How do you keep a multimillionaire superstar athlete safe? For that matter, what does it take to keep a team of superstar athletes safe? Kevin Tucker, who graduated from Northern Arizona University in 1988 with a BS in Criminal Justice, knows the answer. Now in his eighth season as director of security for the Phoenix Suns, Tucker is charged with making sure Suns players avoid trouble, both on and off the court. When it comes to carrying out his duties, Tucker insists that "safety" means much more than most people might think. To Tucker, keeping his players safe begins with building relationships.
"I feel like I wear a bunch of different hats," says Tucker. "I'm not just the security director: I'm a mentor and a friend. I play golf with some of the guys, and play cards with others. Being a successful security director starts with the trust I gain in (Suns players). Plus, I was a decent college basketball player, so I know the game, and understand the game. So when some of the younger guys come in they tend to listen to me, or seek out advice from me."
Despite his modest assessment of his skills, Tucker was an excellent player during his time in Flagstaff. He still holds the university's single-game record for free throws made in a game (he went 15-for-15 against the University of Idaho during his senior season), and came painfully close to a triple-double—logging 24 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists—during his last game as a Lumberjack. As point guard for his squad, Tucker says he took away lessons that he still uses to this day.
"As a point guard, you are pretty much a coach on the floor, and it is your responsibility to make sure everybody is where they are supposed to be," Tucker says. "So as it relates to my current role, it kind of carries over. Because whether we have practice, a game, a meeting, or anything else, I try to make sure everybody is where they are supposed to be."
According to Tucker, his affinity for a career in security came naturally, as his father spent 30 years as a secret service agent. So when Tucker finished his time in Flagstaff, he knew what direction he wanted to go.
"(After graduating), I worked for the governor of Arizona—Rose Montfort—for a year and a half, investigating sexual harassment cases in state agencies," he says. "After that, I was with the Drug Enforcement Administration as an investigator for 10 years. At that time, I realized my passion was still in sport, and I wanted to be able to combine both my sports and law enforcement backgrounds. So when an opportunity came with the Colangelo family (Suns' owners), I jumped on it."
Tucker has made the most of his opportunity, having run a tight ship during his tenure as security director. He says he prides himself on keeping negative player incidents to a bare minimum, which, as a quick scan of the headlines will reveal, can be a very difficult task. As he looks to the future, though, Tucker wants to continue to develop his role as a mentor and a teacher.
"The NBA has a player development program where you basically work to develop the player off the court through things like continuing education or media training," he says. "Down the road, I would like to play a bigger role with those types of things in addition to the work that I'm currently doing."
Even though he travels the country keeping his team safe, Tucker says he still maintains some of the relationships he started as a university student. Also, Tucker remains glad for the time he spent in Flagstaff as a student-athlete.
"I enjoyed going to school there," he says, before laughing. "The only regret I have is that coach didn't leave me in for my last game so I could get the triple-double."