‘I Was Sort of a Prick’: J.J. Redick on Playing ‘J.J. Redick’
In the early part of this century, a shift in power caused the lines of ACC hate to blur. Duke and Maryland were responsible for two of the first three national championships, and as North Carolina sputtered through the Matt Doherty era, the enmity between the Blue Devils and Terrapins came to a boil. “[It was worst] at Maryland,” J.J. Redick says. “That’s when there was still a rivalry there, dating back to the Miracle Minute and Maryland winning in 2002. It was pretty heated for my first couple years there.”
There were times when the hate actually was hateful. Shelden Williams carried a 2003 incident in College Park with him for his four years at Duke, and Redick said during one game members of the Maryland crowd invoked the name of his then 12-year-old sister.
Much of the jeering, though, was college kids being exactly that. Like when Maryland students passed around Redick’s cell phone number at bars. Or what happened in 2004: With Duke up by six at Maryland in the final minute, Redick waited at the free throw line between shots. A chorus of “Fuck you, J.J.” began, and as Redick took the pass, he raised his eyes, looked at the student section, and smirked. The shot went through, good for his 26th point, a season high.
“I probably deserved it,” Redick says. “I was sort of a prick.”
Redick says throughout that game, he and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, seated courtside, exchanged barbs. “He was talking noise to me the whole game, and I was just yapping back,” Redick says. “I watch video now of me in college, and I just think, What are you doing, man?”
When Redick arrived at Duke in 2002, he was an 18-year-old from Roanoke, Virginia. He knew admittedly little about the world of big-time college basketball. Duke’s lack of non-conference road games delayed the awakening, but when Redick arrived at Clemson his freshman year, the reality dawned on him. “It was instant,” Redick says. “You come out an hour and a half before the game. I remember I had pretty bad acne on my shoulders, and there were kids who’d paint red dots on their shoulders. I wasn’t prepared for that.”
Redick’s trip to Clemson was just eight games into his career — not nearly long enough for any personally deserved animosity. The early days were a product of institutional hatred, of the name on the front of the jersey rather than the back. “There’s this element that we’re these elitist private school kids, even the basketball players,” Redick says. “None of us come from money. But we kind of get lumped into that. There’s this idea that I’m this cookie-cutter kid that fit the Duke model. I’m from the middle of nowhere, Virginia.”
There are levels of Duke hate. Lowest is reserved for anyone who has the gall to put on the jersey (Jay Williams). Above that is for those who embody what Coach K’s Dukies have come to stand for — mostly charge-taking, face-making, and floor-slapping. Some of this is driven by race (Wojo, Greg Paulus), but it doesn’t have to be (Shane Battier).
The final stage is the least populated, a designation given only to those who move beyond the inherent and consciously mold their own villainy. “[Christian] Laettner kind of liked it,” Grant Hill says. “He used to taunt the crowd. He embraced it. He loved it, being the villain, the bad guy.” Redick’s place in the third category is a product of his time in the other two.
“I think I created this persona on the court to deal with the antics of the other crowd, to kind of combat that,” Redick says. “It’s not who I was. It was never who I was. I look back on that, especially my first two years, and I probably deserved a lot of the animosity.”
Redick acknowledges that if he’d distanced himself from the character, some of the hatred may have dissipated. There was one problem with that, though. He started to like it. “I embraced it, for sure,” Redick says.
The antics spilled into Redick’s later years in Durham — a wave to the crowd after a buzzer-beater in Tallahassee, a pointed display of three fingers in Chapel Hill — but he’s older now. Redick is 28, married, a consummate pro. When the trade deadline approached last month, Redick, having realized his professional ceiling, was one of the league’s most desired prizes. The Milwaukee Bucks won out, and next summer, Redick will be in line for a hefty raise, in Wisconsin or elsewhere.
There are some places, though, where he’d be less welcome. Last night in Washington, Redick stepped to the free throw line late in the Bucks’ loss to the Wizards. As he waited, 10 years after his first trip to College Park, chants of “J.J. sucks” grew. Straight-faced, Redick took the ball, lined up the shot, and missed.
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