Interview: Ben Gordon
On hula hoops of fire, Batman and saying no to Europe.
by Ben Collins
Ben Gordon feels trapped.
He won’t say this outright. He’s been in relationships before, presumably. He knows that this kind of talk would just exacerbate his already wretched tango with restricted free agency and, to a lesser extent, the Chicago Bulls.
But, fact is, Ben Gordon is trapped. A day after re-upping Luol Deng, the Bulls are in no rush to open their pocketbook and start courting another guard. No other team can offer above the mid-level exception. And he talks about sign-and-trades with other teams with the tempestuous allure of an affair, equal parts temerity and confidence, always serious but never really serious.
This is the point in the relationship where Ben would say this: Start taking me seriously or I will commit the ultimate basketball infidelity.
He has grabbed his proverbial keys, he has left his proverbial house in Chicago in a proverbial minor huff, he has creaked his proverbial side door half-open in hopes of swift return, and he is forwarding all of those very real sign & trade offers from his agent to his very real voicemail and sending all of those very real European offers to the back of his very real mind. For this weekend, at least.
And this is the point in the relationship where Ben would say this: This weekend is a me weekend.
So he has decided to bowl.
The Ben Gordon New Life Foundation, his upstart charity put together with his Mom, is putting on the Ben Gordon Weekend in Mount Vernon, NY for the fourth year in a row. There will be bowling, a talent show, a comedy show. They’re even going to — you’re not going to believe this — play some basketball. And, by the end of it, they’re going to raise enough money to make sure his high school alma mater’s teams, the Mount Vernon Knights, can all play despite budget cuts that weeded out athletics.
Then it will be the point in the relationship where Ben will say this: OK, Bulls, I’ve gone bowling. I’ve saved a school. I’ve seen Batman twice. Now, we need to talk…
SLAM: So tell me a little bit about this weekend.
Ben Gordon: Basically it’s an event to bring the community together. It’s all about the kids. There’s gonna be a basketball clinic, a charity basketball game, talent show. There’s gonna be bowling, too.
SLAM: You doing anything for the talent show?
SLAM: I think you should do something really dangerous — something that would really help out with your contract negotiations. Juggle something sharp. You should try out a motorcycle.
BG: Maybe go through a hula hoop of fire.
SLAM: That would work. So what is all of this benefitting?
BG: It’s an S.O.S. of the school board at Mount Vernon. With the budget situation, the school is eliminating sports because they can’t afford it and I didn’t think that was right. So I’m trying to do whatever I can to raise some money for them.
SLAM: That’s cool. Do you ever think of what it would be like if you had to go through that when you were coming up?
BG: When I was coming up, actually, it was the same thing. In ninth grade. I was looking at going to other schools in (New York City). I’m hoping right now, definitely, where we’re raising money that we can get it done. If you look at the problem facing the situation, with a lot of the kids, I don’t want them going to the streets. Not having an outlet like sports — it’s so big in your growth — they’d just spend that time on the streets. It would be a tragedy.
SLAM: What got you started in the charity business?
BG: As soon as I got into the League I was involved in the Boys & Girls Club. I’ve always been open to that. I always like to try and do some kind of good. It started up as small stuff and now it’s starting to evolve. My Mom kinda got me started with my own charity (The Ben Gordon New Life Foundation). I just want to continue as a basketball player and as a business man.
SLAM: As of today, this second, where do you see yourself playing in three months?
BG: Honestly, I can’t even say where. As long as I’m doing what I love and I’m making the kind of money that I’m looking to make, I’ll be happy.
SLAM: With your status as a restricted free agent, do you feel kind of stuck?
BG: It’s frustrating, but it’s part of the business. I’m trying to weigh all of my options and see which one works out the best. I’m being patient and optimistic.
SLAM: Do you have any offers from Europe?
BG: There’s been a few. Josh Childress and the deal he got kind of made those teams reach out more. But my dream has always been to play in the NBA and this is where I want to play. That’s something that I want to be, an NBA basketball player. But I’d go (to Europe) if I had no choice.
SLAM: You were born in London, right?
BG: Yeah. I have dual-citizenship there.
SLAM: Are you going to play on their National Team (in 2012)?
BG: I’m considering it. It’s not definitive, yet. It really depends on my contract situation and how that turns out. The way it works, I can get on the team in time for qualifying in the next summer.
SLAM: But Luol Deng is definitely in, right?
BG: Yeah, he’s definitely doing it.
SLAM: Have you been back to the UK recently?
BG: The last time I went I was probably a young teenager. Once I started playing ball really competitively — the way it goes, you’re playing ball even in the summer — so I never really had time. But when I went I loved it. It’s one of the greatest cities in the world. It’s always a great experience when I go. I still have plenty of family there.
SLAM: So what do you think about this Derrick Rose kid?
BG: I think he’s really good. With his athletic ability, he has great upside. But I haven’t seen him play at all, really. I’ve seen some of his Summer League games and I know he’s doing stuff for the Team USA circuit. So I’m anxious to see him play, just from watching him on TV.
SLAM: If you do end up back with the Bulls, are you comfortable playing a lot more 2 this year?
BG: I’m comfortable at either slot. At the 1, it’s easier when you have other guys around you who can score. With this team, it’s more interchangeable. I mean — depending on how our roster shakes out and if I’m still with them.
SLAM: So is your top choice to end up back in Chicago?
BG: Yeah. I mean, no other teams are under the cap, so I’d have to work out a sign-and-trade. And, with a sign-and-trade, both sides have to agree to it. So I’m still keeping everything open.
SLAM: Anything in your game that you’re working on specifically this summer?
BG: I’m working on a lot of ballhandling. It doesn’t really change from summer to summer. At this point, you pretty much are who you are as a basketball, you just get better at your weaknesses. The major difference would be, as you get older, you try to retain situations. I’m trying to watch more film to become a smarter player.
SLAM: What was the last movie you saw? I guess I should just ask how many times you’ve seen Batman.
BG: I’ve seen Batman twice, man! It’s awesome. I’m not really into superhero stuff, but it blew me away. Heath Ledger deserves an Oscar!
If you’re interested in attending one of Ben’s clinics, watching him jump through his hula hoop of fire, or attending any of the activities this weekend in Mount Vernon, check out www.bengordonnewlife.org for more information.