Royal Ivey’s nickname isn’t tough, but his defense is. The fifth-year 76ers guard’s alternate alias, “Cheese,” pays homage to the scene in Pulp Fiction where Jon Travolta explains how McDonald’s renames their famous Quarter-Pounder in Europe (“Royale with cheese”) to acknowledge the metrics system. The name is also fitting because, as a defensive specialist, Ivey is known for covering things.
Ivey entered the League after four years at the University of Texas as a second round pick of the Atlanta Hawks. The back-up point man has earned a rep as tough on defense and a steady contributor off the bench. Last season, while playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, Ivey posted the best numbers of his career and is excited to pick up where he left off.
SLAM recently spoke with Ivey about his place in the League, on the 76ers and the shoes on his feet.
SLAM: How do you like living in Philly? Are you getting used to the fans?
Royal Ivey: It’s different, man. It’s good to be closer to home. I’m about an hour and a half away from the city. But it’s good. They’re pretty rough, man. They’re die-hard fans, cause I’ve been in a lot of cities, like Atlanta, where you got fair weather fans. But Philly, they got the die-hard fans, whether you’re 0-82 or 82-0 they’re gonna be there.
SLAM: How did you actually end up with the 76ers?
RI: During free agency, my agent and I were looking around for some teams and some teams were interested, one of them being Philly. I liked the core group of guys they had—a young, get up and down, youthful kind of group—and it seemed like they were having fun playing with each other. They play hard, they defend, and it looked like a good situation for me so I decided to come to Philly.
SLAM: So you feel like this is a good career move for you, no matter where you are in the line up?
RI: Yeah, because in the League, it’s a long season. People get hurt, people have ups and downs, so I feel like when my chance comes I’m going to take advantage of it. Just being patient and being ready when my chance comes is what it comes down to.
SLAM: Talk a little bit about before the NBA, you played on a really good high school team at Cardozo (Queens, N.Y.) before you went to prep school.
RI: I played with some guys like Dallas Showtime Williams, Brian Woodward, who had a good career at URI. We had a great group of guys that throughout my years at Cardazo we were competitive and one of the best teams in the city. In 1999, we won that PSAL championship. That was a big thing for me, leading Cardozo to the championship at the Garden and winning MVP.
SLAM: Where do you feel you developed your strongest skills, like your defense for example?
RI: Coming from the City, man, my whole mentality was to be a defensive specialist. In New York, you got the point guards and all that, so I had to find my niche somewhere else, you know, go down a different path. So I put in my mind that I was going to work hard on my defense. I wanted to do something that many people don’t like doing. So, from high school on, I had that attitude, I didn’t want guys to score on me. I took it to college and became a good on ball defender, and now in the NBA, you get a label a lot of times, and mine has become defensive specialist. But I’m still trying to work on all aspects of my game.
SLAM: At Texas, what did you learn about being an NBA player and when did you feel like you had a shot at the NBA?
RI: Going into my second year, when T.J. Ford came along, we had so much in common. Just hanging around him and picking up stuff from him, and then getting on the court and actually having that translate. I think I was averaging 2.8 points as a freshman, and I ended up averaging around 11 as a sophomore. So we felt like we could help each other get to where we wanted to be. After that, I just put in work, didn’t take anything for granted, and tried to be patient.
SLAM: When you got to the League, who were some of the guys that help you adjust and understand what it was to be in the NBA?
RI: Another New York guard, by the name of Kenny Anderson, was in Atlanta when I was a rookie and he took me under his wing and taught me things. He taught me about being confident in my game, working on my game, and having composure down the stretch. I took a lot from him. Plus, we had other vets, guys like Kevin Willis. And I learned from our other rookies, Josh Smith and Josh Childress.
SLAM: Your Dad wrote to us once and we ran his letter in Trash Talk in SLAM #71. I’ll read it to you so you remember.
When I picked up the June edition, it opened right to the SLAMup pull-out, and there was Warrick sitting on my son’s face. I told Royal not to worry, way to take the charge and give up your body. At least you didn’t jump and get dunked on by Charlie in Slamadamonth. Think that made him feel better? Charlie came to Blair after Roy, but they played together once at IS8. They came off the bench behind Omar, Talik, Dre, Eddie Griffin and Darius Miles for BQE. Good team? They lost in the semis to the Panthers.
P.S. say thank you to Khalid Salaam for telling Royal’s story in the In Your Face in the same issue.
What do you remember about that Hakim Warrick dunk from the 2003 Final Four? The image is still one of our most famous SLAMups.
RI: I was trying to win a national championship. Everyone gets dunked on, but I was just trying to win and it was a charge. But the funny thing about that was that every time somebody comes up to me and talks about it, I tell them that on the other side of the pull out, there was a full-page article on me. So I was like, SLAMadamonth and an article? That’s what’s up!
SLAM: What was different last year in Milwaukee? What changed from your time in Atlanta?
RI: In Atlanta, I started a lot of games but didn’t really get the opportunity to play. I was on a leash. I didn’t really get the chance to do all the things I felt like I could do and wanted to do. Then, in Milwaukee, I was just playing and not wondering what the coach was thinking and if he was going to pull me or not. And I had some good games where I feel like I helped my team win.
SLAM: Where do you feel like you fit into the 76ers success?
RI: I think I fit in because, like I said, they’re a young team that wants to get up and down. I feel like I can bring a lot of energy to the court, as well as a defensive presence.
SLAM: Was there anything that you spent time working on this summer that you think you’ve improved upon?
RI: My outside shooting, my decision making as a point guard, not trying to make the home run play. Little things like that. You got to work on your game in all aspects, but you know what your individual weaknesses are so you got to put in the time. And that’s not something you can really do during the course of the season, you got to do it over the summer. So, I was working all summer long to get stronger and better in every way I could.
SLAM: Is there anyone on staff in Philly that pulls you aside and tries to give you some one-on-one help?
RI: All the coaches are great. Aaron McKie, Jimmy Lynam, they all know their stuff. I’ve been around a few coaches, but this staff is real sharp on their basketball IQ and their knowledge of the game.
SLAM: You were suspended for the first few games of this season for something that happened in Chicago at the end of last season. How do you feel about the incident now that it’s behind you?
RI: I got caught up in the moment. If I could do it all over again, I’d never do that. But I paid the price. I got suspended, and it happened.
SLAM: What have the coaches been telling you is your biggest asset in Philadelphia?
RI: My aggressiveness, awareness, and competitiveness. I think will be able to help this team. Whatever the coach wants me to do, I’m going to go out there and do it and bring a little extra. I feel like, when I’m out there, I’m not going to hurt my team, I’m only going to help us. You’re not going to put me in the game and not know what you’re going to get. I’m going to go out there, execute, and give it 100 percent.
SLAM: What will it take for you guys to get to start winning regularly?
RI: We got to get used to each other; we got six new guys on the team. Also, playing off of Elton Brand and Elton playing off of us. He’ll be getting double teams, so we’ll be getting open looks and got to knock down those shots. Plus, playing better defense and having that winning attitude. When we got a team down, we got to step on their throats and have that killer instinct that all the good teams have.
SLAM: From what you can see, who is the best team in the East and who is the best team you’ve played so far?
RI: It’s hard to call, because it’s early in the season. The Atlanta Hawks got a good squad; Boston looks good; Cleveland, too. But, like I said, it’s early. If you ask me 20 games in, maybe I could give you a better answer, but right now it’s kind of hard to tell.
SLAM: What’s the most important thing for you to get out of your NBA career?
RI: Consistency. I want to be consistent throughout my career, so when I say, I played ten years in the League, and people say what were you known for, I can say what I brought to the table day in and day out. I want to leave my identity on this League when I leave.
SLAM: Cory Underwood told me that they call you Cheese. Do they still call you Cheese?
RI: Yeah, that’s my nickname. Cory got about a thousand nicknames for me. They call me Cheese, Smoke, Royeasy, a bunch of things.
SLAM: Where does it come from?
RI: You know the movie Pulp Fiction? One of my teammates brought that up. In Amsterdam, you call a quarter pounder with cheese a “Royale with cheese.”
SLAM: Tell me, have you already thought about life after basketball?
RI: I come from a generation of school teachers. My degree, which I’ll probably get next summer, is in elementary education with a minor in social work. When it’s all said and done, everyone’s got to have a plan after basketball. Whether you’re making ten million or the minimum, you got to have a plan. I want to start my own charter school. I’m in the process of meeting with people and finding out what I got to do to get my feet off the ground. My parents are both artists—they paint, do murals, they do it all. So, I’m helping them with that, hopefully in the near future I’ll open up a storefront. Those are some of the things I got in the works.
SLAM: So, you’re playing in New Balance sneakers this year, right?
RI: One of my friends linked us up. I tried them out this summer, and I was working out at Phillips Arena and people were clowning me, like “look at the New Bees.” But I like ‘em. They hook me up with the gear, they’re going to make me my own shoe, so I’m straight.