Accolades: Record-setting forward, nicknamed “The Polish Rifle” for three-point shooting accuracy; second-highest career points in NU history; averaged 21.5 points per game as a senior
Currently: Father of Paisley, Paige and Jace
For 14 years in the NBA, Eric Piatkowski struggled to balance his busy schedule with being there for his kids. Birthdays were missed. Thanksgiving was skipped. At Christmastime, Santa came a day early so Piatkowski could board a Christmas Eve plane to his next game.
Four years retired from professional basketball, 43-year-old Piatkowski now relishes ordinary moments with his family in Elkhorn. In the mornings, he makes his 6-year-old daughter breakfast and takes her to school; in the afternoons, he picks her up. He coaches his 12-year-old son’s basketball team. He plays host to his 15-year-old daughter and her friends at the family home before homecoming.
“I have an extremely healthy, awesome family,” he said. “I’m thankful I get to spend so much quality time with them and be a part of their lives. Getting to be involved in everything is just awesome.”
As a kid in Scottsbluff, Neb., Piatkowski grew up telling everyone he would be a professional basketball player one day. A seventh grade teacher told his parents he needed a reality check. But Piatkowski was adamant: There was a 100 percent chance he would be a professional basketball player.
Piatkowski credits his dad, who played professionally himself, for teaching him how to reach his goals with hard work. “If you know what you want, you’re driven and you work really hard, you can make it happen,” he said. “I lived in the gym growing up. I played and played and played. I put so much time into it from when I was little to high school. In college, I put more time into it than anybody else.”
Piatkowski chose to attend NU to contribute to coach Danny Nee’s team right away. At the end of his four years in 1994, he was one of the most decorated players in school history, contributing 1,934 career points – the second-highest in school history. The 6-foot-7-inch guard averaged 21.5 points per game as a senior, including an NU single-game record 42 points in the Big Eight Tournament against Oklahoma. He led the team to the Big Eight title and was named tournament MVP for his efforts.
Piatkowski met future wife Kristin as a freshman, but a relationship didn’t blossom until their senior year. After college, they dated long distance as he settled into a new team, the Los Angeles Clippers. “The more I’d see her, the more I realized how much I missed her,” he said. After his first season, they were married.
In L.A., Piatkowksi became the team’s all-time leader in 3-pointers (738) and 3-point percentage (40.2) and ranked second in the team record book with 616 games played before joining the Houston Rockets in 2002. He earned the nickname “The Polish Rifle” for his surname and three-point shooting accuracy. He was traded to Chicago in the summer of 2004 and in 2006 to the Phoenix Suns, where he finished his career in 2008.
The first year or two out of the pros was tough, he said, even though he knew it was time to retire. “It’s hard to replace coming out and having 18,000 people cheer for you,” he said. “You never replace that. Fortunately for me, it was never my entire identity.”
More than a basketball player, Piatkowski is a husband and father. He relishes every minute. “Everything about being a dad makes me happy and makes me smile.”