At age 19, rookie Portland Trail Blazer Sebastian Telfair already can look back on a full hoops life. Along the road from poverty in Brooklyn to lucrative Adidas sneaker endorsements and a multimillion-dollar NBA contract, Telfair was a basketball prodigy in junior high and on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school.
Tonight, Telfair finishes his first NBA season on a team that lost more games in the past two months than he did during his entire high-school career.
Even though he's only listed at 6-foot-nothing (and stands a little shorter than that), Telfair's play has steadily improved this season with more playing time. He has an unnatural command of the ball and makes stealthy, daring passes that weave through knotted defenses to suddenly wide-open players.
Yet Telfair's ascent (chronicled in Ian O'Connor's highly acclaimed book The Jump) also has been watched closely by skeptics and traditionalists looking for a prominent case of high school-to-NBA failure.
His career has been loaded with questions.
WW sat down with Telfair for some answers.
WW: Former Trail Blazer Jermaine O'Neal recently argued against Commissioner David Stern's proposal that there should be a minimum age for NBA players. What are your thoughts?
Sebastian Telfair: I think everybody should have the opportunity to make their own decision what they want to do with their life. In all aspects of life, people make decisions that sometimes are not the best. I think you need to let people make their own decision, whether it turns out good or bad.
Don't you think letting more teenagers into the league has decreased the skill level over the past few years?
I don't see that. I see a lot of guys coming in that are able to play really well. Some guys take a little longer, but that's their decision. A lot of guys who come straight to the pros, yeah, they could go to college and be stars. But some guys decide to come to the NBA and develop their game and wait a couple of years to be a star.
But are you still developing as a player if you're coming off the bench, getting garbage time for a year or two?
You're going against the pros in practice, living the NBA lifestyle, seeing NBA pros every night. You develop the mental part of the game.
How will the Blazers' playing you and a lot of the younger guys the past couple months with all the team's losses help next year?
I think it's sort of a test for us, to see where we're at, to see how we're developing as players. I think [it's] the opportunity for us to go out there and see what type of players we are.
Have there been moments this year where you're like, "Man, I'm guarding Allen Iverson"?
No matter your age, you're a pro. You're not a rookie when you're on the court, you've got to go out and play no matter what.
Does it seem more like a job to you now than when you were playing in high school? Are you still having fun?
Of course you're having fun. You're out there playing against the best talent in the world. The guys you get to see on TV. It's fun. Of course it's a job, you know, when you [have to play your] best so you can stay in this league.
Do you get a chance to see much of Portland when you're not playing or on the road?
I'm all around the town all the time. What I like about the city is the fans. It's the only professional team in town, so the fans are really into it wherever you're at in Portland.
Coming from New York, what is there for a 19-year-old to do in Portland?
Same things I'd be doing in New York. Hanging out with my friends, going out to the movies, going out shopping. Just regular things.
Do you want to stay in Portland after your contract is up?
Oh yeah. Definitely. I'd love to stay.
Don't you think you'd be more marketable in a bigger city?
That will take care of itself. I'm just worried about playing basketball right now.
The Blazers will finish the season with one of the five worst records in the NBA.
Additional reporting by WW intern Josey Bartlett.