East Rutherford, NJ — Character. Probably the quality most sought after when teams are filling out their roster with role players, and probably one of the most overused. And yet, with Eduardo Najera, it fits.
After four years at Oklahoma, the Mexican-born Najera was selected by Houston No. 38 overall in the 2000 NBA Draft. Najera's rights were immediately traded to Dallas, where he carved out a niche filled with defense and rebounding prowess. Trades sent the forward to Golden State and then
Denver, and after 3 ½ years as a Nugget, Najera joined the Nets as a free agent.
We spoke with Najera about basketball, watching copious amounts of game film and his heritage. It’s time to Know a Net!
NJNets.com: What’s your first basketball memory?
Eduardo Najera: I’ve got too many of them. My best basketball memory was when I started against Karl Malone in the NBA. That’s what it is. When I was really young, a rookie, they gave me that job.
NJNets.com: You played baseball through high school. When did you make the switch to basketball?
Najera: I grew about five or six inches in one summer and started playing basketball. I fell in love with the game and haven’t stopped ever since.
NJNets.com: Who most encouraged you as a basketball player?
Najera: My coaches. Every coach that I had, they pushed me to get better. They told me about the opportunities that I had, and if I was committed to the game and had the passion, they knew I’d become a pretty good player. So I owe it all to my coaches.
NJNets.com: Was there any stop you’re most proud of?
Najera: Oh yeah, Minnesota in the First Round (2001-02): KG and me. My second year in the league, they gave me that challenge. I took it seriously and we came in and swept them and I thought I did a good job on him defensively.
NJNets.com: How do you defend a player like him, who’s so tall and agile?
Najera: He’s a superstar, and he’s great. Back then, he was young, he’s a different player now. Right now, we’ve got other guys that can guard him, that’s the best thing about it. It was the toughest thing. I just locked down on defense and didn’t even think about offense.
NJNets.com: What’s the biggest shot you’ve ever hit?
Najera: I’ve done a winning shot once against Golden State, with Dallas. Down the stretch, I’ve done key shots, three-point shots, dunks in the playoffs. The most important thing to me, that I’ve done, are stops on defense. That’s what I’m about. That’s where you win the game: big rebounds, big defensive stops and big loose balls.
NJNets.com: What’s your gameday routine?
Najera: I like being here really early, at the arena really early. If the game’s 7:30 (p.m.), I’ll be as early as 4:15, 4:30 at the latest. If it’s 7, then 3:45-4. I like getting a lot of shots up before the game. Then, I like hanging out in the locker room, either listening to some music or watching video. Whatever it is, I like getting prepared before the game. And that’s really my routine. I come in and rest a little bit, but I’ll be watching, trying to concentrate on the game.
NJNets.com: What’s the best way to relax after a game?
Najera: Different things – it depends on how your body feels. But always, a good meal helps; that, and going home. Watch some more film if you have time. Otherwise, go back to the wife and kids and relax. Forget about the game.
NJNets.com: More tape? What do you do when you’re not watching film?
Najera: [Laughs] It happens a lot, we don’t play every day. I like eating, a lot. And I like sleeping a lot as well. And hanging out with my family.
NJNets.com: You’re the second Mexican-born player in NBA history. What’s it like being in a position where so many people look to you as a representative of their culture?
Najera: It’s a great feeling. It is a big responsibility, but all you have to do is be yourself. The way you were raised and your education plays a big role in it, but you have to be yourself. I think that’s the most important thing, not to be somebody else, a fake somebody, where people can see one thing and the next day you’re doing something else. I think that we all are role models and that’s very important to know, to accept that role in the community and do it the right way.
NJNets.com: You do a lot of community work here and in Mexico. What are your current projects?
Najera: Right now, I’ve got a basketball league (in Mexico) that is going really well. That’s the most important thing right now for me. I do have a foundation, but I think the league can be something special. I’m going to dedicate a lot of time to it.
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