Being comfortable in one’s skin can be a difficult task, but veteran center Brendan Haywood from the Cleveland Cavaliers has mastered the art. He’s a throwback type of center. You know, the type that likes to rebound, block shots and stay close to the basket. He’s a contributor not a complainer and never worries about what he isn’t. Instead, he focuses on what he is, and how he can help his team.
Haywood has come a long way from the kid in North Carolina who once played the saxophone. He has soaked up everything he can in his 12-year career thus far. He’s cerebral in every sense of the word. The Cavs backup big man also knows his role for the new-look Cavs, his history and his responsibility on all levels. He shared his thoughts with us on a myriad of topics in this Q&A.
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Dime: How are you adjusting to your role on this Cav’s team: kind of being used as an emergency lane clogger and shot blocker?
Brendan Haywood: It’s been a little different for me because — besides last year, when I was hurt — I have always been used to being in the rotation. But these are the type of sacrifices that have to be made when you play on winning teams. Coach has his rotation, and I have to be ready to play when my number’s called.
Dime: Do you feel this team can live up to all the hype and be a title contender this season?
Haywood: We definitely have a lot talent but I don’t think right now we’re worried about living up to the hype. Right now we’re worried about establishing good winning habits and building towards the future so we can be a team that wins when playoffs and championship-time comes. Right now we have some things that we have to correct and we’re getting better day by day.
Dime: What are some of things that you see need correcting?
Haywood: I think we have a great coaching staff; our coaching staff always stresses ball movement. They stress that guys need to be in the right places for our defensive rotations and our helps. Those are things that we have to get better at. We have to continue to share the ball as a unit and we have to continue to get better defensively. When you look at the best teams in the league — a team like that Spurs who just won it, what do they do? They play very good defense and they move the ball great. We understand that’s where we have to get to if we want to be great as well.
Dime: You have a unique contract situation that has your name being brought up in trade talks. Can you explain your understanding of your contract and how are you are handling the rumors?
Haywood: I understand the situation. My contract can be used to take money off the books. I understand exactly where I’m at, it’s part of the business — it just is what it is. There are trade rumors every day, but they don’t really bother me.
Dime: LeBron [James] has returned home so to speak, you had an opportunity to play where you grew up in Charlotte for a while too. What are your thoughts on players playing in cities or near cities where they grew up?
Haywood: I think it’s great for LeBron to come home. I think it’s a great story and great for the city of Cleveland. I think this is where he really wants to be as well so everybody wins in this situation. But at the end of the day, the NBA is still a business. So some guys will be able to return home, some guys won’t — because they will go where they feel they have the best chance to win. Or they’ll go where they have the best chance to make money, and for some guys that won’t be in their hometowns.
Dime: Do you think it’s easier or harder to play in your hometown?
Haywood: I think it all depends on the person. Some people don’t like the pressure of playing at home and some people don’t mind.
Dime: How does this Cavs locker room compare to others you have been a part of in terms of talent and chemistry?
Haywood: Talent-wise this roster ranks number one. I’ve never been on a more talented team. Chemistry — we’re still trying to pick it up. The best chemistry I’ve played with was my team in Dallas. Everybody understood where the ball was supposed to go because Rick Carlisle preached ball movement. But our chemistry here gets better day by day and I can see us having a special kind of chemistry as the season goes on.
Dime: What’s your role in the locker room in terms of helping to cultivate that chemistry and culture?
Haywood: I try to talk to some of the younger bigs like Tristan [Thompson] and tell him what I see out there from a defensive standpoint and some of the things offensively. I don’t try to be the vet that’s always talking and yapping. I just try to be the vet that pulls guys to the side and lets them know when I think they’re doing something right or even something wrong.
Dime: Transitioning a bit. Seeing as how you’re a true center, almost throwback in a way…who do you think are top three big men of all-time? Classic big men, not stretch guys, but more back-to-the-basket types.
Haywood: The three greatest big men of all time for me would be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’neal and Hakeem Olajuwon. Kareem had the most points, Shaq was the most physically dominant and Hakeem had the best moves I have ever seen in my life.
[Ed. note: Bill Russell‘s exclusion is a demerit here.]
Dime: You’ve played with multiple personality types over the years. Who would you say was the best leader? You’ve played with from Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Jordan and LeBron.
Haywood: Hmm. Mike was always a great leader but we didn’t win as much as he was on the down-side of his career on a young team. LeBron, from what I’ve seen, looks like a great leader. In Dallas, Jason Kidd was probably the leader of that team — he was a great leader. He was quiet but when he spoke it was powerful. So those three guys are probably the best leaders I’ve played with.
Dime: Going back a bit, what was it like playing alongside Jordan and Kwame Brown at the same time? Especially with the pressure Brown faced as a No. 1 pick coupled with playing with arguably the greatest player of all time in Jordan.
Haywood: Playing with Mike was great because I got to see what goes into greatness. Even at 40 years-old he was still coming in early working on his game continuing to get bette — never being satisfied. Playing with Kwame — I kind of felt bad for him because I feel like if he had [gone] to a different situation he would have been a better player. Kwame was very talented, he was young, athletic, naturally strong, and he was quick. But he was in a situation [where] a lot was put on him and he was still young mentally. He just needed a different type of situation because it didn’t work out well for him. He could have been a very great basketball player had he been on a different team.
Dime: Who are some of the players you have gotten close to during your time in the league?
Haywood: A lot of the guys that I’m really close to are guys are that have started to retire. Roger Mason is one of my good friends, Jared Jefferies and Larry Hughes. A lot of those Wizards guys are my friends for life. We played so many years together — we had wars together and we just became tight as a unit. Brandan Wright out in Dallas and Ian Mahinmi playing for the Pacers, too. A lot of those guys you spend a couple years with and you get a chance to bond with.
Dime: Of all your teammates, did anyone’s pregame ritual catch you off guard or just flat-out surprise you?
Haywood: No one’s pre-game ritual ever threw me off. But Gilbert Arenas is just superstitious that there were certain things that were different about him in his pre-game. He had one game where he had played in some shoes and he a great game. The very next game they gave him the exact same shoe but I think adidas had stitched “Arenas” in the shoe. I watched him for an hour unstitch the name out of the shoe because he believed he had to play in the exact same shoe as the last time.
Dime: Did you get on him jokingly a little bit or did you just let him do his thing?
Haywood: No, he was very serious about that. It wasn’t anything to laugh at because he really believed that. When people are really superstitious that’s their thing. He thought having his name stitched in the shoe was going to change his game, so he unstitched it.
Dime: From all of your years playing ball, which coaches have influenced you the most?
Haywood: It probably starts out with my high school coach David Price. He really believed in me when no one else did and he was just a great person. I didn’t have a dad so he was like a father-figure to me, I couldn’t be here without him. He’s definitely number one in my book. After that it’s probably Rick Carlisle and Doug Collins as far as basketball knowledge. They have had an immense effect on me with the knowledge they’ve given me as a basketball player. It’s stuff that I will always take with me throughout my whole career.
Dime: Your one of many who truly use your platform as an athlete to engage in the community. Can you talk a little about the work you have done and plans for the future?
Haywood: I feel as athletes we have a responsibility to help the community. I know I couldn’t be here without people helping me and I feel like when you achieve a certain amount of success, you need to go and give back. Give back your time, money, effort just to help some other people so that they have a better opportunity because I know what it is to struggle.
Dime: That sense of community stems from where?
Haywood: It just comes from my upbringing. It comes from being raised in a single-parent household that didn’t have a lot. We had to go through times when the power was cut off. We had to move around sometimes because we didn’t the money to stay where we were supposed to stay. Sometimes didn’t have the money for the clothes we wanted to wear — maybe just two pairs of jeans. I know what it’s like to struggle and I hate to see other people struggling. I can’t help everybody but I can help some. That’s why I have a foundation for single parents because that’s where my passion lies and I want to be able to help people a little bit.
Dime: How many more seasons do you think you want to play?
Haywood: I honestly don’t know. It comes down to how my body feels at the end of the year. Your body will tell you when it’s time to stop. When things are hurting and not responding the way they should, it’s time to stop. Right now I feel pretty good, so we’ll see.
Dime: Life after basketball for Brendan Haywood will include what?
Haywood: Life after basketball — I’ve always been intrigued with the media side of things. Whether it be commentating, in-studio work or radio work. I did a radio show this past year and I loved it. I’d be very interested in working in some form of media just doing something. I have a genuine passion for sports and I’d like to get my opinions out there. I see a lot of people that have these sports shows and talk, but they’ve never really played or been inside a locker room. Some of their information is so off. I’d really love to give the fans the perspective from someone that’s been there. Some of these people that are talking are just talking heads who don’t know what they’re talking about. I’d just love to give a different type of perspective.
What do you think?
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