SAN ANTONIO - Some men are lucky enough to land their dream jobs.
Kevin Tucker is one of them. Tucker, a Marcos de Niza High School graduate, is the director of security for the Phoenix Suns, a vocation that combines his criminal justice degree from Northern Arizona University with his love of basketball.
And, the lessons he learned from watching his father, Tom, a Secret Service agent who Tucker said provided protection for presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush — the senior.
"This is what I’ve always wanted to do," Tucker said.
So, how does a basketball player who still holds the NAU single-game record for free throw shooting (15-of-15) wind up protecting basketball players?
He goes to work for Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford in 1987, investigating sexual harassment cases within the state government, then moves onto a 10-year career with the Drug Enforcement Agency.
While working for the DEA, Tucker began doing background checks for professional sports teams. One of the contacts he made was agent Arn Tellem, and in 2001 Tellem asked Tucker if he wanted to provide personal protection for Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant.
Ask Tucker what it was like to work with Bryant, and he shakes his head, smiles and says, "interesting."
"I know his image is negative, but he’s not a bad guy," Tucker said. "You just have to understand he needed his space. He was a private guy. It was all about basketball with him."
Later clients like Tracy McGrady, Reggie Miller and Jermaine O’Neal would strike up friendships with Tucker. But not Bryant. Their relationship was strictly professional.
"Reggie would invite you over, send a car over, have you come into his house," Tucker said. "Kobe was a sitoutside-the-gate person."
Tucker’s duties with Bryant ended in 2002 when Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife, "took control of all his day-today operations as far as I saw."
One of those operations was Bryant’s security detail. Tucker was in Chicago when he heard that Bryant had hired another bodyguard. He never got a call from Vanessa or Kobe explaining the decision.
Tucker doesn’t look like your typical bodyguard. At 6-1 1 /2, his size is not going to intimidate. But what he learned from his father was that most incidents can be avoided by using the head rather than the fists.
"I was at a crowded club in Cancun with McGrady a few years back, and I notice a fight breaking out," Tucker said. "My first reaction was to reach over and grab Tracy and get him out of the club. His reaction was to sit up and see what’s going on.
"As we were leaving the club, chairs were being thrown, and I said, ‘Tracy, you can read about this in the paper or see it on the news tomorrow. You can’t be in these situations.’ "
Tucker’s association with the Suns began at All-Star weekend in Philadelphia in 2002. Team president Bryan Colangelo got a call saying guard Stephon Marbury had been arrested for driving under the influence.
"He was a little distraught, and he talked to me about it," Tucker said.
Tucker was hired after the season, and he has been with the team ever since.
During games, Tucker sits behind Phoenix’s bench and scans the audience for warning signs. In a game at Dallas, he spotted a fan who had put a Steve Nash jersey around a toy monkey and then looped a noose around the monkey’s head. Tucker asked arena security to, uh, remove the monkey.
"It’s the little things like that you look for because you never know when they’re going to become bigger things," Tucker said.
Tucker’s job isn’t confined to the basketball floor. He constantly gets calls from Suns players, asking for his services when they go out.
It’s maddening sometimes, the phone ringing at 1 a.m., but Tucker didn’t sign up for a 9-to-5 gig.
"It’s my job," Tucker said.
A job he was born into.