NBA at 75: The 20-year turn of J.J. Redick

Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images /

J.J. Redick was once the most hated player in basketball. After grinding out a long NBA career, he’s become a refreshing voice of reason in sports media.

More and more athletes are finding their way to platforms to talk more about the sports they played. Whether it is in the broadcast booth, at the pre and postgame analysis table, or on their own podcasts and videos, players can be seen and heard sharing their true opinions more than ever. Former NBA vet J.J. Redick is one of those players.

He has immersed himself in the sports take world and brings a refreshing tone of thoughtfulness to a larger conversation that often seems divorced from it. He’s a regular analyst on ESPN’s NBA coverage and the host of a popular podcast, The Old Man and the Three. It’s also a big change from what he was — we are now two decades removed from J.J. Redick building his reputation as college basketball’s biggest heel. It’s remarkable that both we and Redick have arrived here.

J.J. Redick and the height of madvillainy

When mentioning the nationwide hatred for a former Duke Blue Devil basketball player, most tend to start with their Tobacco Road rivals, the University of North Carolina. But I don’t have to go there. As a Maryland native who was a teenager around the time Redick was in college, I remember first-hand how much the team in College Park and its student section despised Redick.

The year was 2003. Duke was headed to another victory over the Maryland Terrapins in Cole Field House. It was the final minute, Redick was at the free-throw line about to take the second shot. The crowd — most notably, Maryland’s student section — began a rousing chant of, “[bleep] you, JJ!” The expletives were inescapable, as the ESPN broadcast couldn’t cut away from college’s premier player at the line. Redick calmly sank the free throw, smirking at the hostile section.

To quote the late MF DOOM, “Villainy. Feel him in your heart chakra. Chart-topper, start s*** stopper.” That’s who Redick was in college, and he knew it. “I was kind of a prick,” he told Grantland in a 2013 interview. The best thing about sports villains is that the vitriol is often driven by just how great they are at their sport. Redick was a two-time All-American, two-time ACC Player of the Year and finished school as the conference’s career scoring leader. No one would have cared about his attitude if he was a low-scoring role player. Redick may have fed into the disdain, but he couldn’t fully become a villain without being great enough for fans to care about seeing him lose.

Making an NBA out of no way

Redick was drafted No. 13 overall in 2007 to the Orlando Magic. The scouting report on him was that as gifted a shooter as he is, he would struggle with NBA athleticism on both ends of the floor. His college contemporary was Gonzaga All-American Adam Morrison, who was selected third in that same draft. Those questions surrounded Morrison as well, but Morrison was 6-foot-8— four inches taller than Redick — and was presumed to be better prepared to handle the physical gap between college and the pros. But unlike Morrison, Redick worked incredibly hard to crack the rotation by supplementing his shooting with not being a total defensive liability.

Because of this transition from college superstar to NBA rotational player and starter, the vitriol Redick received at Duke became non-existent. He played hard, shed some of his smirking persona and worked his way through the kind of challenges he’d always seemed to just glide above in college. There was no reason for fans to hate him because he wasn’t always in the spotlight. Redick turned his reputation around so sharply that he is now called a “well-liked” teammate after retiring in 2021.

The face turn of J.J. Redick

In order to last as long as Redick did in the NBA, one must be immersed in the details of basketball. His podcast became a hit among NBA fans because it was a refreshing perspective away from hot takes and entitled dismissal that some former players tend to relish. He is outstanding at explaining what goes on with a player or team on and off the court without appearing to think too highly or lowly of himself. This has gone a long way for fans who remember his college days, respecting who he is as a player and analyst of the game. Redick started his podcast a couple of years before retiring, and the players he has on as guests open up in ways rarely seen in interviews. This confirms the respect he’s earned around the NBA.

Redick’s crowing achievement in television so far is his thorough and proper dismantling of an opinion by Chris “Mad Dog” Russo about Draymond Green’s behavior. On ESPN’s First Take, Russo said, “America was tired of Draymond’s antics.” After collecting his thoughts, Redick highlighted the implications of Russo’s claim and made the correlation to how bigoted pundits use similar talking points to discuss Black athletes. The video hit social media and it further cemented Redick as someone the people root for.

In 20 years, Redick went from the bridge of focused Duke hate between Christian Laettner and Grayson Allen to people looking forward to hearing what he has to say. His redemption arc is a rare one and the hoops world is better for Redick allowing himself to visibly share his basketball knowledge.

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