The first time I played in the Drew League, it was an opportunity to get in some runs, get a good sweat in. That was four years ago, before the lockout summer when all those guys came and played and league got so popular. That summer was ridiculous. This year was even better, though, because I got to go out and compete for a championship.
This time, I played for a different team, Hank’s Blazers, who beat the Kings of L.A. in the Drew League’s championship game on Aug. 20. The game had a handful of other pros besides me, like Toronto’s Amir Johnson, Portland’s Dorrell Wright, Charlotte’s Jeff Adrien and former Clipper Mike Taylor. (They all played for the losing team, Kings of L.A.) I played for Hank’s Blazers at the end of the regular season, too, in the play-in game. You can’t just hop in.
I don’t start stuff and not finish it, so even though I didn’t plan on playing originally this year, I was going to finish. See, everything that I’m doing right now in the offseason is just preparation for the season, and the only reason I decided to come out and play was for my friend Horace Wormely, who plays for Hank’s Blazers. Horace is nicknamed “the Gingerbread Man” around the Drew League, and he was my first point guard.
Just the competitive spirit is great, going out there in front of the crowd, and there was a huge crowd. It was standing room only. That’s the atmosphere you love to play in. I signed a lot of autographs, took pictures, and the best part about it is the kids. There are a lot of people who can’t afford Lakers or Clippers tickets or they can’t make it to the games, and this is their chance to see NBA players up close and personal. It’s good for the community, and it’s a way of giving back. Those kids look up to us.
Kobe came through and watched the game. He’s just such a die-hard hoops fan. He loves the competition and everything. I have such a respect for him for coming out and doing that. He doesn’t have to do it, but people love it. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. It was pandemonium there. But I definitely respect him coming out.
There are lots of guys out there who are looking for their break. I didn’t get asked for advice too much from younger guys, but those guys love playing against pros. They’re coming at your head. They definitely want it. You can’t come in there out of shape or doing things halfway. These guys, some of them are professionals, too, and play overseas, or they played college ball. These guys are in shape, and it means the world to them just to get a bucket on you. They’re playing with a purpose.
As an NBA player after eight years in the league, I feel like I can also help out with the coaching side of things too. We have a great coach, but I can make sure guys are mentally ready for the game. I communicate, stay in guys’ ears. That’s my job, especially with my experience. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right. I’m not out there to lose.
I’m glad I’d played in the Drew League once before this year, because I really knew what to expect this time. It’s a different style of basketball. You need to get your feet wet with it because it’s different than the NBA. There’s a different tempo to the game. It’s almost like Euro street ball, I say. A lot of those players are from overseas, so that’s part of it. You also have to adjust to the refs, because the game gets physical, and they’re not calling some of the things they’d call in an NBA game. At the end of the games, they pretty much call no calls. So it’s different, but you can learn it and learn how to capitalize off of it.
I had much fun this year, but I don’t know if I’ll play again. I’m getting older. This is going to be my eighth year in the NBA, and Horace and I talked about that. I told him that if it falls within my training, I’ll come back. Otherwise, I’ll go out as the Drew League champion.