As part of our coverage of the NBA lockout, Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams checked in with Royal Ivey, a backup guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, to see how he is spending his newfound free time. Ivey has resumed classes at the University of Texas and is pursuing a degree in elementary education.
Grantland: How are the classes going?
Ivey: “I finished up six hours and I’ve got six hours to go. So I’m going to school in the fall, too. If the lockout’s over I’ve just got to take the incompletes, but I’m going to go to school until the lockout ends.”
Grantland: What classes are you taking?
Ivey: “Childhood and adolescent development, piano, and another educational course, individual differences. This would be my third offseason that I’ve been back in school. It’s always weird coming back. I always feel like the old guy on campus, just being around the younger guys and coming down here and working out with guys. I’m just reliving the dream each time I come back.”
Grantland: Are you practicing with the college team while you’re there?
Ivey: “I actually just signed papers to become an undergraduate-student coach, so I’ll be helping out this year.”
Grantland: Do you get any double takes from students or teacher by being in class again?
Ivey: “The teachers are fine. I actually had a class with Dexter Pittman and Mo Evans and the teacher was excellent. He kind of knew we all played professional basketball. He asked a lot of questions about our profession and how it was and why we were coming back to school. That’s the biggest question I get: Why am I coming back to school?”
Grantland: That was the next question. Why are you going back?
Ivey: “Because I’m six hours away and I want to become a coach at the collegiate level, so in order to do that I need my degree, and it was something I had my mind set on when I walked in the first day — no matter what I was going to get my degree. In a couple months, it’ll come true.”
Grantland: Have you thought about what graduation day will mean for you?
Ivey: “It’ll mean a lot. Both of my parents graduated from college. My mom got her masters, so I’m just following suit. I can tell my kids I played in the league for so many years, but if I don’t have that degree, it’s nothing. That means everything to me. That’s my backbone. That’s something I can fall back on, and it’s something that no one can take away from me.”
Grantland: Kevin Durant returned to the University of Texas last summer. Did you guys have any of the same classes?
Ivey: “No, I wasn’t in the class with Kevin Durant. He’s at the starting line. We were down here at the same time, but we weren’t in the same classes.”
Grantland: What was the atmosphere of the seven-game series against Memphis like last playoffs?
Ivey: “That was unreal. That was what basketball’s about at the next level, just being in a Game 7, them beating us at our house, us beating them at their house, the triple-overtime game, the fans taunting us on the bench. It was just a crazy environment. When we got back to the hotel, the fans were booing us in Memphis. It was just crazy. That’s playoff basketball. The stakes were high, and it was a great series.”
Grantland: Complete this sentence: The Thunder would have beaten the Mavericks if …
Ivey: “The Thunder would have beaten the Mavericks if it was 2013. It’s experience. Those guys have been there before. They tasted a little bit losing in ’06 against the Heat, and experience goes a long way. They got that savvy and they played with it. It was their year, and they won and went through everybody and they played well. That goes to show: Experience does win championships.”
Grantland: Russell Westbrook received a lot of criticism for shooting often in the playoffs. Did you think it was warranted?
Ivey: “That’s what he does. KD is no. 1. Russell is no. 2. We need Russell to score. He’s doing his job. He’s a point guard. He’s learning his craft. He’s good at his craft, and he’s just being aggressive. We need him to do that, so I wouldn’t look down on him because he shot a lot. He’s a good player. You want your good players with the ball. That’s what it was.”
Grantland: Lastly, how did you get your name?
Ivey: “I’m named after my grandfather. His name is Roy Allan. He was one of the first African-American stage directors/directors in television. He worked at CBS. He’s actually in the film guild. I was named after him. His full name is Roy Allan, so my parents just took the Roy and Allan and chopped it up and made Royal.”
Previously in this series: Detroit Pistons guard Ben Gordon