For the next phase of his basketball life, Richard Jefferson is back with the franchise his NBA career tipped off with.
After a 17-season career that began with the Nets in 2001, Jefferson is launching his broadcasting career with the YES Network this season, working primarily as a game analyst.
“I’ve been doing little different things” said Jefferson. “I’ve done podcasts. I’ve done some radio stuff. But I’d never called a game before, and when the Nets signed me I really thought I’d be in studio more than games, and (YES producer) Frank (DiGraci) had a different idea.”
The schedule is for Jefferson to do 25 games, several in a three-person booth that includes Sarah Kustok, along with a handful of studio appearances. His homecoming isn’t just about the franchise, but the network. When he did his first game in Cleveland last Wednesday, he was working alongside long-time Nets broadcaster Ian Eagle, who called so many of Jefferson’s games over his seven seasons with the Nets.
“He’s one of the best in the business, so that’s kind of like playing with Magic Johnson or LeBron James,” said Jefferson. “When you step on the court you’re going to be a point or two better just because you’re on their team.
“I had a comfortability there that probably isn’t very common with most guys doing it for the first time.”
Cleveland, of course, is where Jefferson won an NBA championship in 2016, the first of his two seasons with the Cavaliers. He visited with the Cavs’ broadcast team for a spot as well, and received a generous cheer when he was shown on the arena’s video screen later in the game.
Jefferson’s second game was Monday during a Nets visit to Madison Square Garden, and when Eagle mentioned that upcoming stop on the schedule during the Cleveland game last week, Jefferson took the opportunity to reference the Nets’ dominance over the Knicks during his time with the team. It quickly took off on social media, a bit to his surprise.
“He threw me a lob” said Jefferson, “and I decided to catch it and do something people didn’t expect.”
It’s that type of honesty and directness that made Jefferson the type of player who always seemed to have a future in broadcasting if he wanted it. And it helped him make a strong first impression in his initial studio and game appearances.
Jefferson got to it right away 17 years ago, when the Nets acquired him in a big draft night trade with Houston that brought three first round draft picks to the Nets — Jefferson, Jason Collins and Brandon Armstrong. With their own second round pick, the Nets drafted Brian Scalabrine. Jefferson, Collins and Scalabrine each went on to play more than a decade in the league.
But Rod Thorn’s big move in that summer of 2001 was still to come. A few weeks after the draft, he acquired Jason Kidd. The Hall of Famer and the super-athletic, 6-foot-7 wing Jefferson were a perfect match.
“I knew how special of a player he was,” said Jefferson. “He’s a player, for my skill set, it’s a dream to go play with, like Steve Nash or Magic Johnson.”
Jefferson and the Nets went to two straight NBA Finals, won four division titles in five years and made six straight playoff appearances. Jefferson averaged a career-high 22.6 points in 2007-08, his seventh and final season with the Nets.
“We were part of that group that changed that stigma,” said Jefferson, “that changed them from being not a good franchise, not a good team, to a perennial playoff team.”
Jefferson played another 10 years, with stops in Milwaukee, San Antonio, Golden State, Utah, Dallas, Cleveland, and Denver. With the Cavs, he won the championship that had eluded him over a decade earlier. After playing 20 games with the Nuggets last season, it was time to step away and pursue something new.
On the final resume with the NBA title and two NBA Finals appearances with the Nets? An NCAA championship at Arizona and a trip to the Olympics with Team USA in 2004.
As long as he’s around the young Nets, he wouldn’t mind sharing some of the lessons and wisdom he gained from those experiences.
“There were some things I would have done differently, there were some things that happened I’m glad they did,” said Jefferson. “I’m where I am today because of the ups and downs and successes and failures. To be able to start a new career with the same team I started my career with is an honor and it’s humbling.”