SLAM Magazine sat down with Richard Jefferson to talk about his days with the Nets, Jason Kidd and of course, a funny story involving Kenyon Martin.
Jefferson, who just won his first ring with the Cleveland Cavaliers, never would’ve guessed what was coming his way when he was traded from Houston to New Jersey on the draft night of 2001. Byron Scott re-assured him that things would be just fine, and it eventually turned into a memory in which RJ recalls as his "favorite moment" before he even played a game.
"I got drafted by Houston. I was so excited. My agent called me and told me I got traded to New Jersey. I immediately became depressed. I had no idea about Jersey, about the tri-state, how close it was to New York. I talked to Byron and he could sense my disappoint. He was like, ‘Don’t worry, I feel like we have some things that are gonna make you happy.’
"The next day, I’m driving on the freeway, in Phoenix. I hear, ‘Hey everybody, we have a trade to announce. Stephon Marbury has just been traded from New Jersey and Jason Kidd is going to New Jersey.’ I almost wrecked my car on the freeway trying to pull over to call my agent. I was so excited. Maybe call it arrogance, maybe call it confidence. But I knew how good Jason Kidd was. I knew how good we were gonna be and what we were gonna accomplish."
Jefferson played with the Nets from 2001-2008 and in that time, they made six straight playoff trips with back-to-back Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003. RJ was never seen as a star on those teams, but his heart and passion to win a title epitomized the early 2000 Nets. He lists two reasons why they were so successful: everybody’s desire to win a ring and Jason Kidd.
"We had a mentality," RJ continues. "We had a style. We all came together. The roles were very, very clearly defined. There was a lot of mutual respect for each other. Years later when I played with Tim Duncan, Tim asked me, ‘What did you think of your chances of beating us in the Finals?’ I was like, ‘I thought our chances were really, really good.’ I asked him, ‘What’d you think your chances were?’ He said, ‘I thought it was about 50-50 going into that series.’ Tim knew that they had to play really, really well to beat us."
The Nets lost the series in six, but had a legitimate chance to take Game Six. They were up by nine in the fourth quarter when the Spurs went on a 19-0 run to cap off an incredible comeback. Sigh. To this day, Kenyon Martin believes the Nets would’ve won the series if they won Game Six.
Martin and Jefferson were both glue guys on that Nets squad. They were Jason Kidd’s running mates and borderline stars because of so. Both brought something different to the table, something that represented what that Nets team was all about: heart.
Jefferson recalls a story during his rookie year where he and KMart got into a fist fight in the locker room after a fourth consecutive loss on the road. Bonzi Wells and Jefferson were getting into it when Martin told RJ to ‘be quiet’. Wells heckled at RJ as he walked off angrily.
"I’m sitting down and Kenyon comes in the locker room pissed off. I stand up and he pushes me down in my seat. We have a full-on fistfight. The only thing that saved me is Aaron Williams, and you remember how big he was, grabbed him from the back to try and calm him down. My last swing hits Aaron Williams in his lip and busts his lip open. At that point in time, I realize what is going on. I have no problem fighting Kenyon. Aaron? I don’t want any piece of," RJ says still with a quiver in his voice.
"Even that fistfight right there, we both understood how much we wanted to win and that we were willing to fight anybody, including each other, to get that done."
Jefferson averaged 17.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists in seven years with the Nets. But they never reached their goal of winning a championship. They were a really good team that deserved a ring. They were an elite team stuck in the shadows of other elite teams like Kobe and Shaq’s Lakers and Tim Duncan’s Spurs.
Still, he sees the time as a great success. Although they no longer play in Jersey, RJ still feels a certain level of pride when he sees the banners hanging from the Barclays Center roof. He went from a depressed drafted New Jersey Net to one of the proudest. That’s just who RJ is
"I remember when I first showed up there, there was no banners at all, not one," Jefferson says. "Nothing. I remember going there now, there’s six banners. There’s four division championships, two Eastern Conference titles. None of that was there my rookie year when I first showed up. Every time I walk into that building, there’s still a feeling of pride."