After 11 years in the NBA, current ESPN analyst Jamal Mashburn knows a thing or two about basketball – both on and off the court. So when I had the chance to talk with Mash for an extended period of time, it was a no-brainer. From his All-American years at Kentucky to buying the Pistons to doubting Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game,” we covered it all. Check out the exclusive Dime interview below.
Dime: So what have you been up to since you retired?
Jamal Mashburn: Lot of things. I started with ESPN four years ago. Lots of people don’t know but I was a communications major in college. I didn’t anticipate doing what I studied in college, but when I finished my basketball career it made sense. I’ve always been in business and own franchises of Papa John’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Outback Steakhouse, as well as car dealerships. I own over 34 Outbacks, 37 Papa John’s and dealerships in Kentucky. I’ve always wanted to carry a briefcase. It’s just something you want to do growing up in NYC. When I was younger, I always wondered what was in them.
Dime: What’s in your briefcase these days?
JM: What’s interesting about that is that I just have pens and papers. As I got older, I found out it’s not actually carrying the briefcase that matters, but the intellectual experiences. The briefcase for me is a symbol of my education in the traditional and nontraditional sense. I’m confident in what I know, and it’s been great journey and transition. Through the years, I’ve been approached by a lot of pros as a consultant to help with their transition.
Dime: What’s your current relationship like with the University of Kentucky?
JM: I have gone back and called with their broadcast team. Last season, I had a chance to talk to [John] Wall, [DeMarcus] Cousins and [Patrick] Patterson, and was invited to practice to talk to them about what’s expected of them and how to carry themselves on campus. You have to buy into the team concept. I think John Calipari’s done an excellent job. He’s a great recruiter and it’s great to see the program grow.
Dime: How good do you think Wall can be?
JM: I think John Wall is an excellent kid. I love the humility he shows. He truly understands the history of basketball and is a great young man. As for his potential, he can be one of the all-time greats. He has speed, quickness and tons of upside. I think he’s going to be an outstanding pro just like Chris Paul and Deron Williams. If he can consistently knockdown the 15-18 jumper, he’s going to be special.
Dime: Who do still keep in touch with from your time at Kentucky?
JM: I stay in touch with everyone, but mostly John Pelfrey and Travis Ford. And they have developed into pretty good coaches. Some guys I’ve lost touch with, but we find a way to get in touch during the year. We don’t just talk about old times, but the future as well.
Dime: Have you ever thought about coaching?
JM: I’ve been asked that question before. I have an eight-year-old son (Jamal Mashburn Jr.) who’s going to turn nine on September 29. He’s the only one I coach. I have no patience for coaching, but I have patience for him because I love him unconditionally. I would love to own a professional sports franchise though, and I actually just talked to David Stern about that.
Dime: What NBA franchise would you be interested in buying?
JM: I’ve been approached by people to be a part of a group, but at the time it wasn’t right. But NBA franchises don’t come on the market very often. Personally, I’d like to buy the Detroit Pistons. I think with their fan base and history alone, the Pistons would be a good buy. Other potential owners have to realize there’s going to be a new CBA so you have to look at what the labor is going to cost. And in life, I like to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. Buy low and sell high works for a lot of people, so why not me? And Joe Dumars has done an excellent job there to build a winner.
Dime: Realistically, do you think your son could play in the NBA?
JM: I’ve had the ability to step away and look at him from an unbiased angle. I put a ball in his hands at three years old and he’s far more advanced at the age of eight, going on nine, than I ever dreamt of. When I was growing up, I had to learn on my own and had to figure out my mistakes on the fly. He shoots the ball better than I did at that age, and has a step-back jump shot – I wasn’t doing that until I was in college. The other day he came to me and said, “Dad, I think I’m better than you.” I told him to Google me and find my resume.
Dime: Do you think there’s going to be a lockout?
JM: I hope there’s not a lockout. I went through one in 1998 and it’s really tough. You weren’t getting paid and didn’t know when, or if, the season was going to start. It took a long time to get the fans – especially the causal fan – back. In a recession, the common people will not understand millionaires and billionaires fighting over money. Being a former pro player, it just doesn’t register. And it’s usually not the owners that take the heat, it’s guys like LeBron James and other massive players.
Dime: Speaking of LeBron, how good do you think the Heat will be this year?
JM: They have a lot to prove as they haven’t really done anything yet. With that said, I happen to think LeBron, [Dwyane] Wade and [Chris] Bosh will be competing for a championship this coming season. That’s three special guys and it’s tough to hold all three of them down. The Lakers may have an advantage with their inside play with [Pau] Gasol – and [Andrew] Bynum has to be healthy – but the Heat have way too many weapons.
Dime: Having been traded to the Heat yourself 13 years ago, do you agree with the naysayers that say chemistry will be an issue?
JM: LeBron, Wade and Bosh are all friends, so chemistry is not an issue. It’s going to be a matter of defense. Wade and the Heat have won a ’ship in recent times, so they’re not that far removed from knowing how to get to that Promised Land. It’s going to be fun and exciting to watch. They have a point to prove, and a lot of people are adding fuel to the fire, so they feel like the underdog. Plus, you can’t bet against Pat Riley.
Dime: Among the things you’ve been involved with off the court, you’ve joined forces with the Faces of Influenza campaign to stress the importance of annual vaccination. How come?
JM: There are two reasons. I have two kids of my own – a 14-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son – so I know the value of getting vaccinated. Also, I played basketball in the NBA for 11 years and have credibility in that world, so I want to raise awareness for annual vaccinations.
Dime: How would the flu affect you as a player?
JM: Not a lot of people understand the lifestyle of the a professional athlete. There’s a lot of travel, dealing with different environments, so I always took a flu shot when trainer brought in a doctor. I never wanted to miss a lot of time for something that I could prevent. The fact that I was burdened by injuries was beyond my control. We shake a lot of people’s hands and don’t know where those hands have been.
Dime: Were there any guys you played with that didn’t want to get vaccinated?
JM: You saw a lot of that in locker rooms. There are lot of lots of myths out there, and from my own experiences, there are lots of guys who are superstitious or may not like needles. I always raised my hand and was first to go in there. On a team, not all 15 guys would buy into a team concept, let alone vaccination. It’s the nature of the beast.
Dime: Do you find it ironic that one of the most famous games in NBA history is Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game?”
JM: Yeah, it’s interesting. I got a chance to play against MJ and he brought an elite physical toughness and athletic ability. There are not a lot of people that could do what he did. People deal with the flu in different ways, and I don’t know if he had a shot or vaccine at the time. Even for an outstanding player, there are not a lot of guys that can play at that level under the flu bug. But we know how great he is. At the end of the day, what makes that game so unique is the timing of the game. It was a playoff situation, and that builds into the story. He is human, but he had an un-humanlike performance. He did what he had to do. It was a great game for him and a great game to watch, but if you ask me, it was a little bit more hype than anything. Was it really the flu bug? We’ll never know.
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