JaVale McGee’s role on court and off is key for War­riors.

Cen­ter doesn’t let di­min­ished play­ing time, or much of any­thing else, bother him

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Mark Me­d­ina mme­d­ina@ba­yare­anews­group.com

The War­riors’ JaVale McGee isn’t afraid to ex­press him­self in his unique way, and the team is hap­pier for it

The trash talk mir­rored what hap­pens in an ac­tual bas­ket­ball game. But in­stead of War­riors cen­ter JaVale McGee throw­ing down lobs or block­ing shots at Or­a­cle Arena, he at­tempted to do some­thing just as en­ter­tain­ing at the home of War­riors sea­son-ticket holder Chris San­tini.

McGee re­cently played San­tini, who was picked ran­domly for a game of “HO-U-S-E” as a knock­off of “HO-R-S E” as part of a War­riors video promotion for Real­tor.com. If San­tini lost, he would com­plete 20 pushups. If San­tini won, McGee promised to wash San­tini’s dishes.

McGee and San­tini then traded trick shots. While San­tini some­how bounced the ball off his garage into the bas­ket, McGee blended in a mix of deep 3-point­ers and shots from be­hind the hoop.

The pro­mo­tional spot will be shown at Or­a­cle and online by the end of the month. That McGee, 29, was cho­sen for this as­sign­ment shows how far he has come in shak­ing his league-wide rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing some­one who pre­ferred goof­ing off than tak­ing bas­ket­ball se­ri­ously. McGee has in­gra­ti­ated him­self with the War­riors by show­ing he can do both.

“On a bad team, a guy like JaVale is a dis­trac­tion, per­cep­tion­wise. On a good team, he’s ec­cen­tric, even if he’s do­ing the ex­act same stuff,” War­riors coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s un­fair. But it’s just the re­al­ity how peo­ple are per­ceived, de­pend­ing on their cir­cum­stances.”

When he played in Wash­ing---

ton (2008-12) and Den­ver (2012-15), McGee said he of­ten heard in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally “you need to fo­cus on bas­ket­ball” any time he posted some­thing on YouTube or Twit­ter. McGee re­called in frus­tra­tion catch­ing flak for film­ing the “Cin­na­mon Chal­lenge” with then- and cur­rent team­mate Nick Young dur­ing their time with the Wizards. They filmed their at­tempt to see who could swal­low cin­na­mon, some­thing McGee noted hap­pened dur­ing the 2011 NBA lock­out.

“I was ahead of my time at the time. I didn’t even know it,” McGee said. “Now I feel like I’m in the prime lo­ca­tion and en­vi­ron­ment to ex­press my­self in an artis­tic form and take ad­van­tage of op­por­tu­ni­ties my way.”

Those op­por­tu­ni­ties vary on and off the court.

On the court, McGee is av­er­ag­ing near-ca­reer-lows in points (5.1) and min­utes (8.6). But the War­riors ap­pre­ci­ate what McGee brings to the team dur­ing that lim­ited time: ath­leti­cism, dunks off lob passes and de­fense. Those qual­i­ties made McGee valu­able enough for the War­riors to re­tain him last sum­mer on a one-year deal at the vet­eran’s min­i­mum.

“He’s re­vamped his ca­reer with us. It’s great to see,” War­riors guard Klay Thompson said. “I think that’s why he re-signed. He’s be­come such a vi­tal part to our team and will be for a long time.”

Off the court, McGee has fol­lowed the War­riors’ en­cour­age­ment to keep his so­cial me­dia pro­files ac­tive. He has launched “Park­ing Lot Chron­i­cles” on his YouTube page, which fea­tures team­mates and fans talk­ing all things War­riors. He shot a video with the War­riors, in which he at­tempted to scare team­mates with dif­fer­ent Hal­loween pranks. McGee and Young part­nered with The Ringer, which filmed the two reen­act­ing a scene from “Bad Boys II.”

“It’ll give him a chance to show who he is with his cre­ativ­ity, in­stead of do­ing some ran­dom stuff,” Young said. “Peo­ple won’t think he’s not tak­ing bas­ket­ball se­ri­ously.”

Role change

When con­sid­er­ing sign­ing McGee dur­ing the sum­mer of 2016, Kerr did not har­bor con­cerns about McGee’s se­ri­ous­ness to­ward his job. He had ques­tions about McGee’s dura­bil­ity. Af­ter talk­ing with Dal­las coach Rick Carlisle about McGee’s lone sea­son there (2015-16), Kerr was will­ing to take a chance so long as he played McGee in spurts. So, the War­riors in­vited McGee to train­ing camp on a non-guar­an­teed deal.

McGee re­ceived healthy scratches in three of the War­riors’ first seven games

of 2016-17. Kerr then in­creased McGee’s role off the bench for matchup pur­poses. He soon liked how McGee’s ath­leti­cism gave the War­riors a con­trast to start­ing cen­ter Zaza Pachu­lia, whom Kerr calls “a burly, phys­i­cal guy.”

“Once I went to him, he gave us that dif­fer­ent di­men­sion,” Kerr said. “I fig­ured out how to use him. He’s been great ever since.”

And since then, McGee has ac­cepted his role. This sea­son, he has logged dou­ble-digit min­utes in three games when Kerr needed McGee’s size and ath­leti­cism. McGee has also re­ceived two healthy scratches when the matchups were geared to­ward the op­po­nents’ smaller line­ups.

“You def­i­nitely have to hum­ble your­self a lit­tle bit, just be­cause we’re com­peti­tors. We want to play,” McGee said. “But you can’t com­plain on a win­ning team. I un­der­stand if we were los­ing and I’m think­ing, ‘I can help.’ But we’re a part of a win­ning sys­tem.”

As Kerr noted, “If he was in his third year, he would be frus­trated right now.” But with McGee in his 10th NBA sea­son, Kerr be­lieves that “JaVale found the right en­vi­ron­ment.”

So in­stead of com­plain­ing, McGee has re­spect­fully asked Kerr, “What can I do to stay on the floor against small teams?” While Kerr has promised, “I’ll give you a chance,” McGee has promised to di­ver­sify his game.

He has worked on his mid-range and 3-point shoot­ing, hop­ing he can stretch the floor. He has stud­ied video so he can be­come bet­ter equipped at guard­ing front­court play­ers

who come in all shapes and sizes.

This past off­sea­son, McGee also be­came ve­gan so he can main­tain his listed 7-foot-0, 270-pound frame, agility and ath­leti­cism. Beyond fight­ing temp­ta­tions dur­ing the War­riors’ week­long trip in China, McGee re­ported hav­ing no is­sues stay­ing away from meat while typ­i­cally eat­ing cau­li­flower, rice and ve­gan burg­ers. In a re­cent ap­pear­ance for “Kaiser Fit for Life,” McGee out­lined the im­por­tance to el­e­men­tary school chil­dren about the im­por­tance in not con­sum­ing soft drinks.

“I’m in tip-top shape right now,” McGee said. “I plan on play­ing un­til I can’t play any­more.”

And even when he has not played, McGee has served as a pos­i­tive ex­am­ple to other play­ers who have in­con­sis­tent roles. He has of­ten talked with Young and se­cond-year guard Pa­trick McCaw about ac­cept­ing that re­al­ity, while striv­ing for im­prove­ment.

“Han­dling his sit­u­a­tion is great to see,” McCaw said. “To sac­ri­fice and be a part of some­thing spe­cial, you re­ally see a guy’s true char­ac­ter.”

Light­en­ing the mood

Young also saw McGee’s char­ac­ter emerge af­ter the War­riors won the 2017 NBA cham­pi­onship. Dur­ing the off­sea­son, McGee drove up in a May­bach out­side of Young’s home in Los An­ge­les and bragged about his first NBA ti­tle.

“I def­i­nitely pulled up on him talk­ing stuff,” McGee said. “But I have to do that; I won an NBA cham­pi­onship. There’s a lot of great play­ers who don’t. It was

def­i­nitely a pos­i­tive thing.”

The War­riors also see it as a pos­i­tive that McGee adds ex­tra spice to their cham­pi­onship recipe.

“It’s good to have some­one like that on your team, es­pe­cially when it’s a long year,” Thompson said. “Things can get mun­dane as far as the rou­tine. To have some­one who is joy­ful as he is ev­ery day, he en­joys be­ing part of a win­ning group, that’s huge. That re­ally can’t be mea­sured in any box score and con­tract. But we see it. The coaches see it.”

The coaches saw that no­tably when McGee made a play­ful joke at the ex­pense of War­riors as­sis­tant coach Ron Adams.

Be­fore Adams de­liv­ered a long pregame speech last sea­son, McGee had writ­ten the word “pleonasm” on the white board. Even for a War­riors team that prides it­self on be­ing in­tel­lec­tu­ally cu­ri­ous, few knew the word’s def­i­ni­tion. The War­riors soon found out “pleonasm” is a fancier word for “re­dun­dancy.”

“It’s just my per­son­al­ity,” McGee said. “I’m a se­ri­ous guy. But es­pe­cially if I know ev­ery­body, if we’re all friends, then I’m a goofy guy and a funny per­son. So stuff comes to my head and I’m not afraid to say it. That’s why I’m funny. I’m not the ‘Go look up jokes’ per­son.”

In­stead, McGee is a per­son the War­riors see of­fer­ing a dose of laughs and hus­tle plays. He does that all with a smile on his face, re­gard­less of what his on­court role en­tails.

“I love JaVale,” Kerr said. “He brings so much to our team in a lot of dif­fer­ent ways.”

NHAT V. MEYER — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The War­riors’ JaVale McGee is look­ing to ex­pand his game so he can play more against op­pos­ing team’s smaller line­ups.

NHAT V. MEYER — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

A star of so­cial me­dia, JaVale McGee films a scene from McGee’s Park­ing Lot Chron­i­cles, above. McGee and Kevin Du­rant pose af­ter get­ting their 2017 NBA cham­pi­onship ring on Oct. 17.

EZRA SHAW — GETTY IM­AGES

Dray­mond Green, JaVale McGee and Stephen Curry smile on the bench in the fi­nal mo­ments of a vic­tory dur­ing the 2016-17 cham­pi­onship sea­son.

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