Former slam dunk champion Isaiah “JR” Rider is no stranger to controversy and NBA drama. In his upcoming documentary My Testimony Raw and Uncut, the former NBA dunk champion plans on setting a bunch of records straight about his reputation and a lot of the drama he faced during and after his NBA career.
Ballislife caught up with Rider during All-Star weekend to talk about dunk contests, a few All-Stars and a few stories which will be elaborated on in the documentary, including how Shaq & Kobe convinced him to play with the Lakers instead of the Heat and why Phil Jackson kept him off the playoff roster during one of their championship years.
You grew up playing ball with the Oakland Hall of Fame crew: Jason Kidd, Brian Shaw, Antonio Davis, Gary Payton & Hook Mitchell. How good was Hook compared to the others and did anyone of you stand out from the pack
Hook is my boy, he was probably just as good as the rest of us. It really comes down to environment, opportunity, and focus. Hook could have made it, I don’t know what really happened. I would have to find the footage of Hook doing dunks over cars, and some of the craziest dunks I have seen to this day.
J Kidd, B Shaw, GP, we are all from the same era and the respect is there. Every one of us stands out in our own way.
You bounced around a couple of junior colleges before landing in UNLV. How was it playing for Tark?
A lot of people don’t know how big of an impact Mitch Richmond had on my career path. When I was a senior in high school, Mitch would come pick me up and take me to the Warriors practices. He mentored me and that’s why I went to the junior colleges before UNLV. Tark was a great coach, unfortunately, amid the controversy that was happening when I got to UNLV, we didn’t get to play until my senior year in the NCAA championship.
You were second in the country in points per game. Do you remember who was first and whatever happened to that “guy”
Actually, I don’t remember. (the guy was named Greg Guy and I’m assuming you have never heard of the guy)
When you look back at most NBA players on draft night, you will see shy young men not yet comfortable in front of a camera or doing interviews. When you were drafted, you sat down with Craig Sager, confident, smiling, chewing gum and announced who JR Rider was to the world by saying you were going to win the NBA dunk contest. Where did that confidence come from and do you consider it cockiness?
Haha. I was born and raised in Oakland, CA. It’s called the Cali swag. It’s not cockiness at all, I have always been a very charismatic, charming, young man. My mother taught me that.
When you did get into the contest you gave us one of the most memorable ones ever. You introduced us to the “Eastbay” between the legs dunk, which most people just call the “Rider” now. You made Barkley say it was the best dunk he ever saw and Nique even jumped out of his seat and said you remind him of himself. How old were you when you first did the “Eastbay” and what or who was your dunk inspiration.
I started trying different dunks in my neighborhood basketball court in 8th grade. I have been 6’5″ since I was 14. Michael Jordan was my dunk inspiration. I would try every dunk of his over and over. I think the first time I did the “East bay funk dunk” I was a sophomore in high school. It became entertaining for everyone.
LeBron is judging the Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown dunk contest tonight and the NBA one is tomorrow. I would love to know your opinion on a few things about the dunk contest. Do you think star players like LeBron should participate?
To each his own. I think it would entertain the fans, but a lot of players like to rest during the break. You don’t want to force someone to do something they have no interest in doing or achieving.
Do you agree with the statement that “a decent dunk by a great player looks more exciting to most people than a great dunk by a decent player.” If you look at the competition in this years NBA Slam Dunk Contest and compare them to the amateurs in the Showdown contest, the amateurs are superior to the NBA contestants but the public would rather see Blake Griffin do inferior dunks.
The general public is entertained by people in sports and entertainment. So, of course, they would like to see the pro NBA players competing, however, true sports junkies can appreciate the “better” dunks made by the amateurs. The world is large. There is an audience.
Back to the NBA past, I’ve heard a lot of stories about Christian Laettner having chemistry problems with you and some of the coaching staff during your first couple of seasons. Do you remember his infamous post-game interview where he pointed to teammates then himself and said “Loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, winner”
What did you think about the risky move of drafting a High school player and are you surprised at the career KG ended up having?
KG is my boy. It is clear that some people are destined to become an athlete. KG is one of those people. God has blessed him with an amazing ability, and a wonderful career. What does one or two years of college matter when you can tell they can compete with the pros even in high school?
You were traded to the Trailblazers, who had on paper one of the most talented teams in the NBA. Tell me about your experience in Portland and how did that beef between you and Eddie Jones start?
My most memorable years of playing were in Portland. Our team was young and winning, we made the playoffs every year. It feels good to come out, win, and feel the crowd. Haha, you’re still wondering about the Eddie Jones beef? (Interviewer note: I tried asking him about the EJ beef a couple of years ago)
Your off the court life was a lot quieter during your 3 years with Portland but when you were traded to Atlanta you had a lot of run-ins with management and teammates. The NBA also wanted you to attend drug counseling and the story is you refused and asked to be released. Is that what happened?
I have always gotten along with my teammates. I can tell you one thing though, Dikembe Mutumbo is a snitch. The NBA must have probable cause for you to enter their drug program. I have never, I repeat never, failed a drug test by the NBA. They did not have probable cause therefore, the fine they fined me, was returned to me. I was the team, I was not happy because I was 5th in the league in scoring, but we were losing every night. We just lost and these guys are in the locker room laughing and giggling, talking about what strip club to hit up. I wanted to win. I wanted a ring. It gets to that point in your career where the money doesn’t matter, you just want to be a champion. My contract was written where I had the option in my 7th year, so I took it. I wanted a ring, and the Lakers signed me that summer.
You won a championship ring with Kobe, Shaq & those Lakers during the 2000-01 NBA season. Even though you were one of the leading scorers off the bench, they left you off the playoff roster but included guys like Greg Foster & Devean George.
That is something I will talk about in depth in my documentary. My whole career, I never came off the bench. When I went with the Lakers, I knew two things: they couldn’t pay me (I was a free agent and could have signed for a lot more) and I wouldn’t start because of Kobe and Shaq.
I am from Cali, I wanted a ring, so I sacrificed. The playoff roster was an egotistical decision made by Phil Jackson that hurt me deep down. It was an ego move because of something that happened at practice. At the end of the day, I earned my ring, I played all year to get us there. I so regret burning my bridges with Pat Riley that year. I was supposed to sign with Miami heat that same summer. They were going to pay me what I deserved and make me their franchise player. The night before flying to Miami to sign, Phil & Shaq called me on three-way. I made a bad decision, I should have went to Miami. The only good thing I got out of LA is meeting my wife that year.
Your last NBA stop was with the Denver Nuggets for 10 games. You obviously had the talent to keep playing, what prevented you from playing for another team?
I have never been injured. I can still ball to this day. I should have gotten with a different agent at that point. Someone who believed in me. Not Arn. You will find that once a person can no longer suck your blood, you become useless to them. I went back home and my mother suddenly fell into a coma. I was not focused on my career at that point. I was in a lot of pain. We all live and learn.
You have a documentary coming out. What do you hope to accomplish with this?
My Testimony: Raw & Uncut is a spiritual journey. In my own words, I will tell my story. All the ups, downs, sugar, & shit. My blood, sweat, and tears. Not the media taking something and twisting it around for ratings. People like to broadcast your failures and whisper your success. I hope that I can inspire everyone with my story one way or another. At the end of the day, I am human like everyone else, we all make mistakes. I am still the same person with a big heart.
UPDATE: In 2016, I had a 60-minute interview with Rider. I’ll probably release the video during next year’s All-Star weekend.