Most Miami Heat fans who watched Rony Seikaly play in the late ’80s and early ’90s weren’t aware that while their star center was banging the boards, he was also harboring a passion far removed from the basketball court.
As he battled for rebounds against the likes of Dennis Rodman and Hakeem Olajuwon, and as the ball thumped up and down the hardwood floor, Seikaly heard the unmistakable boomp-boomp-boomp of house and techno music in his head. He dreamed of someday stepping off the court and into the DJ booth.
“I started DJing when I was 14 years old,” said Seikaly, who will spin Tuesday night at Wall in South Beach as part of Miami Music Week. “I always had a DJ setup in my house, because it was something that I always loved to do. And I was always into house music. When I first came here from Europe, that’s all we listened to.”
His Heat teammates, who listened almost exclusively to hip-hop, thought he was crazy.
“It wasn’t even something that they gave a chance to listen to, really,” Seikaly recalled. “They were just like, “No, no, come on, turn that s--- off.”
But it turns out Seikaly was really on to something. Today, after a 12-year career in the NBA, the man nicknamed The Spin Doctor for his shifty low-post moves has made a name for himself spinning records and producing top-notch electronic music. At his gig, he says “at least 50 or 60 percent” of the tracks he’ll play will be his own productions.
“It’s pretty funny how it worked out,” Seikaly said of the playfully clever moniker that would prove to be serendipitous. “My post moves were based on spin moves, and people couldn’t read me, because I could go both ways. So [Heat announcer] Dr. Jack Ramsay came up with The Spin Doctor, and that stuck. And 15 years later, here I am spinning records.”
It wasn’t an easy transition, as, paradoxically, Seikaly’s basketball fame actually worked against him. As electronic dance music (EDM) began to infiltrate the mainstream — a movement reflected in South Florida by the all-dance music station WPYM (Party 93.1), which lasted several years in the early 2000s — suddenly, D-List celebs were stepping behind the decks and trying their hands at DJing, and the names were cartoonish: Hulk Hogan, Danny Masterson, even Paris Hilton. Even worse for Seikaly, post-basketball clown Rodman also slapped on headphones to show off his knob-twiddling “skills.”
“It’s been actually very difficult,” said Seikaly, “because when house music became big everybody started wanting to become a DJ, so people thought I was jumping on the bandwagon. And I’ve been a student of house music since the ’80s, you know?”
The situation was particularly frustrating because Seikaly felt that there was no way to convince skeptics that he was for real.
“A lot of people didn’t listen to the kind of music I was playing — they just had a preconceived notion of ‘What does he know about music? He’s a basketball player.’ And it took many, many years for people and word of mouth to come around, for people to listen to me and forget my background.”
Thanks to Seikaly’s SiriusXM show Sugar Free Radio — which airs on the station’s Electric Area channel at 11 a.m. Saturdays and 7 p.m. Mondays, and on its Chill channel at 1 a.m. Saturday — most of his fans couldn’t care less about his past.
“His show has always been about the music, never about his celebrity status from being an athlete,” says Geronimo (no last name), who as Senior Director of Music Programming at SiriusXM oversees all the station’s electronic dance channels. “I think [his fans] know him as just a really good DJ. And it’s all happened organically, by hard work — it hasn’t been by using his former NBA status as a bargaining chip or as a marketing tool.”
Geronimo, who has been with SiriusXM for 13 years, says that not only has Seikaly’s Sugar Free Radio succeeded greatly (“At SiriusXM, we don’t have ratings of shows, but we do know through customer satisfaction and by monitoring social media that he does very, very well”), but it’s also actually helped change SiriusXM’s programming genres.
“The show initially aired on Electric Area, and we felt that it would probably be better to have the show also re-air on our Chill channel,” he says. “And since he’s been on, we’ve actually started segueing the channel over to a style more suited to what he plays. Originally, the channel was pretty much downtempo and electronic, and now it [includes] downtempo, electronic and deep house. As his stock continued to grow, the genre itself continued to grow, and he was at the early beginnings of that.”
Seikaly’s style offers a refreshing antithesis to the pop-heavy EDM sound that has become prevalent today.
“The best way to describe it is a downtempo, cool, lounge-y house style,” says Geronimo. “There are a lot of people doing that right now and it’s becoming very trendy, but what’s cool about Rony is that he was definitely ahead of the curve.”
Seikaly drew early inspiration from house-music legends such as Little Louie Vega and Frankie Knuckles, and then in the late ’90s, Danny Tenaglia, the Godfather of House.
“I went to see [Tenaglia], and he would take you through different genres of house music flawlessly,” Seikaly said. “He would take you on this voyage of electronic music where he was telling a story from the beginning to the end of the night. And that stuck in my head.”
Seikaly might never have gotten the nerve to show off his talents to the public had it not been for New York superstar DJ Erick Morillo, a good friend who founded the seminal house-music label Subliminal Records and who under one of his many pseudonyms, Reel 2 Real, produced the enduring ‘90s hit I Like to Move It.
“Around 2005 or 2006, Erick had come to one of my parties where I was playing, and he kept doing a double-take, saying, “Wait a minute, are you putting in a CD, or is this you?” said Seikaly. “And I’d say no, this is me. Then he started labeling his songs for him to remember at his gigs, like, “Rony-style, Rony-style,” because I had this distinct style. He told me I needed to play out, play in public. And I told him I didn’t want people to look down upon me, but he said, ‘You gotta do it, you gotta do it.’ And I said, forget the backlash – I’m gonna do what I love. People are gonna talk s--- anyway, so I might as well act.”
Out of basketball for a decade and a half now, Seikaly still keeps an eye on the Heat. “I watch the games whenever I can,” Seikaly said. “And it was my hometown team, so I still have a lot of ties. Obviously, all the players have changed except for Tim Duncan, but as far as the coaching staff, or the announcers, whether it be Eric Reid or Pat Riley, I still have my basketball past life.”
Seikaly also has some good advice for the Heat’s burgeoning superstar center Hassan Whiteside, who at times has let his temper get the best of him, leading to two recent ejections from games.
“I would tell him that the mental game is sometimes more important than the physical game, and you can never let things frustrate you or let referees or other players dictate what your job is to do. And as he gets better, it’s only going to get worse for him in the sense that people are going to start fronting him and double-teaming him on the boards, and pushing him out and trying to get him as far away from the basket as possible.
“I’m telling him from experience, because I had to deal with it. I had to deal with rebounders myself, like Dennis Rodman, but you just don’t worry about anybody but just keeping that guy off the glass. And you have to overcome that, and you overcome that by sticking to your assignment and learning how to play against all sorts of different defenses and people trying to stop you from doing what you do best.”
If you go
What: Rony Seikaly, with Marco Carola
When: 11 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Wall at the W Hotel, 2201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach
Info: www.wantickets.com; $60