Big Al – Hugs Over Drugs

About Al Szolack

“Big Al” Szolack (born 1950) is a retired American basketball player, best known for his time spent on the Washington Generals, a traveling exhibition team who played against, and always lost to, the Harlem Globetrotters. He played the 1974–75 season, in which the Generals lost all 245 contests. Szolack became a favorite among the Globetrotters and was selected as the “unwitting” participant in many of their pre-determined entertainment plays.

“Big Al” was raised in Woodbury, New Jersey. He was described as “reed-thin” but was a “sniper” on the basketball court while playing for Woodbury High School. His ability earned him all-conference and all-county honors, and he continued his career in college. After college, Szolack came upon the Washington Generals when he went to see the Globetrotters. He spent the next year touring the world and playing against the Globetrotters.

After his basketball career ended, Al moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida and became a bartender. Then, his 54-year-old mother – with whom he was very close – died from a heart attack. He began to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, and even admitted later to using up to $1,000 worth of cocaine per day for a time. From ages 27 through 34, Szolack’s life was in ruins. In an interview, he later admitted, “Drugs turned me into a thief, a liar, a cheat …one day I found myself sitting in a corner, holding a shotgun. I lived the life of a vampire, peeking out windows for hours at a time. Sometimes I had only enough energy to get from the bed to the sofa. I was sick, very sick. I didn’t live…I existed.

After not knowing where to turn, he made one last attempt for help by visiting his fiancée’s mother. She gave him a hug; it was this hug that he claims turned his life around. He eventually dedicated his life to keeping children off of drugs and alcohol. He now goes by the nickname Al “Hugs Not Drugs” Szolack and serves as an abuse awareness director. He is also a motivational speaker and runs an annual basketball camp which he calls “Big Al’s Basketball Camp.” He travels across the United States giving speeches, many times at colleges and universities, and he is on the NCAA-approved speaker roster.

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