Kendrick Perkins Q&A: 'Our kids' kids will thank us for standing up'

Kendrick Perkins ESPN Paul Pierce Amin Elhassan Cassidy Hubbarth Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Kendrick Perkins Q&A: 'Our kids' kids will thank us for standing up'


Kendrick Perkins Q&A: 'Our kids' kids will thank us for standing up'

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On today’s episode of The HoopsHype Podcast, Alex Kennedy is joined by 14-year NBA veteran Kendrick Perkins. They discussed the nationwide “Black Lives Matter” protests, how NBA players are making an impact, his NBA career, his transition to broadcasting, his hot takes and more. Listen to the conversation above or read a transcribed version below.

Things are crazy right now, so thanks for taking time to join me. We’ll discuss basketball in a bit, but let’s start with the murder of George Floyd and the nationwide protests. You’ve been vocal on Twitter and on ESPN about this situation. What’s been going through your mind the last few days?

Kendrick Perkins: Well, a lot of things go through your mind. First, you think of the family of the victim. Then, I think of the replay of the video that showed George Floyd taking his last breath before dying and begging for his mom and saying he can’t breathe. That runs through my mind daily and you just want change. And like I’ve always said, racism has been around for hundreds of years. Can we change racism overnight? No. Well, we can change the system. It’s almost to the point where, if something goes wrong, we need to be able to call the police on the police. The burning of buildings and everything is bad, but these people that are speaking out are people who are tired. Do I condone it? No, I don’t. [Do I condone] protesting? Yes. We do need change. It’s time to change.

One change that could nip a lot of this in the bud is arresting the officers that took part in it immediately. If that happened, we wouldn’t be going through none of this right now. My prayers are out to Floyd’s family, to his kids and to everyone who has lost loved ones to police brutality and to racism. Right now is a trying time for everyone in the world. Everyone is not racist. I have white friends, I have Spanish friends, I have all types of friends and it’s hard because you can feel the energy is different. The vibe is different. Even when you go to the grocery store now, people don’t know what to expect or you don’t know what each person is thinking. The world shouldn’t be that way. I just want to make sure that I keep speaking out for what’s right, keep living as a child of God and keep praying. Hopefully, we can turn this thing around.

Stephen Jackson, Karl-Anthony Towns, Malcolm Brogdon and Jaylen Brown among others have been protesting, while others have been vocal or donated money.  We saw the same thing with COVID-19 relief; NBA players were donating money, meals and masks. How great is to see so many NBA players making an impact?

KP: Oh, it’s beautiful. It is beautiful to watch what all these guys are doing. Stephen Jackson is a big brother to me; we’re from the same area and I’ve been knowing him since the ninth grade. It’s a beautiful thing to see that guys are stepping up and standing on the front line. But it’s also very dangerous, and I’m praying for everyone who’s out there in the thick of things because it’s dangerous. As we all know, we have lost a lot of great ones who were standing on the front lines. Martin Luther King Jr. lost his life. Malcolm X lost his life. Muhammad Ali was sent to jail for speaking out about civil rights and what was right and standing on that front line. So, while I applaud my brothers, I also pray for them and their safety because we just never know [what will happen]. They’re putting their lives on the line, and you can’t do nothing but support them and be grateful. But I’m always praying for their safety.

All four officers have been fired, but only one has been charged with third-degree murder. It’s so frustrating that even with video evidence and a ton of public pressure, the other three cops still haven’t been charged. It’s crazy.

KP: It’s mind-boggling, man. All of this could be nipped in the bud. People that are marching and protesting, the most important thing that they’re saying is, “No justice, no peace.” So, that being said, just make the arrests! Make the arrests immediately and we wouldn’t even have to deal with this. They’ll have their day in court, but make the arrests. I mean, the evidence shows that it was clearly murder. The autopsy came back and it was murder, it was a homicide, so make the arrests and let’s move on from there. Now will that stop racism? No. Racism is something that is taught to us. It depends on what household you were raised in. Racism is something that is taught to the younger generation. So, to the people out there who do have that hate and who are racists, y’all need to cleanse your soul. And we just got to make sure that we all do our part – whatever your race may be – and keep preaching on what’s right and civil rights and trying to put a stop to this racism. I know one thing: Our kids’ kids will thank us for standing up right now.

Let’s switch gears and discuss your NBA career. You made the jump from high school to the NBA. Was that difficult, being a teenager in the NBA surrounded by grown men?

KP: Well, it was different. But I think everyone has their own story, a different story. I think when you’re that young coming in – whether you’re a teenager or whether you’re coming out of college – it’s still a big transition into the NBA. And the thing is, you gotta be open-minded. You gotta be a listener, not a talker. And the most important thing is you gotta go to a great organization and you gotta have great vets around you. I was blessed to have great veterans. I was blessed to have Tony Delk, Eric Williams, Gary Payton, Walter McCarty, Tony Battie, Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker; these are guys who embraced me with open arms. And then I had an old-school coach, Jim O’Brien, who was real tough on me. And Danny Ainge played a vital part in helping me grow and getting me adjusted to the NBA game and constantly preaching to me. So, making that transition, to me, wasn’t that hard because I had great guidance.

The ones who aren’t listening and the ones who try to do it their way are the ones that fall in that category of the average NBA player who has their career end after three and a half to four years. But the ones who do listen [are fine]. And I’m talking about the ones who aren’t superstars. I was a role player, so to have a 14-year career as a role player, that speaks volumes. That means I did my role. That means that I followed the player’s code. That means that I did everything I was supposed to do to stay in the NBA. They have this saying: It’s hard to get to the league, but it’s even harder to stay in the league. You need to have great discipline and make great sacrifices and you can’t get caught up in the off-the-court life. You have to stay focused.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Right, and you were always a strong veteran presence and leader. You’ve been credited with helping the Oklahoma City Thunder develop their winning culture. What goes into creating a culture like that? And how did the culture in OKC compare to the culture in Boston?

KP: Well, you have to understand: I went from being a 26-year-old young guy in Boston with a lot of great vets in Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, James Posey, PJ Brown, Sam Cassell, Mike Finley and Eddie House. I had great vets that I learned from. I learned how to win and how to sacrifice and how to lose myself in the team. I also learned from my NBA father figure, Doc Rivers, who played a huge part in my NBA career. I learned a lot and I was a sponge. When I got to OKC and I saw the talent level of Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka and how those guys wanted to win and how they loved the game of basketball, I just embraced it. They were open-minded, they accepted me with open arms and I instantly became the leader and the voice of the locker room. What I learned in Boston, I just carried that over to Oklahoma and it worked. Kudos to those guys because they were open-minded and they were willing to listen to me. And I think with me winning the championship, they really had no choice but to listen because I had been through it. After going to two NBA Finals with the Celtics, they knew that I wasn’t gonna steer them wrong.

But I also led by example. I was always one of the first guys in the gym and one of the last to leave. I showed them the [importance] of truly sacrificing and being a team-first guy. I never was a guy who played for stats (although I had some good games at times). I always did the little things. When we went to a film session, [Scott] Brooks and Doc Rivers always pointed out, “Perk is making winning plays.” And that carries over. Yes, you have your guys that will go get 30 points and 14 rebounds or whatever the case may be. But are you going to dive on the floor for loose balls? Are you going to get your hands on deflections? Are you going to be positioned to rotate when need be on the defensive end? Are you going to set screens? Are you going to do everything that you need to do to help your team win that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet? That’s what I did. I lead by example and the rest of the guys followed.

Every team needs that kind of player. These days, top prospects must be one year removed from high school in order to enter the NBA, so we see a lot of one-and-done players. They created the G League professional path program, but is that enough? Should players be allowed to enter the NBA right out of high school?

KP: I mean, I love the way guys are doing what they feel [is best]. Sometimes, you don’t have to follow the crowd, you just have to move through it. I love some of the paths that these guys are taking. They’re doing it their way and I love it. One thing about the NBA is that I feel like we have the best Commissioner in sports in Adam Silver. That’s why the NFL tried to steal him away. And he’ll figure it out. The NBA and the Players’ Association, they’ll figure it out. Here’s my thing about guys coming into the league: At the end of the day, although the NBA is entertainment to everyone else, it’s a job to us. This is the way that we feed our families, this is the way that we are able to put clothes on our back and secure our future. So, if a guy’s coming out of high school and he’s ready to make the jump and start his career early, why stop him? Let him go.

I mean, ’cause nothing gets you ready for the NBA like being in the NBA. I know a lot of people that say, “Aw man, college will get you ready!” No, that’s a lie. Nothing gets you ready for the NBA like being in the NBA. I watched a lot of guys who went through three or four years of college and then they came in as rookies and they weren’t ready. They weren’t ready for NBA basketball. They weren’t ready for the 50 or 60 sets. They just weren’t ready. So, if guys are ready to start their career early, then hey, so be it. Let these guys come out. Because, like I said before, although it’s entertainment to the fans (which it should be), this is a job. This is how we feed our family and put food on the table.

You were always a great interview, so I wasn’t surprised to see you join the media. When did you decide to make the transition to broadcasting?

KP: Well, first of all, let me give y’all your flowers. To all of the media people around the world, this is not an easy job. There’s a lot of hours that you have to put in studying. It’s not just coming on and just speaking what you feel. No, it’s a lot of research and it’s a lot of hard work. So, to every media person out there, I want to say: I applaud you guys because people don’t know the groundwork that you have to put in and steps that you have to take. But to answer your question, my initial plan was that I wanted to be the next head coach in NBA that was a big man that played in the league. Because I feel like, as a big man, we get overlooked, and point guards and guards are not the only people that know anything about the game of basketball. That was my plan, so I started using my Twitter platform to just talk about games and get my knowledge out there. And, all of a sudden, I started getting phone calls. I went on the Woj Podcast and after that, I got a call from ESPN and then I got a call from Fox Sports. I started wanting to just get on these networks and letting my voice be heard to all the teams around the league who might think, “Hey, okay, we might want to hire Perk for our staff.” But I ended up liking being [part of] the media and it started being fun.

I mean, I’m watching basketball anyway and I get to do my homework and go on TV the next day (or whatever the platform may be) to talk about it. I was like, “Hey, I’m loving this!” And then, ESPN embraced me with open arms and so did Fox. They gave me an opportunity to have a voice. People don’t know this, but my first year in the media last year, I did everything for free. I didn’t get paid for anything. And I did it and I loved it. So now, all of a sudden, the coaching thing went out the window and here I am today! I’m still working hard, I’m still humble and I’m still gonna speak my mind. I’m not gonna bite my tongue. A lot of people may agree to disagree, but one thing [is for sure]: If I say something, I’ve got my facts to back it up. I’m up late at night researching and I’m always trying to get down to the meat and potatoes of things and do it the right way. So, that’s where I’m at today.

Do you still want to get into coaching someday?

KP: Right now, I’m just focused on my media career. If a coaching opportunity comes about and it makes sense, I’ll think about it. But right now, I’m enjoying this. I’m enjoying talking about basketball. I’m enjoying going on ESPN and being able to be heard. The fun thing about it is when you get to go against the grain and not follow the crowd and voice a take and everyone thinks you’re crazy until it happens. So, right now, I’m loving the media, man. And if coaching opportunities come along down the road, I’ll think about it. But [broadcasting] also gives me a lot of time to be with my family – my wife and my four kids. Once I’m done, I’m able to be home a lot more. Coaching is a lot of work; it’s way more work than even being a player and you’re away from your family a lot. So, I’m enjoying this moment, I can tell you that.

Speaking of your takes, do you know when a certain take of yours will blow up and get a huge reaction? Or does it surprise you when certain takes go viral?

KP: Yeah, I do. When I’m thinking about it, I’m like, “This will probably ruffle some feathers today.” But if it’s how I feel and I’ve got facts behind it… Whether it goes viral or not (which some of them have been), it’s my research and my experience being a basketball player for all of my life and being a student of the game. It’s not like it’s pre-determined what’s going to go viral; I just go up there and I just speak. They send me the topics and when I look at the topics, I get to studying and I try to put my own charisma to it and that’s how it goes.

When you have a take that goes viral – like when you said James Harden is a better all-around player than Stephen Curry – what is that like? I’ve seen your name trend on Twitter because people are discussing your take and some are disagreeing with you. Do you enjoy that or is it stressful? 

KP: Nah, there’s never stress. If the job is stressing you out and you’re losing sleep, you might want to stop. At the end of the day, it’s a job, but we’re talking hoops! And it’s all opinions, it’s no facts. There’s no right or wrong answer when you’re debating players, in my opinion. I can’t be mad at someone for choosing Steph Curry over James Harden. I just like James Harden and I just think, in my opinion, he’s the better all-around player. Like I’ve said before, some people like to drink Coke, other people like to drink Dr. Pepper. It just depends on what your flavor is! So, at the end of the day, you can’t get mad. The only problem I have is when people actually get mad about somebody’s opinion on a player. Like, I can understand if someone is saying the wrong numbers and stuff. But when you give your opinion on a player and what your preference is, you can’t get mad at somebody behind it! I never get mad at people about their [thoughts on] a player. I may argue and debate them on it, but I can’t knock them for choosing a side.

When Ryan Hollins was on this podcast, we talked about how the goal is sometimes to get people talking and reacting to what you’re saying when you’re on these debate shows whereas on, say, SportsCenter it’s more about providing thoughtful analysis. When you’re on the debate shows, is there pressure to come up with hot takes or bold opinions? 

KP: Well, Ryan’s approach is different than mine. I don’t go on there [and try] to ruffle feathers. I’m going to speak my mind and if it happened to ruffle some feathers, then oh well. But I don’t go with the intention of dropping a take and trying to make it hot. A question is asked and I’m gonna speak how I feel. Do I add my twist to it? Absolutely. Yeah, I’m dropping some bars behind it. But other than that, no. I mean, it’s a debate and when you go on those debate shows, there’s no straddling the fence. You can’t say, “I understand that some people like Steph and I understand some people like James; you can’t go wrong with either one!” No! You gotta pick a side and as long as you bring your facts behind it, you stand by what you believe in!

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

When players make the transition to broadcasting, you’re often analyzing your friends and former teammates, which can be tricky. For example, you and Kevin Durant went back and forth over your comments in the past. You always want to be honest and objective as an analyst, but is it tough when you’re close with the guys you’re analyzing?

KP: It is. But the thing is, you keep your friendship genuine and you have to be open with guys. I got a lot of friends that are still in the NBA and they know if they play bad, I gotta talk about you. And I will send them a text like, “Hey, I gotta talk about you today. You was horrible last night. I love you!” But they also know that I’m gonna be the first person to pump them up when they’re balling. So, you walk a fine line. But you can’t be biased. You got to speak on what’s going on. And I have that relationship with all of my friends. They know that I’m not gonna go on there and kill them because we’ve all had bad games. But I’m gonna be the first to go above and beyond [with my praise] when they are balling. So, they all know where my heart stands. I’m still cool with a lot of my friends; we still go to dinner, we have phone conversations and they know I’m genuine. They know that certain information they share with me, I will take to my grave and never let it out on national TV. And they know that if I call them and I’m telling them, “Hey, listen, I need this from you. What is your take on this?” I’ll tell him straightforward [if it’s something media-related]. But when it’s a genuine conversation, no, that’s left between brothers.

You’ve been on many different shows like “The Jump” and “Get Up” and “First Take.” How do you get selected to be on a show like that? Is there a casting or audition process? 

KP: Well, it more so comes down to if they want you on. You have your producers of each show – “First Take” has their producers, “Get Up” has their producers, “The Jump” has their producers and Hoop Streams has our own producers. If you go on there and you do well, [they’ll have you back]. And, obviously, the host of the shows have some say in it too. They may say, “Hey, I want to call in this person,” or, “I want this person back,” or, “Hey, you did good. Want to come back on tomorrow?” That’s how it operates. If you’re doing a great job and you’re going on there and you’re speaking your mind and you’re not being biased and sometimes you’re ruffling feathers, they may want to bring you back on. Sometimes, it also depends on the topic. Some people could give better insight on certain types of topics than others. Sometimes, they want to talk about a player and they know, “Okay, let’s talk about this player because Perk is close to this player, and he may be able to drop some gems on us today.” That’s how it goes.

What advice would you give to current players who want to transition to broadcasting when they’re done playing?

KP: Always do your homework. It’s not easy. Make sure you have facts to back-up everything that you say. Don’t be biased. Speak your mind. It’ not an easy job at all. Also, be authentic because that’s what the media world is looking for – people who are going to be authentic, people who are going to be themselves. Don’t try to go on TV and be somebody else. I’m not looking in the encyclopedia or trying to look up big words to go up there and be somebody that I’m not. No, I’m gonna go up there and I’m gonna be Perk – a country boy from Beaumont, Texas, who sounds country but can talk basketball. Period.

What did you think of Paul Pierce not having LeBron James in his all-time Top 5?

KP: I mean, I can’t knock P for who he had, but I don’t know… I think it’s something else there. Like, there’s no way that you can not have LeBron in your Top 5. Now, if you don’t have him as your GOAT, I’m okay with it. But to say that he’s not in your Top 5? Come on, P. I love you to death, my brother, but you’re a little delusional.

After Pierce said that, The Ringer put out an “NBA Desktop” video where they said they want the 2008 Boston Celtics to stop talking so much. Did you see that video?

KP: No, I didn’t. Why do we gotta stop talking so much? What gives them the credentials that they could talk so much?

They were half-joking. But basically, they said that the team only won a single championship and went to two Finals, yet guys like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett talk like the team was a dynasty that dominated the 2000s. He compared the ‘08 Celtics to the ‘04 Detroit Pistons and said we don’t see those guys constantly making headlines and bashing players. 

KP: How many championships has he won? How many points has he scored? That’s the thing that gets me. Like, how can you tell someone who’s a Hall of Famer? I’m in the Texas Basketball Hall of Fame, Paul Pierce is in the Hall of Fame, Kevin Garnett is in the Hall of Fame. These are NBA champions, NBA All-Stars, McDonald’s All-Americans… How can you tell them – people who played the game of basketball – that they need to stop talking so much but you can? What gives you the bigger platform [and credentials] that you could talk more than I can? It don’t make sense to me.

The NBA is hoping to resume the season around July 31, most likely at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. They will be playing without fans and in a new environment. What kind of impact will that have on players?

KP: Right now, I just think guys want to just play basketball. You know that saying: You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Guys know that and they want to get back to playing basketball. Yes, this is a job, but we love to hoop. I think getting back with no fans is gonna challenge their love for the game and it’s gonna challenge their heart and it’s gonna challenge their mental. And that’s why I think whoever wins this championship, it’s going to be one of the greatest championships in NBA history, because we’re dealing with so much in the world today and it’s so different and there’s so much adversity. I’m looking forward to it. I think guys are gonna compete at the highest level and take advantage of it, so I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Let’s say the NBA season is able to resume on July 31, who is your pick to win the NBA championship? 

KP: Man, listen, it’s hard to go against the Lakers because they have Anthony Davis and LeBron James, who, in my opinion, are arguably the best duo since Kobe and Shaq. So, it’s hard to go against those guys. I mean, I would have to give a slight edge to the Lakers.

I’ve seen some people on Twitter say that you’re biased toward LeBron James. 

KP: Why? How? I don’t understand it. I’m biased because I appreciate greatness? When he’s gone, the game is going to miss him. So because I give LeBron James his flowers [while he’s here], I’m biased toward LeBron? I’m not biased toward LeBron. I don’t work for LeBron, I don’t work for Klutch. I work for ESPN. At the end of the day, if a guy’s playing great basketball and we’re witnessing an all-time great (arguably the greatest player of all time) and he’s still playing the game of basketball at his highest level, if me giving him his flowers and his praises and his just due is being biased, that is crazy to me.

I think people should appreciate his game and stop taking him for granted. Rather than hating on him and looking for negatives, just enjoy his greatness while he’s still playing.

KP: Preach!

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