PROVO — The basketball player who has stirred up mania in two hemispheres, albeit not yet in the NBA, is suddenly a man looking at options. After scoring about a zillion points in the Chinese Basketball League last winter, including 73 in a single game, his stock rose like the Himalayas. The world is now his oyster. It’s anyone’s guess where he’ll play this fall — and whether he’ll be paid in yuan, rubles, dollars, euros, dinars or something else. China would take him back in a Shanghai heartbeat. Europe is more than interested. Russia would manipulate the race to get him. Even the NBA is showing interest — again.
But right at the moment, Jimmer Fredette has other fish to fry.
He’s got to figure out how to make it the 3.1 miles from South Temple to Liberty Park as the guest celebrity runner for the annual Deseret News footraces coming up on July 24th.
Fredette agreed to make the appearance, opting for the 5K distance over anything longer, in exchange for exposure for two of his favorite things: his charitable foundation, jimmerosity.org, and the 361 Degree shoe company that sponsors him.
Also, it gives him a chance to come back to Utah for a few days and catch up with friends, family and fans.
Hard to believe, but it’s been six years since Fredette last played at BYU, where he launched Jimmermania, the nationwide fan phenomenon fueled by his propensity to score from just about everywhere — just like Steph Curry, only before Curry had been fully invented. At season’s end, the 6-foot-2 Fredette commanded every college Player of the Year award out there. The Milwaukee Bucks made him a lottery pick when they took him 10th in the 2011 NBA draft before trading him to the Sacramento Kings.
But then came, well, a lot of bench time. In two and a half years and 171 games in Sacramento, Jimmer started just seven times and averaged a mere 16 minutes a game. After that, Chicago, San Antonio, New Orleans and the New York Knicks each picked him up and then waived him after barely playing him. In five NBA seasons, Jimmer accumulated a grand total of 52 hours playing time, barely more than a full workweek, for which he was paid $9 million.
So he was well compensated, but nonetheless adrift, which is why when the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) made inquiries for the 2016-17 season — with no less a Chinese basketball luminary than Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets legend and owner of the Shanghai Sharks, making the offer — Jimmer said why not.
Fredette wasn’t the first NBA castoff or never-was to be lured to China, where each team is allowed a maximum of two international players, but he may have been the first to walk into his new locker room and have his teammates look at him and gasp.
This is who we got?
He wasn’t relatively tall, he sure wasn’t imposing, he had no discernible swagger, and he was — how to put this — very white.
For Jimmer, it was reminiscent of when he arrived in Provo, Utah, as a BYU freshman out of Glens Falls, New York. He didn’t impress anybody then, either.
But just as he did in Provo, he let his game do the introducing. At BYU, it took a couple of years before heads started to turn. In China things went quicker. From the first quarter of the first game he started nailing threes. The Sharks, the New Orleans Pelicans of the CBA, became an instant contender. By the middle of the season, their 5,000-seat arena, once a ghost town, was sold out for every game. Jimmer did everything but sell octopus at the concession stands. He averaged 37.6 points a game to lead the team and the league, he led the Sharks in assists at 4.2 per game, and his 8.4 rebounding average was second on the team. He scored over 40 points 14 times and went for more than 50 four times, including his 73-point outburst against the Zhejiang Lions. On CBA All-Star weekend, he played in the game and won the 3-point contest.
If anything, the fans in Shanghai out-hero-worshipped the fans at BYU. For one thing, Shanghai has roughly 33 million more people than Provo, so there were a lot more of them. They gushed over Jimmer every bit as much as their American counterparts — stopped him on the street, posed for selfies, asked for his autograph, oohed and aahed. They gave him a new name: Jimo Dashen — which translates to The Lonely Master.
For the first time in a long time, the Sharks made the playoffs, after finishing second in the regular season with a 30-8 record. When the end-of-year awards were announced, Jimo Dashen was the hands-down winner of the CBA’s International MVP trophy.
To cap off the dream season, Jimmer’s wife, Whitney, who’d spent the winter back home in Colorado because she was pregnant, gave birth to their daughter, Weslie James Fredette, on Feb. 24, just as the season was ending and a day before Jimmer’s own birthday, his 28th.
To add to his shooting legend, Jimmer came home from China and at a charity event in June in Provo made 92 of 100 3-pointers. They were college 3-pointers, but still. At $200-a-make, he raised $18,400 for Heritage RTC, an adolescent treatment center in Utah County. (His marketing agent and foundation president, Blair Giles, posted the video online, you can Google it).
Fredette’s future, as they say, is now all in front of him, and he knows it.
The phone has been ringing this summer, from here, there and everywhere. “I have options,” he says, “multiple options.”
He could go back to China, “but if we go over again, it will be out of choice,” he stresses, as opposed to out of necessity.
Wherever he winds up next, Jimmer will take with him yet more evidence that given the chance, i.e. enough time and room to perform, he can produce. In that sense, China for him felt very similar to BYU. “When I first got there no one knew who I was, they were skeptical if I could play,” he says. “But they pretty quick found out I could play.”
The fan hysteria that followed wasn’t because Jimmer egged it on. No one’s ever compared him to Rob Gronkowski. “Everywhere I’ve been I’ve had a great following and I’m not sure why,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m relatable — I’m normal-sized, I look just like anybody else, I’m just an ordinary guy. Maybe they think, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’”
He plans to take that same kind of thinking, by the way, into the Deseret News 5K, where his strategy will be to line up behind the hundreds who annually participate in the run and follow in their wake to Liberty Park. (Runners can register at deseretnewsmarathon.com).
Basketball players, he notes, don’t run distances: “We do short bursts; we never run a mile straight, we never run a quarter-mile straight.”
His game plan is to have strength in numbers — he’ll have his wife with him, and his sister, and a friend — and above all to pace himself. “I’ll take my time,” he says, smiling, “and hopefully I’ll make it.” Consider that a Chinese proverb from The Lonely Master.