Originally published in SLAM 135
The 6th Man: The first time I met Brandon Jennings was in April ’08. We were at a hotel in midtown Manhattan shooting our high school All-American team, of which he was an obvious member. As I’d been told before (and have been reminded since), Brandon’s personality was great: comfortable in front of the camera, candid and funny off set. Since the shoot came at the tail end of the month or so of All-Star games and awards dinners the top players go through every year, fatigue from it all was both warranted and evident. “Ready for that next level, huh?” I asked him casually. “Yeah, I’m ready to get paid,” he responded in kind.
Thinking back, was Brandon telling of improprieties at Arizona, where he was expected to go to school at that point? Offering a hint that he might skip school altogether? I actually don’t think it was either. As he says in this issue’s cover story, Brandon was dreaming of the NBA since he was 3 years old. I heard the get paid line, as “I’m ready for the League.” And you know what I say to all that? Good for him.
Given the way the United States—and basketball, really—promote individualism with sayings like “Do it yourself,” “Be a leader, not a follower,” and “Get yours,” and the fact that it’s the well-known solo stars who get the max NBA contracts and the big sneaker money, the irony was thicker than Oliver Miller when Brandon decided to stop fighting the NCAA to get eligible and instead did go “get paid.” All of a sudden people who preach about “being for the kids,” felt compelled to criticize Brandon Jennings for earning big bucks from a professional team (Lottomatica Roma) and shoe company (Under Armour) while practicing with grown men twice a day and experiencing one of the world’s oldest cultures. GTFO. I’m proud to say we didn’t go for that shit. In a statement that both supported Brandon’s decision and the high quality of competition he and his fellow future NBA All-Star Ricky Rubio (yeah, I said it, and I could not be more serious) were facing on a daily basis, we put them on our cover almost a year ago, then watched with shock as they (Brandon in particular) took shot after shot from NBA GMs, scouts and media members alleging that they weren’t ready for the League.
Ha! One down, one to go.