Rush In Revolution
Shooting guard-turned-singer Kareem Rush eyes an NBA comeback.
by Abe Schwadron / @abe_squad
It would be easy for Kareem Rush to give up. To blame injuries and bad luck for ruining a promising basketball career. To become a perpetual comparison to his brother JaRon’s flameout story, or a footnote at the bottom of his younger brother Brandon’s successful one.
After leading the Big 12 in scoring as a sophomore and leading Missouri to the Western Regional finals of the NCAA tournament as a junior, Rush went in the first round of the 2002 NBA Draft and joined the L.A. Lakers fresh off a three-peat. He found a niche as a spot-up shooter, and helped L.A. win the Western Conference Finals in the 2004 Playoffs with an 18-point performance on 6-of-7 threes in the series-clinching sixth game against Minnesota.
Rush was traded to Charlotte 14 games into the ’04-05 season, and just as he moved into a bigger role, averaging career highs in points (11.5) and minutes (25.1), an MCL strain ended his season prematurely. From there, he bounced around the NBA and Europe, with stops in Lithuania, Seattle, Indiana and Philly, before returning to L.A. in ’09, this time with the Clippers. Seven games into the ’09 season, it happened again. Rush tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his season—and potentially his playing days for good.
And that could have been the end. Instead, Rush has re-invented himself as a renaissance man and an entrepreneur, launching a singing career and dabbling in fashion, film and philanthropy. He started his own label, Big Rush Entertainment, his own clothing line, the K. Rush collection, and his own foundation, Kareem’s Kids Foundation.
But that’s not enough. Rush, 31, has one priority: make it back to the NBA.
The comeback trail is long for any player. For Rush, it seems impossible, considering his serious knee injuries, age, and the forthcoming free agent frenzy. Yet Rush is undeterred, ready to re-channel the energy he’s put into off-court endeavors for two years into a return to a roster.
NBA or not, Rush refuses to give up. The kid who almost a decade ago was on the cover of SLAM 65 with a dozen of his rookie classmates is now a grown man (his music’s contemporary sound evidence enough). Last week, in a phone interview, Rush caught us up on his NBA comeback and his music career, and reflected on his early years.
SLAM: Get us up to speed on what you’re doing these days.
Kareem Rush: Right now, I’m living in L.A. and getting myself ready to come back from ACL surgery in ’09, getting myself ready to play this year. Unfortunately, everybody knows about the lockout situation, so I’m taking my time. I’ve been taking some time to develop my other business ventures. I have a lot of other career aspirations outside of basketball, so I’ve been exploring those. I’m actually in the process right now of putting together a documentary on my family story. It’s going to be like an ESPN 30-for-30 type deal, and we’re actually filming that as we speak, right now. And also, I began my music career back in ’09, and put out a single about a year ago, which did pretty well. I started my own label, so I’ve been pursuing the music. But I was anticipating there being an NBA season, and I wanted to release my album in conjunction with the season, so it would have maximum impact. The current labor issues have put my album on hold, but I’m still pursuing the music, doing shows here and there here in L.A. But I’m basically trying to keep myself in shape for when basketball starts. I’m also starting a clothing line that’s geared towards athletes, it’s called the K. Rush collection, so I’m doing a lot of different things.
SLAM: What were you thinking when you got hurt in ’09?
KR: Obviously when you suffer a serious injury like that, the first thought in your head is, ‘Is this career-ending?’ But I knew I could always bounce back, based on my work ethic. It wasn’t that serious, even though it would take me time to get back healthy. It’s just one of those things that happens. It’s all about your mindset and your approach to rehab. During that time, I thought, ‘What am I going to do with this time, with so much rehab?’ So I was choosing between going back to school and trying to pursue a music career, and I decided on music. The music kind of took off and I did a lot better than I expected, so it kind of put me behind as far as my rehab. I should have been back last year and played, but finally I’m completely healthy and ready to get myself back into the League.
SLAM: Did that injury force you to prepare for life after basketball?
KR: I was 29 at the time, so I didn’t think it was over. But when it happened, it gave me an opportunity to get a head start. A lot of guys wait until the twilight of their careers, but I wasn’t even 30 when it happened, I still thought I had five or 10 years of basketball still left in me. I wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, this is the end of the road for me.’ But like I said, it was a blessing in disguise, because it did allow me to start my second career, and work on my other passions during the rehab process. It was a good thing for me.
SLAM: You bounced around to a half-dozen NBA teams. Was there one place where you felt most at home?
KR: My two and a half years in L.A. That’s where I had my most success, so that’s probably where I felt most welcome. They drafted me, so you initially have that team that supports you and everything. Over the years, I just had a hard time finding a coach that believed in. I couldn’t find the right situation. A lot of guys go through that. It’s not just about how well you can play, it’s about finding the right situation and a coach who believes in you, and who lets you play. So definitely I felt the most at home in L.A., having the most success.
SLAM: Did you learn anything being around Kobe early in your career?
KR: I took it for granted, because that’s what I got, my first experience in the league. I went to a great team in L.A. and played for a Hall of Fame coach in Phil Jackson, that whole mystique I kind of took it for granted. But yeah, I started out with Kobe. Kobe took me under his wing. We played a similar position so I got a chance to go against him every day in practice. He taught me a lot. And any questions I had, he was more than happy to answer, and guide me through those first two years.
SLAM: How much basketball have you been playing lately and where? What percent are you at right now?
KR: I’ve been in and out of L.A. and Kansas City, playing pickup wherever I can. Mostly just doing my own thing. I’ve got my method that I like to go with. My knee is one hundred percent healthy now. I feel light. I’m just ready to play. When I come out to L.A. I play a lot of basketball, and just get in the gym and work. I feel great.
SLAM: What’s been the toughest part of your comeback?
KR: The mental part is the toughest. You always have that thought in the back of your head like, ‘Okay, what’s going to happen?’ And not until you get in an NBA situation against other NBA players can you really judge the knee. But I’ve had no problems with it. I’m feeling pretty good, I’m just ready to get everything started again.