Gill’s Boxing Dream Is No Flight Of Fancy

By Michael Hirsley
Updated: June 23, 2005


Kendall Gill

CHICAGO — Kendall Gill is taking the roadwork less traveled in preparing for what he expects to be his 16th and final season in the National Basketball Association.

He will fight as a professional boxer this summer.

The NBA veteran and former University of Illinois standout said he intends to fight twice before seeking a return to pro basketball this fall.

If his bouts go well, he said, he plans to resume boxing next year after a last hurrah in the NBA. He played 14 games with Milwaukee last season and spent 2003-04 with the Bulls.

“This is not just testing the water,” Gill, 37, said of his scheduled bout Saturday against Trevor Biley at the Aragon Ballroom. “I’m ready to be a fighter.”

A 195-pound cruiserweight, he has been training for nearly seven months at the JABB Boxing Gym on North Oakley Street. That has included sparring with Fres Oquendo, who has challenged twice, unsuccessfully, for a heavyweight title and doing roadwork with aspiring middleweight Freddie Cuevas, who is slated to face James Kitchens on Saturday’s Aragon card.

At times, driving to a workout, “we’ve passed by the United Center as fans were coming there for a Bulls game, and I briefly thought I should be there,” Gill recalled.

Instead, he was paying his dues running along the lakefront in the dead of winter to live his first dream.

“I wanted to be a boxer before I wanted to be a basketball player,” he said of his childhood in Chicago. “Even as a kid, my real passion was boxing. But all my friends played basketball, and there was no one to feed my interest in boxing.”

His list of sports idols includes boxers Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, and he has a print and videotape fight library.

He has dabbled in mixed martial arts, and since he has focused on boxing, he said, “I respect fighters more than any other athletes.

“The NBA lifestyle is more pampered. In boxing, I see these guys go through punishment in training just to have a life in this sport.”

Working with trainer Mike Garcia, that regimen of pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups, roadwork and sparring has enabled Gill to lose 20 pounds from his NBA playing weight of 215.

“My conditioning is far beyond what I’d do for basketball, so I’m in the best shape of my life,” Gill said. “When I get to the NBA, I’ll be a monster.”

He would like to reach his goal of 15 seasons by playing for coach Phil Jackson with the Lakers next season.

“I love the triangle offense,” he said.

His goal as a boxer is less certain.

“It takes many years to be a champion,” he said. “Maybe I’ll have a handful of fights, maybe more. As long as my body says it’s OK, I’ll be there. I know it’s a risky sport, and I don’t intend to stay in it until I slur my words or anything like that.”

His debut opponent, Biley, lost his only pro fight by first-round knockout 14 months ago.

Expecting to face someone at a skill level similar to his own, Gill said, “I’m an amateur, but I don’t have time to be an amateur. I need to make it happen.”