A Multi-Sport Star
Charlie Ward was born and raised in Thomasville, Georgia. At an early age, Charlie showed rare athletic gift in multiple sports. In high school, he starred on both the football and basketball team where his father coached. The senior Ward recognized something special in his son early on.
"I coached him four years in high school. When he was in ninth grade, I could tell he was a special player," said Charlie’s dad. "He was a good passer. He's never been a big scorer. He scored when he had to on lay-ups and short jumpers. He led the team in rebounding for three years as a point guard."
Ward’s athletic talents were soon noticed by the legendary Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden. He told Ward that if he could get his grades up, then someday he can be the quarterback for the Seminoles and play basketball too. Ward didn’t’ back down from the challenge. After spending one year at Tallahassee Community College, he enrolled at FSU in 1990.
Charlie joined Florida State’s football and basketball programs at the bottom of the depth chart, but his hard work and perseverance finally paid off. He soon became the starting point guard for the Seminoles and led the team to the Sweet 16 in 1992. That fall, Bowden made the 6’ 2” Ward his starting quarterback.
In both sports, Ward displayed unshakable confidence and unselfishness as the team leader. He used his basketball agility to deceive his defenders on the football field and his football toughness was apparent on the basketball courts where he can both take a hit and give one.
With its new quarterback, Florida State employed a no-huddle offense that allowed Ward to use his receivers or use his agility to streak from the pocket. The Seminoles won their first five games by an average score of 46-3 en route to becoming national champions by defeating No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
Ward was pivotal to the Seminoles’ success. That year, he had a 70% completion average and averaged 6 yards each time he rushed the ball. He set school records with 27 touchdown passes and 3,371 yards of total offense.
|Ward was awarded with the Heisman trophy for his outstanding performance in college football.
The Heisman voting was a no-brainer. Ward beat out Tennessee’s Heath Shuler by 1,622 points – the second-biggest margin ever. In doing so, Ward became the first Heisman and national championship winner since Tony Dorsett in 1976.
When the NFL draft rolled around however, the Heisman Trophy Winner went shockingly undrafted. Despite the heaping praises Ward received from college coaches, pro scouts felt he was too short and didn’t have a great arm.
Ward didn’t let that get him down. After graduating from Florida State with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation, he was drafted by the New York Knicks as the 26th overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft. He was even selected by the Milwaukee Brewers and the New York Yankees in 1993 and 1994 despite never having played baseball in college.
"God helped give me the options to play basketball over football," said Charlie, "I never had any concerns over whether I was going to play football or basketball. I'm not the type of person to worry about my future. The NFL helped me make my decision."
A Heisman Winner in the NBA
Ward started off his NBA career on a rough note. He spent two stints on the injured list during his rookie season with a sprained right wrist and a sore left shoulder. He only appeared in 10 games, averaging four minutes per game, and was excluded from the Knicks’ postseason roster.
He received significantly more playing time in his sophomore season. He appeared in 62 games backing up Derek Harper, averaging 3.9 points and 2.1 assists in 12.7 minutes per game.
Ward continued to develop in the 1996-97 season behind the newly acquired Chris Childs. By the end of the season, Ward had worked himself into the starting lineup ahead of Childs. In the 21 games that Ward started, he averaged 8.3 points per game and 6.0 assists per game while the Knicks went 17-4. The fact that Ward worked his way into the starting lineup in a system that’s not catered to rookies spoke volumes about his perseverance and work ethic.
"It's been a good experience," Charlie said of playing in the NBA. "I never thought I would be here (in New York). I've enjoyed it and adapted to it. I've seen people's lives change."
||Ward has always put God first in his life.
Since accepting Christ when he was young, Ward has been very bold in living out his Christian life. When he was drafted by the Knicks, he took upon himself the role of being the team’s religious conscience. He would encourage players to attend the pre-game chapel, organize Bible study classes in his hotel room on the road.
Though he was often soft-spoken in interviews, he nevertheless remained a powerful influence in the locker room and never held back when it came to expressing his religious beliefs. He gave Van Gundy, then coach of the Knicks, tailor-made scripture verses for his game preparation, and handed out prayer leaflets to teammates and the media. He would even counsel married teammates against being seen with other women on the road. Though many of the Knicks attended the pre-game chapel, it wasn’t past Ward to drag out a few players from the visiting locker room.
His teammates respected him for his beliefs, because unlike other frauds running around the league, Ward’s actions lived up to his words. Instead of simply talking about clean and spiritual living, Ward lived that way. John Starks was converted under Ward’s influence and Allan Houston credits Ward for helping his spiritual growth.
Ward’s clean-cut off-court image hasn’t always been reflected on the basketball courts. He is a ferocious competitor on the court and has been accused of dirty play over the years.
In February of 1997, Glen Rice accused Ward of punching him in the stomach as he was shooting a jump shot. Later that season, Ward gained national infamy in Game 5 of the conference semifinals against the Miami Heat. As Ward was boxing out Miami’s P.J. Brown for a rebound, Brown felt Ward got too low and was leaning into his left knee at the free throw line. He proceeded to flip Ward into a row of photographers, setting off a bench-clearing melee that led to multiple suspensions for the Knicks.
“Charlie isn’t the choir boy everybody thinks he is,” Brown said. “They don’t do that in church.”
During Oakley’s return game in February of 1999, Kevin Willis was ejected for throwing an elbow in Ward’s face after he felt Ward was trying to take out his knees.
“I don’t like a guy that goes at my knees like that, especially from the side,” said the 7-foot Willis. “You hit a guy like that from that position, you can seriously damage a player, especially a guy my height.”
Ward wasn’t thrilled about being labeled by his peers as a cheap-shot artist, but claims that he was only trying to do his job.
“John Stockton gets the same type of treatment, so I’m very honored to be a part of that company,” he said. “We just play the game and play it hard and people try to say that we’re dirty. You can check the tape out. I was just doing my job. I didn’t do anything – once again.”
Earning His Keep
Ward assumed the starting point guard position until the Knicks traded Chris Childs for Mark Jackson in February of 2001. He then split time with Howard Eisley after the Knicks traded away Mark Jackson in a package to obtain Antonio McDyess. Though Knicks fans always wanted to get a better point guard, New York was always a contender in the playoffs with Ward starting at the point guard position.
|Ward is known for his toughness on defense.
Charlie has never been a spectacular player to put up big numbers consistently, but most fans would agree that he has earned his keep here in New York. He plays with a ferociousness and toughness on defense that’s not often found in the present-day Knicks. On a roster of overpaid players, Ward is probably one player who has been worth his price tag.
Ward’s only real controversial moment came at the end of the 2001 season, when a writer for the New York Times Magazine attended a bible study with Ward, and published quotes attributed to Ward that many people felt were anti-Semitic.
Ward claimed that his quotes where taken out of context and that he does not hold animosity towards any religious or ethnic group. However, that didn’t prevent him from being vehemently booed by the New York fans, many of whom were Jewish, in Game 1 of the Knicks’ playoff series versus Toronto. Those boos soon turned into cheers however as Charlie hit several big shots at the end of the game to help lead the Knicks to victory. The fans’ quick turnaround underlined the principle that if you perform in New York, fans will soon forgive your past.
Family and Community
Charlie and his wife Tonja Harding was married on August 26, 1995 and have a baby son named Caleb. Tonja met Ward while he was still in college and they started dating during his senior year. Tonja works as an attorney and co-chaplain for the New York Liberty and the WNBA.
"I don't know where I would be without her," Ward said of his wife. "It's good to know you have a strong wife with Christian values. I've been blessed with a spiritual wife."
||Community service has always been important to Ward.
Community service is something that’s also very important to Ward. Though the years, Charlie has dedicated hundreds of hours to community service and charitable organizations. Ward hosts several basketball camps for young boys and girls, and also organizes an annual charity golf tournament, which benefits the March of Dimes foundation.
"God laid on my heart to have a Christian camp. We hope it will grow. We would like to go south, possibly in Georgia or Florida. Spreading the Word is the main thing," said Charlie.
"These camps are a part of his makeup. He wants to give something back," said Charlie Sr., who worked at the camp along with Charlie’s two brothers.
Among his other charitable endeavors, Ward has served Thanksgiving dinner to 700 needy people at West Harlem Soup Kitchen in Harlem, delivered Christmas gifts to PS 95 students at TASC program in the Bronx, and he was also named the official spokesperson for Florida’s “Born to Read” program.
God and family are the two most important things in Ward’s life. His hobbies include golf and tennis.