Q+A: Royal Ivey
The Sixers guard talks about life in the NBA and Kevin Durant’s eating habits.
by Yaron Weitzman | @YaronWeitzman
For Royal Ivey, being an NBA player is about more than playing basketball. It’s about educating young men and women. It’s about being a role model. It’s about doing the cliches that that you hear come out of the mouths of NBA players all the time on those NBA Cares commercials.
Royal Ivey, though, is as genuine a human as there is. And at no point is this more evident than during the annual Royal Skills Clinic in Hollis, Queens.
The Royal Skills Clinic is Ivey’s way of giving back to the community that raised him. “Hollis is near and dear to my heart,” he says.
The three-day clinic, which Ivey offers for free (and which we’ve written about before), was started by Ivey five years ago. The intention was to create a camp that would teach kids basketball fundamentals, and how to become dedicated students. The clinic was also Ivey’s way of doing what those in his family do; Ivey comes from a family of teachers. The Royal Skills Clinic is his way of living up to his family name.
Take a walk around the Hollis’ I.S. 192 Playground, a group of courts where the clinic is taking place—and which also happen to be right next to Ivey’s Alma matter, Benjamin N. Cardozo High School—and who Ivey is becomes apparent. He participates in the drills that are being ran by his high school coach, Ron Naclerio. He plays knockout with the campers. He greets everyone with a smile and looks everyone in the eye. He’s doing community service and appears happy. That’s not a sentence you hear very often.
Eventually Ivey does take a break. After doing passing drills with a 12-year-old for about a 45 minutes, Ivey comes over to the side of the Benjamin N. Cardozo High School gym to talk with SLAMonline.
SLAM: So where did the idea to run a summer basketball camp come from?
Royal Ivey: I just wanted to give back to my community. I spoke to my mom and dad, and we just had this idea to do it, and do it for free. We didn’t want to do a tournament or anything—these kids, they all think they know how to play already and all they want to do is shoot threes and dunk. What we wanted to do was teach them the fundamentals.
SLAM: It looks like there are a lot more kids here this year than there were last year.
RI: For sure. This year we had to divide the kids up and put the more advanced ones in the gym inside. So yes, it is growing by word of mouth.
SLAM: What’s your goal with all this?
RI: The goal is just to teach the kids about how to be disciplined, to give them life skills and just to teach them the right way to go about things and do things by giving them life skills. The right way to be a teammate, how to be a high character person, dedication. Stuff like that which gets overlooked.
SLAM: You are really involved and active in the camp. You’re here every day, you’re doing drills with the kids, things that I don’t think you see NBA players always doing at their camps. Is that something you’re conscious of?
RI: For sure. I come every day, I play with the kids… you know, I’m passionate about kids. At the end of the day, I like the smiles that I leave them with. I know a lot of guys come, and they show up for the first day, or they show up on the last day and give their remarks and all that, but I want to leave a lasting impression on these kids, and for an NBA guy to come and show that he cares about them, the means something to them.
SLAM: You went back to Texas last summer and got your degree (in applied learning and development) and, like you say, education is clearly something that is important to you. Do you find that you’re different than other players in the League in terms of how much you value education?
RI: Yeah, because of my parents. You know, education was always big in my family. Books before basketball, books before basketball. It didn’t matter the circumstances, it was just always books before basketball. That was engrained in my head, and, when I didn’t get my degree after four years of college, we were all disappointed, but I told my parents that I was going to [eventually] go back to school and get my degree. And I did. I’m a man of my word.
SLAM: You were on a really good team this year, but barely played. Is that fun?
RI: It’s a tough situation. But I’m a professional, so I came to work every day, and I worked hard and I worked on my craft. I didn’t just sit around and mope because I wasn’t playing; you never know the circumstances and you always have to be ready. It’s all mental. But that is tough to sit on the bench and work hard and just wait around for your chance. I’ve been in that situation before and it just builds character. So yeah, but I helped that team out and those guys helped me out. And even though it was tough, it was also rewarding to be part of something like that, too, and to really be a part of those guy’s lives because, you know, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, those guys are the future of the NBA. But I loved my time in OKC. They were great to me.
SLAM: Would you rather be on a bad team and play a lot, or be on a good team and sit on the bench?
RI: I’ve played on a bad team. I’ve actually played on a couple of bad teams. It’s not fun. You want to be in a situation where you can help a good team. On a bad team, what I do, that can’t help a bad team. But on a good team, I can help a good team. It’s tough being on a bad team and getting all the minutes. Everybody wants to play, but nobody wants to lose. I don’t, I’m really competitive, so I don’t want to be on a losing team and playing a ton of minutes.
SLAM: I was talking about NBA bench players with a friend a few weeks ago and I told him that I feel like a guy like James Jones, he sees the Heat sign Ray Allen and thinks to himself, “I could do what Ray Allen does, if only…”
RI: It’s all about opportunity. In the NBA, everybody can play. Everybody has a special skill, or can do a lot of things really well. At the end of the day, you have to have the mindset where you think that if you have the right opportunity, you can do what the guy playing in front of you does, because if you didn’t have that attitude, you wouldn’t be at the level that you are at. So everybody has that attitude, and everybody is just itching to get on to the court. Sometimes, though, if you continue to not get an opportunity, it’s hard to keep that attitude and not give in. But you can’t. You have to keep pushing.
SLAM: Tell me something about Kevin Durant that I wouldn’t know.
RI: He doesn’t like greens. He just started eating salad like a year ago. He loves chicken wings though, but yeah, he won’t eat greens, and he’ll tell you that he doesn’t like greens or salad. I don’t know how he got so tall, or how he stays so skinny without eating greens, but he doesn’t. I sit next to him on the plane and have never seen him eat greens.
SLAM: What about Westbrook?
RI: He’s the self proclaimed best dresser in the NBA [laughs]. I love Russ because, you know, he’s himself on and off the court. On the court he plays with a lot of fire and he’s intense and competitive, and that’s what people see. But off the court, he’s happy-go-lucky. He also thinks that he’s a great dancer. Him, Durant, all those guys. I have love for all of them and they have a special place in my heart.
SLAM: What did you think of the shirt he wore in the Playoffs: The polo shirt with the fish on it?
RI: [Laughs] I didn’t say anything. I know he’s from L.A., and they think they have their swag and everything. He’s just being himself. People think he just started that stuff recently and that he’s just doing it for attention, but he’s been doing that stuff for a while.
SLAM: So he’s been wearing ugly shirts for a while?
RI: [Laughs] You said that, not me.
SLAM: Are you excited about signing with the Sixers?
RI: Yeah, very. Being close to home is a good thing, and I’m in a good situation, and we have a really good team between guys like Andrew Bynum and Jrue Holiday. I’m really happy.
SLAM: Do you expect to have more playing opportunities in Philadelphia?
RI: They called me and told me that they wanted me to back up Jrue Holiday. But nothing’s guaranteed, I got to earn it. So I’m going to go into camp and be ready to compete for that spot because nothing is given. But I’m a man of my word, I hope they keep theirs.
SLAM: What did you think about the Lakers’ trade for Dwight Howard?
RI: You know, I know everyone is talking about these Super Teams, but it’s all about chemistry in the NBA. On paper, yeah, they look like they can compete for a Championship. But you have to play the game. No one has ever won a Championship on paper. If the chemistry isn’t there, you’ll win in the regular season, but when you get to the Playoffs, and things get testy, that’s where a team’s true colors come out.
SLAM: Is Playoff basketball really that different? What’s so different about it?
RI: Everything. On a scale of 1-10, in the regular season, depending on who you’re playing, the games can be anywhere from a five to about an eight. Come Playoff time, it’s a 10. The whole time. In the Playoffs, every game counts and every possession counts, and one position can win the game, and you never know what possession that was going to be. It’s always a 10. In the Playoffs, one possession can win the game. Guys play their hearts out from the first quarter on.