BKQ&A: Joe Harris
An interview with Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris
Sean Marks made a lot of moves in his first summer as Brooklyn’s general manager, adding 10 players in July 2016 that would appear on that fall’s opening night roster. Going on four years later, two remain — first-round draft pick Caris LeVert and free agent Joe Harris.
A second-round draft pick two years earlier, Harris had been derailed in his second season due to a foot injury and was traded and waived in midseason. He’s resurrected his career in Brooklyn, steadily elevating his game and starting all 131 games he’s played over the last two years through Feb. 24. In 2018-19 Harris led the NBA by shooting 47.4 percent from 3-point range, won the 3-Point Contest at NBA All-Star Weekend, then earned a spot on Team USA at the World Cup last fall.
BrooklynNets.com sat down with Harris to cover his rise in Brooklyn and more in the BKQ&A.
BROOKLYNNETS.COM: After playing in the World Cup last year, you’re on the 44-man preliminary roster that USA Basketball has announced for this summer’s Olympics. Have you thought about the possibility of playing or gotten an idea about what the upcoming roster process looks like?
JOE HARRIS: I think they changed the selection process. I’m pretty sure, at least from what I’m gathered from my agent and Jerry Colangelo is they’ll probably just narrow it down to 15, 16 guys by the beginning of June. And then you have a final 12-man roster with a few alternates that go with them to San Francisco before they go to Tokyo. So it’s a commitment from beginning of July through the Olympics. I think all that is set in stone in the beginning of June.
NETS.COM: Over the last year, you’ve won the 3-Point Contest at All-Star Weekend, led the NBA in 3-point shooting, and played for the U.S. National Team at the World Cup. Have you thought about those milestones in the context of where you were four years ago?
JH: I wouldn’t say I reflect on them a ton. You’re so caught up on the moment right now just focusing on your career at this point, the team at this point. I’m not really sort of living in the past or thinking about that stuff a ton. I think I’ll probably reflect on it a little bit more maybe when I’m done playing. Obviously they’re great experiences. I think it’s just sort of a testament to the hard work and time you put in. Everybody has a different path to making it in this league. I was fortunate to get an opportunity here in Brooklyn. Having an opportunity in Brooklyn allowed me to have the opportunity for all that stuff.
NETS.COM: Let’s go back to January 2016. You get traded from Cleveland to Orlando, waived, and have surgery all on the same day. The period in between that and the end of the season and the opening of free agency, what did you do with yourself?
JH: After I got released from Orlando, I could basically do my rehab wherever and I actually came to New York. My girlfriend at the time was here. I got set up with some people at HSS, started my rehab up there. Started working out with a few people at the New York Athletic Club. This guy, Ross Burns, he’s a basketball trainer here in the city, he kind of took me under his wing. I did all my basketball stuff with him. I did strength and conditioning stuff with another guy that he set me up with, this guy Andrew Page, and then all my rehab was with the folks at HSS, so I kind of just build a routine, pretty similar to what I do now where I would go, do my rehab, treatment stuff, go work out in the gym, do some strength and conditioning stuff. I basically treated it like I was getting myself ready to get back on an NBA team, even though I wasn’t sure where or if that was even a possibility. But I knew that regardless, I was still gonna play basketball wherever, whether it was overseas or South America or wherever.
NETS.COM: When it came to the Nets, you had a workout and an interview. What did they want to know about you?
JH: The interview was pretty informal. I just sat down with Kenny after I finished working out for like 10 minutes and he asked me why I thought I hadn’t stuck in the league yet or why I hadn’t figured it out. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I basically just told him that I didn’t really capitalize on the opportunity that I had in Cleveland. I had chances. It’s not like I didn’t have chances to prove myself or play. I practiced well enough. I was in somewhat of the rotation early on in my career and then it’s just one of those instances though where, young player on a championship caliber team, you don’t really have a lot of room for mistakes. They’re not gonna leave you on the court and let you figure stuff out. It’s either, you’re helping them win, or you’re gonna be on the bench. I kind of found myself riding the wave of trying to figure everything out while also trying to contribute and ended up finding myself on the bench more towards the end of the year and then my second year got hurt early in the season, didn’t really even have a chance to solidify myself and my playing days in Cleveland were cut abruptly short, but still felt like I had learned a lot. Had a lot of valuable lessons just being around so many veteran guys on that Cleveland team. It kind of taught me how to sort of figure out and pave your way in the NBA, guys like James Jones, Mike Miller, Shawn Marion. They were all incredible vets to me. I would go early to the gym every single day for practices and games, shootarounds. Always with James Jones and Mike Miller and they had long careers as shooters in the league and they were guys that I just tried to copy and emulate and I kind of took what I had already started doing with them in terms of the habits I had built and applied them as soon as I got to Brooklyn.
NETS.COM: When you came to the Nets in July 2016 it was Sean Marks’ and Kenny Atkinson’s first summer. What was your first impression of them and the culture they were laying the foundation for?
JH: It honestly reminded me a lot, I came from a culture-based program in college in Virginia where there was a lot of discipline, lot of structure, but everything was built on high-character individuals across the board, whether it was the managers, players, performance staff. Everybody was cut from the same cloth and everybody held each other to a really high standard in terms of implementing a foundation of cultural values. I think when I first got here to Brooklyn that was sort of the same approach with Kenny and Sean. There are a lot of opportunities to bring in a lot of different guys, especially in that first year, and they elected to bring in guys that hadn’t really proven themselves, like me, that they thought would fit culturally. Obviously I think it worked out for both of us, but especially for me, because otherwise I don’t know what my chances would have been in terms of landing with another team. Everybody has a different path of figuring it out. All the guys that are capable of making and playing in this league, I think they do. But a lot of it is just getting the opportunity, so I was lucky that way where Kenny and Sean, the emphasis they put on bringing in guys that they thought would fit the cultural model. Taking a chance on me and some other guys early on. I’m definitely lucky in that regard, but I think it’s certainly been a mutually beneficial thing.
NETS.COM: As the longest-tenured Net along with Caris LeVert, coming in at the start of Kenny’s tenure, is there meaning or responsibility in that, in terms of maintaining that culture?
JH: There’s a lot of players that come and go. That’s just the norm within an NBA roster, but what Kenny and Sean have done in terms of the coaches, everybody that works within the organization, they’re all plugged into the culture as well. So even though players come and go, trainers come and go, everybody that is brought in, there’s still sort of the same mold and there are still enough pieces left around from the very beginning where that stuff is so solid, the foundation is so solid that people seamlessly adjust when they come in. I think you’ve seen it year after year where we’ve brought in D’Lo, Ed Davis, DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, players that weren’t here from the very beginning but they were able to seamlessly adapt, buy in to what was going on and then you see it again now with Kyrie and Kevin, DeAndre, Wilson, Garrett. It takes a little bit of time obviously, but it is sort of a seamless transition. I think at the end of the day it’s because Kenny and Sean, they don’t take chances on guys that might have questionable character. It’s always, all right, this guy, they’ll fit, they’ll buy in, and you see that year in and year out since you’ve been here.
NETS.COM: You played for your father in high school, you followed Tony Bennett across the country when he left Washington State for Virginia, and you were eager to stay in Brooklyn two summers ago after your first two years playing for Kenny Atkinson. How important is that coach/player relationship for you?
JH: It’s hugely important. The NBA is a difficult thing because the head coaches, they definitely have one of the more difficult jobs and one of the jobs with, I guess, little amount of security as possible. There’s so much turnover all the time. But I feel like this is a pretty stable place where there’s just good synergy from ownership to the front office to the coaching staff, where everybody seems to be in line and Sean trusts Kenny, Joe (Tsai) trusts Sean, Joe (Tsai) trusts Kenny. It’s a good sort of relationship all the way around and it allows Kenny to be himself. He coaches tough, brings out the best in everybody. I’ve benefitted a lot from it. I feel like I’ve improved a lot every year that I’ve been here. A lot of that is because of Kenny, what he does from a player development standpoint, how he empowers us to play with confidence, to be aggressive, to be the best players or the best versions of yourself on the court. At the end of the day, that’s all that you hope for from a coach.
NETS.COM: Are there common threads between your father and Tony Bennett and Kenny Atkinson?
JH: They’re all a little bit different from one another. I think at the end of the day, the most common thing is that they’re all ultra-competitive, but they go about it in different ways. Coach Bennett didn’t ever really curse. He would get fired up, but he was one of the guys, it was sort of amazing how even-keeled he was most of the time. Kenny is actually really good in that way as well. He definitely has his moments where he’ll get on you but it’s one of those things that you know that he cares about you and he’s just trying to bring out the best. He’s also great at just knowing each one of his players and knowing which guys are receptive to different types of coaching. You have some guys that want to be coached harder than others. Other guys where he might have to take them aside. But he has got a pretty unique ability in that regard just to have feel for each one of his guys and coach them in different ways. My dad, it was obviously a different sort of relationship. I grew up with him but we did a pretty good job of keeping the father/son relationship and the coach and player relationship and having a line between the two. Of the three of them, my dad was probably the toughest, but it was just because that was the way that he coached and the way that he was taught to coach, that Bobby Knight era sort of thing. He was very disciplined and tough on all his players. It’s one of those things, it was hard going through it at the time, but you look back on it now and there’s a lot of benefits from it. But I could say the same thing about coach Bennett and I’m sure I’ll say the same thing about Kenny long down the road and see the benefits you get from learning from them and what they’re able to bring out of you as a player, but also the intangible stuff that you could take with you after you’re done playing basketball.
NETS.COM: Your dad is a basketball lifer, coaching high school for 30 years. He’s come to games in Brooklyn, come to road games. How has it been for you to bring him on this road with you and experience basketball at the highest levels?
JH: He loves it. He’s been around basketball his whole life. You don’t really coach high school basketball because it’s a good paycheck. You do it because you love it, care about the kids and you’re just passionate about the game. It’s a huge time commitment, but he did it for 30-plus years. He’s not coaching now, but he’s still heavily involved in running clinics, camps, doing some different consulting stuff, travels around. He just is a hoops junkie and he loves the game, so for him to come out here, take in practices, talk with Kenny, come to the games, it’s special for me to see that just because I know how much he loves it. He’s been able to, the last couple of years, able to bring some of his former players to games, watch the warmups, watch the practices, interact with different people. It’s been pretty special for him to be able to do that and have those sort of experiences where as a high school coach in small-town, rural Washington, he probably never thought that he would have an opportunity like this. It’s awesome to see that and share that with him.
NETS.COM: Chelan, Washington. Population around 4,000. Describe your hometown.
JH: My hometown, first and foremost, it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. A beautiful lake town. It’s one of those communities where, winter rolls around, it’s exactly the same as any other small town in America. Sort of a lower socio-economic area. There isn’t anything high-end necessarily anywhere around there. It’s very much a blue-collar area. A lot of the jobs in the area are based around agriculture. My grandparents were apple farmers. It’s very tight-knit just because of how small it is. Everybody within the community is very hard-working. They have that chip on their shoulder a little bit. Very tough. It’s sort of been embedded in most of them and it carries over from generations. A lot of people stick around. Some people leave. Some people come back. People don’t really change a ton that are from there. It’s pretty low-key, low-maintenance type area. That’s sort of how the people are built.
NETS.COM: You had that classic old-school high school experience of football in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring. Was basketball always No. 1 for you?
JH: Football, honestly, was one of my favorite sports. I loved the team aspect of it. I loved the fact that it was really difficult for anybody to be selfish. Everybody had to do their job in order for the team to have success and I loved that and the camaraderie with that. Some of my favorite moments playing sports is just playing high school football and the camaraderie that I had with my teammates. But I guess at the end of the day, basketball was always my favorite because I grew up around it. I was always tagging along with my dad to the gym from the time I was a little kid. Even when I played football or baseball or any other sports, basketball was the one I always played still on the side. I never really took any time off from basketball, just because I loved playing the game.
NETS.COM: What positions did you play in football and baseball and how good were you?
JH: Football I played quarterback. I guess I was decent for the level that I played at. I wasn’t that big when I was in high school. I guess I was probably 6-4, 190, so I was pretty scrawy, skinny quarterback but I loved the game. I got some interest from some smaller Division II, FCS type schools for football and then baseball, I loved baseball as well. It was probably the third sport for me. I enjoyed it more as a kid growing up and then it was more just getting to be around some of the guys you grew up with and your buddies when you were in high school. I cut baseball short. I stopped playing my sophomore year, but I pitched when I played baseball.
NETS.COM: Growing up, the Sonics were the closest NBA team to you and they moved when you were in high school. Were you a big fan? Was that a big deal?
JH: I was a big Sonics fan. The only NBA franchise in the area. Obviously Portland is there but everybody gravitated toward the Sonics and the Seahawks and Mariners. It was unfortunate, it was tough when they left. It was a team that you followed your whole life and then for them to just get up and leave, it was a tough blow for all my buddies. There are definitely a lot of people that are not Oklahoma City fans and probably will never be. It’s kind of funny, every time I go to OKC, a lot of my friends will text me to basically talk about the importance of being Oklahoma City, which is pretty funny. For me, I was honestly more of a college basketball fan growing up. I loved the Sonics and I watched them all the time, but I wasn’t as heartbroken as some of my friends.
NETS.COM: Any other favorite players or teams?
JH: Just a fan of the game in general. Anytime basketball was on it, I was watching it. I kind of gravitated more toward the guys that played for the Sonics. I was always a big Ray Allen fan. He had some unbelievable seasons in Seattle. I loved Rashard Lewis when he was there. I was pretty young when Gary Payton and Detlef Schrempf and Shawn Kemp were having some good years with Seattle, but I had posters of them and stuff on my wall as a kid. I’d say, any notable Sonic over the years, that was probably my favorite players.
NETS.COM: Last year when you led the NBA in 3-point shooting, you had a big jump in shooting from the corners, over 50 percent, where you hadn’t shot well on that shorter 3-pointer the year before. Was that something you focused on improving?
JH: I actually didn’t even know that. I have a lot of confidence pretty much wherever I shoot and corners are obviously a little bit shorter. But anytime I can get uncontested shots, that’s the ideal scenario. I’m just trying to find space to get an open shot and it can be from wherever.
NETS.COM: Every shooter has an occasional slump. When it does happen, do you ever find a reason behind it or is it something just happens?
JH: It’s just one of those things. The highs and lows of the NBA season where you might win five games in a row and you might lose six in a row, you might win seven, lose three. There’s a lot of ebbs and flows and the same thing happens when you’re playing. You can’t be perfect every single game. You try to. You try to get yourself prepared and focused to be perfect every game. You just hope that the slumps don’t last that long. But they do happen. Nobody’s ever gone through a season and made 70 percent of their shots, or at least guards or shooters. Some people that are playing in the paint or around the rim that are extremely efficient. But people that are shooting guards, small forwards, point guards that are coming off of screens, taking contested shots, you’ve got to be able to live with missing six out of 10, and that’s pretty good at the end of the day if you’re making four out of 10. That’s the way you have to look at it.
NETS.COM: You seem to have really embraced Brooklyn. What do you like about it?
JH: I love being here. I grew up in the complete opposite end of the spectrum. But ever since I’ve set foot in New York I’ve loved being here, especially in Brooklyn. I just love all the different little pockets of neighborhoods. I love kind of eating my way around the borough. There’s so much to do. Convenience. Easy to walk around. I love the commute to the practice facility, coming in here, having the view of Manhattan, Statue of Liberty. And then, I think the people make the place. I love coming to work every day and all the people that are in here. And I’m lucky too that a lot of my friends that I went to school with at Virginia, they live and work in the city, so it’s been one of those things where it’s a good benefit coming into work every day, but then also being able to have a lot of people here and enjoy the social setting of New York.
NETS.COM: You’re notable for not being on social media at all. Any particular reason?
JH: I just don’t really care that much to be honest. I never really have. I guess I was into it a little bit when I was in Cleveland and then as soon as I got let go I was kind of more focused on trying to get my body healthy, get my mind right, get myself in a good place and I just didn’t really think me checking Instagram or whatever it was was helping me out very much. So I just deleted it and kind of kept it that way. It’s sort of been that way ever since. I guess I recently got Instagram, but I actually just have my sister run it for me. It’s mostly because my agency was just all over me. They talk about building your brand and this and that. And I get it’s an entertainment business at the end of the day, but I would rather just focus on basketball and not really have to worry about all the other stuff. Some people are into it. I’d see why. I enjoyed it when I did get on it, but just for me I guess right now I just feel better not having to worry about stuff on Twitter, Instagram or anything like that. If I want to talk to my friends, I’ll just hit ‘em up, talk to them. If I want to get news I’ll get that through the other apps or reading stuff online.
NETS.COM: Favorite movies, and maybe the last really good one that you saw?
JH: One of my favorite movies is Finding Forrester with Sean Connery. I don’t know why, but I loved it, even as a kid. I guess I went to the most recent Star Wars movie, I’m into Star Wars. I haven’t gone to the movies in a while. We go together as a team every now and then. We went and saw 21 Bridges when we were in Boston. I’ve got to step up my movie game.
NETS.COM: Favorite actors or actresses?
JH: I’d say Steve Carrell is probably my favorite, because I’m a big Office guy and he makes that show. It’s good without him, but not to the level with him. I think he’s hilarious.
NETS.COM: Favorite TV shows?
JH: The Office is definitely up there for me. If I’m bored or just want to do something mindless, I’ll just turn on The Office. But I like to tune into a lot of different stuff. Netflix is always pumping out really good TV shows. I thought The Witcher was pretty good, I liked that. I was a big Game of Thrones guy. I like a lot of HBO stuff. I’m watching Succession right now, which is pretty good. I loved all the True Detectives, with the exception of the second season. I liked the first and third season. Basically, at the end of the day, if I had to spin it all back to watch something, I would just turn on The Office.
NETS.COM: Music. Any favorite artists or albums?
JH: It’s nice that Jay-Z’s stuff is on Spotify now, because I’m on Spotify. I listen to a lot of different stuff. I’ll get on the hits today or whatever is popular right now. I like tuning into that. Mostly the hip-hop stuff. I like more old school hip-hop. I like listening to Nas and Tupac. I like J. Cole a lot. I’ll listen to that on my own, but we’re listening to music all the time and most of the time whatever guys are picking is pretty good.
NETS.COM: You mentioned eating your way through Brooklyn. Favorite restaurants or just types of food?
JH: I’m not a picky eater at all. I kind of like to just eat and experience. Try different stuff all the time. I’ve been wanting to eat at some different spots here in Sunset Park. I know there’s a lot of good dim sum out here that I’ve got to try and there seems to be a lot of good Spanish food as well. It’s hard to pick. If I had to really pick one spot, I would probably pick a pizza joint like Lucali or Roberta’s. One of those two spots where pizza is just amazing, but it’s a cool atmosphere too. Fun environment. You could go on. Basically any type of cuisine you could think of, you could pick a phenomenal spot. That’s what makes Brooklyn so good.
Catch the Brooklyn Nets this Season