JaVale McGee showed off a classic Mark Bryant trading card that a fan sent him.
“(He’s) very physical,” said JaVale McGee of Bryant, who played in the NBA for 10-seasons and now is an assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns. “He said this league is very soft compared to the way they were playing back then. I agree. I truly agree.”
McGee has brought a level of physicality to the Suns, representing an important piece to Phoenix’s chase for its first title. And he knows how to win. McGee is a three-time NBA champion and an Olympic gold medalist, a far cry from his reputation for ineptitude that tainted his early years with the Washington Wizards and Denver Nuggets.
Drafted 18th overall in 2008 by the Wizards, McGee was a mainstay on “Shaqtin ‘a Fool,” a weekly bloopers segment during TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” early in his career. He earned the nickname “Tragic Bronson” from analyst Shaquille O’Neal over boneheaded plays and bizarre mistakes.
Those plays included when he attempted a dunk from the free-throw line with his team trailing by 25 points. There was the time he ran back on defense when his team still had possession. He once swatted a shot into the fifth row and was called for goaltending. And who can forget the time the 7-foot-1 McGee was pushed off the block by 5-foot-9 Isaiah Thomas.
McGee said the blooper reel was “slowly chipping away” at his reputation.
“The thing about that whole Shaqtin ‘a Fool era of when I was on there was I didn’t realize what it was doing to my career until I got started to move on to other teams,” McGee revealed on Shannon Sharpe’s “Club Shay Shay “in September. “I would talk to other coaches and middle of the year they’d be like ‘I’ve always seen that Shaqtin’ a Fool stuff and had a different mental review and I never knew like you’re a smart kid. You’re extremely vocal, you’re a great basketball player. ‘”
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After McGee called out O’Neal for bullying and his appearances on the blooper reel ceased, McGee began rebuilding his reputation as a champion-level contributor. He won consecutive titles with the Warriors in 2017 and 2018, and earned a third ring with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020. He won an Olympic gold medal in 2021 on the United States’ national basketball team.
McGee signed a one-year, $ 5 million deal with Phoenix this offseason after the Suns swept McGee and the Nuggets on the way to the 2021 Finals. But it was six garbage time minutes that McGee hustled in during a second-round series loss to the Suns that impressed Paul and led to an opportunity to join the title contender.
“They were the best team last year, they just lost in the Finals,” McGee said. “They need one more piece and I’m that piece. I feel it, this that year.”
McGee has seamlessly slid into the backup center role behind DeAndre Ayton and has consistently made an impact on the game in whatever minutes he plays. In the first four games in the Sun’s first-round series against the New Orleans Pelicans, McGee averaged 11.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in about 13 minutes. He missed only one field goal during the four-game stretch, going 20-21 off the bench. His goal is efficiency.
“I know what I can do, I know my role. I know the energy I bring the teams. I know the efficient way I play basketball,” McGee said. “When I’m in there, I’ll give you damn near 10 and 7 with 16 minutes. I’m definitely the most efficient player when it comes to that.”
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McGee – whose father, George Montgomery, was a second-round draft pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1985 and whose mother, Pamela, was the No. 2 pick in the first WNBA draft – has come to be known for its efficiency. But that wasn’t always the case.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted that he had “a preconceived notion about JaVale” before he joined the Warriors in 2016. “That turned out to be totally false and a lot of that is because of what goes on with Shaq’s ‘Shaqtin’ A Fool, ‘”Kerr added.
“When somebody on national TV is making fun of you night after night, it’s not the greatest thing for your reputation.”
Now, he’s going for a fourth title with Phoenix, where he adds depth at the center position and rim protection.
“I’m not just lifting myself up and going stat hunting,” McGee said. “I’m lifting my teammates up pregame, I’m lifting my teammates up on the bench. I won’t even play the whole full fourth quarter but you will feel me when I’m on the bench. It’s energy.”
McGee’s energy can be felt before game time, hyping up his teammates during their energetic pregame ritual with an emotional speech. His energy can be felt on the bench and when he checks into the game.
“JaVale is amazing,” Chris Paul said during the Suns ’first-round series against the Pelicans. “JaVale’s energy is contagious.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: JaVale McGee has last laugh after ‘Shaqtin’ A Fool ‘damaged reputation