BasketballNews.com’s James Posey recently sat down with 9-year NBA veteran T.J. Ford, who averaged 11.2 points, 5.8 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals over the course of his career. During the 2010-11 season, Posey and Ford were teammates on the Indiana Pacers and they became good friends. In recent years, Ford created an AAU program that he also coaches and Posey’s son, Jace, is currently on the team.
In this candid conversation, they talk about Ford’s upbringing, the loaded 2003 NBA Draft, what it’s like getting traded, how a frustrating season in Indiana strengthened their relationship and much more.
I’m pleased to be joined by the No. 8 pick of the 2003 NBA Draft and the first basketball player in the University of Texas’ history to have their number retired, T.J. Ford! How's your evening going?
T.J. FORD: "Man, it's going good. Pleasure to be here. You guys are doing a beautiful thing, so I'm glad to be on here and have a good conversation with my guys."
Being in Texas, a football state, how did you end up playing basketball?
FORD: "Growing up in Texas, it's a thing where everybody played football growing up. You start off in little leagues, playing flag football, all the way until you get to basically high school. Most guys make the decision [to play football]. But for us growing up in Texas, football is so powerful. I think as basketball players, we get our toughness from playing football at an early age, taking those hits and shaking people, so I think part of our athleticism comes from that football stage. Me, just getting into basketball, I just knew I was too little, man. I was too little and I didn't like getting hit. And I always had trouble putting on pads every day for practice, so I'd just rather wear a simple uniform. That did just fine for me."
I know your family is real close and you've always had a strong support system. Your dad was a baller back in the day as well. How did he influence your game?
FORD: "My father grew up in a town called Baytown. That was a small town where we're originally from, and my dad was one of the star talents coming out of the town. And he was able to go to junior college. He ended up fathering my older brothers and decided to take care of his responsibilities, so his hoop dreams just kinda went down the [drain], having a child he wanted to provide for. So instead, my dad played in a lot of men's leagues. He just played in a lot of pro-am leagues, so I got to see a lot of pros play in the summertime. Being a kid, they had a lot of leagues and tournaments, so my dad played every week. And all I was doing was going and watching him hoop. And it was fun because he was playing strictly with my uncles and close cousins and some of his real friends that he called brothers, so it was cool just watching friends play with each other. So I kinda followed that background from my father, just being able to understand that bond and competing with people that you know who bring it every day. We got to learn a lot from watching him play five, seven days a week."
You learned all these skills from your dad and then you breezed through high school, racking up wins and accolades. You were named to the McDonald's All-American game in 2001. Do you remember any of the other players who were on that roster with you?
FORD: "Daniel Ewing. Eddy Curry. Kwame Brown. Tyson Chandler. Dajuan Wagner. Kelvin Torbert. David Lee. Aaron Miles. Josh Childress. Mo Williams. Cedric Bozeman. I'm missing a bunch of guys, but that's what I can remember off the top of my head right now."
After high school, you’ve made it and you go to a big-time college: the University of Texas. How did you end up there? What were your other options?
FORD: "My recruiting process was super dope. I had everybody in the country sending me letters, giving me phone calls. That was dope. I remember one person that was on me: Henry Bibby, Mike Bibby's pops. He used to send me 100 letters and just write one word -- 'I.' Then another letter would be like, 'want.' And just on and on and on. For me, I was one of those kids that when it came down to having to pass a test, that was a challenge for me - to pass the SAT and the ACT. Eventually, over the course of time, I was able to pass it, but it came down to being able to go to the University of Texas, Cincinnati, U of (Houston) or Louisville. I took a visit to those four schools. During my time, I told everybody that I was gonna sign late. I didn't sign early and commit. The No. 1 school that I really wanted to attend was Georgetown. But I remember they gave me a call in, like, November or October and said, 'If you don't take the scholarship, then we're gonna give it to another kid.' But I wasn't ready.
“My first visit when I went to Texas, just the way that they did it was first class. That was a unique [experience]. Just being able to bring my whole family up, transport us to Austin, Texas, go to the arena where you're gonna play and they did [a presentation] with the lights out. They had a highlight film on the screen playing, did the intro. How could I not go there? Football team was really good. Just the excitement of the college atmosphere was super crazy on my visit and I thought it fit my personality. Cincinnati was a school that I really wanted to go to, but when I went to Cincinnati, it was just strictly about basketball. [Bob] Huggins was unbelievable. I really wanted to play for him, but I just couldn't be that far from home. Louisville was a situation where I took a visit; I thought that was a really dope place. I thought that was a great campus. I thought the coaching staff, with [Denny] Crum, was really good. One of my best friends, Carlos Hurt, went there. But I always knew I wanted to stay in Texas. U of H, I took a visit there, but I wasn't able to get any other guys to go there with me, so that kinda just went out of the list. But Texas, with Royal Ivey, I can't say enough about that place."
Texas isn’t considered a hotbed for basketball prospects - even though there’s a lot of talent and guys who have made it to the NBA. We hear about Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Seattle and so on, but no one ever brings up Texas basketball. Why is that?
FORD: "Like you said at the beginning, we're known for football. Football's been very dominant in the state. When you look at the state, if you've ever been to Texas, these stadiums in certain subdivisions look like college stadiums! That's something that we've been known for. And I think with basketball, we're making strides and really becoming known for having talent in this decade. I think we're proving that we can produce a lot of NBA guys. Basketball is one of the things in the southern area - especially in Texas - [that’s big]. So I think that wave is kinda changing for the better. Texas has players. We're producing a lot of pros every year."
Entering Texas as a top recruit, what were your expectations going into the season?
FORD: "I went into college with my spinal stenosis. I think you were able to witness a few episodes, stingers, things of that sort [in Indiana]. So, I would have tingling in my arms for like two weeks. It would get really, really bad. So, when I got to Texas, I started seeing doctors. During that time, I was scheduled to have surgery. Don't ask me what kind of surgery, but I took every possible test and shot that you could possibly take. They did everything and that was a scary, scary process. That whole summer, I didn't get to play basketball at all. I didn't really get cleared to play until school started really, in September when we started practicing. I was just hooping. I didn't think about anything; I was just out there playing. I felt like I was behind, but when we played our first game against Arizona, I was on the biggest stage and I ain't gonna let that moment slip! It was just easy for me. I had 14 assists, a school record that still stands, and I didn't play the last 8 minutes of the game because I messed my ankle up real bad. I was on they head!"
Right there, your confidence grew and you just took off. Next thing you know, you ended up winning Player of the Year. You were just out there hoopin' and that's what it got you. That's how easy it was?
FORD: "Nah, man, I think it was the preparation. Coming into college, that tough coaching in high school, understanding being disciplined and expectations of you playing well, I think that was already instilled. So, it was just about figuring out what my role would be and what type of leadership I gotta have to make this thing successful. I'd been able to study these guys that were there for two years because they were close to me at home! I was able to drive up and watch their games. It wasn't just about me going to Texas. I think the easy thing was that I was able to go to games and just look at the players. I know they played defense, and that was one of our main strengths in high school, so they kinda just fit my style. I think, for me, it was about finding the perfect style and finding the type of players that I can play with and do my thing. You've got to remember, we were watching [Allen] Iverson. That was a little-man idol. He created this new, unique wave, so it was like, 'Can I find some players where they allow me to do my thing?' Because in high school, I had been playing with the best players. And that's fun, but it's tough. You gotta be real disciplined, you gotta be real sure about yourself. I think that helped me in my college career. And I didn't even know they had a Player of the Year award! They [had just] created a lot of that stuff. They didn't even have that award. Sporting News and sportswriters couldn’t vote on that award. It wasn't a real award like it is today. I broke a lot of barriers by being a freshman Player of the Year."
Did you consider going to the pros after your freshman year?
FORD: "Nah, I wasn't ready 'cause I didn't work that hard. I was just showing up to the games. I would practice, but my coach was killing me and I knew I had to improve my jump shot. I think my ultimate goal was always to try to be the No. 1 pick or a top-five pick. It wasn't about just getting to the NBA. I felt like if I would've came out after my freshman year, just me having confidence in myself, I just felt like I was a late first-round pick or most likely a second-round pick because of my size at that time and not being able to really shoot the basketball. I kinda knew that I had to change a few things to make myself a top-five pick."
Were you getting any pressure to leave school or was anyone telling you that you should come out? Or were you always coming back for your second year regardless?
FORD: "Nah, because I always had my own plan and knew that [it’d happen] when I was ready. I think as a kid, I just knew that at 20 years old, I was entering the NBA Draft. That was the time limit that I gave myself to be able to do it. And I think when I got there as a freshman, I came into college believing, ‘I'm either gonna get it done my sophomore year or junior year.’ I didn't think I was gonna have that type of freshman season! I've never seen nobody have a season like that before. So, for me, it was like, ‘If I can fix my game and add a jump shot to what I did in college with my passing, there’s no way I'm not a top five pick.’"
Do you think you influenced players like Kevin Durant or LaMarcus Aldridge to play at the University of Texas?
FORD: "Oh, for sure. [Coach] Rick Barnes, we had one of the craziest conversations when he came to recruit me, when he came to my high school. He sat right in front of me, just me and him in the gym, and he was just telling me that he was gonna coach me hard and that if I came to the University of Texas, the impact I would have would be tremendous. It would make it cool for everybody to want to stay in Texas. And he said, 'I feel like you have that type of stardom in you, and I want to be able to help you achieve it. I guarantee you that we can do it together, and I bet you that everybody will want to come here. We could be that North Carolina, that Duke, that Kentucky.' I think that was the tradition we were aiming for. We were able to do it. I think the Kevin Durants, the LaMarcus Aldridges, all those guys paid homage and treated me very well and treated me with a lot of respect. I'm able to have a relationship with all these guys. I just broke a lot of barriers and gave kids a place to understand that you can enjoy yourself. It's a good place. You can have fun, but you can focus. And I think it's a player's dream - if they ever get an opportunity and do it right - to make it [to the NBA] from Texas."
You were in the 2003 NBA Draft and that class was crazy. You've got LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, etc. At the time, where did you expect to go?
FORD: "The crazy thing is after the Final Four and after I won the awards back in college, I always set up the runs. That's one of my things. Football has time off, I've got time off, so it really just was about… we would all get in the gym, mix the teams up and just play. I'm driving down the lane and I make a spin move. Somebody reached for the basketball and the top of my head hits the thigh of Royal Ivey, and that's the first time I ever felt, like, paralyzed. I couldn't move. I had just announced that I was leaving, so I knew I couldn't go back. I signed with an agent. I knew I was gonna drop. I knew I wasn't gonna be in the top five. I just thought that my workouts had to be extremely impressive. But I thought when they started doing tests, I knew I was gonna fall. But I knew I wasn't going past No. 8, past Milwaukee."
Did you know that 'Bron was gonna go No. 1 overall?
FORD: "Of course! The things that man was doing in high school? Just think about it. His games were on ESPN, so we actually got to see it. You couldn't stream games, couldn't do none of that. We got to actually see a high school kid play on ESPN while I was in college. This guy was on another level and you knew he was something special. I didn't see his growth as far as [seeing] LeBron James the high school player as a sophomore, but I got to really see this kid play on national TV multiple times and he was the real deal. Carmelo Anthony, he was the real deal too. Going into that draft class with Dwyane Wade, I didn't really get to see much of him in college. I know we were up for a lot of wars against each other, but I wasn't familiar with Marquette basketball. We were just Big 12. But what an impressive draft, right?"
From the Hall of Famers and on, it was loaded. So, you're drafted by the Bucks at No. 8. There's this picture floating around of you in these big-ass shorts. Where'd you get those, man?
FORD: "You have to do the rookie-transition program. I don't know how it was for you, Poz, but they had the gym set up at the Knicks’ practice facility. It’s where you did all the media and you did all the stuff for the video games and that's where they gave everybody their uniforms. So, when I got there, that's what the Bucks had sent me. I'm like, 'Yo… What? What you want me to do with this?' They were like, 'That's all we’ve got. It's either you wear them or you won't get these photos.' I'm like, 'Shoot, I wanna have my rookie card. I ain't gonna miss this.' So hey, we gotta do what we gotta do!"
Man, you couldn't even roll the shorts up or nothing?
FORD: "So, imagine the jersey. The jersey is the same length as the shorts! I still have the jersey. I may have to do a Throwback Thursday and actually wear it because I kept the whole thing 'cause I had to. Now, the cool thing about it is, that was so long ago. That was back in 2003. Every year, when these new guys come into the league, that picture keeps resurfacing and all these kids see it for the first time. Now, when I'm in the gym somewhere, Poz, that's my little thing where everybody's seen it. That's what they want to show me! It's cool, I enjoy it. I guess it's something in history, so I'll take it."
Were there any other teams that were possible landing spots besides Milwaukee? Were there any specific pre-draft workouts with other teams that went really well?
FORD: "Well, Toronto was realistic. Toronto was the place where when the [ping-pong] balls dropped, I felt like that was the best place I was gonna go - until I got hurt. I think that kinda changed the course somewhat. But I knew if I didn't get drafted by Toronto, I would end up in Milwaukee. That was kind of a given for me; I knew I was gonna end up there. I knew Pat Riley didn't really like little guards, so I knew that was a challenge. I didn't feel like my workouts [with Miami] were great at all. That was one of the hardest workouts ever. I remember I did a Miami HEAT workout twice for one hour for the first time by myself. That was brutal. And the second time was with Kirk Hinrich. Poz, the Miami HEAT workout is no joke. When I say no joke, that was the hardest workout I've ever had in my life. I never felt like I couldn't make anything, but that Miami HEAT pushed me to the edge. If they would've had it go an hour-and-a-half, I probably would've quit on 'em. But I loved it. But going to Milwaukee, being drafted, I knew Sam Cassell. I grew up watching him when he was with the Bucks and as I'm getting drafted, I'm just thinking about how I'm gonna play backup to Sam Cassell and can learn from a veteran. And they've got Gary Payton, I'm sure he's probably gonna re-sign there! Him and Sam's got a good relationship. These are all the things I'm thinking as I'm getting drafted and my name is getting ready to be called by the Bucks. What a way to come in with some legends and some guys that you grew up watching! And by the time I get to the back and get to the interview at the table, they had traded Sam Cassell and said that Gary Payton is not re-signing. And I'm like, ‘I can't wait to see those guys and play with them! Man, they traded them?’ It was crazy."
You go to Milwaukee and they give you the keys to the team, and you guys have a couple decent years. Then, things happen and you're put on the block. Can you explain how that went down and how it felt?
FORD: "When I look back on it, when I got there, Damon Jones, another guy who’s from Houston, was the backup point guard who was very solid. So, I was also able to be groomed and not just thrown in the fire and have to play 30-something minutes per game coming in as a rookie. I get hurt after 55 games, then I have to miss the remainder of that season and then I missed the whole season in the following year. With all of that happening, we got guys playing better, but we're not winning. You had Terry Porter [at head coach] for two years. Then, you bring in Terry Stotts. And during that time, with a coaching change, I'm feeling like the eighth pick - the guy that they picked - but I never really knew what was going on. That was kinda tough for me, not knowing that change was gonna be made. And I think from that approach, it kinda altered my attitude and my approach to the game. I think that loyalty, that trust [was missing]. I feel like I kinda did it to myself, if that makes sense, just being immature and not really understanding the business and how it works. But not being able to really just understand a coach and how you play, I think that was a challenge. I think I did well. I think Terry Stotts was a really good coach and I wish I could've kept playing for him a little longer. But I think the way I got traded, I felt it was just cold-blooded. Getting traded for the first time is just a unique story, a unique experience. Have you been traded, Poz? Was it midseason or offseason?”
Yeah, I was traded. It was midseason. I'm in Denver. I'm headed to the arena, on my way to the game. My agent called me and said, “Poz, how you doing? How you feel?” I'm like, “I feel good. I'm headed to the game.” He said, “What? You’re goin' where?” I said, “We got a game tonight. I’m goin' to the game.” He said, “You've been traded!” I'm like, “What? Traded?” I'm in Denver by Cherry Mall. I just bust a u-turn. I'm like, “Damn! Where am I traded to?” He said, “Houston.” I mashed the gas. I'm outta here! Because at the time, I was already living there. So, at the time, I'm like, “Okay!” I'm haulin' ass back to the crib. Then, I'm trying to pack and get on the flight that night to get to Houston. I didn't get out 'til the next morning. But, yeah, nobody even told me! If my agent hadn’t called, I would've showed up at the arena and they probably wouldn't have even let me in. (laughs) That's how I found out about my first trade.
FORD: "My first time getting traded, I got traded in the summer. I think after Hurricane Katrina and all that. It was when the Essence Festival was in Houston for the first time. So, I got a house to fill. Somebody bought my house and I was supposed to move out a week later, but they told me they wanted me out on Friday. Now, I've got an appearance in Milwaukee on Saturday that I'm supposed to fly to on Friday. But I decided that I was gonna go hang out. We hang out, I end up getting on the flight. My pops ended up moving all of his stuff out of his house in Houston. So I get to Milwaukee, I speak at Michael Redd's camp and he wasn't there. It was just a strange day. Who comes to somebody's camp and they ain't there? That just didn't make sense to me. [I’m thinking], ‘Gosh, something ain't right…’ I ended up having dinner plans with Skip [Robinson], the public relations guy. He helped me do a lot of great things in Milwaukee. We go to dinner and I didn't really have no power at my house, so at the restaurant I’ve got my phone and my charger, but they’re not next to me. He answered his phone and he's sitting directly across from me and I just hear him go, 'No! No! You've got to be kidding me.' So, he's like, 'Here, the GM wants to talk to you.' So, I'm like, 'What's going on?' The GM's like, 'How do you feel about going to Toronto?' I'm like, 'What are you talking about? Stop playing with me. Stop fuckin' with me. Seriously, what's going on?' He's like, 'No, for real. We just traded you for Charlie Villanueva and it hasn't hit the news yet and it probably won't tonight.' I'm like, 'Yo, Skip, he just told me he fuckin' traded me. He must be joking with me.' So, I handed him the phone. I get my phone and I've got a bunch of missed calls from my mom. So I called my mom and she's like, 'Your agent has been trying to call you. He's been saying something about a trade?' I was like, 'I know! The GM just told me that he traded me, so it must be a joke or something. I don't know. I'll call you right back.' I called my agent right away. But before I was able to do that, they got a TV at the bar in the restaurant. And, remember, the GM just told me that nobody knew about it. But it had just hit the news. Not ESPN, I'm talking about the local news at 10. I'm like, 'Ah man!' It was the worst day, man. Worst day. I was hurt. That was a tough one."
It's one of those things that you can’t explain. At least have some respect for me and tell me. The crazy thing about it on my end is that I was at shootaround. I'm sure they knew at that point. But they let me go home and take my nap without letting me know. Nobody told me anything. I felt some type of way too, but I was happy 'cause they traded me to Houston. I was trying to get there ASAP!
FORD: "How did you handle being traded during the season? I mean, I was fortunate to always get traded in the summertime. I probably would've been really shocked if I had to move midseason like that. I felt like I was pretty blessed to get traded in the summertime, when you can really process it. You ain't gotta move right away. When you get traded [midseason], do you gotta be there in 48 hours or something?"
Yeah. I actually moved in with Nick Van Exel after the trade. He had a crib in Houston, so I stayed with him. When I found out about the trade, I just packed up as much of my clothes as I could and went to Nick’s house. I stayed there until the end of the season, then I got my own spot. But Nick lent me his house for the rest of that season, and I was just happy. All I needed were some drawers and some clothes and I was good. I was happy to be in H-Town. It was tough, though. And it was just me; at the time, I had no family or nothing like that. I know guys struggle even more if they have a wife and kids and they all have to move in the middle of the season. And sometimes, your family can't come with you right away. For me, it was easier to pack up and move because it was just me. But it was still tough. Anyways, when you got to Toronto, who was your head coach?
FORD: "Sam Mitchell. What happened was, me and Chris Bosh were really close - we’re both Texas kids, Texas guys, and we had a really, really good relationship. He was a big reason for me getting to Toronto out of Milwaukee. [GM] Bryan Colangelo gave me a call and told me that [Bosh] really wanted me. Chris Bosh kinda blessed it. Whenever I went to Toronto or whenever he came to Milwaukee, I'd always go to dinner with him. Our birthday is on the same day. I had a great two years with CB. He was a great player to play with. With my position and the way that I play, I love a guy who can pick-and-pop. I also like a guy who can shoot that basketball. And, man, he was tough. We did a lot of stuff together. We had a good experience. Sam Mitchell was a guy that was my rookie coach; he was on the staff with Terry Porter, so it was a great situation for me coming in. I was familiar with the coach, a guy who I spent a lot of time with, a guy who shows me a lot of love. You got a guy like Chris Bosh - we already spend time together. It's a lottery-pick team but we turned that thing around really quickly. It was a great experience."
Is there anything you'd go back and change from your rookie year to your time in Toronto?
FORD: "Nah. I think my body of work [speaks for itself] and everybody saw the things that I had to go through; I think it was shocking, I think it was unbelievable. I think it was a desire that was just crazy and insane when I think about it. Just from a mindset [standpoint] and what it took for me to overcome the fear. Not being able to move, being paralyzed for any amount of time... I understood paraplegics for a little bit. I can't express to you that feeling or what that feels like. And to constantly get that feeling multiple times? It was [scary]... My love for the game of basketball kept me getting up, just wanting to prove that I could be one of the best guys in the world. I just wanted respect from every guy that was on the basketball court and even with my injuries, I felt like I got the respect of every guy I ever played against. And that's all I wanted to do - even as a kid.”
Who did you look forward to playing against? And who was your toughest matchup?
FORD: "I dreamed of playing against A.I. and Michael Jordan. I got to play pick-up with Michael Jordan at his camp and that was a life-changing experience. Playing with Michael Jordan going into my sophomore season at the University of Texas helped me be the National Player of the Year. I was going against the college guys and the pros and hooping on the floor with Michael Jordan. I feel like if you were at that camp and you graced the floor with Michael Jordan, all you’re thinking is, ‘I gotta go hard. I'm playing against the GOAT! I'm playing with the GOAT that, as a kid, I grew up idolizing!’ But, realistically, somebody that I could be like, play like, dress like and swag like was Allen Iverson. He was a trendsetter. He was different. As a little guy, I Ioved it. I loved the fact that I knew his story of what happened to him in his hometown - being criminalized and going to jail and getting another opportunity and everything about it. But I looked forward to facing him. And the same thing that I saw Iverson do to Michael Jordan - [earn] that respect - I just wanted respect from Allen Iverson. And I know you couldn't do that unless you could play at his level or outplay him."
How did that matchup go?!
FORD: "I guarded Allen Iverson. I wish I could play Allen Iverson every day. That was the greatest matchup. That was like mirroring myself. Just if I wanted to score the basketball and had that mentality like him, I felt like I could've done it. So even playing against Allen Iverson, for me, it was like, ‘Wow!’ I kinda knew everything that he was gonna do 'cause I used to watch him all the time. And that's how you were supposed to play. So, I enjoyed chasing over the screens, and I also understood if I give him a whole lot of space and he gets to use all his stuff, he'll shake the mess outta me. One thing about me: I wasn't gonna let my idol shake me. It wasn't gonna happen. I don't want that crossover! Poz, I didn't want that crossover at all! I refused. I cannot recall letting Allen Iverson do any crossover move on me. Never. That stuff was deadly. I was scared of that crossover. You see that crossover as a kid?! I was scared of it. Allen Iverson. Stephon Marbury. Those were two guys that when they went to college basketball, they showed that a point guard could dominate. I played against Allen Iverson in my [14th] NBA game. You know what kind of pressure that is?! I did not sleep. I looked forward to it, but all I knew was, ‘I'm not trying to make SportsCenter.’ Because every night, I watched TV and Allen Iverson would be on SportsCenter.
“But the first person that I was really, really starstruck at my position that I played against was Stephon Marbury. I think my first experience against him was in Madison Square Garden. That's the only player where I was really, like, in a moment for a whole half. The whole first half, I couldn't compete against him. It took me midway through the third quarter to snap out of it and start going at him. I ain't never experienced nothing like that - nothing that powerful. I had seen him on TV, but him coming at you - and, to me, he was Chauncey Billups' size - I never had anybody cross me over, over the top. I ain't never seen that! Nobody's ever done that to me before, and he just kept doing that. I just couldn't figure it out. He just kept going and I just kept looking at him getting in the air. The way he could finish, I was like, 'Man...' And this is when he first got to the Knicks. I think it was his third game [as a Knick]. I ain't never had that feeling. I was totally like, 'He's on another level.'"
What were the biggest challenges as you transitioned from college to the pros?
FORD: "The biggest challenge is that, in the NBA, you got 82 games. So, with those 82 games, they don't all count. Poz, you know that one loss turns into two losses, three losses, four losses... So, you don't worry about this one [loss] and then you have a couple losses and you kinda just get accustomed to it. I think when you’re in high school and college and even in summer basketball, every game matters. In the NBA, you've got time to make up for it. And when you get that mentality where people get accustomed to losing and not competing at a high level, I think that's hard. I think when you're a competitor, you want to win every game. I wanted to win every game. At some point, I felt like I kinda fell into that mode of ‘every game doesn't matter.’"
After your rebirth in Toronto, you were traded for Jermaine O’Neal and ended up in Indiana. With the Pacers, there were communication issues and you weren’t playing as much. You were having little battles with yourself. You had already been through a lot, and then the organization and coaching staff didn't help as far as decreasing your playing time. How did you manage that situation and how did you stay motivated?
FORD: "Here’s the thing about the Indiana trade: The Raptors had a trade for me to go to Phoenix and I was looking forward to going to Phoenix. But Jermaine O'Neal really wanted to get out of Indiana and we were represented by the same person. So, I'm calling my agent and telling him, ‘If I can play behind Steve Nash, why wouldn't I want to do that?!’ But JO, at the time, was a $20 million player so I knew if JO really wanted the trade [involving both of us] to go through, our agent was really gonna push for it [even if I preferred the Phoenix deal]. They made the trade and when I got to Indiana, it was kind of them doing a whole rebuild after all the stuff that happened over those few years. I knew it was a new process of putting players together, and I knew it was just a new challenge. It was one of the hardest challenges from just a professional standpoint, trying to get my mentality back and trying to compete and trying to win, but that's just my makeup. And not being able to do that every night and knowing that they've got a different plan, that was a real challenge over the course of my time in Indiana. And I think one of the biggest things that allowed me to mature and also become a better basketball player and a better teammate is definitely when James Posey got traded to Indiana. Because that was somebody who I could connect to, that was somebody who could guide me through those times that sucked because I wouldn't have known how to work. During that experience, [I went from] playing to them deciding that they're going in a different direction not even midway through the season - like after 25-30 games. I go from starting to being on the bench and sometimes possibly not even playing. That was a depressing time. Very depressing."
Yeah, I got traded from New Orleans to Indiana and I was in the tail end of my career as well, but I still had a lot to give. When I was in Houston, I would see you out there playing in pickup games and stuff, so I didn't know you, but I knew you. Once I got to the Pacers, we sat down and we'd chop it up a little bit. I think we both helped each other out. You helped me stay strong too because I was an older veteran coming into a situation where I really wasn't getting much playing time. Then, it turned into no playing time and it was hard to swallow. But I was raised to stay the course and work hard, and that's all I could do to show them that this wasn't gonna break me. We had a conversation and you were going through the same thing. And being the old vet, I knew that I couldn’t let this young guy just fall by the wayside. So, that's why I tried to keep you motivated and challenge you to one-on-one games and just make sure you were staying ready. I think we did a good job of helping each other out because I could've gone crazy too with the games that were being played between the front office and Coach Jim O’Brien. [President of basketball operations] Larry Bird would say, “Talk to the coaches,” and the coaches would say, “Talk to the people upstairs.” We just couldn't get a straight answer on what our role was within the organization.
FORD: "It's one of those things where it's the character of the person and just knowing how you play. When you’re a hooper and you know that this guy plays hard every night, you automatically click with that person. Regardless [of the situation], when you're on the floor with that person, that person's gonna go hard. I just think we're like-minded in that way and in our approach to the game. Being a fan of basketball, you watch guys. And I think from a [place of] mutual respect with what all we're going through, you just want people to know that you go hard. I know you were a guy that played hard and you always had your guys' back, so being able to have that and just knowing, 'I got another chance to really do something when I get on the floor and that guy, I know what he's gonna do. I've been watching him my whole life as well.' I remember watching you in Memphis. I remember watching you with the Rockets. I remember watching you in Denver, watching you in Boston, watching you in Miami. I remember playing against you. You’re a really intelligent basketball player. Having somebody like that on your team? That was just joy every day 'cause that was missing. That was fulfilling. It really wasn't about what the team wanted to do. I just think your leadership was, 'We just gonna keep working. Regardless, we're just gonna keep working, no matter what we're going through.' From a mentorship standpoint, from a big-brother standpoint, that's how I see it. That's my respect to you. That's why I look at you as a person that made my career better. Because I got to enjoy my last couple of years. I never knew or felt like I was gonna play nine NBA seasons. I didn't think I was gonna make it that long."
I appreciate it.
FORD: "The toughest teammate I’ve had, the guy I’d want by my side if something were to pop off, is James Posey. Everybody knows that. Every guy is gonna take James Posey. When it comes to tough - and I've played with some tough guys - there’s one guy who has a reputation of playing tough and not backing down and always protecting his guys: James Posey. He fits that 100 percent in my book, as a teammate and as a guy. I'm a little guy, so I like to start some stuff. I like to act like I'mma do something, but I'm just doing enough to wait until my big boy comes. (laughs)"
You crazy, you crazy. (laughs) Let’s talk about your life outside of basketball. What you got going on?
FORD: "Life after basketball, it's a unique journey. It's a real challenging journey. My passion is working with kids. Working with kids and just trying to use basketball as a way to help them understand [life lessons]. And part of that is if there’s something that you love, it may not work the way you want it to work right now, but when it's tough times, you just weather the storm and fight through it. You just keep trying to push yourself and always tell yourself, ‘You gotta do better.’ So, I’m trying to get people to build self-confidence and just understand the expectations. And I enjoy being around kids and seeing 'em go through that process, seeing 'em go through these downfalls, these challenges and trying to help 'em. And I get to work on all aspects. I get to work with kids from all over, from different walks of life. It's been a joy and I really, really think that I'm doing some good for kids, and I think it's been kinda proven. And I want to do more."
You're doing a great job, man. You've been helping a lot of kids. You started your AAU program, T.J. Ford Basketball, and you were actually the program’s first head coach. From there, it took off. When did you realize that this is what you wanted to do?
FORD: "I just thought I'd start it to stay busy, Poz. I didn't really have a direction. When I retired, I asked all of you guys, ‘[Will] y'all let me train y'all?’ And y'all still came to the gym and hooped. Guys like Rashard [Lewis], Chuck Hayes, Charles Gaines and the list can go on and on. From there, we just started taking some kids and said, 'Man, how can I impact some kids in AAU basketball that I really know? Let me go see what coaching is really like.' I didn't really want to go to a University or go through some program and find out. I wanted to get straight to it. I wanted to sit here and understand, ‘Can I recruit? What do these kids want to hear? How does this process work as a kid?’ I think those were some things that I was interested in before I kinda jumped into it, and then I found out that I get to help a whole bunch of kids. Opportunities have come, whether it was coaching in the NBA or G League. I experienced those things, but my passion to help kids is greater than my [desire] to be a full-time coach. I enjoy the times when you have to pick a kid up or you have to feed a kid or a kid is calling you for some advice - whether he's in high school, in college or just a kid who’s been through our program. You’re connected to these kids and they trust you, and you want to keep giving them your experience and just helping guide them through their life."
Speaking of kids, you have a beautiful family. You have two sons and a daughter. I call your oldest son Big Little T.J. because he’s sorta following in your footsteps and playing point guard. What are you sharing with him about the position and about the game?
FORD: "Well for me, it's about just trying to help him grow to be who he's gonna be. I think he understands and has the [right] approach to the game, which is the IQ, which is the biggest thing. I think when it comes to the game of basketball, I think trying to teach the kids their IQ at a younger age gives them a better opportunity as they get older. Because your IQ for the game is the most important thing that's gonna help you develop. When you look at an IQ situation - time, possessions, playing defense, playing offense, just understanding when to pass - I think that part of me and my son's relationship and even working with players, that's what I just enjoy - trying to get them to gain or just get the IQ. Because I feel like if you can help kids with their IQ, I think a lot of people say, 'A kid doesn't do this,' or, 'I just told him to do this.' Well, it doesn't really work like that as a player. I think kids just gotta be able to keep trying to get reps and they gotta just go through some grind and some hardships. But I think you can teach them some of those things. For my son, his game is totally different than mine. When I say totally different - I couldn't shoot the ball, he can shoot it. It just shows the evolution and what Steph Curry did, putting an emphasis on shooting. As a guard who’s little, at a young age, he made shooting a strength. I think he's got the passing IQ, but he's not the type of point guard that I was. And that's okay. I enjoy watching him develop into what he's gonna be - just like your son, Poz. I talk about him all the time. And I believe it's gonna come, it really is. He does some stuff in spurts. He has a lot of you in his game, and I think that's what you want to see with your kid. Other people, they're gonna judge our kids based on us. We're gonna our judge our kids on, ‘Man, my son fills the lane like I do. He may not do it right now, but if I can teach him to fill that lane, with his athleticism and length, he'll get those opportunities.’ So, it's about teaching the kid… It's your IQ. Poz, they play like us, they come from us, so it's like your IQ is their IQ. That's just what we put in our kids, naturally. And that's a good thing; I love that!"
On my podcast, I always like to end a conversation with a thing called 'Free Game.' You got any free game for anybody out there?
FORD: "Free game… It's never too late. You're in control. As an individual, you're in control. No matter what your circumstances are, you can control 'em. When I say you can control 'em, you control 'em by your efforts, your desires, your thought patterns, your beliefs. No matter how tough something becomes, I believe in never giving up for something that you love and that you have a passion for. I believe if you’re treating people right and trying to do the right things, you get blessings. Sometimes, we get blessings when we haven't done the right things as well, so it's a combination of being even-keeled and just understanding you can be whatever you want to be. Whenever you challenge yourself, I just think, mentally, you have to be very, very sharp and you have to be really, really in-tune with yourself and with your mind because you control everything with your mind. And there’s nothing on this planet Earth that we can't do, and our mind controls those things."