Jordan Farmar has been on quite a basketball ride over the last six years, as his point guard skills took him from repeat championships with the Lakers to New Jersey, Israel, Turkey and now back home to his native Los Angeles.
The 27-year-old is hoping to return from a torn left hamstring on Christmas; he spent some time with Lakers.com in San Francisco over the weekend, detailing his experiences and outlining his journey:
Mike Trudell: How did you end up going from winning two rings with the Lakers and playing for the Nets to professional stints in Israel and Turkey, and what stands out as you reflect upon the experience?
Jordan Farmar: It started with the lockout, giving me something to do instead of just waiting for the NBA to start up. I wanted to play at a high level professionally, so I went to Israel and had the time of my life. I had an American coach (David Blatt), and Tel Aviv is like Miami, right on the beach. They speak English there, they love basketball and the experience was amazing. It opened my eyes to a different world. Playing well in Israel really raised my stock in the European market, and opened my mind to playing a full season there (in theory). I came back to the Nets and had a really good year*, and ended up negotiating a buyout after opting into the final year of my contract and getting some money out of it while still being a free agent. A Turkish team called Anadolu Efes gave me a great deal and it was achance for me to grow. They asked me to do what I did in Israel. Istanbul is a great, international city that spans two continents, half in Asia and half in Europe with a bridge that separates the two sides. I’d played against them while I was in Israel, and that got things started.
*Farmar averaged 10.4 points and 3.3 assists on 46.7 percent shooting and 44.0 percent on three’s for the Nets in 39 games (2011-12).
MT: You lit them up, obviously…
Farmar: Yeah, I played well, and that put my stock pretty high. But Anadolu Efes is like the Budweiser of Europe, a big club that always paid on time, so I wasn’t worried about that. They had nice facilities, a medical staff and everything was at a high level, so that made the decision to leave the NBA easier. But I did leave myself an out in my contract to go back to the NBA every season if I so chose. It was kind of a win-win for me. I got a chance to expand my game and really be a focal point of an organization at the same time as gaining a new life experience living in a different country.
MT: I’m not sure there are a ton of American NBA players who would willingly play a season in Turkey when the NBA was an option. Why?
Farmar: I have a lot of confidence in my own abilities, and I felt like I’d created a market in the NBA where I’d have a job. People know I can play. So worst case scenario, I’d be able to get a job in the NBA after six years, so that wasn’t my concern in terms of never having that opportunity again. I just really wanted to expand my game.
MT: To that point and even today as you sit here trying to get back from a hamstring pull, you haven’t had the opportunity in the NBA to be the team’s every-night starting point guard. That must have factored in?
Farmar: It’s different having a team, where everything you do every night is your call. You’re out there 30 or 35 minutes a night, they run every play for you, you have to make a lot of reads and decisions. They need leadership on and off the court. It’s different than just being a guy that comes in and is solid for 20 minutes off the bench in the NBA. In terms of making those strides and learning your game, learning where you can develop, trying new things … it’s just a whole different world. I think I got a little bit of that leaving the Lakers and playing in Jersey in a different type of NBA system, and then I got a lot of that in Israel. I tried to implement that growth in the second half of the lockout season when I came back, and then really got a chance to do it for a whole season in Turkey. That was the biggest thing. I just hadn’t gotten that experience in the NBA.
MT: If you look around the league, there are few teams that don’t have either a “franchise” point guard like Chris Paul or Tony Parker, or a young lottery pick like John Wall or Kyrie Irving that has a stranglehold on the job. Did thatfactor into your decision?
Farmar: Right, and even in New Jersey, where they told me Devin Harris wanted to betraded and they wanted me to come in and do more. They were trying to get Carmelo Anthony at the time, but it didn’t work out and they traded for Deron Williams. If they get Carmelo, that’s probably my job and I’m playing alongside him. That’s just how the league works out. You have to make the decisions in front of you. It’s harder to make a demand for your services when you’re a backup player sometimes unless everyone gets hurt. Look at the Jeremy Lin situation, where he was and how things happened.
MT: Let me rewind to your time abroad. What was it like for a Los Angeles kid living in two such different places?
Farmar: Tel Aviv is almost like an American city, and Israel as a whole to me was a bit of an American satellite in the Middle East. My stepfather who raised me since I was four years old is from Tel Aviv, so his whole family is there and I had a little support system. I was really comfortable, had been there before to visit and do camps and clinics, so it was familiar for me.
MT: As I understand it, both cities are quite cosmopolitan, with – for example – most anything you could want to eat within reach?
Farmar: Right, both have American food, Italian food, Chinese food, whatever. You can eat the traditional dishes from the specific areas, but you also have even the basics like Burger King and McDonalds everywhere, plus fine dining everywhere.
MT: Turkey, of course, is a very different place. What stood out about your time in Istanbul?
Farmar: It’s a huge, Muslim country, and the general population does not speak English. Istanbul is beautiful, but the traffic is worse than L.A. and New York, andit’s unbelievable how many people are there*. There’s no way for the police to get anywhere because of the traffic; their rule is if there’s an accident, you just have to stay there and wait for someone to come. You can’t pull off to the side and deal with it later. Everyone sort of makes their way around even if it’s three hours until the police arrive. The values within the Muslim culture are very different, starting with praying five times a day. Even in our team meetings, there was talk of Allah (the Arabic word for the God of the Islamic faith) blessing us for the game that night. There are other worlds out there, where people live differently, think differently. It’s cool to see that while things are global now, there are still so many differences as you go from place to place.
*Istanbul is the world’s second-largest city in terms of “cities proper” (number of people living within the political boundary, not including the suburbs), with roughly 13.7 million people. Only Shanghai has more (17.8 million). New York ranks 18th with its 8.3 million people, and L.A. 55th with 3.8 million. If you include immediately surrounding areas, L.A. bumps all the way up to around 17.8 million and New York over 20.
MT: Has that understanding benefitted you in the Lakers locker room?
Farmar: Sure, like by being able to talk to coach (Mike) D’Antoni about when he played in Italy, and Pau (Gasol) about playing in Spain and across Europe, and discussing players over there that aren’t known in the States. Most foreign guys in the NBA have to assimilate to American culture and the way basketball is played here, and don’t get to bring a strong sense of their culture into the locker room. Going over there let me know how different it is and provided a wholly different perspective.
MT: What was the best part of your experience in Turkey?
Farmar: My best friend, the best man at my wedding, Josh Shipp, came over to play with me on the team. He’d broken his leg the season before and didn’t have a job, and had previously played for my coach, so I told the organization I thought it’d be a great fit. We ended up picking him up after the first month of the season, and to have my best friend right around the corner from me really helped me through that experience. And that’s part of the reason they brought him over, because I was having a tough time adjusting in the first month or so. That was pretty cool.
The sports culture in the country is built differently. A club is more like a college, where you have all kinds of different sports both men’s and women’s. The fan base is built to support the club no matter what’s going on, and the soccer fans would come to the basketball games just to support their team. It’s like a UCLA fan going to watch water polo but not knowing the sport as well. But we weren’t a club; we were just a basketball team, so we didn’t have that club support in the grand scheme of Istanbul. All the other team’s fans would support us in the EuroLeague because we represented Turkey, but then they’d come hate us and throw batteries when we played their respective clubs. Otherwise, there’s no superstars or favoritism, just a major focus on winning games, period.
MT: Did you ever sense a negative perception of you from later in your first stint with the Lakers, or after you left? That perhaps your confidence was misinterpreted?
Farmar: At the end of the day, I don’t really care. I’m confident in my abilities and I work extremely hard, which is where it comes from. I know what I’m capable of if I put my mind to something. I was always the kind of guy who was raised with an attitude of “Why not you? … If someone else can do it, you can do it.” With anything in life.
MT: Give me an example.
Farmar: I remember being 13 years old in ninth grade and telling my mom I was going to try out for the JV team. She was like, “No you’re not, you’re trying out for the varsity team.” I said that those kids were 18, and I was just starting puberty and was a little kid by comparison. She said, “So what, then maybe you won’t make it, but you’re going to try out for the varsity. You never set your standards low.” It was a, “shoot for the moon and if you miss you’ll land amongst the stars” kind of attitude. I said, “OK,” and I made varsity as a freshman. I decided that I’d never sell myself short. If it doesn’t work out, at least I gave it a shot.
MT: How did that attitude, or just your personality and drive, impact your first stint in L.A.?
Farmar: Some people think that I didn’t like Phil Jackson. I love Phil Jackson. He’s a great coach. He had a system that worked, we won championships together, what else can you ask for from a coach? Just from a personal career standpoint, I was a young point guard playing my set minutes no matter what. I could have an amazing stretch for eight minutes, but I was coming out if there were six minutes left in the game. There was never that next step where I could earn a little bitmore. I had a role, and I embraced it and played it well. But when free agency came up, I would have loved to have stayed, but I wanted to take another step forward. I was 23, and I just wanted to see what I could do in this league.
MT: I’d think if people looked at their own careers, they could understand that.
Farmar: That’s all it was. If the Lakers would have said we’re going to give you five more minutes per game, I’d have been happy with that, but coming off two championships they were going to keep things the way they were, and I understood that. Derek Fisher was a staple in the organization and in the locker room and I respected him. I loved being around him every day. I just had done the same thing for four years and it was time to expand. Maybe in hindsight, had I stayed here, you never know, but that’s where the decision came from.
MT: Are you happy with what you’ve experienced since that decision point?
Farmar: Absolutely. Very much so. I really feel now that I’m much more prepared. My game has evolved a lot over that time, and I’ve had different life experiences. It’s all made me appreciate being home even more, being a Laker even more. It was part of growing up, and I’m glad it happened.
MT: Here we sit today, when through injuries or not, you’re in line for some major minutes in a fast-paced, screen-roll heavy offense in which point guards have flourished under D’Antoni, in which you were flourishing before you got hurt (Dec. 1). Before Kobe Bryant found out he’d be missing at least six more weeks and Steve Blake near the same and as Steve Nash remains at least a month away. Frustrating…
Farmar: It’s almost comical to me at this point. To get hurt when the opportunity is right in front of me – it’s another lesson in patience. I’m trying to be smart for the long run, but I know what I’m capable of…
MT: What are you capable of?
Farmar: Of running the team. Of being a lead guard, of getting guys involved and helping the organization win games. That’s really what I was doing off the bench, and I told Mike (D’Antoni) this summer when I was a free agent that I’m going to be happy with any role you want me to play. I’m going to work hard to make you feel confident to play me, and if not, I’m going to support my teammates and find ways to impact and help the team. At times he would explain to me what he was thinking, and I said I don’t need an explanation. I’m good, I’ll be out there competing for you whether it’s five or 30 minutes. We have a good relationship. I really respect him as a coach; I think his basketball IQ and knowledge is really high and I’m looking forward to getting back out there to help him out. That’s really all it is. It may be 30 minutes instead of 18 (with all the injuries), but my approach to the game will be the same.
MT: In the NBA, going from 18 to 30 minutes makes all the difference in the world, right? When you return, won’t this immediately be your best NBA opportunity?
Farmar: Yes. I played a few games like that in Jersey, where I’d have 22 and 12 in 30 minutes when Deron was out, but I haven’t had that yet here. And I’m excited about that. You want to get opportunity in this business, of course. Having a chance to really affect and finish games is all you can ask for. That’s the tough part right now that it’s there, but I still need to get 100 percent healthy.