Inside Carolina Magazine
INTERVIEW: Steven Leventhal
PHOTOS: Getty Images
ntawn Jamison is willing to do whatever it takes, after 16 years in the National Basketball Association. Even if that means sitting on the bench for the first 14 games of the 2013 NBA season. That’s just what he did for the Los Angeles Clippers, the sixth team Jamison has played for in a productive career in which he’s averaged nearly 19 points per game.
The 37 year-old native of Louisiana, who starred for Providence High School in Charlotte, N.C., has also logged court time with Golden State, Dallas, Washington, Cleveland, and the other residents of the Staples Center, the LA Lakers.
His current coach, Doc Rivers, is quick to note Jamison’s value to his new club. “He’s been great for us,” says Rivers. “Just his voice on the bench. Watching, coming to us, and seeing things. Not just for me, but for everybody.”
Jamison has also taken a UNC rookie player under his tutelage. Reggie Bullock offers these thoughts: “He’s always somebody that I can call and ask him about anything. We joke and laugh together, so it’s always good to have somebody like that, who’s played in the league a lot of years.“
Jamison is now a vital part of the Clippers’ second unit, giving star Blake Griffin valuable rest time, while clocking double-digit minutes. Jamison's NBA resume includes two All-Star game selections and a Sixth Man award.
Recently, Jamison talked at length about his professional longevity, and reflected on his days at UNC, where he was the national player of the year in 1998, and one of only seven Tar Heels to have their number retired by Carolina Basketball.
How have you been able to stay in the NBA for 16 years?
I’ve always remained positive. I still love it. I do a great job as far as taking care of my body. The man up above has blessed me with 16 great years, and he still sees it fit for me to go out there and run up and down the court with these young guys. It’s just a testament to me being positive and me just working on my craft, and always never taking anything for granted. Just enjoying the moment.
Rewinding to your college recruitment two decades ago, were there other schools that you seriously considered?
My biggest thing is that I wanted to stay close to home. My parents were in Charlotte. So I wanted them to also have the opportunity to come and see a lot of games. The ACC kind of worked out. Carolina, Duke, NC State, South Carolina, and Georgia Tech were some of the few [schools] that really piqued my interest. But once I met Coach [Dean] Smith and Coach [Bill] Guthridge, and saw the campus at Carolina, it was a no-brainer after that.
What was it like playing for Dean Smith?
It was unbelievable. It’s been 16 years for me. Definitively, the best coach I ever played for. If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be where I am now. He taught me a lot, especially at that stage of my life, where I was a young man, and trying to become a man. He just emphasized a lot of the characteristics that I have now, and some of the things that I involve my family with as well. Away from basketball, unbelievable, as far as the knowledge that I gained from him. On the court, just having the trust, and making me believe that I can be a special player on and off the court. Definitely, one of my favorite persons of all time. Like I said, without him I definitely wouldn’t have accomplished a lot of things I’ve accomplished.
How difficult is it to hear about Smith’s current health issues?
It is tough. If anybody knows Coach Smith, this guy can remember faces, things that happened 20 years or 30 ago like it was yesterday. It’s unfortunate the things that have taken place, but he still gets all the love from his players, from family and friends. We all wish him the best. It’s been tough the last couple of years not being able to see him and having Coach Smith around like that.
"He’s like my brother. He is my brother."
Tell me about your friendship with Vince Carter.
He’s like my brother. He is my brother. We met in high school. From day one, it seemed like we clicked. We were roommates throughout college. Our kids are around the same age. Our daughters are about two weeks apart. He’s always in Charlotte. Every opportunity I get, I go down and see him. We came into college together; we came into the NBA together. We experienced having kids together.
Everything that connects you to the hip with a certain individual, Vince and I have accomplished that. Still to this day we call to check up on each other, and make sure everything is fine. He’ll call to make sure my parents and the kids are fine. I do the same with him as well. [He’s] the true definition of a friend. When things are not going well with me, I have somebody to talk to, and he reaches out, and vice versa with him. It’s funny that the one thing that brought us together is our years at Carolina. Sixteen years ago -- I mean every time we get together, people say, “Y’all act like you’re still in college.” We just have that kind of relationship with each other. We know each other back and forth. Like I said, a true friend. Somebody who I really respect.
Who were some of your basketball heroes growing up?
Growing up, of course, that was the era of Michael Jordan. Going to Carolina, and being able to play with and against him. I respected guys like David Robinson. My favorite all time, though, was Scottie Pippen. The things he did on the court, whether it was defensively, or offensively. He could score. He could run their offense. He could bring the ball up the court. A number of things. He was the reason why I wore No. 33 in college. That group are the guys who I really liked. Whenever they played, I had to watch them on TV. I was in awe every time they were out there on the court.
Do you remember the first time you put on a Tar Heel uniform?
Oh yeah, it was the Maui Classic. I remember that. It was me, Vince, and [Ademola] Okulaja. First year. I don’t know if all three of us started as freshmen. Those were the fondest memories. I remember we played Villanova, and I think Kerry Kittles had an unbelievable game. Just learning what it took to put on that uniform, and what it meant. Knowing that whenever you put on that uniform, your opponents wanted to beat you. Just the tradition and the history that I was representing, I couldn’t ask for anything more. The things you want to be a part of in college, camaraderie and friendship. I’m still great friends with just about everybody on that team. Those are the things that you want to accomplish in college, and those are the things that I did accomplish, but that first time putting the uniform on and representing North Carolina. It’s an unbelievable feeling.
What about the last time you had to put on the uniform?
I remember that too. It was the Final Four in San Antonio. We lost to Utah. I didn’t know if it was going to be my last time. But I remember after we lost, kissing the floor and just saying, “If this is the last time, then college basketball has been great to me,” and I had an unbelievable year that year. Just everything about my college experience, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. To see the smile I put on my mom and dad’s face every time I wore that uniform. And then, to go back and get my degree. I’ve been truly blessed. Carolina had a lot to do with that. Helping me become the type of man that I wanted to become, and the type of individual that I wanted to be on the court and off the court as well.
Speaking of uniforms, there are a lot of jerseys hanging in the rafters at the Dean Dome. But there aren’t that many retired jerseys. What was it like to have your number retired?
It’s almost like a dream. When you think of all the guys that have come through Carolina, I mean, James Worthy and George Lynch. Just every individual that has come through Carolina, and to have my number in that front row, as far as being retired. I remember two years ago, during the NBA lockout, I was able to take my older son to a basketball game, and he’s sitting there and looking at the Jamison retired jersey. You can’t write it any better than that. No matter how many years down the road, no matter what, to see that the jersey will be up there forever. It’s a testament to my hard work and dedication I put into my time there. It’s unbelievable, to know that those three years were what molded me into where I’m at right now. Whenever I forget something I always can look up into the rafters and see that jersey and all the memories will come back. Just the good times we had at Carolina.
"It’s an unbelievable feeling."
What’s a good memory that took place off the court?
The relationship I had with my teammates. My freshman year, me, Ademola, and Vince coming in together with Shammond Williams. Dante Calabria and Jeff McInnis were already there. Again, making the transition with Brendan Haywood and Ed Cota. I’m still good friends with all of those guys. Nothing has changed. Those are the fondest memories. Going to the Smith Center at three o’clock at night and playing basketball. Always traveling with those guys. I remember going to the Great Alaska Shootout and taking a dog sled ride. Those are the memories you cherish. And those are the memories off the court. It wasn’t the parties or anything like that. It was spending time with my teammates and knowing that we had that one common bond, wearing the uniform and trying to represent the university the right way, and trying to win games.
What was the adjustment like going to the NBA?
It was tough. It was a lockout year. I remember that. It was tough for me because I didn’t get to play much. It was tough to see Vince have all his success, while I struggled. It was the first time that I ever doubted that I had what it took to be successful, and that I had what it took to be a professional athlete. I went back to Carolina and worked out with Coach Smith and with the staff. Working on my craft gave me that confidence that I could become the same kind of player I was in college.
No matter if you play four years or one year, it’s a big adjustment, and there have only been a select few that have made that transition from high school to college to the pros quickly. It was tough, but things, especially in life, happen for a reason, and you have to deal with that, and just not let it bring you down, and always find a way to fight through adversity. Those are things that I had to do. It comes back to Carolina, going back and getting that confidence back from Coach Smith. Talking to Vince. It made that transition smoother than if I didn’t have that family background or that Carolina family to talk to.
How has the league changed since you started?
The biggest difference is the style of play. When I came into the league, it was more of that grind it out, physical, toughness type of league. Now it’s get up and down, finesse, spread the floor, and really score a lot of points. It’s more of an excitement type of game. I think that’s been the biggest adjustment as far as when I first got into the game.
Speaking of new players in the NBA, how is your rookie teammate Reggie Bullock doing?
Coach [Roy] Williams has done a great job. You can see in him the things that Coach Smith envisioned and believed in. Reggie is a true Carolina guy. He understands it. Very high basketball IQ. Knows how to play the game. Very respectful. So, Coach Williams and his staff are still doing a great job as far as keeping the Carolina traditions and getting these guys ready to play.
On the subject of Carolina traditions, how does the rivalry with Duke extend into the NBA?
It doesn’t. We know it. We’ve all been through it. I’ve played with so many Dookies. Every year, it seems there’s a Duke guy on my team. To be honest, I’m good friends with Kyrie Irving and Elton Brand. We do a good job being friends except for two days out of the year, sometimes three, if we meet in the tournament. It’s good to have somebody you can talk to about that rivalry and talk about their time there. They’re still Dookies. Sometimes you have to deal with it. They have their flaws, but they are my teammates, and you have to look past it. But we have a lot of fun with it.
What about your Duke - Carolina games?
Those memories are unbelievable. Just the atmosphere, all the notoriety of being on national TV. Both teams in the top five. That’s a lot of excitement, knowing that the whole world is watching you play this one game. Being at the Dean Dome and all the fans in blue. Just to experience that as a young kid. I compare that feeling with a playoff game. Every possession counted. Carolina wanted to beat Duke, and Duke wanted to beat the guys from Carolina. Not many people can understand what that rivalry is all about until you are actually in it. That’s what college basketball is all about.
"I was able to take my older son to a basketball game, and he’s sitting there and looking at the Jamison retired jersey. You can’t write it any better than that."
One of your personal highlights was the UNC–Maryland game your freshman year that went into double overtime...
You are bringing back some good memories. I remember that game. Dante shot the ball up, and I got the rebound and scored the game winner with time running out. I did one of my crazy shots, and it went in. As a kid, college or pros, wherever you are at, that’s what you want. That’s what you want to be a part of. For that to be my big moment, and to win a game, it was one of my first great experiences at Carolina. Something that you always cherish. When I go back home my Dad has games written out [in a scrapbook].
If you could go spend ten minutes in Chapel Hill right now, where would you go?
Probably the Smith Center. That would never change. You go down there and so much stuff has changed. Franklin Street is a little different. Granville Towers, the place I stayed, is different. The one thing that would never change is walking on that floor. Every time I walk on that floor, to hear the band playing, and see the cheerleaders dancing, and the crowd clapping, that’s the memory you always miss. But if there's one place in and out I’d rather be there for a while, I’m going right back to the Smith Center. I just envision being there with my kids, and just having them play around, and reminiscing about the time when dad was there, playing college basketball. If I’m going any place, I’m going back there.