PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER
Joe Kleine played basketball at a level very few people from Central Missouri will ever play. The 7-foot tall center from Saline County was a winner at ever level, from high school, to college, the the Olympics, and the NBA. As sportswriter Jon Goode once wrote, Klein “was never a star, but what made Kleine great was that he accepted his role and was ready to play every night.” Sometimes a large part of being a legend, is making everyone else around you better. That’s exactly what made Joe Kleine the kind of teammate every player wants to have.
THE EARLY YEARS:
Joe Kleine was born on January 4th, 1962 in Colorado. His family moved to the small town of Slater, Missouri when he was a child. It was a fortunate move for his coaches and teammates, because by the time he finished high school, he was nearly 7 feet tall. He led the Wildcats to a second place finish in Class 2A in 1980. That season is still a record breaker in many categories. Decades after his graduation, his name is still listed in the history books for the state of Missouri in numerous categories, including points per game (31.3) and rebounds per game (20.6) in the 1979-80 season.
RISE TO FAME:
The 3-time All Stater, and McDonald’s and Parade All-American then took his show on the road to presigious Notre Dame. He only spent one year with the Fighting Irish before transferring to Arkansas. He made an immediate impact for the Razorbacks, being named the Southwest Conference Newcomer of the Year in 1983. His junior and senior years were also productive, earning All-American honors in 1985. Kleine still ranks 6th on Arkansas’ all-time scoring list with 1,753 career points.
While in college, he also had the honor of playing on the U.S. Olympic team alongside Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan that won the gold medal in 1984. After the high level of success as an amateur, his professional dreams were about to come true in the 1985 NBA Draft. His name was the 6th name called in the first round, as the Sacramento Kings picked up the 7’0″ center to play the inside for the up-and-coming team.
SHOW ME SUCCESS:
It took Kleine very little time to make an impact on the NBA. His first season in the pro’s was productive, as he averaged nearly 6 points and 5 rebounds per game as a rookie. The 1985-86 season was a breakout season for Kleine, as he led the Kings to the playoffs where he average 12 points per game. His numbers continued to improve over the next couple of years, with his best season in 1987-88, averaging nearly 10 points and 7 rebounds per game.
Kleine played in Sacramento for 5 seasons before heading to Boston for the next 5 years. He also spent time with with the Phoenix Suns, LA Lakers, New Jersey Nets, Chicago Bulls, and Portland Trailblazers. He earned the title once again of “Champion” in 1998 with the Chicago Bulls. That is the season that many people called the “End of the Bulls Dynasty” with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman leading the way to the NBA Championship. Kleine only average about 2 points per game at that point late in his career, but earned a championship ring with one of the best teams to ever play the game.
Kleine retired in 2000 with a 15-year career of 4,666 points and 3,991 rebounds. He was also inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. He left the game at the age of 38, but didn’t stray too far. His next stop was on the sidelines as coach. He once again went on the world circuit as assistant coach for Team USA South, then as a coach for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.