Joe Ingles shouldn’t have made it. But no worries mate, he did
The sharpshooter faced long odds when he came to the NBA as a 27-year-old rookie. He overcame them to leave an indelible mark on the Utah Jazz
Let’s count the reasons Joe Ingles shouldn’t have made it.
He was caucasian, of which the NBA is 16%. He was Australian, of which the league is .02%. He didn’t dunk. He had no discernible muscle mass. At full speed, he looked like a pedestrian crossing the street. He spent eight years playing in Australia and Europe before he came to America: an NBA rookie at 27.
Conventional thinking was that the reason the Utah Jazz signed him — after he was waived by the Clippers — was so 19-year-old Dante Exum, a fellow Australian and the Jazz’s 2014 lottery draft pick, could have someone from back home to talk to.
Eight years later, Exum is out of the league and playing in Europe. And “Slow Mo Joe” Ingles? Still here. Still taunting people to show him why he shouldn’t be.
He’s temporarily out of action, having to deal with two occupational hazards he somehow managed to avoid until now: a knee injury and a trade.
He tore his ACLin January and was traded by the Jazz in February to the Portland Trail Blazers. He had reconstructive surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament in Chicago and is now back in Salt Lake City, his home for the past eight years, for knee rehab therapy and to nurse his wounds.
Ingles isn‘t shy about saying he’s “so disappointed” to be traded and see his Jazz time come to an end. There have been few Jazz players more popular, fewer yet who have settled into the community like Joe, his wife, Renae, and their three kids. And still fewer who have gone on a run more improbable or unexpected.
He wasn’t expected to last in the first place. He wasn’t expected to become a starter (313 starts in 590 games). He wasn’t expected to become a strong defender (his career defensive plus-minus rating of 1.02 ranks 84th on the NBA all time list and is fifth best in Jazz history, behind only Eaton, Gobert, Kirilenko and Stockton). He wasn’t expected to rank as the most prolific 3-point shooter in Jazz history (1,071 makes, an average of nearly two a game), not to mention one of the most accurate in NBA history (his .408 career 3-point percentage is 24th on the all time list). He certainly wasn’t expected to emerge as one of the league’s top trash talkers.
That was the no-worries, good-on-ya Australian in him coming out. When you’re facing LeBron James, Draymond Green, Kobe Bryant, et al night after night, it can’t hurt having a bit of Steve Irwin, or maybe Crocodile Dundee, in you. That’s not a knife. This is a knife!”
“I wouldn’t say an arrogance, but a confidence is what I think we have,” Ingles says, speaking for his fellow Aussies. “No matter who we’re playing we’re never going to back down. A part of that is in my personality, but a part of that also comes from my being Australian.
“When I first got in the league, the one thing I knew is if you show any sign of weakness on the court they’re going to eat you alive. They’re the best players in the world. Look like you don’t belong, and before you know it you’re out of the league.
“I knew I had to be myself to make it. I’ve always tried to enjoy every day, to have fun with it, to appreciate it.”
It helped that from the start, Jazz coach Quin Snyder — the only NBA coach Ingles has ever played for — gave him the green light to be himself.
“Quin would say to me — obviously he knew me pretty well — that I was at my best when I was smiling, I was playing free. Whenever he’d sense I was getting a bit stressed he’d say, ‘Be free.’ Wherever I’m playing, whoever I’m playing for, I’ll always have Quin Snyder in my head saying, ‘Be free, be yourself.’”
Who he’ll be playing for next and where is the unknown. Before Ingles and his reconditioned knee are cleared to play again — expected to be sometime in early 2023 — he’ll have become an unrestricted free agent, able to choose between whatever teams want him.
A return to the Jazz is not out of the question. No one has said anything out loud, but there is the possibility that Ingles could find himself starting over with the same team he started over with in the first place.
But if it’s unsure exactly where he’s going, Joe Ingles knows where he’s been. He spent the past eight years with the Jazz (and got paid slightly more than $70 million) after showing up at training camp as a 27-year-old rookie with a non-guaranteed contract.
The forced layoff he finds himself in has at least given him the luxury of being able to reflect on that.
“Looking back on it, to play eight years in one organization is pretty unreal,” he agrees. “I don’t know how many other players have done that starting at age 27.”
If the league kept such a stat, it might be a club of one.
Joe Ingles will join former Jazz teammate Mike Conley for an evening of talk and storytelling on April 12 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Olympus High School. For ticket information see voicesutah.com. The event is sponsored in part by the Deseret News.