Off the Court: Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker

According to the Basketball Reference website, 41 players in NBA history were born in Canada, including 19 who’ve appeared in at least one game during the 2019-20 regular season. That means roughly 10 percent of current Canadians in the league hail from the same family, with New Orleans rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Oklahoma City second-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander being cousins. Alexander-Walker, 21, is a proud native of the country located north of the United States, sporting multiple tattoos that are direct references to the nation of roughly 38 million people. One of two Pelicans born outside the 50 states (Italy native Nicolo Melli is the other), Alexander-Walker played two seasons of NCAA hoops at Virginia Tech, before being picked No. 17 in last summer’s NBA draft. He discussed his background and some of interests away from basketball with Pelicans.com:

Best moments as an athlete: “Being able to look at the list of things I wanted to accomplish in life and be able to check some of them off. Feeling a purpose every day you wake up is one of the best moments for me.”

How he chose his current uniform number of 0: “I wore No. 4 in college, because of my uncle, who taught me the game and everything I knew. He was like my father I never really had and I wanted to honor him. As I got to this level, I realized that I wanted to create an identity for myself and thought about so many different numbers. But I realized that the name will always make the number. People want to wear 23 because of what Michael Jordan did, or 8 because of what Kobe Bryant did. For me, 0 is a number, but has no (specific) value. It’s not a talked-about thing. I chose 0 as if there was no number on the back.”

Favorite thing about New Orleans: “Its balance. If I need to go out and have a great time, there are plenty of places to do that. But it’s also a place where you can enjoy the food, go home and relax, stay laidback. There are plenty of things to do, but you still have the feeling of not being rushed in the fast life.”

Pregame ritual: “When the whole team goes out to the court for the final time, I’ll stop right before the court and just take a knee and thank God for the opportunity. Sometimes I’m nervous, or there could be stuff going on in my head, and I decide to surrender everything to Him, all of my wants, all of my goals, and just focus on wanting to help the team win. So I’m not caught up in anything else but the game.”

Unique childhood basketball memory: “One of the things that got me here was the first game I didn’t play in. I was 14 and it was a big city rivalry between AAU teams. There was talk about who was the best team in Toronto. We won by 20 points, but I never got to play a single minute. It kind of ticked me off a little bit, to have my whole family there and not even play a little bit. It kind of told me that nothing is promised, nothing is guaranteed, and that you have to work every single day to earn what you want. It put that chip on my shoulder.”

Favorite thing about his hometown: “All of the opportunities in downtown (Toronto), all of the bowling alleys where my friends and I loved to have competitions, going to an arcade and playing each other in racing, shooting or football games. Enjoying everything about the city of Toronto with my family is also my favorite thing.”

Stories behind his tattoos: “I think of all of my tattoos as a storyline. On my right arm, I have where I grew up and the building I lived in, the street I lived on, (number) 4 for my uncle, the CN Tower, the highway exit and the Canadian flag, as well as Toronto. I just got one (last summer that reads) Scarborough, which is East Toronto where I grew up the majority of my life. All glory to God, I’ve been the first person out of Scarborough to make the NBA, so it’s an honor to be a role model for the city. It’s also my appreciation for the guys who came before me that didn’t make it. I really appreciate those guys.”

Nicknames: “Keil, NAW, Popsicle. When I was in eighth grade I started going to the Scarborough YMCA all the time and playing with the older guys. They started calling me Popsicle because I was really, really skinny. They said my legs looked like popsicles.”

Biggest lesson from basketball: “It’s bigger than you. I’ve learned that with all of the power we have, we can change the world collectively, if we put our minds to it.”

Favorite exercises besides basketball: “I enjoy running. It’s a good way to kind of clear my mind and metaphorically run from fears and worries, and toward a goal in life.”

Favorite healthy foods: “Nutri-grain bars. And the Nature Valley honey and oats bars, I probably eat about four of those a day from (the practice facility).”

How he’s most likely to spend an off day during basketball season: “Reading and cooking. I read self-help books and anything that has a good story. I just finished Chop Wood, Carry Water. Things that will help me learn and grow. Coming out of school at 21, I’m not trying to lose my money.” [smiles] I’m also learning to cook. My goal is to be a very good chef. Coming to New Orleans, the mecca for food, right now (I’m watching) YouTube for now (to learn). So far I’ve cooked burgers, pasta, meat sauce.”

Actor who’d play him in a movie: “Michael B. Jordan.”

Favorite Christmas gift: “My Fisher-Price basket. I can’t remember what age I was when I got it, but it was glued to my hip. I’d be playing for hours. My grandma would say, ‘Do you not get tired?!’ The neighbors downstairs would complain, but my mom had my back. She supported my dream. From there, that’s where my love grew for basketball.”

Favorite musician: “Drake.”

Favorite podcast: “I’m going to be supportive and say that Josh Hart’s podcast is my favorite.” [smiles]

Favorite NFL team. “New Orleans. Who Dat! My first-ever football jersey was Michael Thomas.”

Sport he’d try to play professionally if he weren’t in the NBA: “Baseball. That’s where the money is.” [smiles]

Most underrated player in the NBA: “It’s going to sound weird to say, but Damian Lillard in my opinion is underrated. Countless years he proves himself to be one of the top point guards in the league. Often times he’s left out (of the conversation) for the top 10 or top 15 players in the league, because there are a lot of household names, but I feel like he really deserves to be in that talk.”

Best uniforms in the NBA (besides the Pelicans’): “Oklahoma City has the second-best uniforms besides ours.”