Seven Questions for C.J. Watson

The former Bishop Gorman star and current Indiana Pacers point guard on why our city needs a pro franchise, inspiring kids to dream big and becoming the next Larry Bird (off the court, that is)

Photo by Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports

Photo by Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports

When other NBA players find out that you’re from Las Vegas, what do they ask you?

The first thing they always ask is how I grew up in Las Vegas without getting into trouble. And they ask about the heat and if I gamble all the time. You know, they think people live in casinos out here.

When you’re from Las Vegas, they’ll say you’ll never make it out, that you’re never going to be good enough. So players from Vegas, they just have a chip on their shoulder. Las Vegas players are always tough.

NBA Summer League returns to the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion from July 11-21. What advice would you give to all the rookies who will be experiencing this city for the first time?

Just go out there and play hard. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Also, don’t let the city get to you, because it can overwhelm you. It can get you off focus and off track. If you can stay focused in Las Vegas, you can stay focused anywhere. You can come here in the summertime and have your fun, but right now you’ve got to be all business.

How important was the Summer League to your development?

It was really big. NBA people told me some things I needed to work on, like being more vocal. Working with NBA coaches was huge. And just being back in front of the home crowd and my family and friends, that really calmed me down and allowed me to perform.

Will the NBA ever put a team in Las Vegas, and how popular a destination would this be for free agents?

I think the NBA will, and I think the community would support it really well. The city is in need of a professional team, whether it’s football or basketball or baseball. It would even out the playing field with other major cities and put Las Vegas on [another] level.

The city would be very attractive [to players]. There’s always good weather—it never gets cold, never snows. There’s great food and lots of events—plenty of things to do.

Your foundation hosts a free youth basketball camp called Hoops for Hope every summer in Las Vegas (July 17-19, Doolittle Community Center). Why is the camp important?

It’s just a way for me to give back to my community. We show kids that their dreams really can happen as long as they have faith and keep dreaming high. When I was coming up, I didn’t have free camps or a professional player from the city I grew up in. So I want to reach out and talk to these kids and show them that they can do it, too. … I made it out, and there were people telling me I wouldn’t make it. But I didn’t listen to them and eventually I got there.

You just wrapped up your seventh year in the NBA by advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Pacers. How do you feel about where your career is now?

I’ve got one more year on my contract, and hopefully after this one I can get another contract, like a three- or four-year deal, and then ride off into the sunset. I want to be a GM eventually, so I want to continue working [toward] that now, even while I’m still playing.

Speaking of that, what have you learned about being a general manager from Indiana executive and NBA legend Larry Bird?

He’s been great. He’s given me a lot of information. He told me it’s a hard job and something that you really have to prepare for. Hopefully, I can follow in his footsteps.

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