BKQ&A: Spencer Dinwiddie
An interview with Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie
In his fourth season in Brooklyn, Spencer Dinwiddie is one of the jewels of the Nets development process under the Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson regime. Signed out of the G League in December 2016, he made his Nets debut one game after Caris LeVert. Dinwiddie, LeVert and Joe Harris are the only players remaining on the roster from that Dec. 10, 2016 game.
Dinwiddie signed a contract extension with Brooklyn two years later, and has elevated his game each year with the Nets. Going into the All-Star break, he’s averaging a career-high 21.0 points per game with 6.6 assists per game. He’s on his way back to All-Star Weekend to participate in the Skills Challenge after winning the event in 2018.
Off the court, Dinwiddie has brought an outspoken presence to the Brooklyn locker room — “I’m here for the honesty,” he said a few weeks ago — and unique approaches to his philanthropy and finance.
BrooklynNets.com sat down with Dinwiddie to cover those topics and more in the BK Q&A.
BROOKLYNNETS.COM: There’s a common thread of very creative thinking in the way you approach some of your off-the-court endeavors. Has that always been part of the way you’ve viewed things?
SPENCER DINWIDDIE: I would say it’s not a dedication to doing things differently, it’s more so that it functions the way that my mind does. It’s a by-product of making sense in my head. Looking at things, being able to analyze them, break them down, and try to see how they work; and then putting something together in my mind that is beneficial is what leads me to these things. It’s not like I’m pursuing necessarily creativity. It’s more so I look at a problem and I feel like there’s a solution.
NETS.COM: Do you feel like sometimes the traditional solutions are lacking somehow?
SD: Traditional solutions as they stand are designed to aid the centralized party. That’s how it always has been. It will continue to be for the near future. As we evolve and we continue to gain more power and understanding, centralized bodies die down because there’s more power to the individual.
NETS.COM: There’s a phrase that’s been going around the NBA the last few years with the way personnel moves have occurred, “player empowerment.” What does that phrase mean to you?
SD: I think it speaks to us having a voice, where before we didn’t necessarily, and I think a lot of that is due to social media. Some of the new media companies, Boardroom, Players’ Tribune, where players are being a lot more outspoken because one of the most powerful things you can do in anything is control the narrative, especially in a business where fan dollars drive the revenue. So if they tell you that this player is dumb, or this player is mean, or whatever it is, and that’s the only story you’re ever getting, then you craft your opinion about that player based on the one article you see and the 40 minutes you see him on the court in a competitive environment. But you don’t really get a full scope or a full picture of those people, and I think the rise of YouTube, content creation, social media platforms, in a lot of ways it democratizes and decentralizes access to people, so you get more of a full picture of the athlete if they were willing to extend themselves.
NETS.COM: You often refer to the “macro” view of things, offering a pragmatic, big-picture perspective, almost dispassionate. Is that reflective or your general view of things around the league?
SD: I try to be pragmatic. I try to practice low levels of stoicism, because I know real stoics are way up here, but low levels. Just kind of the approach of, look, it is what it is. Find a solution. At the end of the day, you see those kinds of graphs on social media, and they’re corny, but it’s really true. If there’s a problem, if you can’t do anything about it, then there’s no reason to trip about it because it’s out of your control. If you can do something about it, there’s no reason to trip about it, because you should just do whatever it is that solves the problem. So in a lot of ways and a lot of times, there’s no reason to get upset. You figure out whatever approach is right for you in your life because we’re all individuals and there’s eight billion different perspectives on this planet, and you just go about it. You either have the solution, or you understand there’s nothing you can do, and so you just continue about your process. It kind of simplifies life in a way and allows you to get through different obstacles versus get stuck in the, ‘woe is me,’ or ‘the world owes me something,’ or it’s bad or yada, yada, yada. You just get through it.
NETS.COM: Let’s jump back to your junior year in college. You tore your ACL during the season, but opted for the NBA Draft anyway. What went into that decision?
SD: Being naïve to the business of the NBA. Not understanding how important draft status is. I just thought, ‘Hey if I’m nice, and I go out there and bust their ass in practice, it’s going to work out,’ because I’m that type of player and we’re going to go make that happen. Not understanding the point of the draft in which you’re taken, the monetary investment determines how many minutes you play, things like that. It was equal parts confidence and being naïve. But it helped me become this person at the same time because the confidence only gets you so far. You also have to steel your mind to be able to deal with the adversity.
NETS.COM: Was there a point, either in Detroit or after getting cut in Chicago, where you started to wonder if this was going to work out the way you planned?
SD: Definitely when I got cut and I was faced with a decision to either go overseas and make a cool little paycheck or go to the D League. The only thing that kept playing through my mind was like, ‘It’s not supposed to end this way.’ I viewed overseas as the end. Granted I could probably play 10, 15 (years), however long I wanted to play and make six figures or maybe more, but I just couldn’t shake that feeling inside myself that was like, it is not supposed to end this way. As good as I played in my Detroit Pistons practices, how dominant I’ve been one-on-one, being able to have a couple different bright games in the league, I think I probably had three or four, kind of like, pop, ‘Oh, he’s kind of talented,’ games in my the league over my first two years, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that it is not supposed to end this way. And that’s the real reason why I opted for the D League instead of going overseas. It was that feeling and the fact that I was fortunate to have a little bit of money saved up from my first couple years.
NETS.COM: When you got your contract extension here in Brooklyn, some of the narrative was that of an underdog story made good. Did you feel like that, or did you feel like this is where you were supposed to be all along?
SD: That’s the thing; from jump, I always felt like this is where I was supposed to be. There were talks of me being a lottery pick before I got hurt, so playing at this level, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, he’s not talented.’ The talent was there, or I wouldn’t have been on draft boards as high as I was with the talks of going mid first round, 10 to 20 or something like that. That doesn’t happen to non-talented people, unless you’re like 7-5 or something like that. So in a lot of ways I felt like, this is me. I understand you guys don’t believe it or tried to shelve it or acted like it wasn’t there or whatever adjective or situation is synonymous with that type of vibe. But this is me, and being a guy, and I talk about the whole one-on-one thing a lot, and not to overuse it, but being able to be like, I’ve never lost one-on-one. I’ve played all these players. I’ve done all these things. It grows that confidence. Because it’s not just me saying I can come out in an empty gym and score or shoot or make a nice move or something like that, it’s like, no; when you line me up, me vs. you, there’s nobody else here, it’s me and you, there’s going to be a king and a queen in this scenario and I’m the king every time, you feel a certain way about it. Your confidence is at a certain type of level. So when things happen due to the business of basketball, as you get older and you mature you understand that’s the business of basketball, but it doesn’t mean I’m not a great basketball player, so that allows you to keep pushing and keep going and when they’re like, underdog this, I’m like, bro, I plan on making this contract look like a bargain too. Who else is averaging 21 or 22 (points) and 6 (assists) getting $10 million a year. Start me, I’m at 27 and 7. Put me on the bench I’m at 20 and 3 or whatever the hell it is. There’s nobody else doing that, with the flexibility to be able to be like, oh, I’ll play with the star. I’ll be the star. I’ll take the No. 1 option in (Joel) Embiid, take the double team, or I’ll be the third option. Whatever you need, I can do. I can be a spot-up shooter, shoot 40 percent. Granted, when I start shooting heaves, my percentage goes in the tank. But that’s with everybody. It’s just a lot of people aren’t willing to shoot those. A lot of people are so worried about their percentage they won’t take the selfless 3. There was a play in the Detroit game, I was actually just talking to (video coordinator) Trevor (Hendry) about it. The ball gets knocked out, it’s near halfcourt. There’s like two seconds on the shot clock. A lot of people eat that possession for their own percentage. But we’re either late fourth quarter or overtime at this point. But literally the only thing I do, I know I can hit the rim. I probably can’t make this, because I’m picking it up off the floor, so all I did was just pass it to the rim. It clanks off the rim and we get the rebound, we get an extra possession. I think Kyrie ends up scoring. That’s a missed 3 for me. That’s, ‘ah, he’s not shooting 36 (percent), he’s shooting 35 now. Now it’s 32.’ But for me, that might have been what won the game, you know. Obviously Kyrie had 45, so there’s a lot more that goes on, but you need those type of plays and you need those type of people that are on the team that are willing to do (stuff) like that so you can win a game.
NETS.COM: Kenny Atkinson has described you as not playing with confidence when you first got to Brooklyn, but you’ve always projected a lot of confidence in conversations off the court. Is there a difference?
SD: I think there’s a difference between internal confidence and situational confidence and understanding. When I came here, I came from two years of, you get in, you do not miss a shot, you do not turn the ball over, you run the play. Don’t mess up. And if you don’t mess up for three minutes, I might give you four minutes. So that’s what I’m coming in to do. If I just don’t (screw) this up, maybe I can get four minutes, and maybe I can get five minutes, and then once I get to 15, 18 minutes, now maybe I can try some stuff. Whereas here, and obviously in the D League it’s different because they gave me the ball and were like, yo, go rock out. But when I got here, especially that first year, it was like, how can I, on a three-year, non-guaranteed trigger date, how do we get to the next trigger date. How do we make sure we’re not messing up? How do we get in the game, run the play that coach wants to run, get it to Brook Lopez because he’s our best player, make sure that it goes smoothly so you can earn a couple more minutes, you can earn this, and then when that leash comes off you can start to show different things. That’s more where that comes from, and I can see why Kenny says that, but it’s not a lack of, me being like, ‘I can’t do this.’ It’s also business. How do I stick? How do I make sure I can get through this year and get to the next year on the deal and make sure I didn’t cause any problems and make sure I ran the play exactly the way they wanted me to run in exactly the right spot. But the more that they were like, ‘Look, we need you to go out there and make plays. If you turn it over, you turn it over, but we need you to make plays. Take chances. Go do that. We need you to do this. We need you to do that.’ As the role has expanded, I just go out there and try to do what’s asked.
NETS.COM: Since you’ve been here, sometimes you’ve started, sometimes you’ve come off the bench as circumstances dictate, and always said you’re fine with whatever the role is. When you signed the contract extension, you opted out of the possibility of going into free agency last summer and pursuing a regular starting role. Was that something that wasn’t that important?
SD: In the big picture, some of the more trivial things are not as important because I understand my career won’t be on Mount Rushmore. So when you start discussing the legacy piece and it’s not going to be up there with the greats, that means essentially in a lot of ways your career will be forgotten. If that’s the case, you should be doing everything that is authentic to you, makes you happy, and all those different things. For me, I wanted to experience winning, especially in an environment where I enjoy being. Because my two years in Detroit, it wasn’t fun for me to be there. Whereas my three years, now four, in Brooklyn, it’s been fun for me to be here, just in terms of a work environment. So being able to potentially win with Kyrie, KD and them and that stuff, having that possibly on the horizon and enjoying my work environment, enjoying the city, that’s what’s important to me. Whatever comes with it is what comes with it and you deal with it just like anything else. I mean, I’d rather start. That’s not a novel concept or a secret or anything like that, but you gauge what will make you happy in your life more so than necessarily what popular opinion will dictate. I have still years of my career and hopefully a lot of mileage, a lot of buckets, a lot more games and all that stuff.
NETS.COM: When it comes to that work experience in Brooklyn, how is the relationship and the experience playing for Kenny Atkinson?
SD: Without him, and my D League coach Nate Loenser as well, but without him saying it’s OK to make mistakes, go out there and play, this guy doesn’t happen. We’ve talked about the business of basketball, we’ve talked about Detroit, we’ve talked about not being drafted (in the first round). You have to come in, you have to do the little stuff, you have to pick up 94 feet, you have to not turn it all over, all that stuff. Being in a situation where they’re like, ‘Nah, go play. Go be dynamic. Whatever you see, go do it.’ This is the fruit of that kind of uncaging.
NETS.COM: How have you liked living in Brooklyn?
SD: Being in New York as a whole, Brooklyn as well, you can do anything you want. That’s by far the best part about New York, besides just the hustle and grit and grind of Brooklyn specifically, but the best food. Anybody you want to get in contact with, odds are if they don’t live in New York, they’re passing through New York at some point in time. Everything is here. And being a big city kid from L.A., I enjoy that. I enjoy being able to move and do what you want. I don’t only have to go to the one restaurant down the street. And there’s pros to that as well. Don’t get me wrong. Some of the solitude and peace and that stuff. I definitely do enjoy being able to reach out and touch whoever you need to touch.
NETS.COM: You’ve said that your hometown of Los Angeles is the real mecca of basketball in the Unites States. Make your case for L.A.
SD: Easy call. I mean, we put more people in the All-NBA teams than most states have in the NBA in total. It’s really not close. I know people want to argue it, because it’s Madison Square Garden, it’s Rucker, there’s history there. But if you’re talking about basketball talent, who are you putting up against Russ (Westbrook), James (Harden), DeMar (DeRozan), Klay (Thompson). These are all All-Stars. We can keep going. We have a 20-point game scorer, that everybody’s like, who the hell is that? That’s crazy.
NETS.COM: You grew up in South Central and Windsor Hills in L.A., and then went to high school a distance away at Taft in Woodland Hills. How did that transpire?
SD: My coach, Derrick Taylor, lived up the street from me and when it was time for me to pick a high school, I didn’t want to go back to private school. I was in private school in middle school. And my parents were like, ‘No, you can’t go to Westchester,’ which would have been my home public school, or Crenshaw. It was one of the two. They were like, if you’re gonna go to public school you’ve got to go to one that has good academics because we want you to go to college. So the one that was good at basketball but also had good academics, was Taft. And at the time, Taft, Fairfax and Westchester were the powers in the city. This is before private school was super in vogue and they weren’t, like, paying people like they do now. It’s basically like college out there. So public school was the route. Westchester, Fairfax and Taft were the places you went if you were serious about basketball. So they were like, if you’re willing to sacrifice and get on that bus every morning or get up 45 minutes early and ride to school with DT, then go for it. That’s kind of the story of my parents’ relationship with me, kind of let me make my own decisions.
NETS.COM: Your Spencer Dinwiddie Family Foundation has a real focus on education. How has that succeeded in pursuing its goals?
SD: It’s really about just helping kids, mostly through literacy and sports programming. The big thing that we do is the scholarship where it’s gap coverage. The people that apply go through a selection process and then if they get the grade and the requirements, the scholarship just rolls over. So year over year, they get their funds so that they graduate without student debt. That’s the point of gap coverage. It’s not a full scholarship, because they have to apply for financial aid from the college first, but then we pick up whatever’s missed so they don’t have that student debt. That’s our biggest initiative, and something I’m really proud of.
NETS.COM: It’s a while away, but for someone with the off-court interests you have, do you have an idea what post-NBA life looks like for Spencer Dinwiddie?
SD: People laugh at this all the time, but I want to disappear. I’m going to go back to the Malibu area, get me a spot where I can overlook the water. It brings me peace, can’t really swim that well, so I just want to look at it. Be a dad and just unplug from the race. Running this race since three years old and all that stuff and really in-depth since probably junior year of high school when you start to really feel like you might have a chance, when I was 17 to mid-30s, that’s a good chunk of time where you’re in it and you’ve sacrificed and worked hard and consistently got up regardless of how tired you are or drained or broken down or whatever it is, you’ve pushed through and done this and made it happen and given every last piece of yourself to something, when I walk away, walk away. Continue to build systems that help the ethnic community, but other than that, I don’t want to be on TV, I don’t need to be seen. I’ll probably still talk on Twitter, because that’s just fun, not gonna lie to you. But just be a dad. I want to pick my son up from school and watch him grow up and if I have more kids, God-willing, watch them grow and be at every soccer game and be at every school function. All those things. It gives you such purpose outside of a game and understanding what life is about as whole.
NETS.COM: You didn’t pick your previous No. 8 jersey specifically for Kobe Bryant, but a lot of players do pick a jersey in recognition of a favorite player. In your case, after his death, you decided to take No. 8 off and switch to No. 26. In that situation, what made you feel like that was the right thing to do?
SD: The story of 8 for me was about family. I was the eighth pick in the second round. Both my grandmother and my brother were born on Dec. 8. I was signed here on Dec. 8. And then, coincidentally, as well, my by far favorite player of all-time, Kobe, wore 8. So it was like, man, 8 keeps hitting me in the face, I should rock it. In basketball, it’s not like football. Our legends don’t die. They’re here. Bill Russell is here. Kareem is here. We’ve lost some, obviously, death is unavoidable. But they’re 65, 70, 80. You see them get gray. So in a lot of ways mentally and subconsciously, you’ve watched the stages. So when it is final, you’ve emotionally gone through that piece. You grieve, but it’s not drastic, especially while you’re still in the league. Kobe and these legends, (Tracy McGrady), that you grow up watching, you’re anticipating their final moments are going to be when you are 60, and you’ve lived a full life and you’re now a grandparent and you’re telling them stories about T-Mac, but T-Mac’s old and gray. You’ve gone through the process. In which case, you’ve already honored them with your career. People have come after. They’ve done what they’ve needed to do. There’s a closure there. For it to be so abrupt and, understanding what he meant to me as somebody to chase and run after and all that stuff and then over the last couple of years to kind of get to know him a little bit, ‘render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’, like, this is not mine. It’s yours. If in any way, shape, or form, you can honor people that helped you be who you are and outside of my family and my core group, he’s probably the biggest driver because he worked like he wasn’t good and then he carried himself elite, which is how I try emulate in a lot of ways. It was like, the least I could do is give you what is yours.
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