Eleven years into his NBA career, Miami Heat'sPJ Tucker has become the ultimate veteran leader. But as a rookie, he was the exact opposite. Until the Raptors gave him a maturity lesson, helping Tucker become the player he is today.
A meeting that changed everything
Coming from the University of Texas, Tucker had to fight through D-League before making his NBA debut with the Raptors. Even when he got the opportunity to become a member of an NBA roster, Tucker never felt he was given a chance to showcase his talent on the floor. But instead of working hard, trying to prove his worth to the team, the 21-year-old started taking everything for granted.
"I was really bad," Tucker said. "I would show up right before practice. I was just doing whatever I wanted. I'm not playing, I don't care not knowing that they'll cut you and let you go. It's funny now because I try to help so many of the young guys when I see them acting like me I'll be all over 'em, not letting them go down that path."
Tucker ended up playing in 17 games during his rookie campaign and was cut by the Raptors right before the postseason started. He was called into a meeting with everyone from the organization, including the GM, team president, and head coach, and was given the biggest reality check of his young basketball career.
It turns out the Raptors, despite not counting on Tucker to have a significant impact on the floor, held the rookie to the same standard of professionalism as the rest of the roster. So even when he wasn't playing, a certain code of conduct had to be respected. And after they showed PJ clips of him on the bench before, during, and after the games, it became clear his demeanor was far below the standard the organization held him to.
To this day, it makes me sick to my stomach. That was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. It’s probably why I’ve never told this story because, like, I couldn’t tell my mom that. Like, no. Like, come on. Nobody can judge me harder than myself and that was the first time I’ve ever seen myself in that light.
PJ Tucker, The Old Man and the Three
Immaturity turned into leadershp
Seeing himself in that light prompted Tucker to change. Four years later, after making a name for himself overseas, the 6-5 forward returned to the NBA as a different man. He joined the Suns and was instantly given a chance to make an impact on his team -- he played in 79 games his first year back. But even if he hadn't got that opportunity, unlike his rookie year in Toronto, PJ wouldn't have sulked about it.
Today, after he's become an NBA champion and one of the league's best role players, Tucker is making sure he's giving young, immature rookies the same reality check the Raptors gave to him. "I didn't have vets on the team, guys over there grabbing me like how we do younger guys now," he said. "If I had someone, maybe I wouldn't have. But I didn't know because nobody told me. It just wasn't like that."
Having an experienced vet on the team is the biggest luxury any rookie can have. Tucker didn't have that luxury, so he became the embodiment of one. And it paid off -- not only for him but everyone else around him. All thanks to one meeting with the Raptors during his rookie year.