by Russ Bengtson

Hey! The 2007-08 NBA season is underway! You know what that means?

It’s time for…the edited and annotated version of the Rashard Lewis interview I did a month ago for a story in SLAM 113. Yes, I know, my timing isn’t perfect. Well, neither is Kobe’s, and he seems to be doing OK.

*uncomfortable silence*

Well, moving on. Lewis, you’ll remember, joined the Orlando Magic in a sign-and-trade this summer after spending close to a decade caught in the rain playing for the Seattle SuperSonics. In Orlando, the sweet-shooting 6-10 forward will be the Mr. Outside to Dwight Howard’s Mr. Inside, be seen by many East Coast NBA fans for the first time ever, and—oh yeah—make in excess of $100 million. Good work if you can get it.

I talked to Rashard over the phone roughly three days after the story was due, so I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to shape the interview into a story. (Normally I like to procrastinate think about things for a day or three before I start writing.) So there’s at least one quote in here (that I can think of off the top of my head) that I really would have liked to work into the magazine piece, but couldn’t. Instead, you get to read it here. Um, assuming you read this at all. With no further ado, Rashard Lewis:

SLAM: Quiet summer, huh?
RL: Yep [laughs]. Little bit.

Ah yes, the “make a joke to start things off” ploy. Trust me, I’m a professional.

Small talk, small talk, small talk.

SLAM: Did you know pretty early you’d be looking for a new destination? When did you start thinking about that?
RL: Yeah, pretty early I knew that I would kind of look for a different team. I first wanted to give Seattle the first hand, but you know obviously with a lot of the turmoil that they got goin’ on—not necessarily on the court but off the court. And lookin’ at the news today I noticed they’re tryin’ to get out of there and the city filed a lawsuit against ‘em. I mean, it just kind of lets you know the whole time I’ve been there throughout my career, it’s been the same way with the changing of coaches, new owners, GMs—it’s always changin’, and there’s no stability when you’re always changin’. And when you’re trying to create a family that family has to grow together and every time you make a change you have to start over and have to readjust to that person that’s coming in if it’s a player or if it’s a coach or if it’s an owner. And that’s what it seemed like I was going through my whole career there.

ATTENTION DAVID STERN: PLAYERS ARE LEAVING SEATTLE BECAUSE IT’S A MESS. DO SOMETHING.

SLAM: What was the biggest thing you were looking for in a new spot? Stability must have been a big part of it.
RL: Yeah, and also a team that’s gonna be contingent in the playoffs and tryin to get a championship. I feel like, you know, I played eight years in Seattle and I learned how to play the game, and now it’s my time to take another step up by getting into the playoffs and trying to compete for a championship. Because I don’t want to continue to learn how to play the game and spend my whole career—I’m not saying I’m getting towards the end of my career, but I’m entering my prime and I don’t want that to go by me without playing in the playoffs, I want to be in my prime and trying to compete for a championship, So I was looking for a team that I knew would be getting to the playoffs, and obviously a team that’s gonna be growing in the future, and I feel like Orlando, with Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson and some of those young guys they have—especially Dwight Howard—they have a great chance of competin’.

I love malaprops, and ‘contingent in the playoffs’ is a great one. I’m not even sure what phrase he was looking for.

SLAM: And it’s guys you can grow with—but you’re coming on as the vet.
RL: Yeah. Actually I’m a veteran in years, I’ve been in the League, but it seems like I’m right with these guys in age, and it’s a good group of guys, and there’s no egos on the team. And I feel like you have to have a family atmosphere, you have to trust in each other, in order to be successful throughout the season. Because you go through so much ups and downs that if you have each other’s back you can overcome that. And I feel like with this team, everybody, they have a good relationship. And I started building that chemistry with this team right after I signed the contract. I flew to Philadelphia with Jameer, and I guess he does this every summer, he has the whole team come out and work out and do a lot of different things and I was a part of that, so I felt the chemistry already growing before we even got here to Orlando.
SLAM: Was that something different than you ever did in Seattle?
RL: Yeah, it was different. Especially early in the summer. I always go back to Seattle a month before training camp and start working out with the guys, but this is something that happened around August, He does this every summer, even before I even got to the team, that they’re willing to work and they’re trying to improve as a team to be a better team during the regular season and that shows you a good sign of young guys wantin’ to get better.
SLAM: What was your best experience in Seattle?
RL: The best experience? I give Seattle a lot of respect cause they drafted me, they gave me the chance to be the type of player I am today. Obviously growing up starting with Coach [Dwane] Casey and Nate McMillan, those two guys I think really created the type of player that I am today because they stayed on top of me when I was a young guy and they was the ones that was in my ear when I was frustrated—and not necessarily wanting to quit, but I felt like I was taking a step back when I wasn’t playing very much and those guys were the ones that stayed on me and kept me workin’ and kept me hungry and kept me humble. And I give a lot of credit especially to Nate McMillan who became the head coach, he gave me that opportunity to show what I had cause I’d been askin for it for a long time and when my name was called I finally stepped into the light and I just took advantage of it.
SLAM: What was Ray Allen like as a teammate?
RL: Ray Allen was a great teammate. I think he also helped my transition—when he came to the team was the year I made the All-Star team, he’s the one who taught me little things about the game, of how to be consistent throughout the entire year, and it’s not just puttin’ up numbers but it’s the little things off the court that’s gonna help you be successful throughout the 82-game season—and that’s eatin’ proper, takin care of your body and getting your rest at night. It was a lot of the little things that he would always talk to me about. He knew I had the talent and the game to compete with these guys and to be an All-Star, but it was the small things that I was missing because I didn’t go to college and he’s been through it. He’s been to the Eastern Conference finals, he’s been an All-Star a couple of times, and he really helped me a lot in that aspect of the game of all the little things I need to do to help my game go to the next level.
SLAM: And when you first got there you were really thrown into the fire with Gary [Payton] and them.
RL: Oh yeah, when I first came to the team it was obviously with Gary and Vin Baker. Detlef Schrempf was on the team, and I kinda just—I was young and I was quiet and didn’t know nothin’ about the NBA, I was steppin’ into a man’s league but didn’t know what I was getting myself into so I kind of stepped back and played my role, but at the same time I learned that the NBA—it’s obviously basketball, but it’s also a business, too, and I learned that first-hand by watching these guys and I kind of set back and watched and learned what was going on and how I had to adjust to the game. And Gary also helped me out with my transition because he was a hard-nosed guy. Obviously I was young, I didn’t know too much But he was one of those guys that stayed on top of young guys, and he, you know, if it was cussin us out or makin us work hard, whatever it was it lit a spark under me, he put that mean streak in me, he made me be aggressive when I got on the floor and got me giving 100 percent.
SLAM: Is he the kind of guy that would be in your ear all the time whether it was in a game or practice?
RL: Oh yeah, all the time, in a game, practice, most definitely in a game, because he’s the type of guy when he was in Seattle, he wanted to win, if he could win every game that’s what he wanted to do. And if you wasn’t doing something the right way, he’ll most definitely let you know, he’ll never bite his tongue.
SLAM: And obviously you got even more of that ‘NBA is a business’ thing right away at the Draft.

I didn’t really want to bring up the ‘crying in the green room’ incident because it was so long ago, but I felt like I had to. I’m glad I did.

RL: Yeah, I learned that before I even got drafted into the League. I thought I was gonna be first round, at least top 15, top 20 pick, but slip into the second round. But I think by me slipping into the second round I didn’t know where my career was headed, but at the same time it made me more humble and I wanted to prove—not to just the teams that passed me up, but to a lot of people outside of the NBA who said I wouldn’t make it and that I should have went to college and I’d be out of the league in so many years—I just wanted to prove a lot of people wrong and let them know that I do have a chance to play in the NBA and I’m gonna show you and that’s all that I had to do is show you.
But I still feel like right now I’m a great player in the League, but I feel like an underground king, I still feel like I have a chip on my shoulder that I have to knock off and I gotta continue to show people out there what type of player I am and I think that’s what keeps that fire burning inside of me. It’s always somebody out there sayin’ somethin’, that I’m not deservin’ the contract that I have or I’m not gonna take the team to the level that they need to go to, and that’s OK because I feel actions speak louder than words, and that’s what I’m here to do.
SLAM: Funny, you think that the new contract is justification for what you’ve been through, but it just leads to more questions.
RL: And it’s fine, because I feel like I’ve proved myself from when I’ve come into the League until now—you can look at my resume, it shows that I’ve improved every year that I’ve been in the League, and now that I’ve learned a lot over the past eight-nine years that I’ve been in the League, I have no problem proving it again. I feel like I’m more smarter, wiser than I was when I first came in the NBA, and if I have to do it again, I’m willing to do that.
SLAM: Do you feel like this is a new start?

Do you feel like this is a leading question?

RL: Oh yeah, it do feel like a second beginning. It feels like a new era. My jersey number’s changed, I’m in a whole new situation with a whole new team, we have a new head coach. I feel like, you know, it’s new for a lot of guys on the team. They have to adjust to this coach as well as I do, they have to adjust to me as well as I have to adjust to them. And I feel like I’m starting all over again. I’m still young and fresh, I don’t have any injuries, and I have a lot more gas in the tank, so I feel like I’m getting drafted all over again.
SLAM: And I think it’s a case where more people are gonna be paying attention. Seattle had those 10:30 starts, now between the contract and out east, more people are gonna be checkin’ for you. Does that add pressure?
RL: Nah, maybe when I was younger I would have felt the pressure, but now I feel like there’s no pressure on me no matter how the season starts for us, if we’re doin well or we’re not doin’ well, cause I’m gonna continue to push hard to improve my game and improve this team, because I did sign a six-year deal, I didn’t sign a one-year deal, and the goal is to continue to improve every single season. And I am on the East, a lot more people will be able to watch me play and see what type of player I am, but I’m excited about that because I felt like I was lost playing in Seattle. A lot of people didn’t know me as an NBA player and didn’t know my game, but they get a chance to finally see the true all-star that I feel like I am.

I saw the first part of that answer coming from a mile away. A pro athlete could have a 747 sitting on his or her chest, and if you asked if they felt pressure they’d gasp out ‘pressure? I never feel pressure.’ Then die.

SLAM: Yeah, I feel like if you mention the NBA players who came out of high school…
RL: Oh yeah. Sometimes my name is not even mentioned in that category.
SLAM: It’s also funny that you could go through shoes, but I couldn’t remember what you wore.
RL: Oh yeah, because I’ve been with Nike for a while. And nothing against Nike, but they make a lot of commercials and I haven’t been in one commercial. It just feels kind of lost bein in the Pacific Northwest. You see a lot of stuff goin on watching a lot guys on TV play and watchin these commercials. And I feel like these are great players but I feel like I’m a good player too and I compete just as well as these guys can, but you know, one day I feel you just gotta be patient because one day your time’ll come, and I feel like my time has come so I have to take advantage of it while it’s here and I can’t let it pass me by.

This was one of the first things I thought of when I was assigned the Rashard story. As a sneakerhead, I thought it was amazing that I didn’t know what brand of shoes a max-money player wore.

SLAM: What NBA players did you watch most growing up?
RL: Grant Hill was my favorite player when I was younger, watching him play. Bein’ from Houston, I was a Houston Rockets fan. Watched Kenny Smith, obviously Hakeem Olajuwon, Vernon Maxwell, the whole Houston squad, I was mainly just a Houston Rockets fan. And I think that’s why I really wanted to play at home the year I got drafted into the League when they had the three picks. But I think it was better off for me to get away from home and not be drafted by the because I probably wouldn’t be in the position I am today.
Obviously I was a kid then, I was upset, but at the same time I learned over the years that maybe it was a better decision for me to get away from home and go somewhere else and learn how to live on my own and become a man and become an NBA player.
SLAM: Was that first year in Seattle tough?
RL: Yeah, It was tough, because actually the first year was the lockout year, but just adjusting to the different lifestyle, the rain. Actually I think the year that it broke a record for how many days it rained in a row. I wasn’t playing very much and I was a little depressed over there, but the second year I made it a little easier for me because I had one of my best friends come out and live with me and there was somebody I could really talk to when I come home—and it was a close friend, it wasn’t somebody that I was just meetin’ and starting a new relationship with, so I think it made the whole transition easier for me.
SLAM: Even with the chaos, was it tough to decide to leave?

Back…to the present!

RL: Yeah, it was tough. I did sit at home some nights and think about well, as long as I’ve been in Seattle I love the city of Seattle, I love the fans, they’re great people out there, and it will be different for me to be seen in a different-color uniform and playing somewhere else. But at the same time I’m a basketball player, and I felt like regardless where I go I have to play basketball, and my main focus was trying to get into the playoffs. And seeing these guys win championships, especially Dwyane Wade and then you have the Spurs that dominate every year, I wanna be in that position to where I’m tryin to compete for a ring also. And I feel like I can do that coming down to Orlando.
And I still honestly thought about going back to Seattle because you know me and Ray had some talks, and I’m the type of guy, you know, I’m a loyal person and I didn’t want to leave Ray hanging by himself. But when I saw that he was traded during the Draft and they brung in a bunch of more young guys to the team and I felt like that’s not the route that I’m looking for. And I think that was more confirmation of me knowing that I wasn’t going to return to Seattle as soon as they traded Ray, because he was obviously my right-hand man, me and him were trying to hold that team together as much as possible. We was goin out tryin to find guys that could help us win, but when they traded Ray I knew they was headed in a different direction and that’s a direction that I didn’t want to go in.
SLAM: Do you feel that clock tickin? You’re still young, but getting close to 30.
RL: Yup. It is scary, but I feel like I got a lot of gas in the tank, and watchin Ray take care of his body, he’s 30 and I’m still watchin him put up 25 numbers a night. So I’ve learned from him that if you continue to take care of your body you can play as long as you want until you’re ready to retire.
SLAM: What do you expect to bring to Orlando?
RL: I think my work ethic obviously is good, and I’m the type of person that, I may not say very much, but once I get on that floor my actions are gonna speak for themselves. And if it’s just practicing hard every day, or making sure I get to the gym early, liftin weights, and showin these guys what it takes to be a good player in this League or to be a good team, that you have to put the work in. And we’ve been here ever since right after Labor Day workin out together, kinda building that chemistry, tryin to get in shape because we want to try and get off to a fast start because our schedule is hectic. The first month, I think, we on the road a lot, we’re playin a lot of games, within the first 30-something days I think we play something like 20-something games so we have a lot of back-to-backs and we don’t want no injuries so we want to make sure we’re in shape and ready to roll. Because those games could hurt us later on cause that’s when the great teams like San Antonio and Detroit, the good teams start hitting their stride around January. So we want to be on top of our game before January even comes.

He talks about his new teammates for a while. Nothing exciting.

SLAM: Why’d you choose number 9?
RL: Well, JJ Redick is number 7…
SLAM: You weren’t gonna buy it off him?
RL: I thought about it, but at the same time I felt like he was there first, he had that number first, and I’m not gonna try to hassle him to get the number off of him. I’m changing teams, I feel like I’m goin to a whole new era, so why not change numbers and just start something new, just start all over.
SLAM: Did nine have a personal significance, or were you just trying to pick another single-digit number?
RL: Well actually I was watching—did you watch the Lisa Left Eye thing that was on MTV before she passed?
SLAM: No.
RL: Well, she was talking about how she was going through different phases in her life and it was a number of phases. And she said that number nine was like a number of change, because when you get to nine it goes to 10 and then kind of starts over, get to 19 it goes to 20 and kind of starts over. So I feel like it’s a number of change, and that’s why I picked number 9.

Yeah, that whole thing confused me. I didn’t want to get into the whole Left Eye story—maybe if I was writing for the New Yorker and had 10,000 words to play with.

Then he talks about John Lucas and Houston and summer ball and other stuff. Also not necessary here.

SLAM: Have you talked to Ray since you left?
RL: Yeah, I’ve talked to him. I’m happy for him because he’s in pretty much the same situation as I’m in—he wants to win, wants to compete for a ring, and I think he’s on a team to do that now. And obviously it kind of worked out for both of us. He went to a better team, better situation as well as I did. But he also told me that I’m in a whole different ballgame now, and I gotta make sure I bring it every night and not only that but take the team far into the playoffs and they gonna ride on my shoulders and I gotta be ready to take that load. Cause Dwight Howard’s a great player, he’s gonna have to take some of the load, but he’s still a young player, he’s still up and coming, he’s still learning how to play the game so I’m gonna have to be there to help the team go every night.

I’m not sure why I asked that question other than to be polite. It wasn’t really relevant to the story.

SLAM: Did you watch any of the Team USA stuff?
RA: Oh yeah. I mean, they raised their game to another level this summer. From Kobe Bryant to I think to the guys on the bench, you could tell from their first game that they set the tone early and that’s what they was out there to do and they did it.
I knew [Dwight] was playin’ in the games and he was in camp with those guys and was playin’ against other guys overseas so I know he would be ready for this season so I had to make sure that I was ready cause I couldn’t leave him out there hangin’ by himself.
SLAM: Is that something you want to do?
RL: It’s most definitely a goal of mine to play in the Olympics before my career is up. And I’m still lookin’ forward to it. Obviously I couldn’t do it this go-around, but at the same time I will be in the League in four more years.

This is where the formal interview stopped for the most part, but I left the tape recorder going while we just talked. Just in case something else came up.

SLAM: What do you have planned for the rest of the summer?
RL: We’re pretty much settled in. My girl’s finally moved down here, we had our first daughter this summer, she’s like seven weeks old. Just wantin to be here and get everything in and get a little chemistry with the team and with these guys and workin’ out, cause actually we start, we have media day Friday and we start camp on Saturday, I think we start a couple days early.
SLAM: Was it pretty easy finding a place?
RL: It wasn’t easy at all. I didn’t get nothin’ built, I found a house, I bought a house. I thought it would be cheaper movin’ down from the Pacific Northwest but comin’ to Florida certain areas obviously it’s a high-end area, so it was difficult finding a house because I felt like the money wasn’t matching up to the type of house I was gettin’—I wasn’t gettin’ a big enough yard cause I have dogs. It took me a while to found one, but I found one.
SLAM: In Islesworth?
RL: In Isleworth where a lot of guys live at. The first time I was out here when I went driving around that area lookin’ for a house I met Tiger Woods—he was out there on the driving range in the community, he was out there hittin’ balls or putting or whatever. And I got out and met him and talked to him, and he was tellin’ me that it was a nice area and no one bothers you when you come into the community, and I could see that because it’s Tiger Woods and he’s sittin out here in the middle of the street practicin’ on his golf swing and he’s just telling me how nice Florida was and he’s gonna be checkin’ us out, checkin’ out some of our games this year. So that was a good experience for me, to meet Tiger. And then I’m sitting here watching all these golf tournaments throughout the summer and I’m like, yeah, I met him. I don’t know how to play golf, but I met Tiger Woods.

I loved the Tiger Woods story, but couldn’t sort out how or where to include it. It’s worth noting that Shaq and Tracy McGrady have (or have had) houses in Isleworth as well.

SLAM: You didn’t drive cross-country, did you?
RL: No, I actually ship my cars home to Houston during the summer when the season’s over, so I shipped from Houston straight to here and it wasn’t that bad—obviously it’s a lot closer.
SLAM: Did you sell your house in Seattle?
RL: Not yet. I don’t think that house we’re gonna have a problem sellin’ because it’s in Mercer Island and that’s where a lot of Microsoft people live at, Bill Gates has a house over there, so that house should have no problem sellin’.

The money involved in professional sports scares me sometimes.

SLAM: You didn’t offer it to Kevin Durant?

I thought that was a good, spur-of-the-moment follow-up.

RL: My real estate agent, I don’t know if she showed him or not, but honestly I thought he would buy the house cause it’s such a nice house—it’s almost like a bachelor pad. Maybe he already found something or he had his own real estate agent.
SLAM: Did you make any big expenditures?
RL: No, not really. Honestly when I signed my new contract I haven’t bough anything for myself. Just things for my family. Spent more money on other people than myself. At least not yet, Just trying to stay humble and focused more on me having a good season cause I know the pressure’s gonna be on and I need to keep a level head and honestly I haven’t really thought about the contract and the money. But you ask some of the guys on the team, Keyon be pickin on me every day, he’s like ‘you gotta start actin like a max player, you a max player, you gotta start speakin up like one, you actin real regular, you gotta start actin like you’re a max player goddamit, get your voice up.’ But that’s just the kind of person I am, I feel like I’m just like everybody else and nobody’s better than nobody.

THAT’S the story I really regret not working in there—the Keyon Dooling max player rant right through the “I feel like I’m just like everybody else and nobody’s better than nobody.” Man. That still bothers me. I’m an idiot.

SLAM: Feel like that leadership role is something you’ll have to take on?
RL: Yeah, and it will come, especially when the competitiveness starts setting in when we get camp started and we start playing these games, cause I go into a whole different mode once we start playing games. Preparation is big, I learned that from Ray, and it’s starting to come now, but at the same time I know it’ll pick up even more.
SLAM: What’s the one thing you have to work on?
RL: My main focus during the summer was working on my ballhandling and kind of creating my own shot and creating shots for teammates. I feel like I have a post-up game and I have a jumpshot, and I’m pretty quick and athletic, but at the same time I’m workin on my ballhandling cause I think maybe it’ll help me get to the free-throw line even more. And that’s something I’ve been tryin to focus on because I haven’t been shooting for a lot of free throws throughout my whole career, and that’s something I need to do, is start getting to the free throw line more.
It’s a lot of great small forwards in the League. It’s not gonna get any easier for me. So my work is cut out for me, but I’m willing to work.