The first thing Sharron Moten noticed the last time her brother called was the unusual time of day.
It was 2:37 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26. Charles Shackleford, the youngest of eight siblings, had called to talk about family.
“He was talking about getting all the siblings together and wanting to pray and just try to get our relationships together,” Moten said, her voice breaking as she recalled their final conversation. “That was early Thursday morning.”
By Friday, Shackleford, 50, was dead. He was found at the apartment that he shared with a nephew on Rouse Road in Kinston on the morning of Jan. 27. The Kinston Police Department does not suspect foul play in the former N.C. State and NBA forward’s death, but the autopsy report detailing how Shackleford died has not been released.
Shackleford played basketball at N.C. State from 1985-1988 before being drafted. Many of his off-the-court actions during his college and professional career stained his reputation.
It was no secret, Moten said, that Shackleford had his issues with prescription drugs and had been in and out of trouble with the law, arrested for various offenses over the years. At the time of his death, he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest for failing to appear on a ticket for driving with a suspended license and an expired tag, court officials said Thursday.
He had been living in Kinston, where he’d been a high school basketball star at Kinston High School, for about a year. Shackleford, who had four children – two girls in college, one boy in high school and one girl in middle school – didn’t have a job, but his sister said he spent a lot of time at a local church and was trying to start a basketball program for Kinston’s adolescents.
Moten said members of the church saw Shackleford at the noon service helping distribute food the day before he died.
“Everybody who saw him were saying they hadn’t seen him look that content and peaceful before,” said Moten, 53.
Throughout their childhood, Moten saw her brother subjected to bullying because of his size – he was a big guy. Shackleford, an All-ACC forward who played professionally for 11 years, was 6-10, 225 pounds and wore a size 22 shoe.
Shackleford was described by his peers in Kinston as a gentle giant but also someone who could easily be taken advantage of. His addiction problems were often called “demons” in the rhetoric surrounding his untimely death.
“It was hard to leave the drugs behind,” said Bill Ellis, the director of Kinston-Lenoir County Parks and Recreation. Ellis said that about six months ago, he met with Shackleford and officials from the NBA Foundation. Shackleford had hoped the NBA would help support a foundation he’d started two years before to fund youth basketball and other activity programs.
“I think he just wanted to do something to help Kinston,” Ellis said. “He was trying to make a name for himself by helping young folks through basketball camps and clinics.”
‘A peaceful person’
At a memorial service for Shackleford on Saturday, Pastor John Flowers of the Church of Faith & Deliverance said he heard Shackleford referred to as a “son of Kinston,” but said he came to know Shackleford as a “son of Kinston and son of God,” someone who cared deeply for his family. He said the two had talked a day before Shackleford’s death and that Shackleford had talked of his mother, Hilda, and how much she meant in his life.
Several hundred people attended the two-and-half hour memorial service, filling much of the Brody Brothers Auditorium at the Kinston High School Performing Arts Center.
Among those pausing before Shackleford’s casket before the service started was his former N.C. State teammate Chris Washburn.
“Any time you lose a friend, a friend and not just a teammate, it’s hard,” Washburn said. “I did find out in his later days here that he made some big changes. We both had some challenges, some peaks and some valleys in our careers and life, but he was doing well.
“I was told he went in his sleep. He wasn’t killed, didn’t die in an accident. He was always a peaceful person and I guess the Man Upstairs let him come to Him in peace.”
Among those at the service from Kinston was Jerry Stackhouse, a former All-America at North Carolina.
“Shack was among the first group of players I started following as a kid,” Stackhouse said. “For me, Shack was the first to go off and gain notoriety from the city, so he meant a lot to me and to this community.”
Stackhouse, 42, played 18 years in the NBA and coaches in the NBA Developmental League. He said Shackleford played a part in preparing him for the demands of college and professional basketball.
“I just remember he was always giving of himself when I was a young guy,” Stackhouse said. “He gave me advice of how to work and what was expected at that next level.”
‘A sensitive guy’
Shackleford was recruited by N.C. State coach Jim Valvano. He was among the first of a long line of Kinston High stars to attract big-name college coaches to town.
It drew a crowd when Valvano visited Kinston a year after winning the national championship in 1983.
“It shut Kinston down,” said Bryan Hanks, a Kinston basketball historian. “From everything I’ve heard and what people will tell you is that when Valvano came, it was all over: Shack was going to State.”
Shackleford played with the Wolfpack from 1985-1988 before playing in the NBA. Drafted late in the second round by the New Jersey Nets in 1988, he played six NBA seasons and five overseas before retiring in 2000. He averaged 13.7 and 7.8 rebounds in college and led the ACC in rebounding his junior year.
Shackleford had legal problems during and after his playing career. He was at the center of an SBI investigation into gambling and point-shaving allegations at N.C. State during the 1987-88 season. He was never charged with any legal wrongdoing in that case, but in 1990 Shackleford admitted he accepted more than $60,000 from two men during his final two years at N.C. State.
“Contrary to some things that you may have read or heard about him, the real Shack was a personable guy, a good guy, a sensitive guy who cared about his friends,” said Kelsey Weems, a former NCSU point guard who roomed with Shackleford. “I got to see the real Shack, with no facade. The real Shack was a caring guy. ... He was a talented basketball player, but he kind of got lost in the shuffle in his years in the NBA.
“That can happen to guys. It was a mixture of things. He got involved in some things that were not good for him, that can take away from your game.”
That’s as much as Weems, who now runs a trucking company in Atlanta, wanted to say. They were teammates on N.C. State’s last ACC championship team in 1987.
Moten said Shackelford was passionate about working with adolescents because of how much he was bullied at that age.
“Even as tall as he is, he was the baby,” Moten said. “We tried to shelter him and protect him. When we were in elementary school, he was so big, he was bullied because of his size. I think I was his … protector. I’d go after them.”
Shackleford had experienced financial troubles. There are no assets listed in his name in Lenoir County tax records; the most recent records showed unpaid vehicle taxes from 2011 and 2012.
After he was accused in 2010 of selling prescription drugs to an undercover deputy, he was assigned a court-appointed attorney because he couldn’t afford to hire his own. Those charges were later dismissed.
His sister said Shackleford was a generous person, and there were some people in his circle who didn’t look out for him.
“I think he had a hard time really trying to decipher between people who had his best interest at heart and people who did not,” Moten said.
Chris Bradshaw, the Kinston High girls’ basketball coach who played high school basketball with Shackleford, said his former teammate always knew how to break the mood.
The Vikings played Fayetteville E.E. Smith during the 1985 high school Eastern Regional, a matchup that was always close, and Bradshaw remembers Shackleford started singing a humorous tune to break the tension.
“It was so funny. It made everybody laugh,” Bradshaw said. “Everybody has demons. It doesn’t separate themselves from anybody. We can still have a smile on our face, but everybody got problems. Regardless of the problems he may have had, Charles always had a smile on his face. Regardless of what (he) might have been going through, he was still happy-go-lucky.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan