MikeCheck: ‘Checking In’ during NBA hiatus with Grizzlies forward Justise Winslow
The NBA has been on hiatus for more than a month as league players, team officials and fans continue to cope with the global Coronavirus health crisis.
But for the Grizzlies and the league’s 29 other teams, the business and spirit of the game forge ahead as franchises make an impact in their communities during these challenging times. When the season was suspended March 11, Memphis was positioned to make the playoffs for the first time in three years as one of the NBA’s youngest and most rapidly improving teams.
And at the time, forward Justise Winslow was set to make his Grizzlies debut after being acquired at the February trade deadline and completing rehab from a lingering back injury.
The first round of the playoffs were scheduled to start last week, and Winslow was on path to add a major boost alongside young cornerstones Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant. So whenever the season resumes, count on the Grizzlies to be healthy and ready.
Meanwhile, the organization continues to prioritize the health, safety and security of the region it calls home. Grind City Media uses this space each week to ‘Check In’ with the Grizzlies, their biggest fans and the community as they endure this hiatus together.
This week’s ‘Check In’ is with Winslow, who recently partnered with the Mid-South Food Bank to feed Shelby County residents in need as he grows acclimated to his new team and NBA town.
Grind City Media: When season stopped you were set to return to NBA game action. How tough was it mentally and physically to be on the cusp of coming back and now having to endure another long wait?
Winslow: More so early on, the injury and how things were handled, I think that was more frustrating when I was with the Heat, than what just happened. It’s easier to keep perspective when it’s something like this going on. I really won’t say I was upset. I wanted to play really badly, and I still do. But I have good perspective about what’s going on, and that kind of helps me deal with it. For the most part, everyone is planning for the season to be saved. So I should still get my opportunity to keep that playoff position and do some damage in the playoffs.
GCM: You’ve put in the work with the Grizzlies training staff and performance team to get back to peak condition before the stay-at-home mandates disrupted normal workouts. Where are you physically right now, and will you be able to pick right up when team facilities re-open?
Winslow: Yeah, that’s the plan. I’m pain-free and symptom-free. So I plan to get right back into the swing of things when everything resumes.
GCM: When the Grizzlies acquired you from Miami at the trade deadline, front-office executives and coach Taylor Jenkins talked about the dynamic versatility you would add to this roster. What was your perspective on hearing that when you first arrived?
Winslow: I’m always going to believe in myself and what I’m capable of. At the end of the day, I’m a versatile, winning playmaker and I think that’s something this team can use. I’m just looking forward to being able to gel with these guys.
GCM: There was some talk around the team about you buying a basketball court at home during the hiatus. We’ve also seen some videos on social media of you shooting and working out in what looks like a driveway or an alley alongside your home. Have you been balling?
Winslow: My brother went and got a hoop here in Miami when all of this started, when I was still in Memphis. And just growing up, I used to make up all of these storylines and game scenarios in my head. So it’s the same when I’m out there now. I was out there, and in my mind it’s the Grizzlies versus the Cincinnati Grasshoppers. I would always shoot for both teams, and the games would always be on the line. And there would be timeouts or foul calls, just to put myself in those situations. I’ve been doing that since forever, just playing outside and creating these storylines and announcing the games. That’s just who I am. I love basketball. I love to put crazy moments on the line. So when they really happen, it’s like I’ve already sort of been there.
GCM: Let me get this straight. You created the Cincinnati Grasshoppers as an expansion team? You play for both sides during these mental challenge games you’re acting out on your court?
Winslow: Yeah, the Cincinnati Grasshoppers (laughs).
GCM: Man, that’s awesome. You’re in your fifth year as an NBA player, but these are moments that remind fans how most players were just like everyone else. They grew up playing make-believe games in the backyard or on playground hoops, too.
Winslow: For sure. And definitely since the trade, that love for basketball has come back. It’s always been there. But dealing with the injury and how everything went in Miami, that kind of tarnished a little bit. But just being able to go outside now, playing with my brothers – no coaches, no refs – I’ve been able to find that inner kid and just go out there and have fun.
GCM: You’re also having fun with new teammates exploring different interests outside of basketball. I see you and Jaren Jackson Jr. going back and forth on social media about music you two are creating. You’re also deep in digital media production. How much have you relished being able to use some of this time to expand in those areas?
Winslow: I spend a lot of time doing that. I use that as an outlet, whether it’s music or my photography. It’s my feel and approach, it’s the same on the court as off the court. I kind of use what I’m going through and the emotions of it, I’m writing. It’s an escape for me instead of always tweeting it and telling the whole world, that’s kind of my thing right now. Hopefully me and Jaren can put something out there the people like, but a lot of it is just for me.
GCM: So are you and Jaren a better collaboration on the court or in the studio?
Winslow: Believe it or not, on the court is going to be better. But when you hear the off-the-court stuff we’ve been doing, you’re going to be (surprised), like, ‘Ain’t no way!’
GCM: You also have a unique perspective on another new teammate. Coming to Memphis from Miami, you’ve partnered with two of the NBA’s breakout rookies in Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant and Heat guard Kendrick Nunn. They’ve had a competitive exchange on who should be Rookie of the Year, although Ja has been the clear frontrunner for the award this season. Having seen both up close, how would you describe their respective games and mentality?
Winslow: I got the chance to play with Kendrick when I was 16 on the USA Under-17 team, and even then, Kendrick was a dog. He’d pick up full court and was a pest for the other team’s point guards. Offensively, he was doing the same thing back then that he’s doing now – scoring on all three levels, playmaking. So when he got on the Heat, I knew what he was capable of. His opportunity came as the preseason went on and he made the most of it. He held it down and he earned that position. With Ja, it’s a completely different situation what he’s doing at age 20.
It’s an eye-opener, and that’s something big that separates them. Ja is leading his team. He’s the guy. He’s got the highest usage rate. He’s doing all of this at 20 years old. You see the dunks. You see the handles. And you see and know exactly what that kid is able to do.
GCM: Each week, your teammates and coaches connect on video conference calls to see how everyone is managing to get through this challenging time. How therapeutic and entertaining and essential have those moments been, especially being a new player on a young team?
Winslow: It’s great for us. We were with each other a lot during the season, especially on the road. At home, we were always at the facility. And on team planes, we’re together. That’s a big emotional part that’s been missing right now, being around each other like that. We like hanging out so much. But the conference calls have been cool. We get on there, we joke around, we play games, we do trivia. It’s just nice to see everybody laugh and smile, especially for me as I try to keep building relationships with these guys.
GCM: If you had a chance to speak with NBA commissioner Adam Silver one-on-one to offer player insight and perspective on how best to resume the season, what would you say?
Winslow: First, I’d say I’m no expert, first of all. But it feels like the best thing, when the time is right – I don’t know when that is, July or August or whenever it is people are saying – we’ll be isolated while playing. But I’d say let’s do it as soon as possible, as soon as we can have a healthy relationship to begin with the fans and playing in front of them. That’s what I’m for. I want to finish the season. I really want to earn that eighth seed and really go from there. We’re not running from nothing. We want to make the playoffs, and that’s the main thing.
GCM: And for Grizzlies fans, from those seated courtside to the nosebleed sections, what’s your message as they look forward to your first game in a Grizzlies uniform once all of this is over?
Winslow: Just pray, stay smart and stay healthy. Do everything they’re telling us to do. And when this thing resumes and the Grizz get back out there, it’s going to be a lot of fun. Believe me. For right now, everyone’s health is the priority. But when this thing gets rolling, it’ll be fun. This year, next year, a couple of years from now, hold onto that. Stay patient and trust that.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.