words & interview_Brandon Richard
The road to the NBA wasn’t an easy one for C.J. Watson. After four great years at the University of Tennessee, he went undrafted in the 2006 NBA Draft. Refusing to give up on his dream, he stayed sharp by playing professionally in Italy and Greece before returning to the United States in 2007 as part of the NBA Developmental League’s Rio Grade Valley Vipers. Impressing GMs across the league, Watson landed a 10-day deal with the Golden State Warriors in November of 2008 and hasn’t looked back since.
His hard work has paid off. In each of his first three NBA seasons, he has seen increases in scoring, assists, rebounds, steals and his field goal percentage. When given the opportunity to start, C.J. was one of the more productive players on the court, including a 40-point outburst against the Sacramento Kings in February. However, Golden State’s logjam at guard made it tough for C.J. to find a consistent role on the team.
Knowing that, several teams got on the phone and made calls to Golden State GM Larry Riley in an attempt to acquire the restricted free agent via trade. After reportedly being highly pursued by the Orlando Magic for two years, it was another budding young team that was able to complete a deal. In July, the Chicago Bulls added to their eventful offseason by acquiring Watson in a trade. With the move, C.J. now has the opportunity to play with other All-Star caliber players, be part of a storied organization and most importantly, compete for an NBA Championship.
We caught up with C.J. again at the Hoops for Hope event in his hometown of Las Vegas last weekend. Hoops for Hope is run by Watson’s Quiet Storm Foundation and teaches young kids both on-court and life skills. There, he took a few minutes to talk to us about giving back, his new opportunity in Chicago, and his growing popularity on Twitter.
Brandon Richard: The last time we caught up with you, you were kicking off your Hoops for Hope program in Tennessee. This weekend, the program moves to your hometown of Las Vegas. How does it feel to return home and be in a position to give back to the community you grew up in? And can we expect Hoops for Hope to expand to other cities as well?
C.J. Watson: It feels great to be back home and back in the heat; I missed it. It feels good to be back with my family, friends and friends of the family. Just to be in a position to give back to the community where I grew up – I couldn’t have pictured it any better than this. Yes, our goal is to get Hoops for Hope basketball camps in more than just Las Vegas and Tennessee. Hopefully, we can get it in at least four or five major cities every summer and help other communities out as well.
This summer, you were traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Chicago Bulls. Rumors about you moving to another team because of the logjam at guard in Golden State have been out there for a couple years. What was your reaction when you finally got that call telling you that you were traded?
Well, I was excited. I first heard about it when I was on the airplane going back home from Miami, and I had the entire plane ride to just think about the new situation I was going to. My wish was if I were moved, I’d go to a playoff-caliber team with a chance to win. The Bulls are a young team that’s been to the playoffs a few years in a row, and I couldn’t ask for a better team to go to.
With all due respect to your former teammates in Golden State, you’re now in a position where you play for a team that has realistic expectations to contend for a championship. The passionate Chicago fans, the big-game atmosphere, multiple All-Star teammates – what does it mean to you to have the opportunity to show what you can do on a big stage now?
The opportunity is something I dreamed about growing up as a kid – watching Michael Jordan and those Bulls win title after title. Hopefully, we can bring that same buzz back to the United Center and bring a championship back to the city, because I know the fans are eager to see it back in Chicago.
Growing up in the ’90s, you certainly saw the legacy that Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen created in Chicago. They completed their second three-peat in the building you’ll now call home. What do you remember most about those great ’90s Bulls teams?
That they were winners most of all, and they won as a team. They had the greatest player ever to play, and he had other great players around, but most of all they won and they did it on defense, and sometimes it seemed so easy to them.
This summer, Scottie Pippen was brought back to the Bulls as the team’s ambassador. Have you had a chance to speak with him yet? If so, what kind of things did you talk about. If not, do you plan on picking his brain about a few things in the future?
I haven’t had a chance to meet him yet, but I’m looking forward to meeting Scottie. I’m probably going to ask him about the city and how he liked it. Also, playing with Jordan and how it felt winning six championships.
Of course, we’re going to have to talk about sneakers a little bit. Since making the move, have you had any time to think about what new styles you’d like to wear in the Chicago colorway for the upcoming season? Is there a chance we’ll see you break out Air Jordans this year?
My favorite color is red, so I’m excited that I get to wear my favorite color all the time now. I have a few tricks up my sleeve on the sneaker game this season. Hopefully they come through and it will be able to work. I’ve thought about wearing some Jordans this year. I’m a Nike guy, and I hear if you wear Jordans, Nike gets pretty mad at you. But I’ll try to do it without getting in trouble. Unless Jordan wants to outright sponsor me; I’m always up for that!
For a player that has seemingly been under the radar, you have quite a following on Twitter. To put things in perspective, you have more followers than players like Chris Paul, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, to name a few. How have you become such a rock star on Twitter, and what do you like about having an open line of communication with your fans?
I honestly don’t know how I did it. I’m still shocked to this day, but it’s a good way to stay in touch with the fans, for the fans to know your thoughts and help a guy like me get my name out there. Also, to let my fans or any anyone else know about things I do in the community. So all in all, it’s a good look.
You can see what the buzz is all about by following C.J. Watson on Twitter. Also become a fan of the Quiet Storm Foundation on Facebook for updates on C.J.’s work in the community, as well as cool contests and giveaways. His official site, cjwatson32.com, will launch later this year.
C.J. meets and signs autographs for some of the fans and camp participants.
The University of Las Vegas Rebels Softball Team stopped by to support the Hoops for Hope event.