The first half of 2014-2015 hasn’t gone how the Denver Nuggets envisioned. Plagued by an unrelenting injury bug and a dreadful six-game losing streak in early November, the Nuggets find themselves on the outside looking in on the loaded Western Conference playoff race – with the fully healthy Oklahoma City Thunder just above them.
But if Ty Lawson’s dominant recent play is any indication, Denver’s lack of health fortune and awful start to the season might not doom them after all. The speedy 6-0 point guard has recovered from a balky ankle to play perhaps the best ball of his career in January, averaging 21.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 9.2 assists per game on scintillating marks of 57.1 percent overall and 47.1 percent from beyond the arc.
In the midst of leading his team to a 5-1 start to the month, the perpetually underrated Lawson graciously took some time to talk with Dime about his clothing store, the shady nature of amateurism, changing nature of point guard play, Denver’s postseason hopes, and more in a thoughtful, wide-ranging interview.
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Dime: You invested in a clothing store, Thrill City, this past summer. What is it about Thrill City that made you want to become a part-owner?
Ty Lawson: It’s big that they’re based in Chapel Hill, NC. I want to keep my roots and my feet in Chapel Hill and really help it grow from there. And they’ve got cool concepts and stuff they’re working with, and I just saw the opportunity to help it grow into something bigger.
D: One of those cool Thrill City designs is their “SCAM” shirts poking fun at the NCAA. They’re some of the store’s best-seller and you’ve even modeled them in photos recently. What about those shirts specifically has you extra interested?
TL: I feel like everybody thinks that the NCAA is exploiting these kids – especially basketball and football players. I know they’re getting scholarships, but they produce a lot of money off being in video games and putting their numbers on jerseys and stuff, and schools and the NCAA are the only ones making a profit. The players aren’t getting anything; [the NCAA] is taking it all. And then there’s something like a coach basically just driving down the street during a recruiting visit and the players get in trouble, suspended, or whatever. So I just think it’s not equal, right? Maybe it should be like 60-40 or 70-30, but it can’t be that they get 100 percent of that money and we get nothing when we’re so easily penalized for breaking rules.
D: So it’s safe to that you think college athletes getting “paid” for their services in scholarship only is unfair, right?
TL: Yeah, it’s a little unfair. Take [Toronto Raptors forward and Lawson’s UNC teammate] Tyler Hansbrough. He got paid in education, but he made so much money for the NCAA – probably more than his scholarship was worth. Maybe even ten times more. And most big-time players are like that, too, so I just think it’s not equal.
D: And we actually saw a pretty good example of what you’re talking about with [Georgia running back] Todd Gurley. He took what the NCAA called improper benefits, was suspended for several games as a result and then tore his ACL in his first game back. Do you think a guy like Gurley or another player looks at his school and the NCAA making so much money off his likeness and uses that as justification for breaking the rules?
TL: Yeah. I guess if somebody is offering that – a booster or something, whatever they’re offering – it’s definitely easier to take if you see that the school is selling your jersey with your name and you’re not getting a dime from it. I mean you get an education, but like I said other people are making more money off of you than that scholarship is worth. What exactly were Gurley’s improper benefits? I don’t know that story?
D: He signed some stuff and received compensation once it was sold. I think it was just a couple thousand dollars… (Editor’s note: Gurley accepted just over $3,000 for autographed memorabilia)
TL:Well the school definitely makes more than a couple thousand dollars off his jersey, shoes, or anything else people buy because he plays. Man, that’s crazy. Crazy.