronald Reagan. A shot of him and Danny Manning riding down Massachusetts Street in the victory parade, both smiling and peppered with bits of confetti.
But Piper's office at Grandstand Sportswear and Glassware, 2124 Del., is instead covered in a wall-to-wall layer of price lists, boxes of glasses and T-shirts.
Piper hasn't let his glory days go to his head. The 31-year-old business owner has a streak of self-deprecation as deep as the lines at beer taps the night he and his teammates snipped the net cords.
Interviewer: "I get the sense that you don't get together with your teammates and talk about how great you were."
Piper, laughing: "We talk about how bad we all were. `Can you believe we won it all?'"
Heart and soul
Say you're somebody who knew nothing about KU basketball. Danny and the Miracles, to you, are an obscure music group, not the basketball team that surprised Oklahoma in 1988 for the NCAA title.
You talk to Piper. You notice he's tall. Maybe he mentions he played basketball, but chances are that he doesn't. Unless you delve into the subject, there's a good chance you'll walk away not knowing Piper was part of the championship team. Not just a part, but a senior leader, the player that Manning called the club's heart and soul.
"I can't stand people who make something more out of what was really there," he said.
What was there was a Lawrence High School graduate who averaged 5 points a game, played hurt and was better known for defense -- his defensive skills won praise from North Carolina coach Dean Smith -- than offense. Piper happened to be part of a team with one of the best college players ever and the chemistry and luck to go all the way.
He never played professionally. Instead, he stumbled into the business he remains in today.
Shortly after graduation, Piper took over a T-shirt manufacturing company called Screen-It Graphics.
In describing his business career, Piper applies the same self-critical tone he uses to assess his basketball career. In his running history, he talks about having "struggled" and done a "very poor job" in some areas.
Huh? Now called Grandstand, the business employs 22 people and produces plastic products, glasswear and promotional items as well as T-shirts. There are clients nationwide.
When asked whether he is too critical, Piper chuckles.
"I've just found that I don't care to put up a front," he said. "And when I say things like that, I'm just trying to show that it hasn't been all that easy. We've had some tough experiences.
"Honestly, I feel we're, if not one of the best, then the best in our area."
A diverse perspective
It's not that Piper is downbeat. Quite the opposite. He's friendly and engaging, and usually punctuates his self-criticism with a laugh.
Call it the Piper perspective. Here's how it plays out:
- On his work as a TV commentator for KU basketball games, another job he fell into: "Coach (Roy) Williams thought it would be a good idea to have a KU guy. I think I was the only choice, because everybody else was out playing basketball for money, and I was in Lawrence, losing money. The first time I did it, I think they had to get a bucket to hold all the sweat that was dripping off of me."
- On his decision to quit playing basketball, partly because of knee injuries and partly because of a decline in skills: "I'd be playing, and some 45-year-old guy would beat me to the hole. And I said, 'It's time to quit.'"
This week, Piper will celebrate his second wedding anniversary. He and his wife, Kristin, live in an Old West Lawrence home they purchased last year after having lived in an Olathe suburb for about a year.
Piper said he was glad to return to Lawrence, where he had lived since the third grade.
"Lawrence has just got a special feel to it," he said. "There's great diversity. You go downtown and see a guy who's getting his body pierced and getting a tattoo standing next to a corporate professional.
No wonder he likes it.