Q+A: Monta Ellis
An exclusive interview with the Warriors’ star guard.
On his transition to the NBA:
It was simple. It was rough, but it was simple. There were bumps in the road, but other than that, thank God it never got to the point where it was like, ‘Dang, I don’t know if I can do this, if I’m going to be able to make it.’ I never got to that point. I always stayed positive about the whole situation, like thank God you’re even here right now, to even be sitting in this chair right here. That’s all that mattered to me. But I already knew with the work ethic I had, what I was going to be able to do it.
It was three years where I stayed over there [in Oakland] and didn’t really come back over to home. I just stayed over there. Yeah, offseason [too]. I just stayed there. The first three years.
It was something I had to do. It never got to a point where I felt like I wasn’t going to make it or this is tough. It was never like that. I just had to do what I had to do and for me to make it, to be where I’m at now, I had to sit there, stay, the whole time. But I knew what I was going to do. I just had to be in the right situation, be in the right opportunity and I did.
Just my cousin [was with him]. And I was older than him. That’s the only person that went. Me and him. But I didn’t do but what I do now. Don’t hang out with most people, I sit at the house, don’t go anywhere. If I’ve got to go somewhere, if I’ve got to do something and I’m going to go do that, do whatever I need to do, but other than that, I’m not going to go anywhere. I used to sit at home, sit there and left weights, sit outside, go shoot basketball. That’s all we did. Very simple life.
On Don Nelson:
Me and Don Nelson didn’t always see eye to eye and it wasn’t always peaches and cream, but at the end of the day, I always take the time to thank him for giving me the opportunity to showcase my talent, and for his style of play and the style of play I came from in high school made it really easy for me to adapt to the NBA. He’s a great coach, Hall of Fame coach. The sad thing about is he never got a chance to win an NBA championship, but he left a lot of respect for the game when he left.
On the “We Believe” Playoff year:
It was great, man and then to go into that arena with the fans that we have—it’s unbelievable, man. It’s hard to explain. You’re just trying to wait for that moment, to get back to that stage of your career, playing in that environment and those surroundings. It was a great experience for us because at the same time, everybody was behind us, but we were playing as a team that was winning. We were actually having fun.
No, nowhere. Even if I wasn’t playing in Golden State, knowing the fans—just being there—there’s no comparison anywhere. I don’t see it. Now, when you can get a team that’s winning 18 games or 20-something games and you can still sell out the arena the whole season, that’s unbelievable. That says a lot about your fan base and then, on top of that, that’s not even everyone that wants to come to the game. Some people miss the game. So, I believe, truthfully, if we had an arena that [seated] 30,000, we’d sell out every night. Thirty-thousand.
On when his hometown started to recognize his potential:
Tenth-grade year. My ninth-grade year, nobody even knew me. They knew of me, but they didn’t really know what I was going to do when I was in high school. They knew what I was doing in middle school. Everybody was talking about it, but they didn’t know what I was going to do in high school.
On his basketball development:
That’s all used to work with, was my brother. I just used to play basketball, man. If I go in the house and I see a basketball game—it didn’t matter if it was a college game or an NBA game—when I saw a basketball game on TV, I just went outside and played basketball, just did whatever move that I saw somebody else do. Didn’t know who they were, I just saw them do a move and I said, ‘I’m going to try this.’ That’s all I did.
It wasn’t any one player that I just patterned my game after. Now, the player I used to watch after Mike went out was Kobe Bryant. But other than that, nobody.
I never really patterned my game after Iverson. I watched Iverson, but I really didn’t pattern my game [after him].
On what he’d do if he wasn’t in the League:
I don’t know where I’d be. If I wasn’t playing basketball in the NBA right now, I don’t know where I’d be. I wouldn’t think it would be good for me if I wasn’t playing basketball.
I give all praise and thanks to God because there were days where I didn’t know if I was going to make it to the NBA. When I got there, I hurt my ankle. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play the same way. I hit a couple bumps in the road, but I’m just thankful and blessed to be in the position that I’m in.
It was just plan A through Z. It was all on one. I just put it all in one. There wasn’t anything [else] at all I was thinking about. I’ve seen so much and I’ve seen my family struggle for so long, and I knew I was the only one that could change that.
[From age] 10. Nine, 10. My oldest brother got messed up, so…
On his older brother, Antwain:
And that’s why I believe he wasn’t successful enough because I don’t really believe the family really put in the support that I had into his ballplaying. Probably the only people that went to his games were me, his grandma and his granddaddy, so I would say that’s a part of it, too. But you know, people make mistakes. Some people bounce back from it, some people don’t.
On giving back to his hometown:
I just talked to the mayor during my foundation weekend. Me and [his agent] Jeff [Fried] have been working on trying to open up some small businesses down in Jackson—hopefully we can do three or four, maybe five—to give some more job opportunities to my people down in Jackson. That’s the project we’re working on.
I just feel like there’s nothing down in Jackson to do, no job opportunities, this and that. I see a lot of people in Jackson that went from making $20 an hour to $3 an hour, from making $25 an hour to making zero dollars. So, I see my city struggling and I just want to lift it back up by opening small businesses.
[A partnership with the Jackson Veterans’ Administration is] one of the few things, one of the businesses that we’re doing in Jackson and we’re a part of, and we’re doing business with that. I think that it’s not only a great opportunity for me, but a great opportunity for my son because he has ties in that, too. It’s just really for me preparing for my kids than anything right now. We’ve got a lot of little businesses going on and then, connected with the VA, the veterans and the hospital, and all the little things that are going on. It’s a blessing.
Even though Jackson is the capital of Mississippi, it’s not as big as you think the capital of a state would be. It’s a small town, but you make the best of it. That little small town gave a lot to me, really motivated me to do the things that I do. Really, to me, Oakland is just a bigger-sized [version] of Jackson. The same type of people, just more expensive down there in California, versus [the South].