Iman Shumpert discusses rehab, his dope new mixtape and the Knicks.
A story: A little less than two years ago, after he decided to leave Georgia Tech and enter the NBA Draft, Iman Shumpert was deciding on what agent to hire. After a couple of pitches from different agencies, it was Happy Walters’ turn. The meeting went well, and Shumpert went off on his own to think about it. Eventually, at some point during this time of contemplation, he decided to go with Walters. Instead of calling him to deliver the news, Shumpert, a lover of music, recorded a track called “Power Moves” where he talked about the decision, and sent it to to Walters. Thus the relationship was consummated.
Depending on who you ask, that tale might be 100 percent fact….or it might be mostly fiction. Either way, it pretty much encapsulates everything about Shumpert, a smart, creative and multi-talented 22-year-old from Oak Park, IL, who loves to play basketball (taken 17th overall in the 2011 Draft, he’s a tenacious defender and explosive athlete), loves to rap (a talented wordsmith, he uses music to clear his mind and express himself), and loves to talk honestly about both (witty and open, he’s a great interview).
Last week, Shumpert, who is currently recovering from surgery on his ACL, cleared some time to speak with SLAM about the New York Knicks, his ongoing rehab, and his just-released mixtape, Th3 #post90s.
(For more about the hip-hop head’s music, mixtape and personal take on some current rappers, be sure to pop on over to XXLmag.com later today, where Shumpert, AKA 2w0 1ne, will dish on all of the above.)
SLAM: When you came into the League a lot of people didn’t really know much about you. There were a lot of people asking, at least in New York, why the Knicks drafted you. Did that get back to you at all?
Iman Shumpert: Yeah, I heard it all. When I got drafted, my family and friends and everybody was screaming so loud that I couldn’t really hear what was going on. When I saw Spike said something like, ‘I guess we’ll take him. We need D, so I guess…’ that all rubbed me the wrong way. I heard the boos, the crowd reaction. I mean, they boo everybody, but it’s still like, Bump that. This is the happiest day of my life and y’all booed me?
SLAM: Did that motivate you to come into training camp and the season strong?
IS: A lot of people don’t know that the first 15 or 20 games that I played, when I would go for a steal and a dunk, or just do something crazy, I would yell crazy stuff into the crowd. A lot of people thought I was big. Everyone was like, ‘Oh, man, he’s NY all day!’ But I was actually a lot of times cursing them out. Like, ‘Nah, y’all booed me.’
When we played the [Charlotte] Bobcats, I stole it from Kemba [Walker]. I remember I was yelling into the crowd, ‘Y’all wanted Kemba!’ It’s like, that fire, I need stuff like that. And I do get hung up on stuff. I hold grudges—that’s how I am. It’s good to hold that in a sport. I don’t do it in life. I don’t think I’m like that off the court—and Kemba’s my man—but once I’m on the court, it’s like, Y’all wanted Kemba; y’all didn’t want me.
SLAM: When did you feel the tide turn with the fans? It felt like before you knew it, New York had embraced you.
IS: When they started chanting in [Madison Square] Garden. The first game they did it, it was ‘WE WANT SHUMPERT.’ I had come out because I just needed a rest—and I had actually asked for the rest—and they were like ‘WE WANT SHUMPERT.’ So, [Coach Mike] D’Antoni said, ‘You have to go back in.’ It was powerful. They did it a couple of games after that, and then people started customizing my jersey because it wasn’t being sold. I started to realize that people gravitate towards me because I reminded them of a ’90s Knick. Just, tough, gritty, don’t really care about shine or nothing like that. Just trying to win and do whatever I got to do.
SLAM: Listening to your music, I can hear you dropping the names of old-time Knicks players and important dates. Were you always so steeped in Knicks history?
IS: I didn’t come up here in New York, but my father had me watch Clyde Frazier; he had me watch Bernard King. He said, ‘Today I want you to watch Skip 2 My Lou…today I want you to watch Sebastian Telfair.’ Like, I had to watch certain guys. So I had to watch plenty of film on John Starks. And then, with [Michael] Jordan battling them all the time in the Playoffs, I used to watch that stuff repetitively just because I love Jordan. Unconsciously, though, I was getting Knicks history.
When I think of the Knicks, I think of John Starks getting in Jordan’s face. As a shortie I was like, ‘Why does John Starks think he can get in Jordan’s face (laughs)?’ Now it’s on the flip: A lot of people that are Heat fans are like, ‘Why does Iman Shumpert feel like he can get in LeBron’s face? Why does he feel like he can get up on DRose?’ But it’s like, that’s how I saw it, that’s how I saw the Knicks and I’m not finna disrespect that jersey. I love basketball; I have an appreciation for basketball, flat out period. So—I’m not gonna disrespect the game or the history behind that jersey.
SLAM: You tweet about making music and I’m sure people reply with, ‘Why aren’t you in the gym?’ That goes back to the fact that there’s only so much rehab you can actually do. So, I know you were doing a little music beforehand but did you really pick it up again when you got hurt?
IS: What people don’t realize is that I had four mixtapes in high school. I had a mixtape in college that I never really put out officially because 1, it was too much cursing and I was doing too much—I was young and immature; the music was good, but it was reckless for someone who was trying to be a pro—and 2, thank God, my coach, Paul Hewitt red-flagged it and wouldn’t let me put it out.
SLAM: Is that something you were doing on the buses to and from road games in school?
IS: Yeah. On buses, walking down the street to get pizza. I’m more of, if something happens in my life I’ll just write two lines, not a whole verse, and keep it moving. Later on, maybe I’m just up in the middle of the night and I think of a way to connect some lines and I just put it together. After a while, it becomes a freestyle. And maybe I don’t do nothing with it. Maybe I just spit it to myself, memorize it, and one day we’re in a cipher and I just drop it. I use it as a brain exercise. I’m not in school anymore. I really don’t read much.
SLAM: Yeah. I read a quote where you said something like, ‘Don’t read books, write them.’ That’s an interesting perspective.
IS: I read so much growing up. There were people telling me to read this and read that; cite this source and cite that source. In my mind I was always thinking, When can I just write a paper on what I think? Why can’t what I think be good enough? Why do I always got to quote him and quote him. Yeah, he said that but I truly don’t even believe in that; I’m just using it to get an A on the paper. I can manipulate it to get an A, which I did, but I truly don’t even think that’s an A paper. I think my ideas on it would’ve been better, but I’ma do whatever to get the A. That’s how I used to feel, and a lot of people feel some type of way about that line. But that’s true.
SLAM: So what made you decide to put your tape, Th3 #post90s, out now?
IS: I would’ve put one out last year but my agent told me that New York is a tricky place. He said, ‘Yeah, I know you. You’re the big bad wolf, who’s fearless and will take on the whole city. You’ll put out music, cursing doing whatever you want, and then not care and play the Miami Heat the next day.’ He said that New York would appreciate if I went through a year, played, and in the offseason find the right way to put something out so people accept it and don’t think you’re doing whatever with your time.
In a weird way, it was actually a perfect time to tear my ACL, because now people know and realize that I needed some sort of outlet because I couldn’t even walk. It was almost like a good excuse, but honestly I was going to be doing that whether or not I was hurt. The thing is, I don’t fear what people think. If you don’t like the music, turn it off, turn on your TV and I’ll be back soon.
SLAM: Did Coach Mike Woodson or your teammates feel any sort of way about you making music?
IS: Woody thinks it’s cool. Woody, he still calls me ‘Rook,’ always tells me he never met anybody who can do all this. He’s like, ‘It’s crazy that you can do all that, but as long as you keep playing hard I really don’t care what you do. Long as you play hard, dive on the ball and I can tell you sic ’em and you do it.’ That’s the type of coach he is.
When I told my teammates last year, everybody sort of laughed. They thought I was going to go out there and rap like every other hooper-rapper. Melo (Carmelo Anthony) was the first one to put his ear to it and listen. Like, ‘Oh, he can really rap.’ I don’t think he paid it too much attention, obviously we were in-season, but then Baron [Davis], who raps himself, we connected on that and were rapping all the time. It was just for fun, but they were like, ‘You can really rap. It’s crazy that you really rap!’
SLAM: I was on your website earlier and I was looking at your video bio. In it you say something about how a Championship is first in your hierarchy, even ahead of family. What made you realize that?
IS: When I got hurt they gave me the option: ‘Do you want to go home to just be with your family and we can try to get you somebody to rehab with, or do you want to stay here in New York and rehab?’
It wasn’t even a hesitation for me. Like, ‘I’m just going to stay out here and rehab. I know if I go home, I’m just going to sit around. My knee might not get back as strong as I want it, so I’m just going to stay out here and if my mom and them want to see me, I’ll fly them out.’
When I said it and saw it on the site, I was like, Damn, I wonder how many people are going to feel like I’m disrespecting my own family. But the scary thing is, nobody in my family said anything about that quote. I love the hell out of my family and I’ll do anything for them, but they know that if I don’t get a ring I’m gonna be crushed.
SLAM: It doesn’t compare, but I tore my ACL last year and I know that for the first two or three weeks I was borderline depressed. I didn’t know how difficult it would be for those first couple of weeks. Being stuck in bed, not being able to move my leg…Did you know it was going to be like that?
IS: (Nods) I didn’t. When I woke up from surgery, when it first hit me that I couldn’t move it, that I had no control over it, that it was throbbing and uncomfortable. When it hits you that your work is cut out for you, you’ve got that moment where it’s like, ‘Damn, do I just want to go back to sleep right now and not believe this?’ Yeah, I definitely didn’t know it was going to be like that.
SLAM: When did you hit that spot in rehab where you could see the progress, where you could see your return to full strength?
IS: At one point, I was at 90 degrees for a long time, just as far as being able to bend it. I was at 90 degrees for about a week and a half, and it felt hopeless. Then one day I came in, and it sort of pushed a little further; the swelling started to be gone; I started to fire my muscles. Then, once they put me in the weight room, I knew mentally could do it and get through it. It was hard to get to that point, but once I started to lift weights, started to sweat again, I knew I could fight again.
SLAM: It sucks being out, but do you feel like you’re going to come back a better player because of it?
IS: I think I’ll be a whole lot better. I think I’ve learned a lot, and I think I’m going to appreciate time more. And I feel like I can see where I’m missing on the team. I can see what the team needs. I pay more attention now to a guy’s demeanor—maybe a guy doesn’t get the ball here or there, and I see how he acts. I see who’s going to need me to lift them up during a game. I see I have to fill in what the team needs in certain situations. Like, what is the trend? When we lose, what is the trend? Are we missing that rebound? Is no one going hard for that rebound? I can see it all.
It’s more about me, when I come back, not trying to do stuff for me, but to fill in the little holes. Until I get back into my regular rotation of doing what I do and they know, OK, we’re going to get X amount of points and rebounds from Iman, until then it’s whatever’s needed. If I go out there and get 3, 3, 3 and 3, I need to make sure that we get that W.
SLAM: So, man, how sick are you of people asking you about when you’re going to come back?
IS: It’s annoying. But it’s only annoying because some people are like, ‘Alright, come on, Iman.’ It’s the question where it’s like, ‘Don’t hold out on me.’ It’s not an injury where there’s a certain day. It’s not trying to get the swelling out of your foot, it’s not like that. It’s not like a sprained ankle where you know you’ll be back in a week. Worst case, even if the swelling is not gone, I know I can tape an ankle up. This is different. This is more what can I do, what can’t I do. I have to be put in with contact, see if I play for a couple of days if it’s going to swell up. You have to see all that. So, it’s really trial and error. I really don’t know a date, but when I’m healthy I’m going to be healthy.
SLAM: Have you thought about what that moment’s going to be like—your return to the Garden?
IS: I’ve thought about it a couple of times. I hope it’s going to be a big welcome.
SLAM: It’ll be like the opposite of the Draft.
IS: Yeah (laughs). I hope it’s the total opposite of the Draft. That’s perfect. As long as it’s the opposite of the Draft, I’m fine.