A white kid who can shoot threes is rarely the most popular guy on the court — especially if you played for Duke. That’s just the way it is. Even if you’re JJ Redick, arguably one of the best three-point shooters in college basketball history, you might be remembered as the most hated athlete in college basketball more than a decade later. And yet, the retired NBA star and ESPN Take it first the analyst has since become one of the NBA’s most beloved media figures.
“When I was 18 or 19, I felt like everybody hated me,” Redick told me after the Draft Kings taping. The starting five live from The Compound video series. He just talked on camera about the upcoming NBA Christmas games and the state of the NBA for over an hour – but now it’s time to check out the man himself. “Because of the therapy, mostly you end up just getting comfortable [with criticism],” he said. “But there are still people who hate me.” Even so, detractors can be few and far between. On his wildly popular podcast, The old man and the threeReddick has interviewed Stephen Curry, Hasan Minhaj, Sue Byrd, and even his bombastic Take it first Comrade Steven A. Smith, just to name a few. But Redick doesn’t want to let the reverse media narrative about him get to his head. An “inflated sense of self,” as he puts it, can be just as bad.
Of course, no one is the same person as they were in college, and Redick’s experiences clearly benefited him when you listen The old man and the three. It is here, despite all the media avenues available to NBA athletes, that players feel most human. Even with all the egos in the league, they come to Redick to discuss their struggles—maintaining a positive mindset in the face of loss, forming a routine to keep up with busy travel schedules, and the nerve-wracking experience of not knowing what city you’ll be living in before you’re traded.
It might be easy to express yourself when you know that the person in front of you was once the most hated kid in basketball. Hell, maybe JJ is transforming the way the NBA media cycle works because of how unnecessarily awful he was. Anyway, The old man and the three delivers some of the most authentic and compelling talk in sports today. To Redick, his guests and us at home? It feels kind of like therapy.
ESQUIRE: How’s it going, JJ? I know you talk a lot today.
JJ REDDICK: Okay. Sometimes I’m sick of hearing my own voice.
You’ve talked a lot about your experience in therapy, and I feel like mental health is a big topic on your podcast as well. You get the players talking about forming a routine and getting their mental health right.
It’s weird because, especially with older players, DeMar [DeRozan] is a great example – or the Joachim Noe episode. I was done with those episodes and felt like I had done therapy. And the player feels that way. We talk about it off camera. But I think that’s the point of the podcast. To pull back the curtain, to give you an inside perspective on the players’ lives and different moments of their careers. But it’s really about telling stories and humanizing these athletes who are revered by so many people.
Do you ever have a hard time talking to guys who were your friends when you were active in the league or guys you played against who were your rivals?
No, and the reason I say that is because the friends that we had on the show—Ben Simmons, Jrue Holiday, Joel [Embiid]CP [Chris Paul]- they are guys I played with and have a great relationship with. It is very easy. The guys that I don’t know that well, the reason I have them on the show is because I respect the shit out of them and I’m a fan of them. And I wouldn’t have someone on me if I said, “I hate this guy.”
Obviously, this is something you’re used to talking about now—but do you find it difficult to talk to podcast guests about loss or learning from loss?
No, because for the most part, I think when we have a guest, whether I know them or not, I have a general sense of how they relate. And I used the term “sicko” with Draymond and KP last January. It was the first time I conceptualized this term of sick. And there are times when halfway through an interview with someone I don’t know, I realize that person is sick. And then I realized that we can go to some dark places and they feel comfortable doing that. And those are the really fun interviews for me.
As someone who played more than 15 years in the league – and even reached the Finals – but never walked away with a championship, how would you define what a successful NBA career looks like?
Every player probably wants to be an All-Star. Every player wants to win a championship. Every player wants to earn a lot of money. And if those are the only markers of a successful career, then frankly, there are very few players who have played in the NBA who have had successful careers. I don’t agree with that either. I think a successful career is someone who maximizes their talent. I never would have guessed that I would play 15 years, play deep in the playoffs multiple times, score the amount of points I did, start games for eight years. And so I feel like I’ve maximized my career. Am I missing any other things? Yes, I would like to be an All-Star. More importantly, I would like to win a championship. That’s something I’m still bitter about in a way — not winning at Duke. I’ll be bitter 30 years from now that I didn’t experience a championship. I talked to my therapist about this and no matter how he frames it, I’m like, “Paul, you’re wrong. I will be angry forever.”
You can play 15 years in the league, and you only get so many opportunities to be a championship team. That is not a given. I remember losing the Finals…watching the Lakers celebrate. And I was like, “I’m just going to burn this into my memory because we’re coming back here next year.” I never made it back to the finals. I thought we’d be back. I didn’t know it was a lost opportunity. I didn’t realize it at the time. And that’s part of the bitterness. That’s part of the anger. I didn’t realize I was angry until two months ago. I loved my career. I loved every moment of it… And it wasn’t until two months ago, I was literally in a hot Vinyasa flow class, and we got to the end and I’m sitting there and I just got so emotional. And I was like, “Dude, you got some anger man. You got some anger.”
News broke the other week that you turned down a potential coaching gig alongside new Boston Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzula. Have you ever thought about trying to get that success back, but from the coaching side?
It’s funny because I’ve had a lot of coaches throughout my career telling me I’m going to coach when I’m done. Or we would try. Rick [Carlisle] it was like this in dallas. He said, “You should train. You’ll like it.” I was there for two and a half months and spent a ton of time with Rick. He was so good to me. Assoc [Rivers] he would always tell me that. I’m like, “Doc, there’s no fucking way I’m going to be a coach.” And then, last spring, I just started thinking: MMaybe I want to be a coach. I always thought if I was going to do anything in basketball it would be front office because I like the intellectual component of it. And I like the idea of not only managing people, but other people managing me. Front office collaboration component.
But there is something about being in action. And I think it probably started around the time I started calling games. Because you’re back. You are part of the experience. You are part of the game. For me, that was probably the trigger. Then I randomly got four unsolicited, “Do you want to train? Do you want to join the staff?” [messages] from different teams. And honestly, I thought about two of them. Not just the Celtics – sorry, I was thinking of another one. I just didn’t feel like the timing was right. Maybe the timing will never be right. And maybe media stuff ends up being a 20 to 30 year job. I just know that what I’m doing right now feels like the right thing to do.
When did that feeling click for you? When you started thinking, “Oh, I think this works?”
The podcast felt a lot, it sounds bad to say this, but it felt like a burden when I was playing just because I had so much of my time and energy and focus put into training and working and sleeping and eating right. And it wasn’t until I retired that I realized how much I really enjoyed doing the podcast. And then our things with DraftKings now, and I absolutely love doing them. They were great to work with. So it’s like I have these three components of my life right now. I feel like it fits together and it feels right to me.
What do you hope people take away when they listen? The old man and the three?
Insight. I have accepted the fact that whether it is Take it first, or a game, or a podcast, there will be people who disagree with what I said or have a different opinion. And that’s okay. But I think for someone who wants a legitimate insight, an education component, and hopefully a humor component, [they’ll find it in The Old Man and the Three.] Even when calling a play, there may be something I see that the viewer doesn’t. It is an insight. And that’s the goal, really.
I know your kids are old enough now to see you on TV and recognize you. how is that Especially when they get into basketball.
I mean, I didn’t think they had a firm grasp on what I was doing. They knew I played basketball. They didn’t really get it until I retired. Then they got into basketball and started collecting trading cards and watching highlights on YouTube.
Does he watch JJ’s highlights?
It pulls them up. Occasionally, it makes me sick because it brings back some—I don’t know if PTSD is the right word—but it brings back bad memories. He likes to watch highlight plays, so those will be the worst refereeing calls of the 2010s. Or he will watch boozer beater. And for some reason, every freaking time he watches the sonic boom montage video, I go in right at the moment Kawhi Leonard beats us when I was in Philly and he was in Toronto. I’m like, “How does this always happen?” Are you repeating this?
Now, my eight-year-old plays six days a week on two different teams. And he’s just in love. It’s nice to see him as a father. He’s on an AAU type team, even though he’s eight years old, by the way, I coach him. He does this Rec League in town every Tuesday. Last night was their last game of the season. They lost in overtime in sudden death. He played like a champ. He had to guard the other team’s best player. And he was just emotionally drained. He became really emotional after the defeat. And I’m like, “I’m glad losing is important to you.” Then he’s upset because they don’t have games for three weeks. The child just wants to play and compete. And as a father, it’s like, no. It’s the coolest thing ever.
Josh Rosenberg is an entertainment writer living in Brooklyn, maintaining a steady diet of one movie a day; his past work can be found on CBR, Spin, Insider and on his personal blog at Roseandblog.com.
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