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 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.”
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.”
The Warriors’ JaVale McGee is looking to expand his game so he can play more against opposing team’s smaller lineups.
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.
Draymond Green, JaVale McGee and Stephen Curry smile on the bench in the final moments of a victory during the 2016-17 championship season.