Q&A: NBA Star Turned International DJ Rony Seikaly Talks Music and Hoops

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Q&A: NBA Star Turned International DJ Rony Seikaly Talks Music and Hoops
Menbar Photos/Marquee New York

At big nightclubs for an electronic dance music (EDM) DJ set, it's not uncommon for glowsticks or beach balls to be dispersed for the sea of partygoers to enjoy. Sometimes clubs will even hoist scantily clad dancers above the crowd in a chariot ride procession to celebrate someone's birthday.

But on a recent Friday night in New York City, the popular Marquee venue surprised its audience of around 600 with a unique treat for one of its guests—bringing a basketball hoop onto the dance floor with the words "Happy Birthday Rony."

That was for none other than birthday boy Rony Seikaly, 49, the former Miami Heat star who has become a successful international house music DJ, taking center stage in the world's most popular nightclubs.

He's also likely the tallest DJ in the world at 6'11", and not only did he swish a few basketball shots at Marquee, but he was also spinning on the turntables. "The Spin Doctor"—his nickname when he was playing for his trademark low-post spin moves—was the main act of the night, performing until closing time at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.

This week, Bleacher Report caught up with Seikaly, who's in Europe for the summer, to discuss the latest on his musical adventure—he started DJing when he was 14 living in Greece and turned it into a profession in 2009—and also his former NBA team, LeBron James, the league's evolution and memories from his playing days.

Menbar Photos/Marquee New York

 

Bleacher Report: What's new for you in the music world?

Rony Seikaly: I've been playing in Ibiza at different venues and Beirut at The Garten last week, and spending time in Mykonos and Turkey. Ibiza is usually my base every summer, and then I go to the other cities. So I'm on the move, on the road—moving, grooving.

I always have singles I'm working on, like my remix of "Personal Stereo" featuring Flunk. I'm continuing to release tracks on Sugar Free Radio and I'm going to release my second EP with Jean Claude Ades called "East West" in the first week of September. It's a deep house, more underground sound.

I also signed with The Bullitt Agency, which is one of the best booking agencies in the world, and I'm very excited about that. Everything will be fresh and new. I'm taking this to the next level basically with a rebranding and new website. Six, seven years in, I've played in every major club in the world that people only dream of, and I'm just so blessed and grateful to have been able to do that. But things are going to get bigger and better, that's for sure.

 

B/R: What's your ultimate goal with music?

RS: I'm just enjoying the ride. I don't want to think about destinations. I don't want to know where it's all going. I just want to enjoy the moment. I'm just going to do what I do, and if I continue having fun, I'll continue doing it—growing as an artist, and growing as a producer and DJ. I don't want to be judged. I just want to do what I love.

Seikaly performing last week at The Garten in Beirut.

 

B/R: House music just keeps on getting bigger and bigger—more clubs, festivals, song remixes, collaborations with other artists and even integration into sports broadcasts and highlight shows. What's your take on this progression?

RS: I think every genre of music has about a shelf life of 10 years. From there, it kind of morphs into something else. We can go back to disco. Disco had its few years and then the grunge thing went on for a while, and then it was hip-hop in the 2000s era, and then from late 2000 to now it's been house music and EDM.

But I think the underground sound of house music will always be around. It's been around since the '80s, and it's kind of morphed into commercial house, but the underground scene always is the main stage.

 

B/R: Where are your favorite places to DJ other than Marquee?

RS: Playing in Ibiza is always a treat, especially at Amnesia in front of 5,000 people. That was a surreal experience. Ibiza is the iconic capital of the world when it comes down to this kind of music. I look forward to playing in New York, I look forward to playing in Miami—cities where I have a place. In this profession, it's not about the place that you actually visit, but the vibe and the place. If people are vibing to the music that you play, then it's a great venue.

 

B/R: With Ibiza being the house music capital of the world, what's the vibe there like today?

RS: It's changed a lot since I first started coming here. I started coming in 1988, when it was really like a hippie kind of island. And now it's transformed into the hot spot of the world because that's where it's happening. Back four, five, six years ago, all the Saint-Tropez and the Sardinia crowd would hate Ibiza. Now, Ibiza is a big melting pot for the summer. What's also changed is you see a lot more Americans than you ever have.

Seikaly with his first DJ equipment at 14 years old while living in Greece.

 

B/R: Being that you're originally an international player, from your birthplace in Beirut to growing up in Greece, now that you're overseas currently, does it feel like the NBA has a bigger presence there than you ever imagined?

RS: Of course. It's become a global game, there's no doubt. I think back in the day, if a tall person would walk around the streets of Turkey or wherever it is, they'd think you're an alien. But in today's world, they know that you're probably in the NBA or playing basketball professionally. They've got an educated fact that basketball exists and it's not only soccer.

 

B/R: When you were drafted by the Heat in 1988, it was actually the year before Vlade Divac, Drazen Petrovic and Sarunas Marciulionis, three of the league's best international players ever, came into the league. That must have been an exciting time with the foreign floodgates opening.

RS: That's when it started. It started with European players when I got [to the NBA]. There were maybe two or three European players in the league, but nobody ever from the Middle East, nobody ever from Asia, nobody ever from South America, nobody ever from all the other areas that the NBA boasts now. I was probably the first one from Greece to make it in the NBA, but I wasn't really Greek; I represented the Middle East. I was the only Middle Eastern to play in the NBA at the time.

 

B/R: Years later while you were living in Miami, you bought ownership stakes in the Bar None, Mokai and Mynt venues. What's impressed you most about the changes in the South Beach nightclub scene?

RS: There was one club when I got to South Beach called Nu, so you can imagine the transformation I have witnessed. Now, I invest in Wall at the W hotel.

Menbar Photos/Marquee New York

 

B/R: Do you have a recording studio at your house in Miami?

RS: Yeah, I have a regular studio setup at my house, and I have club-sounding speakers so I can test out the feel of the track in a club vibe. Sometimes, regular studio monitors sound great, but when they're played on a big system they lack something.

 

B/R: As you continue to create your own sounds, is there any new production equipment you've been exploring?

RS: Listen, technology is improving so fast, and it's hard to keep up with all the new stuff that keeps coming out. Because I travel so much and I have my real-estate business, I'm a full-time father and I've got to play my sports every day, I've got to divide my day. I tend to kind of stay with the analog sounds and try to keep it as rich as possible.

 

B/R: The technology within the club setting has also advanced, with more intricate light shows and high-definition video screens. What's that been like to see?

RS: You've got very sophisticated computer systems to run lasers with smoke according to the song and the beats and the music. But that's all in the commercial world. The commercial world is a show, a spectacle. Music is kind of secondary to the whole production and the show. People are there watching the lights and the smoke, and all of it coming together. In the underground world, none of that matters; it's all about the music.

 

B/R: You mentioned you play sports every day. What are you into?

RS: I have a quote, "If I can't play sports or listen to music every single day, I don't feel like I am living." So I need both to keep me sane and on course. I play tennis whenever I'm in Miami; I'll try to play golf if I'm someplace where there's a course. Otherwise, in the winter I try to snow ski as much as possible, and in the summer it's water skiing and water activities.

Seikaly enjoys playing a sport every day and being a full-time father to Mila, like going kite boarding together in Europe this summer.

 

B/R: I remember you told me once that in many ways you're in better shape now than when you were playing.

RS: Yeah. The thing is, because I've kept myself in such good shape, I don't feel like I've aged at all. Obviously, that's the fight that a professional athlete has because they feel good, but the timing is not there. So I know that I feel good and I look the same as I did when I played. Listen, you lose that split of a second, and your hand-eye coordination, release and reaction time drop a little bit, but I still feel good. Why should I retire? I still feel the same way.

 

B/R: You've clearly set an example of how to follow your passion.

RS: I just live every day to the fullest, and I've been blessed to be able to do what I love to do. When I start feeling like I need to slow down, then I'll slow down. Until then, I'm celebrating my 25th birthday.

Menbar Photos/Marquee New York

 

B/R: What were your thoughts when LeBron James left for Cleveland, and how do you think that affected the NBA landscape?

RS: I wasn't surprised. I just think sometimes you need a change. He made a change, came to Miami and did what he had to do. And he missed home. There's nothing like being home. So he gets to go back home and be the hero that he is regardless. There's no better story than coming back to Cleveland and winning a couple of championships for the city of Cleveland.

I also think it's better for the league. Here's my take on LeBron and teams trying to stack three proven superstars to win a championship: As hard as it (is) for Heat fans to see LeBron going back to Cleveland, I feel it's better and healthier for the league and teams in general. The league will have more parity across the board and feature two stars on each team, which will force other players, young or old, to step up and elevate their games to be stars in their own right. It will stress more teamwork as we witnessed with the Spurs.

Having three established stars is a shortcut to get wins, but not every team has the money or the pull of glamorous metropolitan cities to draw three superstars. It's healthier for the league and more fun to watch. The pressure is back on the marquee players to build a team game.

 

B/R: Without LeBron, how do you envision the Heat orchestrating things different offensively?

RS: Listen, we're back to being an NBA basketball team. I think that [Chris] Bosh is the X-factor, if he picks his game back up.

Will he become a leading force instead of a third option, and go back to where he was the first option [like in Toronto]? It's tough being a third option. I think he'll be hard to guard, and with all the other guys stepping up their game, I think they can be a very good team. If [Dwyane] Wade comes back stronger, great, and the Heat will make some noise.

You don't know who's going to come through the East. This is more organic, it's even, it becomes more of a college game. The favorite is going to be probably Cleveland because of LeBron, but every team has good players. It's going to be college basketball, and it's going to be a fun game where there's going to be a lot of ups and downs. Anybody can win this year.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Seikaly played for the Heat from 1988 to 1994, and he averaged 14.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in his 11-year career.

 

B/R: To me, with your speed, quick and crafty footwork, and activeness around the basket—key qualities of today's big men who need to be more mobile in the NBA's faster style of play—your game would translate well today.

RS: I would have excelled in today's game, but you were battling against lumbering big guys, like the 7'4", 290-pound Mark Eaton. It was just a heavyweight contest of getting your ass in that block, and I had to use my athletic abilities to overcome the size difference and the weight difference to get my rebounds and to get my points. In today's game, if I played with my back to the basket, I think that I would have excelled big time because it's just a lost art. I would have had a field day.

 

B/R: When you played, there was no restricted area, and increased physical contact and hand-checking was allowed. Also, there was much less protective gear. Big difference, right?

RS: There's no doubt. You go against Detroit, you're going against Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, John Salley, Dennis Rodman, and you can believe that if you're anywhere near the basket, you better anticipate somebody coming in and taking your neck off. If you think you have an open layup or an open jump hook or whatever it is, somebody is going to come and smack the hell out of you and make you think twice the next time you want to go to the basket.

It's the same thing when you look at the Chicago era. It was all about Michael Jordan, but they had three lumbering big guysLuc Longley, Bill Cartwright and Bill Wennington—all 7-footers who would just beat the s--t out of you if you went inside.

 

B/R: You must have gone to sleep after games in pain.

RS: There were so many nights that I would wake up in the middle of the night and I couldn't even walk to the bathroom. I had bad feet as it was, but just to get to the bathroom was a struggle because of the pounding. I gave away 40, 50 pounds every game. I was 253 pounds and Shaq [O'Neal] was 320, so that's about a 70-pound difference.

Andy Hayt/Getty Images
Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon were two of Seikaly's toughest opponents.

 

B/R: Was Shaq your toughest matchup?

RS: No, I think basketball-wise, I think it was [Hakeem] Olajuwon. He was just so quick. He was my biggest challenge because pretty much as savvy as we are, as much as we know about our opponents and what they want to do and their go-to moves and how they counter off that, Olajuwon was a guy that you just did not know what he was going to do. I don't think he knew what he was going to do. He would shake you around and you were all shook up.

 

B/R: Compare for a moment being an NBA veteran to now being a DJ veteran. What feels more satisfying to you?

RS: It takes blood and guts and work and pain to get to where you get to in an athletic world. This music is just passion, it's just spending time, it's being a student, it's having talent within that. It's just developing a sound. It's all within what you love to do.

But sports is guts, it's glory, it's the hero, it's the G.O.A.T., it's pressure. In this world, it's more fun. You can't compare, and the best thing that could have ever happened to me is to be able to play sports and get the discipline that I got playing sports, and then coming back and doing this with music. It's continuing on with the passion that I've always had.

 

B/R: So if the NBA was first and music is second, what will be your third "voyage," as you like to call your different careers?

RS: I mean, listen, my plate is full. I feel very blessed. If I can just bottle whatever I've got going on right now, that's all I need, that's all I can think about right now. I'll continue to pursue real-estate deals. That's what pays for the lifestyle and pays the bills. And musically, I'll continue doing what I love to do, and that gives me joy. I don't think there's age to music. I think whether you're young, old or poor, if you love music, you love music.

The only thing that I can ask for is just to be healthy. That's the only thing that I have absolutely no control over, and if you're healthy, then everything else works.

 

Jared Zwerling covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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