Interview: C.J. Watson of the Chicago Bulls Talks Hoops

words & interview // Brandon Richard

When boarding a plane in Miami back in July of 2010, C.J. Watson received news that would change his life forever. After two years of speculation and uncertainty, the Golden State Warriors agreed to trade him to the Chicago Bulls. The drastic change in scenery would not only give C.J. a fresh start, but an opportunity to contend for an NBA Championship. While his journey certainly isn’t complete, the former Tennessee standout that worked his way through European and Developmental leagues to get to the NBA has come full circle.

For C.J. joining the Bulls organization couldn’t have come at a better time. Those mid-2000s “Baby Bulls” teams were solid, but this year’s Thibodeau-led group is the best we’ve seen since ‘you know who‘ exited the United Center. He also has the task of backing up the guy we assume will be named league MVP within the next week or so. His role has changed from the Golden State days. The minutes aren’t always there, and because of that, the double-digit scoring averaging from a year ago has decreased. However, he’s playing a vital role on a team that’s winning a bunch of games, and he’s more than willing to embrace that role if it means walking off the court victorious.

Speaking of embracing roles, there’s a group of reserves in Chicago that have taken it to the next level. Players like C.J., Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson, all talented in their own right, have formed what is known as the “Bench Mob.” The energetic group that plays with a lot of heart and hustle has not only helped Chicago obtain the league’s best record, but they’re as equally loved in the United Center as the starting 5.

Off the court, C.J. is still pushing forth with his Quiet Storm Foundation. In addition to basketball, playing in a major city has also created new opportunities for Quiet Storm. The foundation hosted a Vegas Nights event at the Chicago Cultural Center back in January, with proceeds benefiting three local schools. Additionally, C.J. and Quiet Storm hosted his annual Black History Essay Contest, participated in by students from both Chicago and his hometown of Las Vegas. The contest was highlighted by a luncheon ceremony for all of the kids, including groups flown in from Vegas.

I was recently able to catch up with C.J. and ask a few questions about the Chicago Bulls season and all of the changes going on in his life. In addition to the interview, I was given some information that will excite Bulls fans everywhere. In association with Quiet Storm, C.J. is giving away two tickets to Chicago’s Eastern Conference Semi-Finals game against the Atlanta Hawks. Entering is simple: just head over to the contest giveaway page, make a $10 or more contribution to the Quiet Storm Foundation and a winner will be chosen at random to attend Game 2 on Wednesday night. Winners may also receive the chance to meet C.J. after the game.

Make sure you enter for a chance to win and check out my interview with C.J. below. Stick with Eastbay for a second part where C.J. chats with us about sneakers as well.

Brandon Richard:  Heading to Chicago, you knew you were going to a good situation. How soon did you realize that the Bulls could be a threat for the overall best record in the league and a legit contender for an NBA Championship?
C.J. Watson: I think it didn’t come until like mid-season, maybe January or February, when we had our whole team and everyone was healthy and playing. Then we realized we could compete with any and everyone in this league.

BR: Tom Thibodeau is certainly one of the most vocal coaches in the league. Behind the animated sideline behavior is a guy who is quickly gaining respect as one of the NBA’s best coaches. What’s one thing he taught you this season that you think has made you a better player?
CJ: He taught me about preparation and always being ready. He is the most prepared coach I have ever had as far as getting his players prepared [and] making sure we know all the opponents’ plays, coverages and calls. He also tells me to be ready and stay ready, because you never know what can happen at any given moment.

BR:  Chicago’s reserves, including yourself, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson, have assumed identity of “Bench Mob.” How did that nickname come about?
CJ: We started playing well, and everyone said we needed a nickname. I stole it from my college teammates at Tennessee. They called themselves the “Bench Mob,” and I remembered it one day, and it has stuck with us ever since.

BR: Individually, you’re all guys who could probably start and put up numbers on lesser NBA squads. What is it about the Bulls’ culture right now that is making it so easy for you all to play your roles and embrace the challenge of holding court for the starting five?
CJ: We all want the bigger prize at the end. We all know we can be good players in this league and can start on any other team, but in order for us to have a shot at the championship, we have to sacrifice something while still playing major roles and doing what we do on the court.

BR: After playing a year in Chicago, what did you find was the biggest difference between the city and your time in the Golden State?
CJ: The traffic in Chicago is horrible. Sometimes I’ll be sitting in traffic on the way to the game and I’ll think, “Why did I drive? I should’ve just rode with someone else.” The traffic is that bad sometimes.

BR: You’ve gone from battling your way out of European ball and the D-League, to being part of an NBA team that finishes the season with the best record in the league. Obviously there’s still a long way to go before you can sit back and fully reflect on your journey, but how does it feel to be playing meaningful playoff basketball for such a storied franchise?
CJ: It’s great and fulfilling at the same time. The journey is what makes winning and being successful so fun. For all of the hard work you put in to pay off is a great feeling, but there’s still a lot more to be done this year and in life before I can sit back and reflect on a great career.

BR: The Quiet Storm Foundation has been presented with a lot of new opportunities since your arrival in Chicago. The Vegas Nights Fundraiser back in January was a huge success. Where can we expect to see you and Quiet Storm this summer?
CJ: A lot of new opportunities have presented themselves for my foundation in Chicago and in other cities as well. In July, the Quiet Storm Foundation will be hosting a free basketball camp for about 300 kids in Las Vegas. There will also be a back-to-school event in August for kids in Las Vegas. Mostly everything will happen in Las Vegas this summer, because that’s where I’m from.

BR: You recently celebrated Birthday number 27. What’d you wish for?
CJ: I really didn’t wish for anything, but if I did, I would probably wish for health, strength and just thank God for another year to be alive. I would probably also wish for a championship in June, too!!!

Interview: C.J. Watson of the Chicago Bulls Talks Hoops