Team Player: Earl Watson, guard, Utah Jazz
February, 13, 2013
By Chris Gigley | ESPN The Magazine
Getty ImagesNo matter the team, NBA veteran Earl Watson remembers his 'mates (and coaches).Jazz point guard Earl Watson has been in the NBA so long he was drafted by a team that doesn’t exist anymore.
Sure, the Seattle SuperSonics relocated to Oklahoma City just five seasons ago. The point is that Watson has seen a lot since Seattle took him in the second round in 2001. He has played three seasons in Memphis, one in Denver, three more in Seattle and one after the team moved to Oklahoma City.
Now he is in his third season with the Utah Jazz. Like the good point guard he is, Watson dishes out opinions on the teams, players and coaches he remembers most.
Which team is your favorite?
Those Memphis teams I played on for three seasons, with Jerry West as the GM and Hubie Brown as the coach. Growing up, I always looked up to those amazing icons of the NBA. Jerry West is the logo. Hubie Brown was a TNT analyst when I was growing up. But when you play for him, you realize his coaching experience is amazing. His knowledge is through the roof.
I went to UCLA, where I had the chance to talk to Coach [John] Wooden. Jerry West and Hubie Brown are on the same plane, along with Jerry Sloan. I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to be around them and benefit from their knowledge.
Which team was the closest on and off the court?
Memphis because of Hubie Brown. He spoke to us in a unique way. He taught the game in a way that was different from any other way it was taught to me. We were the youngest team in the NBA, so we clung to each other. All of us were barely out of college trying to figure out who we were in this league.
He’d always say, “I’m going to give you a style of play. I’m going to give you an identity. After you play for me, you’d better play for any other coach in the NBA. If that’s not possible, I haven’t done my job.” I’ve always respected that. He taught us accountability and work ethic.
Jeff Reinking/Getty ImagesEarl Watson, left, considers Hubie Brown one of his biggest influences.
Look at anyone who played for that team. Many of them went on to win championships with other teams. Jason Williams, James Posey, Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Pau Gasol -- they’ve all had just amazing careers, and I think it’s because of him. He laid the groundwork.
Which of your teams had the most talent?
In Denver in '05-’06, with [Carmelo Anthony], a younger Kenyon Martin, Andre Miller, Earl Boykins and Marcus Camby. That team was amazing talent-wise. I think talent makes my job easy, but so does basketball knowledge. Denver was a big difference from Memphis, where Hubie Brown always had the games scripted out. We always knew what was about to happen. It was crazy. In Denver, it was all about pushing the pace with fast transitions, dunks and lobs. It was exciting in a different way. There was more room for creativity.
Which of your teams did the most with the least talent?
Honestly, every NBA team is talented. I don’t think any team can overachieve in this league. They can underachieve, though.
So which one do you think underachieved?
That’s hard to say. The game has changed to the point where only a small core of a team stays together for more than a couple seasons. And even that hardly ever happens in smaller markets. When I was in Memphis, everyone was 24 or 25 years old. Our starting five was Jason Williams, Mike Miller, James Posey, Pau Gasol and Lorenzen Wright. The second unit was me, Bonzi Wells, Shane Battier, Stromile Swift and a rotating five. I always ask myself, “What would’ve happened if we were able to keep that team together for five or six years?” I think we could’ve accomplished some amazing things.
What is your best road trip memory?
My last year in Seattle, before we moved to Oklahoma City, we got stuck in Oklahoma City. That seemed so ironic because we ended up moving there that summer. We had an emergency landing in Oklahoma City and were grounded for about three hours. Several months later, the team relocates. I think it was an omen.
Who’s the best teammate you’ve played with?
Gary Payton in my rookie year. I always looked up to him. I loved the way he played. I loved his tenacity. I loved his basketball intelligence and how he was able to simplify the game. You either loved him or hated him. There was no in-between.
I’ll never forget playing pickup before training camp started. It was just the young guys, and Gary Payton walks in the gym. I’d never met him and was just thinking, “How cool is this!” He stops the pickup game and confronts me. “Your teammates are tired,” he says. “Call a timeout!” I was like, “No one calls a timeout in pickup. What are you talking about?” I don’t know if he was testing me or that’s how he plays pickup, but that was how I met him. Since then, he’s become a mentor to me. He took me under his wing my rookie year and really pushed me to be better.