SALT LAKE CITY — Before Carlos Boozer entered the gym for a private workout on Monday afternoon in Miami he received congratulations from those around him on a special day.
“Thanks, my dude,” Boozer said in response to a guy outside, before participating in an over-the-phone interview with the Deseret News.
The two-time All-Star and former Utah Jazz forward was celebrating his second anniversary with his wife, Aneshka, while also preparing for his second season in Ice Cube’s Big 3, a 3-on-3 basketball league.
The 11-week season kicks off in Detroit on June 22, with a Salt Lake City stop scheduled for July 27. Boozer’s Ghost Ballers squad has a bye week when the games touch down at Vivint Arena, but his memories of playing for the Jazz from 2004-10 are still very strong.
“We didn't win the championship, which was our goal, but those six years I had in Utah are some of the most memorable years I had in my career,” Boozer said.
In this interview, the 37-year-old retired veteran takes a trip down memory lane as he discusses everything from the “powder blue” Jazz era, being an African American living in Utah, conversations with Ice Cube, the end of the Jerry Sloan-Deron Williams beef and more in this exclusive interview with Deseret News sports reporter Eric Woodyard.
Deseret News: First of all, how did you get involved with the Big 3, man? And how fun is it to be a part of this, if you can break it down for me.
Carlos Boozer: Yeah, blessings man. Honestly, the first president of the league was Roger Mason Jr. and me and Roger Mason played against each other in college, he went to Virginia when I was at Duke and then me and him were also McDonald’s All-Americans, so I’ve known Rog since I was like 16 or 17 years old. So he was the first president of the Big 3 and he was calling me like, "Yo Booz, I know you’re retired but do you still want to play?" And I’m like, "Nah, not really. I’m happy I can still walk after 15 years so I don’t really want to get into it." I was just enjoying and spending quality time with my kids and my wife. I was also just enjoying broadcasting a little bit. I was doing some ESPN, TNT and NBA TV stuff and I was really enjoying having a balance of being able to be close to the game, doing interviews with all the stars in the league, like Donovan Mitchell, and then at the same time having quality time with my kids and my family now, so I really wasn't. I play ball with my kids every day, baseball, basketball again every day but I wasn't really interested into going into the Big 3.
... when I left after that 2010 season, there was no more buffer between Jerry Sloan and D-Will. They didn’t always see eye to eye on everything and because I was team captain, I was kind of that go-to between, like, the voice of Deron while speaking to Jerry Sloan, the coach, and it was easy. – Carlos Boozer
And then a couple more months went by and I got a chance to watch some of the first season. I didn't play in the Season 1, but other guys did, a couple of my friends ran it, and I got a chance to watch them play, so I’m like, "Oh, that’s pretty cool," you know, three-on-three, half court, they get to be competitive, you get to play in good arenas and it piqued my interest a little bit.
Then, once me and Ice Cube had a great conversation and he was basically like, "Booz, you're gonna have so much fun if I get a guy like you, being an All-Star, being a gold medal Olympian. If you sign on, it'll open the gateway for other guys to sign on." They had Allen Iverson in Year One, but he hadn't shown up to everything. They had a couple other guys, but he was like, "Booz if I get you, it's going to open the floodgates." So, after that, I said, "You know what? I'll do it. I'll go ahead and play one year" at the time. So once I signed on, they put it out there to the media. Next thing you know Amar’e (Stoudemire) signed on, I got my boy Nate Robinson to come in, then Baron Davis signed on and Ron Artest came and then exactly like Ice Cube said, once I hit, other dominoes fell as well so it became a really great season, too. It got a lot of notoriety, a lot of stars came, and then, because the season was so successful, as far as being on Fox, we got Michael Rapaport, who was like the sideline reporter, we got on ESPN SportsCenter a few times, like there was some great footage of the league in Season Two. Next thing you know, Gilbert Arenas comes this year, Lamar Odom’s coming this year, Josh Smith's coming this year, and so on and so forth. So it is cool to be able to be a part of it from the very beginning. I appreciate Ice Cube for giving all us OGs that think we still got a little game left on our bodies a place to ball. So it’s pretty cool.
DN: That’s dope. Do you think SLC is on the rise? With the Big 3 coming here, what do you think this shows as far as Salt Lake City growing a little bit to where Ice Cube would bring something like this here?
CB: I think it’s showing open-mindedness. Like even when I played there, this was a long time ago, but even when I played there back in the day, I was there from 2004 to 2010, like six years. When I played there, there's a stigma that it’s just very white, to be quite frank. That it’s very white and not open to blacks or African Americans, but they are though. Karl Malone spent (18) years there, you know, and people that go play there like to live and stay there. Even after Deron Williams left, got traded to New Jersey and went on with the rest of his career, he still kept his house over there in Utah. I just came back again this year to go snowboarding, you know what I mean. But there’s like this bad stigma of Utah, that it’s not black friendly, but it is.
I saw what happened with Russell Westbrook with that one fan, but that one fan isn't all the fans. That's the isolated case, it may happen from time to time, but maybe it's that same guy every other year, but now he's been banned from the arena.
So, my point is, I think them being open to having the Big 3 there, which is really a predominately black league because there’s predominantly black players in the league as Ice Cube is running black people in the office. It's obviously open to everyone, but it's predominantly black-owned and them letting that in the Salt Lake City shows that progression of Utah and that's awesome. I’m not trying to make it a racial thing but just from a perception standpoint, I think it’s awesome that they’re bringing the Big 3 to Salt Lake.
DN: Now, let’s take a trip down memory lane. When I think of your era with the Jazz, I think of the powder blue and navy uniforms because I thought that was a pretty cool era of Utah basketball. You also brought out some really cool Nike PE shoes and it was a lot of cool things from that time, but how do you feel about that era today? How fun was it to be a part of that with Deron Williams, and also to know that he has patched up his relationship with Jerry Sloan after all that they’ve been through? It feels like the fans are back open to him being around now with that past behind them.
CB: That’s pretty dope, man. Honestly, me and D-Will had something special in Utah, being taught by Jerry Sloan, who was a Hall of Fame coach, legendary coach and his staff of Phil Johnson, Ty Corbin and the rest of the crew. Me and D-Will had something special out there so in 2010, when I left to go to Chicago, I was obviously chasing a championship.
I thought Chicago had more pieces than we had, you know, at the time I asked the management to get us a real center, like a Marcus Camby type, someone that can block shots. You don’t have to be Shaquille O'Neal, but if somebody can block shots, rebounds, play above the rim and be athletic like a Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby or DeAndre Jordan, then we will have a real chance to win a championship. If we can't get a guy like that, then we have trouble with size. San Antonio had more size than us, the Lakers had more size than us and the teams that we kept losing to. We knew we could beat the Houston Rockets and the Denver Nuggets and everybody in the West, except the Spurs and Lakers.
So, the one thing we needed was more size. I’m 6-9. Mehmet Okur is 6-11, Paul Millsap is 6-8, so that was our trio of big men that played heavy minutes. Obviously, the Spurs had Tim Duncan, who was a Hall of Famer, Tony Parker is a Hall of Famer, Manu Ginobili is a Hall of Famer and they had a young Kawhi (Leonard), but they had veteran players with size.
The Lakers had Kobe Bryant, who is one of the best of all time, Lamar Odom, who is 6-10, Paul Gasol who is 7 feet, they had Andrew Bynum, who is 7 feet, so they had size. So anyway, I left in pursuit of championship aspirations in Chicago. Obviously, (Derrick) Rose getting hurt stopped us from getting championships there but when I left after that 2010 season, there was no more buffer between Jerry Sloan and D-Will. They didn’t always see eye to eye on everything and because I was team captain, I was kind of that go-to between, like, the voice of Deron while speaking to Jerry Sloan, the coach, and it was easy.
When I left, they just butted heads, so long story short, Jerry retires, and they trade D-Will and it just seems like it was left on a bad note with a bad taste in everybody's mouth, so to speak. So for them to patch things up and for the Jazz to patch things up as well, that's just a beautiful thing because at the end of the day, we did have something special in Utah. We had a very good team, we had a bunch of 50-win seasons, we were very competitive, we went to the conference finals. We didn't win the championship, which was our goal, but those six years I had in Utah are some of the most memorable years I had in my career.
DN: Do you like this squad now? You think they can do something out here in the future?
CB: I do. They might be a player away. I think Donovan Mitchell’s very good; I like Rudy Gobert a lot. I’m very high on Donovan. I think for him to be so young, only going into his third year, and for him to be able to do so much, I’m very impressed with his maturity, the way he handled himself on and off the court. I'm a big fan of Gobert, I like Derrick Favors and I’m hoping they bring him back. I like the Australian kid (Joe Ingles) because he can knock down shots and has a good edge to him, but I think they’re like a player away. It’s tough to get free agents. I came and I’m probably one of the biggest free agents they got to come to Utah from another team, but if they can get another big free agent to come to Utah and join that roster that can score inside out, give Donovan a little bit of a break from having the huge scoring load that he has on his shoulders every night.
But to help in that regard, they can have a chance to make some real noise, especially depending on what happens with the Golden State Warriors. There’s all this news about KD (Kevin Durant) and who knows what happens with Boogie (DeMarcus Cousins). I’m hearing that Klay (Thompson) might want to go to the Lakers. I don't know why they would break up, because they got a rock star thing going on over there that reminds me of the Bulls with (Michael) Jordan and (Scottie) Pippen in the '90s of going to the Finals every year, but whatever happens, if that marriage gets divorced and some of those players leave, and if any of those free agents want to come to Utah and join with Donovan Mitchell and the rest of that crew, they could really make some noise. I like that foundation, I just thought they were a player away, like an All-Star player away from being a real contender.