PJ Tucker Living His Dream
The eight-year veteran is relishing his role after a humbling start to his career. Written by Marc J. Spears for The Undefeated.
P.J. Tucker will play in his 618th career NBA game when the Houston Rockets host the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of their second-round playoff series on Monday night. But he will play it as if it were his last.
Twelve years ago, he thought he’d already played in his last game in the NBA when he was waived as a rookie in Toronto.
“Right now, while I’m in the playoffs, I don’t try to look back at it,” Tucker told The Undefeated. “I remember it. It keeps me ticking. It keeps me going. It keeps me strong. But it makes me super humble to be here with every game, every moment. People ask me why I play so hard. I say, ‘I’m happy to be here.’ For real.”
The former University of Texas star was the 35th overall pick in the second round of the 2006 NBA draft by the Toronto Raptors. But the 2006 Big 12 Conference Player of the Year averaged only 1.8 points and 1.4 rebounds in 4.9 minutes per game during the 2006-07 season. He also had four stints that season playing in the NBA Development League with the now-defunct Colorado 14ers. And on March 24, 2007, Tucker was stunned when he was waived by the Raptors to open up a roster spot.
Tucker said he did “everything wrong” his rookie year and admitted his ego caused him to believe he was destined for NBA stardom instantly.
“That was one of the worst years of my life,” Tucker said. “You come from the college, you’re the man. I was second-team All-American. I got drafted by Toronto, but they just took me because I was the best man on the board. They didn’t need me. I didn’t get a whole lot of help or guidance.
“I wasn’t playing. I couldn’t get reps in practice. And it’s big-boy basketball. Grown men. You had guys feeding their families. I’m thinking I’m all-world, and that is how every college guy thinks that coming in. You feel like you’re better than anybody. But I didn’t know what it meant to be a pro.”
Tucker played for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ summer league team in 2007, but no NBA contract offers followed. So the Raleigh, North Carolina, native went on an international odyssey over the next five years. From 2007-12, Tucker played in Israel, Ukraine, Italy, Greece, Montenegro, Puerto Rico, Germany and Russia. He said he “learned how to play professional basketball” while overseas.
In 2012, he led Brose Baskets Bamberg to a Basketball Bundesliga championship in Germany after averaging 16.2 points and 7.1 rebounds and earned Finals MVP honors.
“It was tough being away from home,” Tucker said. “You have to learn how to play over there. Over there, it ain’t dropping 30 every night and being the man. Most of the guys who think like that don’t last over there. They care about winning over there. If you’re a winner, you can play forever over there.”
By the summer of 2012, Tucker was making a comfortable living for himself overseas and signed a two-year contract paying at least $2 million with BC Spartak St. Petersburg of Russia. While his agent Andre Buck put an NBA out clause in the deal, Tucker was content being a star overseas.
“I was done, man. I was done fighting, trying to prove myself,” Tucker said. “I made my way overseas. I got successful. I signed a two-year deal in Russia for all the money. I made my name over there. I was comfortable with it. … I got tired all of the stories about, ‘He is a tweener. He doesn’t have a position.’ I knew I could play. I played hard. I played both ends of the court. I know what I could do.
“Coming back? I’d rather be the man in Europe and win that respect. I’d rather be here than be the last man on the bench in the NBA and never have a chance. That was a decision I had made..."
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