Charlie Bell is fighting for another chance. During his time at MSU, Bell appeared in three Final Fours and established himself as one of the greatest defensive players ever to play for Tom Izzo. Since his departure. Bell has played eight seasons in the NBA, as well as several more in international leagues.
In recent years, Bell has garnered the spotlight for a different reason — namely for his high-profile divorce with “Basketball Wives” star Kenya Bell, and his 2011 drunken driving arrest.
But, forever a member of the beloved “Flintstones” group with Mateen Cleaves, Antonio Smith and Morris Peterson, Bell has become a big-brother figure and a role model for current players and was in attendance for most MSU home games during the 2012-13 season.
The State News recently caught up with Bell to talk about the NCAA Tournament, struggles in his personal life and what the next step in his life will be.
State News: You’ve played in the NBA, and you’ve spent time overseas — where’s the next stop for you in professional basketball?
Charlie Bell: Anywhere. I’ve played in Italy and Spain before. For me, being 34 now, I’m trying to look for places I’ve never been before like China, (the) Dominican Republic and other places. I always looked at it like paid vacations, going to Italy and I’m trying to go on another paid vacation somewhere new.
SN: This past year, you, as well as various other former players, spent a lot of time around the MSU men’s basketball program. What’s the importance of that in your mind?
CB: Oh I mean, one thing is Izzo prides the program on having a family-type atmosphere. Once a Spartan, always a Spartan. We look out for each other, you know? We like to go back and support those guys. I remember how it was when we were playing, and we’d look up and see Steve Smith, Eric Snow, Shawn Respert and (Earvin) ‘Magic’ (Johnson) in the crowd. We wanted to do those guys proud because they were like our big brothers. I’m the big brother now for the guys who are current Spartans, so we look out for each other. Coaches can tell you stuff and you’ll be like ‘Man, he don’t know what’s he talking about.’ But as former players, we can go in the locker room after the game and say ‘Hey, you’ve got to catch that ball and do this,’ and you respect that a lot more because you played and can tell what they’re trying to do.
SN: Did you fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket?
CB: I did, I did.
SN: And how’d you do?
CB: I did and Michigan State went out in the Sweet 16, or whatever they made. I had them going all the way this year, man — just like every year. I need to do two brackets — one with my heart and one with my head next time.”
SN: Do you see a possibility for those brackets to be similar next season?
CB: I hope so, I hope so. Some guys have some decisions to make and hopefully they’ll make the right ones, but they’ve got to do what’s right with them. I think they’ll both be coming back and those guys will have the poise to go for a long run next year. I mean, sometimes when you get close and you taste it, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth at the end of the season, and it encourages you to work even harder in the offseason. I’ll expect better next year and hopefully that’ll happen.
SN: Charlie, it’s no secret the past few years have been difficult in your personal life. Where are you at right now, as far as your sobriety, and how’s everything coming along for you?
CB: I mean, going through a divorce is tough. You know, not seeing the kids as much as I want is tough. The DUI stuff was a very unfortunate situation and it kind of put me in a bad light and it painted a bad picture of me. Anybody that knows me knows I’m not a guy who’s out here drinking and driving and doing things. People don’t really realize that when you go out and have a few drinks, you’re over the limit. Sometimes it’s like, ‘I’m fine.’ That’s how I felt. I’m fine and I get pulled over the cop uses the Breathalyzer and walk a straight line, and you realize you’re over the limit. That 0.08 is not much. I learned the hard way, so I’ve taken the steps to make sure I’m not in that position again. I’m not saying I’m a saint where I don’t drink, but, if I do, I’m responsible about it. I don’t get behind the wheel. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way.
SN: Do you think that incident affected your status in professional basketball?
CB: “I think it is hurt. I think it definitely hurt as far as my basketball career. I’m just trying to get it back right, get things back. I’ve been one of those guys where teams might sign me over another guy just because of my character, and they know I’m a great teammate and a great locker room guy. Sometimes, I think that’s gotten hurt. I’m just trying to put that out there that I’m back to being myself and not putting myself in that position again.”
SN: Given the run Michigan made in the Final Four, what’s the state of the MSU-Michigan rivalry?
CB: “I think as far as Michigan making it to the Final Four, I didn’t see that happening. I knew they were a great team, but they were really reliant on Trey Burke. He kind of carried those guys. But when the tournament started, when Mitch McGary stepped up and really started playing well, I think that gave them an inside threat because he plays hard and he’s a great role player. If not for them, they’d probably be out of the tournament a lot sooner. Those guys have a lot of talent. Trey is the best player in the country and when you look at (Tim) Hardaway (Jr.), a great player, (Glen) Robinson (III), a great player. Michigan is back now. They’re gonna start getting better recruits and Izzo will do what he does, continuing to build our program and keep it where it’s at. I mean, you never know if Trey leaves and goes to the NBA. Who goes and steps up? I think it’s great for the state of Michiganbecause every year you don’t know who’s gonna win. For years, everybody knew Michigan State was the better team. It was great talking junk to those guys. Now they’re back and it’s great for the state of Michigan.”