Brian Cardinal is the definition of a journeyman. With his sixth NBA team, the man affectionately named “The Custodian” finally got to the Promised Land, hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy with the Dallas Mavericks this June. On a team where every player had a specific role to play, Cardinal played his to perfection, coming in and making life miserable for Chris Bosh and LeBron James in the paint. Cardinal also made the most of his opportunities with the ball, knocking down some huge three-pointers in Game 5 and 6. Recently we caught up with Brian to talk about whatever was on his mind.
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Dime: For a guy who’s bounced around the league a lot, and not always played big minutes, how do you stay ready to play in big situations?
Brian Cardinal: I just think it’s a matter of staying professional. It’s kind of my role to be ready whenever I’m called upon, and you kind of have a sense that, you know, I’m not going to play a whole lot of minutes because I’m backing up Dirk or Shawn Marion – those guys are obviously much better than I am. They deserve the majority of the minutes, but at the same, you know that if something happens, if somebody gets in foul trouble, somebody gets hurt, you got to be ready to rock and roll. And when you get put in you gotta go, you gotta play. So that’s always kind of been my mindset, not just here, but in general in this league. I mean, it’s a great business. It’s an incredible gig that we all have, and it’s very easy to, you know, kind of get sucked in to feeling sorry for yourself or feeling frustrated or any of that. My mindset’s always been this is the best job around, and I’m with some of the best guys that play this game, so I wasn’t going to be the weakest link on this team.
Dime: Talk about the atmosphere of the Finals. You were called on to be somewhat of an enforcer, throwing around a lot of hard fouls. How intense was it out there?
BC: This is as big as it gets. It’s the biggest stage. I think everyone understands the gravity of the situation, just being in the Finals, and it was awesome that Coach (Rick Carlisle) had faith in me, that the guys on the team had faith in me, to swing it to me and know that I was going knock down a shot or play good defense or play smart. And you know teams make it so difficult on Dirk, and play so physical with him and JET and J.J. and you know in order for us to succeed and win a championship we needed to play tough and not only be physically tough, but mentally tough. That was kind of my role when I got out there, just to play smart and play hard. I knew I wasn’t going to play 48 minutes, so it’s not a matter of “I can’t take this foul because I’m worried that I’m gonna get in foul trouble.” There really was no “foul trouble” in my mind.
Dime: Obviously, everyone liked to criticize the Miami Heat. On the court, what seemed to be their biggest problem? Or did you guys just outplay them?
BC: It’s unfortunate that they do get so much criticism, I mean, they’re such talented players. But it’s tough, I mean Dwyane Wade‘s an unbelievable player and LeBron, I feel bad for him. Some of it he brought on himself, but at the same time, you teach your kids growing up to pass the ball, to play smart, to be a team guy, and for goodness sake, he goes out and gets a triple-double like he does in Game 5. He’s getting crucified because he didn’t score more. But I mean, he got a triple-double an they almost won.
Dime: With this lockout, what are you doing to stay in shape? Are you playing any summer ball? Have you thought about taking your talents overseas?
BC: Well for me, it’s a pretty typical summer. I’ve been doing my training â€” my running, my strength work, all that kind of stuff. For me it’s pretty normal. I know a lot of guys are looking at overseas options, but for me personally, I’ve been in the league for so long that I understand how great this business is. I’ve played overseas before and it’s a great way to play and make a living, but for me, just having finished my 11th year, I don’t need to go overseas to play or to prove myself or anything like that. My game is what it is and doesn’t necessarily transcend to European type of ball, so I’m just going to stick with playing here.
Dime: Obviously the last month has been crazy for you, but what’s been the best part of the celebration? Which one of your teammates has celebrated the hardest?
BC: Outside of me? (laughs) No, I think the whole thing’s been pretty amazing. I mean winning it on Miami’s homecourt was incredible and the fans that traveled to Miami were awesome. It was great to be able to celebrate and share the moment with them. Being able to go to South Beach with the trophy and Cuban, having a good time, that was incredible. The parade, that was incredible. To have 300,000 people or so cheering us on, yelling my name and loving the fact that we were World Champions. Everybody going home or doing what they wanted to do for three weeks or so, and then coming back and there was six or seven of us that got together when we went out to the ESPYs. Just seeing each other again, cracking jokes, and essentially picking up where we left off. You know, we’re bonded for life, and it was fun just to be around those guys again.
Dime: Everyone always wants to know the deal with your nickname, “The Custodian.” Where did you pick it up and do you like it?
BC: Oh yeah. (laughs) The “Custodian” came when I was in my first year in Detroit. Jerome Williams â€” he was known as the “Junkyard Dog” – and one day after practice I had dove on the floor or taken a couple charges or something like that, and he came up to me and said, “You know, you need a nickname.” I said, “Jeez, a nickname?!” I said, “Hell, I just want people to know who I am or know my first name! He said, “Nah, you really need a nickname.” He thought about it and said, “Brian…The Custodan…Cardinal. Sounds great.” So he kind of came up with it just because I was doing the dirty work. I was taking the charges, I was diving on the ground for the ball. That’s where it started and it’s kind of taken on a life of its own.
Dime: Who’s the best player you’ve ever played with?
BC: Gotta be Dirk. Pau is pretty talented, Pau is pretty good, but I think when it boils down to it, the best player I’ve ever played with has to be Dirk.
BC: You know I played with Jordan towards the end of his career. He was 40 and he was still pretty good, but I think Dirk’s just the best, because he’s a seven-footer. He’s got all these crafty shots. I wouldn’t even call them trick shots because he practices them. And he just knows how to play. He’s a smart player, and if the game’s on the line, I know who I’m giving it to â€” it’s him.
Dime: If you could take one NBA player’s talents and make them your own, who would it be and why?
BC: Can I say J.J. Barea’s height? I always wanted to be small and quick. How about that?
Dime: Talk a little bit more about Barea. Were you surprised he got the start in Game 4? Did the move catch the team off guard?
BC: I don’t know, I think everybody felt that we could beat them with the lineup that we had and with the rotation that we had, but I think Coach thought he needed to spice things up. J.J. was great against Bibby, and you know, struggled a little bit against Chalmers, so to take him off the bench and put him in the starting lineup was critical to our success. I think sitting Peja and playing me was huge, and Coach Carlisle just did a tremendous job of having faith in all of us guys. You know, you win 70-something games with DeShawn Stevenson in the lineup and you don’t necessarily demote him, but you put him on the bench. A lot of guys would get frustrated, get upset, mad, but I think J.J. embraced the starting role, and I think Deshawn embraced his role coming off the bench and played awesome. I think those two moves by Coach really put us over the top. I think we needed another scorer out there. J.J. was so great in the Lakers series and nobody could stop the guy – it was awesome to see. After that, Coach really just wanted to get him a few more minutes and one of the only ways to do that is by starting him. Starting him and having him go against Bibby right away was huge and energized us right away, and I think that’s really one of the main reasons why we won.
Dime: You have a pretty popular Twitter account these days. Who is your favorite player to follow on Twitter?
BC: Wow, man, I don’t even know if I follow any players on Twitter. (laughs) I follow farmers, mechanics… those are my favorite followers, or guys who I follow.
Dime: Are there any incoming rookies that you’re particularly excited to see play?
BC: I look forward to seeing how my guys E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson do. I’m fired up that they’re going to Boston, I think it’s a great organization and it’s been great just seeing how those guys have blossomed into the players that they are in the last several years at Purdue. I’m excited to see them kind of take that next step to the next level and see how well they play.
Dime: Everyone wants to know, what’s on Brian Cardinal’s iPod right now?
BC: I got a little of everything, man. I got a little Eminem, just downloaded. Who else do I got on there… Waka Flocka? A little Kanye. Then I got some country guys, which y’all probably don’t want to know about…Brad Paisley, Montgomery Gentry, I like those guys.
Dime: What’s your favorite TV show right now? What’s the best movie you’ve seen this summer?
BC: My favorite TV show I think is Law & Order. And then favorite movie…The Adjustment Bureau.
Dime: That one is a favorite in the Dime office as well. What’s your all-time favorite pair of basketball sneakers?
BC: Oh it’s gotta be the Larry Bird Converse Weapon, you know the black with the white. Those were my favorite shoes. I wore a hole through the bottom of them ’cause I wore them so much.
Dime: Are you a car person? Have you updated the car collection since the Finals? What are you driving around in now?
BC: (laughs) Am I car a person? Hell, I just got a little Infiniti 35 X, or whatever the hell it’s called â€” no I’m not a car person.