You had a great year with the Atlanta Hawks, one of the top teams in the east. What made you decide to leave?
There was already a winning program, great individuals, all-star guards in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The organization came in and made me and my family part of the organization. And Toronto fans are some of the best in the world. Basically, those were the key things for me. And they also offered me a bigger role.
Upon your signing with the Raps, you invoked the name of one of the most popular players in team history, Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams. Why him?
Yup, that’s my game. It reflects my game. Junkyard, he’s shown me great respect and allowed me to, you know, use that name, Junkyard 2.0. He’s really engaging me, and he understands how hard I play when I step on the court. Having JYD 2.0 just adds a little flavour, and hopefully people can get behind that from the first game.
Have you spent much time in Toronto yet?
I went there for the press conference, and I’m looking for housing for me and my wife. We had a nice group of media. I can only imagine how many fans are going to show up.
Atlanta had some rough years, a lot of empty arenas, and you’re coming to a pretty good basketball town. What’s job number one for you to show the fans you mean business?
First and foremost to do the nitty-gritty things. That’s what the Junkyard do, the little things to protect the junkyard and protect my team on the defensive end.
You had a quiet start to your career and bounced around a bit before Atlanta, and now you’re considered one of the better defensive players in the league. What happened?
I think the NBA is all about opportunity. I didn’t have a lot of opportunity early in my career. I’m a strong believer in making the best of your opportunities.… If you make the best of it, you’ll be successful is always my mindset. When it came knocking at my door, it came knocking in the middle of my career. But I have no regrets. I had a lot of obstacles and that helped me take advantage of the opportunities I got.
Tell me about your own experience with liver disease and your thoughts when first diagnosed.
It was definitely a scary moment.… My family really got involved and helped me understand I still can be successful and can continue to have great life with the disease. It really eased my nerves, and I’m trying to reach out to people in a similar situation and let them know the same thing.
Why did you decide to start a kids’ foundation to raise awareness and funds for research into pediatric liver disease?
Basically, bringing awareness of the disease to individuals is near to my heart. I’m a living witness of the condition, and I understand you can be successful with this type of disease. It’s something dear to my heart.
What do you hope to accomplish?
Reach out to individuals and put a smile on those kids’ faces going through the same thing. Just be a role model.
Who were some of your basketball heroes growing up?
My heroes growing up were more family based. My dad was a big role model to me. My older brother who passed away. My cousin, T. J. Cleveland, who coaches in Arkansas, stepped into my brother’s place, when he passed.
What can you tell us about yourself that we don’t already know from the stat sheets and highlight reels?
Off the court and outside of the arena, I like to bowl. I’m going to get some bowling tournaments going in Toronto for the fans.