Conversing With Mike James
“It was never about what they said about me. It was about what I said about myself.”
You have two diametric options when it comes to categorizing how to feel about Mike James: You can love him or hate him. You really can’t feel any other way about him. He’s that polarizing.
Brash. Cocky. Erratic. Headstrong. Temperamental. For better or worse, James is all of the above.
For better, because these qualities all helped the 6-2 guard climb from Amityville to the NBA. For worse, because they’re responsible for his rocky relationships with certain coaches, and because these traits could very well be the reason he’s not on a roster right now.
Until now, minus his “Be Like Mike” column in SLAM, James has always been heard and judged based solely on what the recorders and pens of journalists have said about him.
That’s about to change.
With his inaugural dip into the world of writing, Mike James has grabbed all the recorders and pens and guided them himself. His goal isn’t to alter public perception–it’s never that simple with James. He’s just always wanted to author a book and he finally got around to doing it.
The final product, “Fight For Your Dreams: Memoirs of an NBA Star,” is patented Mike James: Brash. Cocky. Erratic. Headstrong. Temperamental. And compelling. Really Compelling.
If you want to know what makes Mike James, 34, tick, I’d recommend you pick up the book. There are some amazing stories and anecdotes involving James, NBA players and coaches.
For now, whether you pick up the book or not, here’s a little Q and A to with the always uncensored, and currently unsigned, Mike James.
SLAM: SO WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO SINCE YOUR SEASON ABRUPTLY ENDED?
Mike James: I think, more this year, physically I feel great. You know, I didn’t play [much] this year, so physically I feel great. But mentally, I think it was such a tough year on me and I think that’s where I was just able to find time to take a rest because it’s just been a tough year mentally and emotionally on me.
SLAM: NO DOUBT. IT GAVE YOU SOME TIME TO FOCUS ON YOUR BOOK, RIGHT?
MJ: Yeah, it gave me time to focus on the book. It gave me time to really spend time with my family. This year was one of the first years that I’ve been away from my family, being in Washington and my family in Houston. It’s real tough on me. And then not playing on top of it, and no one giving me a real answer on why I’m not playing. They were just sayin’ ‘you not playing,’ and that was a tough pill in itself to swallow. And so, I guess everything always works itself out, but it was tough going through it.
SLAM: WASHINGTON DIDN’T GIVE YOU A REASON FOR WHY THEY WEREN’T PLAYING YOU?
MJ: Not at all, they just didn’t play me. Listen, I’m a nine year player and in nine years I’m a double-figure scorer (Mike has a career average of 10.5 ppg–Ed.). I played more games my rookie year than I played last year. And my preparation, I worked with coach John Lucas the whole entire summer last summer. And I played against all the guards that come through his workouts and Coach Lucas was like, ‘Mike, you in the best shape.’ Going into training camp he told me, ‘you in the best shape that you been in in a long time and you ready.’ And Coach Lucas is the type of person that if you can’t play the game anymore, he’ll sit you to the side and tell you, ‘son, we need to find you a new lifestyle because basketball’s not it no more.’ But he’s still telling me, ‘man, there’s still a lot of good basketball left in you.’ So coming into camp ready and prepared like that and then getting shot down at the door, the hardest part about that is that it’s unfair because it’s not about basketball. It wasn’t about basketball, it was business or whatever else was going on and I just got caught in the middle of it.
SLAM: TALKING ABOUT YOUR BOOK: WHEN DID YOU GET THE IDEA TO WRITE IT? HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO WRITE?
MJ: I always wanted to write a book. I always felt like, you know, my story has just been funny to myself, just the things that I’ve accomplished. For instance, I’ll tell one story. My freshman year, John Carroll gives me a scholarship to Duquesne University. John Carroll tells me I’m the worst basketball player he’s ever seen in his life. [He tells me], ‘you will never play another basketball game for me, I’d rather have a walk-on start in front of you.’ And that year he gets fired. And I make Third Team All-Atlantic 10 my sophomore year.
But what’s the real ironic story in this? My third year in the NBA John Carroll is the head assistant coach for the Boston Celtics and I’m the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics. And when Jim O’Brien gets fired, he gets the head-coaching job and I’m his starting point guard in the NBA. And this is the same man that told me I could never play another game for him, and here I am in the NBA starting point guard!
These are the type of stories that have happened throughout my whole entire life. And it’s like, that’s something you write about. And the stories are so interesting, but they basically remind me regardless of what you been through you can still be what God calls you to be, but you’re going to have to fight for it. And that’s what I chose to do, never give up on my dream regardless of everybody and the critics and SLAM(Laughs) and telling me I don’t belong in the NBA and all the other critics telling me that I can’t be something. It was never about what they said about me. It was about what I said about myself.
SLAM: I HEAR THAT. SO DID YOU EVER MENTION ANYTHING TO COACH CARROLL WHEN YOU WERE TOGETHER IN BOSTON?
MJ: No, I never brought it up. I pretended like it never happened. I’m sure he remember what he told me.
I never used the fact that he was my assistant coach [against him]. I never used to make him go rebound for me. I never missed about 20 balls in a row, and make him go run for them. (Laughs.) I never used that to my advantage. And he knew what was happening. It was irrelevant at the time. You know, I was where I wanted to be and he has to now look me in my face and it effects him more now than it effects me.
SLAM: DO YOU USE THINGS LIKE THAT AS MOTIVATION?
MJ: That’s the reason why I’m still at it, because everyone has always told me the thing that I’m supposed to be. Everyone always felt like they know what’s best for Mike James better than I do. And the boxes that they put me in, I always try to figure out a way to let them know that that’s not me and that’s not the box you can put me in and you can’t label me like that. To this day, I’m still fighting, I’m still trying to let you know, whatever the critics say, whatever you say about me, find out for yourself about me. Don’t go off of what somebody else said or what you heard.
SLAM: YEAH, SO IN TERMS OF NEXT YEAR: YOU HOPING TO COME BACK TO THE NBA?
MJ: Definitely. I’m definitely goin’ to come back, come on! Man, I’m 34 years old…
SLAM: THE WIZARDS AND YOU PARTED WAYS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SEASON; WHY DIDN’T YOU TRY TO LAND SOMEWHERE ELSE?
MJ: It was tough this year. It was a tough situation. There was teams that wanted to sign me. I was talking to Cleveland, I was talking to Miami. Miami just went through the thing with Rafer, and you know, they was like they didn’t want no problems. They didn’t know if I was going to come in angry. There was so many situations, Utah wanted me, Cleveland—all the teams wanted me, but nobody made a decision. So I stayed home, just staying working out everyday, staying ready until the 14th and once the 14th came I was like I’m on vacation now. I can’t cry over spilled milk. I can’t get angry because I had an unsuccessful year this year. I just gotta go back into the lab and figure out a different game plan, a different approach and come back and work at it next year.
SLAM: THE WIZARDS HAD A DYSFUNCTIONAL TEAM THIS YEAR. EARLY ON, COULD YOU TELL?
MJ: Of course. It was dysfunctional from the beginning. That’s the thing that hurt more than anything. We weren’t even a good team. I can accept it better if we were a good team and I only played two games this year. It would have been nothing. But we were a bad team and I didn’t play this year. That’s what made it hurt even more, the fact that we were such a bad team this year and I was worse than the team’s record. That just didn’t add up to me, especially when I was still doing all the things that have gained me success in my past. I’m still the first one in the gym. I’m still the last one to leave, and I’m still doing everything that I possibly can do to prepare me to help the team win. And I just didn’t have the opportunity to do it.
SLAM: YEAH, IT WAS A BAD BREAK FOR YOU. SO WHAT DO YOU SEE HAPPENING OVER THE NEXT, LET’S SAY, FIVE YEARS?
MJ: Yeah, listen, it was a five-year plan, but I want a four-year plan. I want to sign a two-year deal in the NBA, and if I can sign a two-year deal in the NBA, then I’m going to Europe for two years. I’m going to Spain, bringing my family over and have my kids learn Spanish. And I’m going to enjoy basketball my last two years instead of going through everything that the League puts the players through. I’m enjoy some European basketball. Only playing twice a week, I don’t have that wear-and-tear on my body and it’s less minutes so it’s going to be fun to be able to go back over to Europe. I started my career in Europe and I always wanted to end my career in Europe.
SLAM: COOL. JUST BASED OFF WHAT I WAS READING ON YOUR TWITTER AND WHAT I WAS READING IN THE PAPERS, YOU SEEMED FRUSTRATED EARLIER THIS YEAR, RIGHT?
MJ: Oh, yeah. It was definitely frustrating because I can still play and I can’t showcase it. So now everyone says, Well you’re old now, you can’t play. Move on. That’s the thing that hurt more than anything is; I never had a severe injury. Why am I counted out? Why does everybody else get a chance to fail, but I can’t even get a chance to fail? Everybody else they can fail until they succeed. I can’t even fail. That was the hardest part. I didn’t have the opportunity to play at all this year and that was the most unfair thing because now, because I didn’t have a chance to play this year, now I leave my career and my future in the hands of other people where I have no control over my future.
I can’t go into free agent market now to show them what I did last year, show my numbers, see what I was doing in the amount of time that I played in, come on! I don’t have no case. Now, a person will sign me just off of hoping that I’m still working hard, I still got something left in the tank, but not knowing really. So that’s the hard part, they never really gave me a chance for me to allow myself to go further in my career.
SLAM:YOU THINK YOU HAVE A GOOD ENOUGH NAME IN FRONT OFFICES FOR A TEAM TO TAKE A CHANCE ON YOU?
MJ: Of course. I’m respected enough in this League, I’m accomplished enough. I won a championship, I’m a double-figure scorer and I’ve averaged what, you know 20 minutes a game for my career. So if you look at my career numbers, this year shouldn’t hold me for my career. I think that’s the hardest part, that they’re gonna hold me for what I did this year because, in anything, it’s what have you done for me lately? You’re only as good as your last game. All these different questions are gonna come up, but if I get an opportunity I can show that I can still play this game.
SLAM: IT’S NOT EVEN LIKE YOU DIDN’T PLAY AND THEY HAD AN ALL-STAR STARTING. NO DISRESPECT TO SHAUN LIVINGSTON, BUT HE WAS PLAYING LIKE 30 MINUTES A GAME DOWN THE STRETCH…
MJ: You know what the hardest part in that was? The fact that he was in the NBDL and it’s like, an NBDL player came in and started starting. But everyone that came in, they got a chance. As soon as they came in and signed with the team, they started playing. And it was like, Wow. And I was here a whole year and I didn’t even get a chance at all to play! That was the thing that hurt more than anything, so that has to show you that it was more than just basketball because I’m not that bad. I promise you I can still—see, I still play streetball in the summer. Streetball is, You still gotta show me. I’ll tell a person to they face that if you not averaging 13 points in the NBA, you not better than me. That’s not just a sayin’ to me, that’s just the truth. I’m still a good basketball player. And so the hard part is that, the hardest part is finding a staff and a team that’s gonna believe I can still help the team win.