Very few people get to actually witness the impact Jared Dudley has on his team—the Los Angeles Lakers’ eleventh man doesn’t get on the court too often, but behind the scenes he prides himself on holding everything together—or the league. But when players met last week to decide the fate of the NBA, Dudley positioned himself as a voice of reason in numerous conversations with some of basketball’s biggest names. As a 13-year veteran who’s experienced many different situations in a career that’s brought him to seven different teams, the NBA’s future is always on his mind.
Yesterday, GQ caught up with Dudley to talk about how he responded to Milwaukee’s initial boycott, the immediate aftermath, his greatest concern about the NBA’s future, why the Lakers didn’t lose any sleep after their Game 1 loss to Portland, and more.
GQ: When did you first realize you weren’t playing last Wednesday, and what was going through your head all day?
Jared Dudley: When I woke up from my nap, I was getting ready to head over to the bus. I was just waking up and they banged on my door. That’s when I saw on my phone that the Bucks didn’t come out and I was getting information through social media. There was a team meeting within 15-20 minutes after I woke up.
What transpires at a team meeting like that?
Something like that...that was very unique, if one time ever. It was an unexpected boycott that no one knew about except for the Bucks, so at our meeting it’s ‘What’s going on?’ During that meeting it’s like, here are the logistics, what happened, what are the Bucks reasons, what’s going on. And one thing about this is we’re a fraternity, so we stick together. Right, wrong, whatever. The NBA is a fraternity, so once that was the consensus it was all about OK, let’s back the Bucks. But where do we go from here?
Were you reaching out to players on the Bucks that you know? Texting anybody?
I wasn’t. It happened so fast. PJ Tucker of the Rockets was hitting me like, “Hey are you guys gonna play your game?” Because the Rockets didn't want to play their game and then we sit out the game after them. At this time, the Bucks are still at the arena.
In your team meeting were you voting to see if you’re backing the Bucks or playing?
Not yet. There’s no vote going on because it was just ‘Where do we go from here?’ Games are being cancelled and we don’t know for how long, all we know in this meeting is let’s see what everyone’s talking about and then we’ll decide where to go from here.
Did it all feel historic in the moment?
Yes. It definitely did because I can’t remember any basketball player boycotting a game unexpectedly for social injustice. Usually, a boycott is planned and thought out, so I love how the other teams had the Bucks’ back. It was historic having all those players in the same room discussing where do we go from here. Having coaches, having GMs, it definitely seemed like something where the players had a voice and an obligation to society to start using sports as a platform to create societal changes.
Were you caught off guard by the Bucks?
Listen, they caught me by surprise but not in a bad way. When I first heard about a boycott, I thought it was gonna be Toronto and Boston. They met the day before. They talked. That was up for discussion. You heard rumblings of that. The Milwaukee one wasn’t even planned. George Hill and them decided, I think 20-30 minutes before tip! I mean, hey, the Bucks were shocked! Who was not shocked?
There’s been a lot of reporting about what was said in last Wednesday’s player’s meeting and what happened the following morning. What was it like to be there and then watch it all unfold on social media?
It’s like when you argue with your parents, loved ones, family members. And we’re all trying to do what’s best. It’s good to have back and forth, to see hey, this is what this person feels or that person feels, now what’s best for the league? What’s best for the future players going forward? If there’s no dialogue you can’t get better so I don’t like when you hear ‘this player wanted this.' Yeah, he wanted to say “Would this be a good idea? Hey I think it might be good if we don’t play or I think it might be good if we do play.”
You have to have dialogue: ‘Hey, these are the ramifications, these are the consequences, these are the positives. If we don’t play what will we do?’ I don’t like when it’s looked upon as a negative. Unless it’s something disrespectful or something that can hurt the league, and there [was none of that]. There were a lot of people who spoke: LeBron, Udonis Haslem, CJ McCollum, Doc Rivers. LeBron was like “Hey, I’m with the masses. I’m here. I’m good. Don’t worry about me.” Because everyone looks towards him. “It’s not me vs. everyone else”—that’s one thing he said. “I’m with what everyone’s willing to do, but let’s have a plan. What is it? If we’re gonna give up something, what is it we’re giving up, and why?”
Did you speak in that meeting?
I did not speak in the meeting. I’m someone behind the scenes when we have our own team meetings, when we have our own discussions with other players—Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, LeBron, AD, Rondo, CJ McCollum. We had different conversations. It’s hard to have an open discussion when there’s 200-something players. And let’s be honest: Star players should have more of a say than a role player. I’m a role player and I say that in the sense of, ‘If we do play or we don’t play it affects everyone differently,’ but stars make the money, the escrow [Editor’s note: Players normally contribute 10% of their salary into an escrow account to cover the possibility of the league not meeting its income projections for a season. At the end of the season, that money goes back to the players until their total income constitutes 51% of league revenues; if any is left over above that 51% threshold, it goes to the owners. Since stars make more money, they contribute more to the escrow. In order to continue the season, players agreed to increase the amount of salaries held in escrow to 25% from May 15 through the end of the playoffs]. I’m not saying they’re bigger and better than us but their voice affects what happens. They should have a more powerful vote. Even though we have a committee for the masses, we really look to the stars for advice because this ship can’t roll without them.
You cited how LeBron said he was willing to go along with the masses. What were your thoughts on this whole debate?
Me and Markieff Morris were talking about how we’re willing to give up money if we’re 20 years down the road and I can tell my grandkids, “I gave it up for this.” You’re basically giving up millions of dollars because the ramifications don’t only affect this year. Don’t worry about this year. It’s next year and the year after. If we don’t play, how much money do we lose for the salary cap next year and beyond that?
The players before me got this TV revenue so high that I can make money to support my family forever, and I feel like it’s an obligation for us to leave the game better than when we first got it, for the future. So I’m willing to boycott a game. I’m willing to do what’s right for social justice, but what is the plan moving forward if we don’t play? At that time of hearing it there was nothing in place [to accomplish while not playing] that we couldn't still do while playing.
How would you describe your own role in this process?
I am vocal and behind the scenes in our team meetings and having conversations with LeBron, AD. But Markieff Morris was vocal with me. Rondo was vocal. You don’t hear their names. JR Smith, he talked in the main meeting. And hearing these guys speak about something that’s bigger than basketball, they made me think about life and basketball in a different way. My role was just having conversations. Laying out the good and the bad. What would be the plan? Is that plan good enough for what we’re trying to do? When I heard those players spoke to Obama, I thought ‘man that’s phenomenal.’ For us to make a plan you’ve got to seek the right people and get the right knowledge and information.
So for me it was, let’s not make a decision off emotion. It was an emotional time in the sense of it just happened, Milwaukee just boycotted, we didn’t know what was going on, we’re mad and pissed off about another unarmed Black person getting shot. We’re in the bubble away from family and friends for seven, eight weeks. We can’t do anything. You had all that bottled up. So I think it’s hard to make a decision like that in 24 hours. My role was keeping the dialogue, updating the information, and that’s just on my team. I loved our team and the communication we had.
How much does the bubble itself impact the player’s behavior and perspective on all of this?
For sure it does! Stress. Mental health. We’ve never had to do this. We’ve never been away from loved ones this long. People have children. People have newborns. People just got engaged. People are married. People’s wives are pregnant. People are having babies outside the bubble and then coming back. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it.
A lot of times your wife and family calm you down. All you can do is think basketball. There’s no mental space to get away. Like usually, if I have a bad game I’ll go home to my family and I can talk to them. I might go to a movie with them just to get away from basketball. You don’t get away from basketball when you’re here.
Everyone on the outside of the bubble can’t actually know what it’s like to be inside. I think it’s hard to understand.
Not only can you not understand, but some of the rules we didn’t even know until we got here. It’s not like we knew exactly what we were getting into. The quarantine for four days, you heard? It’s seven days if you want your family members to come, if they don’t fly on the private jet from your city. So if my family is living in Atlanta, they’ve got to quarantine for an extra few days because they’re not flying from LA with the team plane. There was so much stuff. They could only come on one date, so now they can’t pick the date they want to come.
We didn't find all that information until we got here. We basically came here to finish the season, bring awareness to different social issues, and the money. Those are the three reasons. Because when it came to the actual bubble rules and what’s going on, man there was a lot of rules we didn’t even know until we got here.
What impact do you think this work stoppage had on the relationship between players and owners?
We want owners and the league, Adam Silver, to be proactive instead of reactive. What I mean by that is it should not be us having to demand stuff. This should’ve been done before we even got to Orlando. Owners put a certain amount of money towards all this but how are we going to change bills [or laws]? This should’ve been discussed. Not after somebody got shot. That already happened when someone’s knee was on someone’s neck for eight minutes and he died and there were protests throughout the whole world. So there’s going to be another unarmed Black person to die here in the next couple weeks, we just know how life is. Are we gonna stop again?
If the owners and players are doing it [together] then at least we’re trying to change and be proactive. When it comes to the money situation, I don’t want to look at it as selfish. I’ve made my money, so it’s easy for me to stop. But I’m looking towards the future Jared Dudleys and LeBron James’, so they can make the most money they can to take care of their families and their communities. If we’re gonna stop, owners should be on board. A lot of these owners fund campaigns and all our owners are billionaires, so we’re willing to stop if it changes lives and changes laws. But how quickly can it be done, because we all know it takes time. Can we see that progress while we play so we can give money and see change or is it ‘listen, we’re not playing until there’s change’? That could be years. So you have to weigh both sides.
Where do you stand on the idea that playing games is a distraction away from everything that’s happening in the real world?
I’ve always believed our voices are stronger and louder together. We’re doing this interview now because we’re playing. I have GQ doing an interview now just because of what’s going on. We’re not doing this interview if I’m at home. So it brings awareness. You hear VanVleet. You hear George Hill. You don’t know those names. The only names you hear when we don’t play are LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry. You don’t hear these role players. Jaylen Brown? I just saw Jamal Murray put his Breonna Taylor shoes on the chair. You don’t get that if we sit. And then there’s the money. People say ‘it’s not always about money’ but money helps change communities. It’s not everything but it’s a big piece of what’s going on.
How valuable are veterans like yourself in a chaotic environment like this one, to the Lakers and then other players, too?
We’re trying to win a championship, so as a guy who’s a veteran what can I do if it’s not on the court to help? Maybe it’s telling Dwight what he’s doing wrong on the court. Maybe it’s encouraging Dion Waiters and JR Smith to stay ready. Often I’ll say “Let’s go play pickup” to stay in shape and stay ready if they’ve got to play against Houston.
We have a lounge up here for players and I personally haven’t been up there because I don’t want to mingle with anybody. Now, when I pass PJ Tucker I’ll hang out with him. I’m cool with Kyle Lowry. We’ll have conversations about the future and the landscape: ‘Does it look like another bubble?’ For me it’s, what about next year? I’m always talking about the future of the league. Are we doing this again? Can we back this up to February or March to have a chance to get fans in the stands? And if we do another bubble, we can’t do it without family. That’s something that can not happen. You can’t wait until after the first round. We shouldn’t have signed off on that. Those are the conversations that I’m having now because I’m seeing the future and that’s what I’m more so concerned with.
What specifically are your biggest concerns about the NBA’s future?
I think owners will want players to put a big percentage of [their salaries] into escrow. Right now we had to put 25 percent of our salary into escrow. How much money we make through this pandemic, finishing this season in the bubble, depends on how much we get back of our money. Next year, let’s say I make $5 million, and the NBA says “Hey listen, we don’t know how long we won’t have fans, we need 50 percent instead of 25. My fear for players is that in four or five years the league is going to be back to normal making millions of dollars, but that player who had to put 50 percent into escrow is going to lose it and these billionaires are going to be back to normal. So my advice is to keep that money in escrow and wait until the league is back to making money and their losses are now even, and now that money disperses back to the players. [Editors’ note: Projected league revenues for a 2020-21 season are much more uncertain than usual, and likely to remain much lower than before the pandemic. Increasing the money players put into escrow is one way to address that uncertainty. The accounting process known as cap smoothing would also help: It means that the league can set the 2020-21 revenue projection higher than it actually will be, and then make up that shortfall by setting projections for subsequent years, when revenue has returned to pre-pandemic levels, lower than actual revenue—thus ‘smoothing’ the millions of dollars lost during pandemic seasons over multiple years rather than suffering bigger drops in just two years.]
If the league never makes the money back, then yes it can go. But we all know there are billionaires trying to get into the league, the value of these franchises is going through the roof. TV deals are high. So my thing is I don’t want the player who hasn’t made a lot of money, who signed a one-year deal for $2 million, and now he’s losing half of that.
What are your thoughts on the declining TV ratings as a factor in this discussion? Do you care at all?
I do care. I do think that for one, let’s just be honest, when it comes to us and football, do you think if we had 16 games the ratings would be so low? Just like baseball, they have 162 games and baseball ratings aren’t as good as us. Right now there are more games at different times. Games were on at 12 o’ clock. People work. People have jobs.
Also there are some people that don’t want to deal with politics when watching sports. There is a percentage of that. And so the Kaepernick thing, they turned off. [Editor’s note: President of Optimum Sports Tom McGovern, who buys NFL ad slots for major corporations, recently told Variety that the NFL “never really saw any direct indication of audience decline directly related to (Kaepernick’s) protest.”] The kneeling thing. You definitely have people who don’t want to deal with that who don’t watch because of it. Maybe next year, going against baseball more so than football, you’ll see the ratings get better. [Editor’s note: The NBA season typically coincides with the NFL’s from October through early February. If the next NBA season starts in March 2021, games will be airing during baseball season, which has lower ratings than the NFL.] You always want to be trending in the right direction.
What was the mood of the team when the Lakers went down 0-1 against the Blazers? Any concerns at all?
No, because if you saw what happened we had so many wide open shots that we missed. It wasn’t like they had good defense. We were wide open. We shot bad from the field, three-point line, and free-throw line. They shot a crazy amount of free throws and we still had a chance to win. That’s not happening four times. We’re not shooting that bad again. Plus, their depth—their minutes were so high. For us it was, let’s just take away the easy threes, the fouls off three pointers, and make these role players have to make shots, and they’re not gonna make enough twos to beat us. And that’s what ended up happening. So there was no panic. It was about being more disciplined with what we had to do. Everyone was cool, calm, collected. Nobody was losing sleep. We knew what had to be done.
Leading up to that game, the Lakers had one of the worst offenses in the bubble.
We didn’t play it like the regular season. If you saw it, we were giving a new guy a day off every game. We were treating it as a preseason in the sense of ‘This guy has a minutes restriction, this guy has a minutes restriction, oh you’re not gonna play. Oh you’re banged up a little bit? You’re off.’ We added JR Smith and Dion Waiters. We lost Rajon Rondo. So our thing was health. You want to play well. It’s not like we were purposefully missing shots, but you really didn’t see us have a normal rotation until Game 1. They won, barely.
Who do you think you’re playing in the second round?
Houston. I think Houston’s the better team.
Originally Appeared on GQ