Few players can claim as much SLAM history as Sebastian Telfair. The Coney Island kid we first heard about when his cousin Stephon was writing our inaugural Basketball Diary back in ’94-95, Telfair blossomed into one of the best prep players in NYC history before becoming the first and only 6-foot (maybe) high schooler to be selected in the NBA Lottery. Along the way he shared an iconic SLAM cover with LeBron James, and held down the Diary himself back in ’02-03.
Eight years into his NBA career, Bassy is settled for the moment in Phoenix, where last season he backed up Steve Nash and earned the Suns’ Dan Majerle Hustle Award for his solid play. We caught up with him recently to talk about community outreach, family, and a career he says is far from over.
SLAM: It’s been a while, man. How are things in Phoenix?
Sebastian Telfair: It’s good. I’m home in New York now, Westchester, but I stayed down in Phoenix after the season for about a month. I’m happy to be staying in Phoenix. I think it’s a great situation, a great opportunity for me.
SLAM: You came to Phoenix after a year in Minnesota, where you didn’t play much, and you had a slow start with the Suns. But you ended up with some big games down the stretch as you guys battled for a playoff spot. How do you sum up last season?
ST: I wish I could’ve been as sharp at start of the season as I was after the All-Star break, but no excuses. Overall it was a good season. I got to play behind Nash, got to see how to be consistent—that’s something that I definitely learned from Nash. The daily routines you need, day in, day out, to help you go out there and do your best every night.
SLAM: Not only with Nash, but that organization in general seems to be one a lot of players speak highly of. They seem to appreciate you, too—you won the Majerle Hustle Award, and there was a sense that the media and fans really saw your value. What’s been your experience?
ST: To tell you the truth, I didn’t really know the culture of the Phoenix Suns. I knew they weren’t bad guys, but I didn’t know the culture there. Once I got there, to be around them guys, it definitely helped me. You grow up, become more of a professional. Nash, Grant Hill, they’ve been around forever, and they’re good people. Being around that team was great for me. The training staff, the whole organization is up front with you, always trying to help you. All you have to do is be a good person and play basketball. It’s definitely one of the best organizations.
SLAM: You’ve been known for your speed, your quickness, your handle, but as a guy who’s undersized and struggles with his shot. Where’s your game right now?
ST: I’ve been watching myself—I got all my film after the season—and the things I need to be a better player are provided for me in Phoenix right now. There’s a lot of knocks about my shooting, but I can shoot the ball extremely well now. I think I can be an asset for this team so we can be successful. The main thing for me was trying to get into a system where I can be piece of it. I think with Phoenix, it helps me because I’m an asset to them. Me being on this team makes us better, and that makes me work harder. I got a lot better, I’m working extremely hard.
SLAM: Do you feel like you’re a different player than you were when you came into the League, or even a few years ago?
ST: I think I’m the same player. I think my skills are a lot better, as far as shooting the ball, being able to make certain passes. My basketball IQ is a lot better. Yeah, I’m undersized—every night I’m playing against a guy who’s 2, 3, 4 inches bigger than me—but I’m still using my speed to my advantage. I think the big thing for me was learning how to win, especially this year: closing out games, learning when to attack and when not to attack.
SLAM: I’m sure you watched LeBron finally get his ring.
ST: That was cool. LeBron was due. LeBron was due for one. Anybody that disagree with that—LeBron haters—LeBron was due. LeBron is a beast, he put everything he could in, the total package together. It’s well deserved, and I told him that.
SLAM: I know you’ve got some things happening off the court. What can you tell us about that?
ST: Right now, me and a couple of my buddies are in the middle of doing a book bag line. Like so many people, we all travel with book bags, so we came up with a pretty unique one for guys that work out, travel—holds your water bottles, wet clothes, all that. As far as investments, it’s just some little things. You definitely gotta be cautious. I’m a saver more than just giving my money to somebody. I do stuff that’s low return but low risk.
I’m also starting a foundation. I’ve done a lot of charity things through the NBA, giving back to my community, but I want to do it through a foundation, where people outside of Coney Island can help people who are struggling. We’ve done a basketball tournament, giving sneakers away, I know all of that means a lot. For me growing up, there was always somebody who did something so there was something going on in the community. So I hold myself responsible to that.
SLAM: Athlete foundations tend to have a bad rep for not being legitimate. How do you avoid that?
ST: I basically run stuff through my family. People through my community, in the school district, they go see my brothers—we hand-to-hand doing things like that. It won’t be opportunities for nothing crooked to it. This is about helping people. We don’t have to do this. This is about helping people, because we always had help.
SLAM: I know your brother Dan has always been involved in whatever you’ve been doing, on the court or off. Is he still in Brooklyn?
ST: Dan’s out in Brooklyn. He’s definitely not leaving (laughs). He’s still doing the tournament that he’s been doing. Good to have him in Brooklyn, he does a lot of charity. Most of my family is still in Brooklyn, nieces and nephews and all them. My mom moved upstate, but my little brother Ethan is still in Brooklyn, still at Lincoln for his senior year. He’s got a couple colleges looking at him.
SLAM: You’ve got your own family these days too, right?
ST: Yeah. I got a son, Sebastian Telfair the II, he’s 4 years old. And my daughter, Samaya is 6. My wife Samantha is a stylist, she’s working with Tamia Hill. We’re in Westchester, out in Phoenix right now during the season, and I train out in Vegas… but you know wherever I live, I’m Brooklyn all day.