After spending time in the NBA G-league, representing the Raptors 905, 10-year NBA veteran Jodie Meeks says he rediscovered his love for the game. It was being surrounded by players that wanted nothing more than to make it to the league — no politics, behind-the-scenes drama, or meretricious social media posts; it was simply basketball.
“I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. There were a lot of young guys, and obviously, I’m getting a bit older, but I had a good time. It was nice to share my knowledge, and those guys worked really hard. To be able to get in the trenches with them brought back the love of the game for me, just remembering what it was like trying to make it to the league.”Jodie Meeks
Meeks, 34, relished the opportunity to imbue in the young players around him the same nuggets of wisdom that were passed onto him by his veterans back in 2009. It is having a routine, Meeks explained, that is pertinent to having longevity in the NBA. Regardless of how monotonous it may seem at the start, it should behoove every player to form repetition, as it will pay dividends in the long run.
“When I came into the league I had great mentorship from guys like Michael Redd, Elton Brand and Andre Igoudala. They taught me the importance of having a routine and I passed that on to these guys. Whether that’s how you eat, sleep, or what time you get to the gym — just have some type of routine because that will take you a long way. It might not work the first couple of days but over the course of the year you’ll see the importance of getting up 100 shots before practice.”Jodie Meeks
The 2019 NBA champion is poised for a return to the NBA. Meeks is still one of the preeminent shooters in the association and has a stout defensive presence. However, it is his veteran leadership and battle-tested DNA that make him one of the most portable free agents on the market. The former Kentucky Wildcat has ostensibly filled every role in the NBA; everything from being a starter or sixth man on elite teams to role player and mentor on rebuilding squads — Meeks has experienced it all.
He may not be putting people on posters as he did in college, but he assured me, with a chuckle, that his floater game is on point.
“I bring a high level of professionalism and I’m battle-tested. Obviously, my ace card is shooting; I’ve always been one of the best at that. I bring a lot of other things to the table, though. I’m an excellent locker room presence and I’m somebody that can mentor younger players, show them the ropes and teach them how to have a long career. A guy with that type of knowledge, whether it’s a coach or a player, is always valuable. I remember being a rookie and looking up to those types of teammates because they did things the right way.
I’ve been through pretty much everything — the 15th man on a roster, starter, even the sixth man; outside the rotation and even traded multiple times. As a mentor, I could help young players through good and bad times. I know what it takes to keep your mind right and stay even keel.”Jodie Meeks
Below, Meeks shares his thoughts on some of his former teams, his experience playing with Kobe Bryant, his post-basketball life and more!
Answers and questions have been edited and condensed for clarity
Q&A With Jodie Meeks
Wenzell Ortiz: You won a ring with the Toronto Raptors in 2019. What was different about that squad compared to every other team you’ve played for in your career?
Jodie Meeks: Everybody was locked in! During the course of a season, ups and downs are inevitable, but this team understood what the ultimate goal was. When it was time to work, we were all locked in. We would make adjustments at the end of games or at halftime, and right away, everybody understood their assignment. In the NBA Finals, we were constantly adjusting for Steph and Klay. In the series before that, we had to build a wall for Giannis and try to stop him from dunking from the free-throw line.
We were great at making adjustments on the fly while also staying locked in. Not every team can do that.
WO: What can you say about the growth and development that you’ve seen from guys like Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby?
JM: I remember when all those guys came into the league. I believe I was in my seventh season when Freddy was drafted. Just to see the development of all those guys is amazing. Freddy and Pascal using the G-League to their advantage is a testament to their work ethic. They all played a big part in our championship run. Pascal was arguably the Finals MVP through the first couple of games, and Freddy showed out in the closeout Game 6. OG was unfortunately hurt, but now he’s playing well.
I’m happy for all three of those guys, and I remember when I was there, I was getting older — I think it was my last season in the league. I was able to give them advice, talk to them about the importance of having a routine, and tell them about what it was like playing with Kobe. It’s nice to rub off on guys, especially when they’re good guys.
WO: Sticking with Pascal for a second. Did you see his jump from role player to All-NBA player coming?
JM: It’s hard to say that you saw it coming, but you saw the talent and potential. He has great size for a big man that is 6’8, to go along with an adept touch around the basket. A lot of guys that are that tall are not as coordinated when dribbling the ball and making plays. So it didn’t surprise me, but I can’t say I saw this much of a jump coming.
I’m definitely happy for him; he’s an All-Star and a champion. When I see him out there, I’m always rooting for him!
WO: What are your thoughts on the Raptors’ first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers?
JM: They competed well, but they had some injuries. OG missed some time before the playoffs, and Freddy was injured throughout the series. When some of your best players are out, it’s hard to win. Guys stepped up and played well, but it’s difficult. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next season.
WO: Do you think the Raptors’ current young core can win a championship in the future?
JM: I think they can. They might have to add a few more pieces, but their core is really good. Scottie Barnes is incredibly talented. His game is similar to Pascal’s, so I think they can form a scary tandem in the future, along with OG and Freddy. I think they need a couple more pieces, but Masai is great at that, as well as the entire front office.
WO: Moving on to your tenure with the Sixers. What do you remember about that 2012 playoff run which saw you guys upset the No. 1-seeded Bulls in the first round?
JM: First off, I wish they didn’t break up our team in Philly because we had a really good team.
But I do remember that the Bulls blew us out in Game 1. They were up by like 25 late in the game, and that’s when Derrick Rose, unfortunately, messed his knee up. There was a silence that swept over the United Center. You never want to see anybody get hurt, and that was a tough blow for sure. As the opposing team, though, we had to stay locked in because they were still a very good team without Rose.
We were able to push through and take that series. Against Boston, they had beaten us like every time in the regular season, but we were still confident. We were a young team, so our game plan was to play fast and not allow them to set up their defense. It was a battle every single night, and it came down to Game 7. We were up by like four with three minutes left in the fourth, and we all looked around like, ‘we about to go to the Conference Finals.’ We just couldn’t execute and get over the hump, though, and they could. Their championship DNA was on full display, something that we didn’t have.
WO: How good would that Sixers squad have been if it stayed together?
JM: I think we would have been a top-three team in the East. At the time, we were better than Indiana, who battled Miami in the Conference Finals twice. I think we would have been just as good or better than them. They would have had to pay some guys, though: Thad Young, Lou Will, Jrue Holiday, myself. Paying everybody would have been tough, but who’s to say that some people wouldn’t have taken less to keep the team together.
To break it up was disappointing for me because that was my first opportunity to start and get a real taste of the league. I thought I was going to be there for a long time, but that’s just the business of basketball.
WO: What have you thought about James Harden this postseason?
JM: I think James is a great player; clearly, he’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I think he might be injured or simply focusing on getting his teammates involved since he is back at the point guard position. I still think he can average 30 whenever he wants to; he just wants to get everybody involved. Winning solves everything, so that’s ultimately what matters.
WO: Do you believe that the tandem of James Harden and Joel Embiid can deliver a championship to the City of Brotherly Love?
JM: I think it’s possible. Joel Embiid is the best center in the world, and he just has to stay healthy. Apart from him, they definitely have the team to do it. James knows he has to play better, but they have time.
WO: You spent two seasons with the Lakers. What was it like playing with the late, great Kobe Bryant and being around him day in and day out?
JM: He was a great teammate. When I first got to LA, he took me under his wing, and I would work out with him and even get dinner with him. His aura was unbelievable. When he enters the room, everybody knows. Everything from his leadership to his work ethic was something that you looked up to. I learned a lot from being a teammate of his and battling him in practices. I thought I worked hard, but he was over the top. He motivates you in ways you may not even realize.
WO: Would you be open to reuniting with the Lakers? If so, what would you add to the purple and gold?
JM: Most definitely. I really enjoyed my two years with the Lakers, so reuniting would be something that I’d be more than happy to do. Aside from being a great locker room presence, I can clearly add shooting, and I’m also a hard-nosed defender. I can come in and give that extra effort off the bench that everybody saw they needed last season. Every team can use a shooter that can make shots for their superstars.
WO: If you had to point to one main issue with the Lakers last season, what would it be?
JM: I think injuries were a big part of it. It’s not fair to point to one thing or one person. A lot of things happen in an 82-game season. They had some personnel issues that didn’t fit the puzzle, and particular guys didn’t play that well. I’m not going to name anybody because it’s not important. I know that they want to play better, but they also have to get the most out of their personnel.
Hopefully, next year will be a different story because Lakers nation is very passionate. That’s another reason that I love playing there; the fans are incredibly loyal. I know they’re ready for another championship.
WO: What is the most passionate fan base that you’ve played for in your career?
JM: Philly fans are definitely very passionate, but they can also be on the dark side. They always respected how hard I played, so I never had a problem with them. Fortunately, we were winning, too, because they can be tough when you’re not. Lakers fans are great as well. I had my career season there. Then there’s Toronto: they have a whole country behind them.
The most passionate is hard to say, but since I won a chip in Toronto, I’ll give it to them, with the Lakers slightly behind.
WO: You spent time in the Big 3 league back in 2021. What was it like?
JM: I was looking for something to do, basketball-wise, so I decided to play in the Big 3 last summer. It was a great decision for me because it gave me a chance to see where my game was after a couple of years of not playing. The competition was great, playing against former NBA players, overseas guys, and G-League players. The most important thing for me was the comradery because you miss that once you’re out of the league.
I didn’t expect the league to be as physical as it was, but it made sense because of the half-court setting. Guys were checking each other a little harder on down screens because of the tight spaces, and that added to the overall competition level. Which I loved.
I wish we could’ve made the playoffs, but we’re running it back with myself, Leandro Barbosa, and Will McDonald.
WO: What have you thought about your career thus far, and what do you want to be remembered as?
JM: I played 10 seasons in the league, and I feel like I overachieved. I was drafted in the second round. Should’ve been a first-round pick but ultimately was not. So I want to be remembered as someone who got the most out of themselves, showed up to work every day, and never cheated the game. I was always asking my teammates how I could get better and appreciated any advice I could get. When I first came into the league, I just wanted to be respected by my veterans and peers, and working hard was the only way to earn that. I feel as if I accomplished that.
If I don’t play another game in the league, it’s okay because I had a pretty good career.
WO: Every player has a story about getting their you-know-what kicked as a rookie. Who was that player for you, and what do you remember about that matchup?
JM: I would say Ray Allen, a guy that I actually mirrored my game after. I remember it being one of those nights that he couldn’t miss. He only dropped 30, but it was an easy 30. As a competitor, it’s always hard to have someone go off on you, but at least I can say it was by a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I was pretty mad at my teammates for not helping out, though.
WO: What does post-basketball life look like for you?
JM: Right now, I’m just chilling, playing a lot of golf, and working out. If I get a call, I’ll be ready to go. I remember back in the G-League, people were saying, ‘aw man, you’re 34 years old.’ I’m actually in the same high school class as KD, Stephen Curry, and Russell Westbrook. So I don’t think that I’m washed up; I know I can still help an NBA team. It’s not like I’m 45 years old.
WO: Do you see coaching in your future?
JM: It could happen. I know I could give back a lot to the game, especially to younger players. I’ve been through pretty much everything. The 15th man on a roster, a starter, even the sixth man, outside the rotation, and even traded multiple times. As a coach or mentor, I could help young players through good and bad times. I know what it takes to keep your mind right and stay even keel.
Meeks last played for the Toronto Raptors in 2019, where he helped them win their first championship in franchise history. The 34-year-old is currently an unrestricted free agent and will be playing in the Big 3 this summer.