Last week, I had a chance to interview Mike James over the phone from Houston as he was on his way to the gym. Why Mike James? Well, the guy was nice enough to respond to my email and subsequently agree to chat. Doubt many NBA players would do the same for a ‘blogger’.
In speaking with Mike, I came away with two main impressions; he absolutely loves the game of basketball and he’s very confident — two traits you’ll probably find in every player who sticks around in the best basketball league in the world for more than five seasons.
Acquired from New Orleans in mid-December, James’ presence on the court in a season inevitably filled with mounting losses was the cause of frustration for many Wizards fans who would have rather seen younger players developing on the court.
However, many times James was the only guard willing to penetrate into the paint, or at least try … an aspect of creation so desperately needed by a team simply trying to play together. Either that or James was the only veteran PG available, as young Javaris Crittenton, acquired in the same trade, tried to acclimate himself to his third team in two seasons, or as Juan Dixon fought through injury and the inability to lead an offense.
Regardless of how you feel about Mike James the player, you should respect him as a person. Much like Gilbert Arenas, he’s made a career for himself by exceeding the expectations of others. Unlike Arenas, who played for a big time college program under the legendary Lute Olson, James attended Duquesne, an off-the-radar program seated in Pittsburgh, PA.
After four years playing for the Dukes (he was eventually inducted into the Duquesne Hall of Fame in 2008), James went undrafted, and hopped around in Europe for stints in France and Austria, even briefly playing in the CBA before catching on with the Miami Heat in 2001.
It’s kind of amazing how every year in the NBA draft, a ton of guys get selected and never make it. And then there’s Mike James, an undrafted guy who’s been in the league for eight seasons, playing for nine different teams … so far. James hasn’t stopped fighting since first suiting up for the Heat on December 23, 2001, and doesn’t seem ready to quit anytime soon.
On how the offseason is going:
In terms of his training and diet, does he do anything differently now compared to when he started his career:
Listen, I’ll eat a hot dog on the street corner after coming from the club in New York City, and I’ll buy three hot dogs at three o’clock in the morning. I don’t have a favorite food. As long as the food is good, I eat everything. I eat hamburgers, hot dogs, cake, cookies … and also chicken (laughs).
On turning 34 on June 23rd and how many years he wants to continue playing basketball:
At the same time, I want to watch my kids grow up, and I understand that basketball takes away from that … being on the road, constantly traveling. I want to be able to enjoy them in their teenage years.
So, it’s not that I can’t continue to play … because I haven’t had an injury. The worst injury I’ve had in my career is a broken pinkie. I’ve never had a knee injury or a back injury. People talk about my age, but I’m still in shape. I still do exactly what I have to do on the court. I’m still an efficient player.
People don’t talk about my game, they talk about my age. Don’t talk about my age, leave my age alone. If I’m doing something on the court, let that speak for my age itself.
Aside from staying healthy, on what has kept him in the NBA for so long, for eight seasons playing with nine different teams:
Most of the people who traded me have a story of wanting me back at some time. It basically says that you really don’t know what you have until it’s gone. They always thought they could find somebody better than me. I wasn’t as good as I thought I was or they thought I was. But then, when I leave, they figure out I was exactly the piece that they needed. So, I wind up being a journeyman.
Everything happens for a reason and God has a plan for me. At the end of the day, I didn’t deserve my journey in this league, but it was meant to be.
Who he’s seen as a mentor or thought highly of, whether it be a player or a coach:
I was happy for him because they call him a journeyman at one point in his career. He turned around and made himself into a household name. I tip my hat to guys like that. I tip my hat to all the underdogs. All the guys who work hard and fight for their name, fight for respect in the league. I tip my hat to them because it’s not given to them, and they understand that the only way to maintain and sustain it is to continue to keep working for it.
If with the Wizards next season, what type of role does he see himself playing:
At the same time, I understand how we can win with everyone being offensive threats, and how we can feed off one another. It’s definitely going to be an exciting year if I come back to Washington. If I don’t come back to Washington, my story is still being told. It just has another chapter to it whether I’m in D.C. or not.
What teams or players he follows now:
Memories from playing overseas:
I understood that [overseas] wasn’t the final stop in my career. I knew that’s the way I had to go, the path I had to take. I know I was better than what everybody else was saying and I never let anyone decide how good I am or when I was supposed to quit.
It was one of those cases where I knew I deserved to be in the NBA, but I was there, so I was going to continue to keep working. Being in Europe was just a stepping stone.
After basketball, what he sees himself doing:
You know, the businesses that I have … I don’t know, do I want to coach? I may go into coaching. If anything, I’d like to go into the front office. Who knows what may happen after basketball? But I know I can’t be put in a box, and I know I won’t just do one thing.
Basketball is the one thing I enjoy doing, what I love to do. I’m passionate about it and [right now] it’s the only thing that will take away all my attention. I need something that’s going to take this energy that basketball drains me from, and I know that one thing can’t do it. So because of that, I’m going to have to put myself through a whole bunch of other activities just so I can sustain that adrenaline flow that basketball gives me.
But that’s why I’m still in the gym in the summertime. I still enjoy the summertime. Every time I see a retired player, I always ask them, ‘How is it being retired?’ I want to know, I’m curious as hell … like, ‘What do you do now that there’s no more basketball?’ So many people have so many different answers to that question.
The one reason why they all retired and said they were done … when the summer time ain’t fun no more to work out, it’s time to quit the game. When you’re not looking forward to the dribbling drills, and the thousand jump shots, and the passing drills … when you’re not able to do that any longer, and you’re not having fun anymore because you’d rather be on the golf course or doing something else, then it’s time to retire.
[The summer] is the time to get better and I still enjoy the summertime. It’s still fun to me. I still get a kick out of going to play pickup. I still get a kick out of shooting a thousand jump shots, doing the drills, and going to the different pick-up/summer leagues, playing against those street ballers and letting them know, ‘I’m old and in the NBA and y’all still ain’t nicer than me.’ I still love seeing these young kids coming out in the NBA, and everyone is so high on them, and I love seeing them in the summertime and letting them know, ‘Yea, I’m old. Yea, you were 12-years old when I first came into the NBA, but I’m still better than you.’
That’s what still excites me about the game now is that I’m still better than some of these young kids. Can’t nobody tell me when to quit this game. I’ll tell myself when I’m done.
Many thanks to Mike for taking part. Here’s to wishing him the best of luck, whether he returns to D.C., or is a part of a trade elsewhere to acquire a piece of the potential championship puzzle.