ORLANDO – Jameer Nelson is one of just two players in team history to wear an Orlando Magic jersey for 10 seasons, joining first-ever draft pick Nick Anderson for that rare distinction.
Playing for the Magic is something that Nelson has never taken for granted. When Nelson plummeted on draft night in 2004 even though he was the college basketball player of the year, Orlando was there to rescue him with a trade. When some wondered if Nelson could ever be a standout player at 6-foot tall and with a shoot-first, pass-second mentality, Orlando showed faith in the pint-sized point guard with a five-year, $40 million contract extension.
Nelson had the opportunity to bolt on the Magic as a free agent in 2012, just as the Magic were embarking on a massive rebuilding following the defection of Dwight Howard. But Nelson never wavered in his commitment to the Magic, choosing to stay with the only franchise he’s ever played for. Loyalty means everything to Nelson and he wanted the Orlando organization and fan base to know it runs both ways for me.
``They believed in me when no one else necessarily did, so I wanted to show some faith in them,’’ Nelson said recently.
Nelson, the Magic’s all-time leader in assists and the fourth-leading scorer, talked recently to OrlandoMagic.com writer John Denton about his philosophies on basketball, his commitment to the Magic and his desire to be a great role model for his children.
QUESTION: What’s a hidden talent that you have far away from the basketball court that no one knows about?
JAMEER: ``I’m a great cook. I can make whatever. My cooking skills come from my mom and my dad. I was from somewhat of a broken home, but my parents were always people who cooked for their kids and did things for us. My imagination is crazy when I’m in the kitchen, so I can usually figure things out when I’m going along and trying to figure out how to fix something.’’
QUESTION: So say that you were going to surprise Mrs. Nelson with a candlelight dinner. What would be on the menu that you personally whipped up from scratch?
JAMEER: ``Well, it really depends on my mood. I’ve cooked at my house before for 65 people where I did all of the sides and the salads. I’m pretty good on the grill and in the oven, so it would be something out of there. I’ve never taken a cooking class, but I’m thinking about doing that to sharpen up my skills.’’
QUESTION: Do you learn more from winning or losing?
JAMEER: ``I think it’s probably 50/50. You learn how to play through things and win. And when you lose you kind of go back to the drawing board and think, `If we would have done this or done that we would have won the game.’ So it’s very much a 50/50 thing for me.’’
QUESTION: Another philosophical question – Does winning feel as good as losing feels bad?
JAMEER: ``Winning feels so good, but when you lose it feels so bad. That’s a tough one, but I guess it’s 50/50 again.’’
QUESTION: You were an unrestricted free agent for the first time in your career in 2012 and you could have left to go elsewhere, but you chose to remain in Orlando. You have said that you wanted to remain loyal to the organization that was loyal to you for so many years. What is the reaction you get from fans when they see you out in public?
JAMEER: ``I still hear fans saying, `Thanks for staying.’ I think they appreciate who I am. Who I am is a professional in everything that I do. I try to always handle myself the same way no matter where I am and who’s around or not around.’’
QUESTION: How much pride do you take in the fact that you’ve only worn a Magic jersey your entire NBA career?
JAMEER: ``I take so much pride in that. I really think it says a lot about myself and this organization, as well. For a guy who slipped in the draft and the Magic traded for me and believed in me. Really, it’s an honor for me to say that I’ve only worn a Magic jersey. Hopefully I can continue to say that and live it beyond this season.’’
QUESTION: You recently turned 32 years old and still you rank in the top 10 in the NBA in assists per game and assists per turnover. You have mentioned in the past that you’d like to try and play until you are 40 years old. So how long do you truly want to play NBA basketball?
JAMEER: ``I’m not going to limit myself. As long as I can continue to work in the summer and prepare myself for a season, I feel Like I’ll still be able to play. I feel like my brain will continue to be an asset for me. I feel like I’m smart enough to play the game even when I start slowing down. I don’t feel like I’ve slowed down that much, but I have gotten smarter about using my speed and quickness in spurts.’’
QUESTION: Which one of your four children are the most like you?
JAMEER: ``My six-year-old girl, Jayden, because she just has that personality of being herself. She doesn’t care who is around, she is going to be herself and she’s not shy. With her, what you see is what you get.’’
QUESTION: Because you’ve been in Orlando so long, we’ve had a chance to watch Jameer Jr. grow up to be a teenager. What’s that feeling like for you when he gets a hit in baseball or knocks down a jumper in a basketball game?
JAMEER: ``It’s more the baseball thing because there is so much pressure on him to play basketball. I’m a baseball fan as well, so it is just the greatest feeling to see him doing so well. Now that he’s on the middle school team and starting and getting base almost every other time, it’s just great to see.’’
QUESTION: Have you ever gotten misty-eyed or have a big lump in your throat when you see one of your children do well in a sporting event?
JAMEER: ``I got upset when (Jameer Jr.) broke his wrist during a game. We were in Phoenix and I got a call saying that some kid undercut him during a basketball game and the other team wasn’t playing right. The parents and coaches on the other team were telling their kids to do certain things and my son ended up fracturing my wrist. That one hit me really hard. I felt bad because I couldn’t be there and I felt bad for him because I know how much he loves to win. He actually continued to play in the game the best that he could. Maybe it’s a good thing that I wasn’t there because I would have gotten mad, but that was really tough on me.’’
QUESTION: Your father, Pete Nelson, died way too early in a drowning accident. You still wear wristbands in remembrance of a father who had such an influence on your life. How much do you miss him and think about him?
JAMEER: ``You know what, every day I think about him. The things that he gave me when he was a parent, I didn’t realize it until I was older and had kids of my own. Now, I’m just like him. Everything I do now, sacrificing to be with them or just hanging out with them, I’m just like my dad was with me. When friends come into town, I’d rather go to my kids’ games than go out with them. I will tell them, `You are welcomed to come with us, but I’m going to my kids’ games.’
``My dad was always there for me and there was never a dull moment with him. Just giving that same thing back to my kids now is so important for me. And for my girls, I try to always show them the right way that they are supposed to be treated in life.’’
QUESTION: What was your best sports moment before the NBA and after you reached the NBA?
JAMEER: ``I’d have to say it was when we got that 27th victory at St. Joe’s and that was so special to go through the regular season undefeated. You can always imagine yourself playing in the NCAA Tournament, but I could never imagine going through a whole regular season, being undefeated and not losing a game.
``With the Magic, it was just seeing us grow as a team in 2009 and becoming a championship-contending team. As an individual, I guess the best moment was when I worked so hard on my game and became an All-Star in 2009. That meant a lot to me.’’