The Breakers’ newest recruit has a history of violent behaviour on and off the court.
Glen Rice Jnr is very good at basketball. Playing in the 2018 Israel Cup final, Rice scored 28 points for his Hapoel Holon team, and hit a game-winning shot with 1.6 seconds left on the clock. He averaged 24.5 and 7.9 rebounds in the season. He is now the latest member of the New Zealand Breakers, having arrived in Auckland on Wednesday morning. Breakers management are excited by their new signing. Why wouldn’t they be? Rice has played a lot of basketball and scored a lot of points.
He has also assaulted a lot of people.
Rice, 28, has a long history of violent behaviour. In 2012, Rice was released by Georgia Tech after a DUI incident. He was charged with reckless conduct and possession of marijuana in 2015 after an altercation outside an Atlanta restaurant which involved Rice being shot in the leg. Also in 2015, Rice appeared on reality series The Real Housewives of Atlanta, in which he got into an argument with one of the housewives and charged at her. Security were called and in the process, Rice shoved his aunt (another housewife) who hit her head on the floor and was knocked unconscious. Security tackled him and he was led away in handcuffs.
A year later, Rice was arrested again on charges of felony robbery, aggravated battery, and marijuana possession after he allegedly assaulted a former college basketball player, breaking his jaw, and stealing two bags containing guns. In 2017, Rice was arrested again on battery charges after punching a bouncer twice at a strip club in Miami. The Washington Post reported received six months probation and community service.
On the court, Rice’s behaviour reflected those transgressions. Despite being a solid performer for his teams in the US, Philippines, and Israel, Rice has a history of unsportsmanlike fouls, ejections from games, and suspensions. His release from Georgia Tech came after two prior disciplinary suspensions. Playing for the Washington Wizards in 2014, Rice was suspended for a game for a groin strike. After only two months with TNT KaTropa in the Philippines in 2017, Rice was fined $10,000 and released by the team for shoving an opponent to the ground and throwing the ball at him. In November, Rice wrote an apology to TNT management.“I would like to sincerely apologise for my reaction and explain to you all that my passion for the game of basketball take my emotions to another level that sometimes come out wrong,” he wrote.
Rice then signed with Hapoel Holon in Israel, a side coached by Dan Shamir, who now coaches the Breakers. During an April game, Rice began arguing with team captain Guy Pnini about an offensive play. According to reports, Rice yelled at Pnini from the bench, “I’ll wait for you after the game.”
And he did. Back in the locker room, the argument continued until Rice punched Pnini in the face, splitting his cheek and sending him to the hospital for stitches and with a possible eye-socket fracture. The report quoted an anonymous team mate and witness saying “Glen jumped him like an animal, and pounded his face. Guy didn’t really think it would continue in the locker room. If they were alone, it could have ended much worse. I’ve never seen anything like it. He [Rice] had murder in his eyes.” According to reports in the Times of Israel, Rice had also struck a team doctor two weeks prior, dissatisfied with the treatment he was receiving.
The Israel Police took Rice in for questioning but released him shortly after the locker room incident as Pnini opted not to press charges. Israel media also reported that Rice had asked team management if he could carry a gun, a request that was swiftly denied. Hapoel Holon released Rice and sent him back to America.
Between June, 2018 and March 2019, Rice played basketball for four different teams in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic.
Now he is in New Zealand, the newest member of the Breakers squad. His signing is the latest personnel change in a season of disarray for the Breakers’ management. Most recently, general manager Dillon Boucher quit and assistant coach Mike Fitchett resigned at the airport during an away game. Dan Shamir is himself a recent recruit, signing on in June after the murky departure of Kevin Braswell only one year into his three year contract.
The Breakers franchise was owned by Liz and Paul Blackwell for 13 years and built a reputation for being family-friendly and locally focused – famously they espoused a ‘no dickheads’ policy, and had a team chaplain. They sold the team early last year to a group of investors headed by Matt Walsh, who moved to New Zealand to oversee operations. The investors include key figures in controversial sports site Barstool Sports. Since the ownership changeover, the Breakers have undergone drastic changes, both in personnel and operations. A new focus on creating an attractive organisation for overseas players has received mixed reactions.
Shamir says he is confident that Rice has turned his life around and will be a positive influence to a team struggling early into this season. “Everyone who knows Glen or can Google his name would see he has had a few incidents in his career but my personal experience with him is his ability to create a winning team and to affect the team in a positive way was way more significant than anything else,” Shamir told media on Tuesday.
Walsh added that Rice’s past was assessed before signing him. “The stability and underlying values of the Breakers is exactly the environment someone like Glen needs to focus on being the best player he can be.”
The most exciting signing in the off-season was teen sensation RJ Hampton. Hampton opted to forgo the American College system in favour of gaining experience in a professional league before committing to the NBA draft. Since his arrival earlier in the year, Hampton has had his struggles in the league. At only 18 years old, Hampton has found himself at an organisation in the middle of a rebuild. “It’s definitely hard,” he told The Athletic in October, before adding that if he were given the option of going to sleep and waking up at the end of the season back at home, regardless of the outcome, “I’m taking that risk.”
Recruiting a teenager (Hampton was 17 when he signed with the Breakers) means accepting a responsibility and duty of care to that player, even more than to others. Every employer has a duty of care to their employees. Does an employer’s duty of care extend to not hiring someone who beat up a colleague at their last workplace? Neither Shamir nor Walsh have offered any evidence beyond their assurance that Rice’s violent outbursts are behind him. Have they really weighed fully the impact of bringing him into a team of young players at the very beginning of their careers?
But for international owners trying to make the Breakers a global name, scandal and bad press might even be welcomed. When The Athletic reporter, used to covering notoriously protective NBA teams where all interactions between players and media are carefully orchestrated and monitored, asked the Breakers’ new communications manager about speaking to players on the team, he received this response.
“You can do whatever you want. You can talk to who you want, go where you want. You can fucking rip us if you want. At least you’re talking about us. That’s all we care about.”
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.