Former NBA center Rony Seikaly Photo: Twitter / Orlando Magic

Thirty-one summers ago, Rony Seikaly was a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft — No. 9 overall, to be precise.

Now, he’s the subject of a new documentary that chronicles his upbringing, his college career at Syracuse University, his successful NBA career (starting with the Miami Heat) and much more.

The compelling project is introduced this way via

“Thirty seasons ago, he was the Miami Heat’s first-ever NBA draft pick. Now, he’s an international house DJ, music producer and real estate mogul. From war-torn Beirut to South Beach, Rony Seikaly shares his incredible story for the first time in CloseUp360’s documentary. You’ll hear him open up about how he made it through the Lebanese Civil War (which started in the 1970s), how he signed at college basketball powerhouse Syracuse University as a complete unknown in the U.S., how he became the Heat’s first international star, and how he cemented his legacy within Miami’s nightlife scene as South Beach became one of the most popular destinations in the world.

“Over the course of his life, Rony has reinvented himself three times — through basketball, music and real estate — building a successful career in each one. Simply put, there is no more versatile or accomplished middle-aged man in the world than Rony Seikaly, who even his trainer says could still ‘give people a problem’ in the NBA with how active and in-shape he’s in at 54 years old.”

A look back at the 1988 Draft

Selected ahead of Seikaly were the following (from eighth to first)

Rex Chapman
Tim Perry
Hersey Hawkins
Mitch Richmond
Chris Morris
Charles Smith
Rik Smits
Danny Manning

Of all the players chosen in the 1988 Draft, Rod Strickland had the longest career. The No. 19 pick that year played 17 seasons and appeared in 1,094 regular-season games.

Seikaly’s NBA career spanned 11 seasons. He played in 678 games, averaging 14.7 points and 9.5 rebounds. (In one of those games, he corralled a franchise-record 34 rebounds for the Orlando Magic.)

In one revealing moment from the documentary, Seikaly recalls his showdown with Georgetown University senior center Patrick Ewing in 1985 in a game at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York, before a packed house of 35,000. Seikaly was a freshman.

“Thinking about it, looking back … how did that game not put any pressure on me?” Seikaly said, looking at the camera. “I don’t know. I really don’t know. But the fact is, that on his first turnaround jumper I blocked his shot, and set the tempo of the game, and we ended up beating Georgetown, who was No. 1 at the time.”

Challenging times

Seikaly also reflected on Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s father, Malcolm, the president of American University of Beirut, being assassinated in 1984 in his hometown.

“This is the stigma I came with,” he said of being a foreigner in the United States at a time when to some people the label for all Lebanese can be boiled down to one word: terrorist.

In the documentary, Rony Seikaly, whose slow rise to stardom began at American School in Athens, Greece, also pointed out that one of his uncles was kidnapped in Lebanon while he was Syracuse.

“It was just a daily occurrence of what was going on at the time,” he says now.

He added: “Outside the basketball court, I felt a little bit that people didn’t accept me being from Lebanon. It was hard, it was really hard. The press, the majority of people thinking that I’m from Lebanon, automatically assume me to be a bad guy.”

But upon being drafted by the Heat, Seikaly now says it was a seminal moment in his life.

“So I had no idea that I was part of this European movement into the NBA,” Seikaly said. “I was just living it.”

Seikaly’s early years had a profound impact on his work ethic and ambitious personality as an adult. For instance, he told one story of a bomb going off on the second story of his family’s apartment building. They lived on the third floor.

“There are so many times that I skirted death,” he said near the end of the documentary. “Of course it makes a big difference on how to persevere now.”