In Conversation with Isaiah Rider

I recently had the pleasure of exchanging emails with Isaiah “J.R.” Rider, the shooting guard drafted fifth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1993. Below is a very candid conversation with one of the most memorable NBA personalities from the 1990s.

You can follow Rider on Twitter, check out his website where you can find out more about his upcoming documentary “My Testimony: Raw and Uncut”.

I asked Rider about his memorable rookie season, which included the East Bay Funk Dunk and a spot on the All-Rookie First Team, and his memories of making the jump from college to the pros.

"God willing, I always knew deep down that I would make it to the pros. My rookie season was one of the most memorable times. It was like a dream. Being from the Bay Area, I remember it being very cold. I got a lot of love from the fans, so it was worth it. Because I promised during my draft day interview that I would win the dunk contest, I had to back that up and it was easy."

Despite his superstar potential, Rider had famous run-ins with coaches and off the court troubles. The Wolves traded him in 1996. I asked Rider for his thoughts and whether he wished things had worked out differently with the franchise.

"Contrary to what the media likes to report, I never burnt my bridge with the Timberwolves. They wanted to sign me in 2003 but my agent Arn Tellem dropped the ball there. Basketball is a business. As a player you expect to be traded."

Rider joined the Portland Trail Blazers in 1996 and enjoyed his first taste of team success in the NBA. The team made several playoff runs during his time there. Rider on his time in Portland and how disappointed he was to come up short of the championship goal:

"My best playing days were in Portland. I was happy there. I was finally on a team that was winning. I had the most fun with my teammates there. We were a young team and we were winning. I was disappointed to say the least, but kept on pushing."

Rider would win an NBA championship in 2001 with the Los Angeles Lakers. But it was a bittersweet experience. After being a key contributor in the regular season, he was left off the playoff roster. I asked him about what happened that led to the decision and how difficult it was to not be part of the title run.

"After demanding a trade from Atlanta in 2000, I basically wanted a ring. I wanted to win. I made a bad decision by signing with the Lakers. The night before I was supposed to fly to Miami and become their franchise player. I chose Los Angeles to get a ring. I definitely didn’t do it for the money. I never came off the bench until I got to the Lakers, but I knew that was my role going in. I played all year to get us to the playoffs. It was something that happened at a practice where Phil Jackson got egotistigal and made the decision to leave me off the playoff roster. It hurt me deep down. I had to sit and watch every game. I actually shed a tear when we won the championship in Philadelphia when Shaq said at his championship speech, "First of all I would like to thank J.R. Rider." Going to the Lakers ruined my career. Biggest mistake of my life."

On who was most influential in his basketball life:

"I would like to give it up to Mitch Richmond. He’s a good brother. He took me in under his wings in high school."

In 2009, Rider attempted a comeback at age 38. In this Yahoo! article, he said: “I still have it in me. I still have something left in the tank. It’s still in my blood. My juices still flow. I know I can still ball.” I asked Rider, after so much time away from the game, what convinced him that he could still play and when did he decide to give up his comeback attempt.  

"People don’t realize there’s two sides to every story. I was going through a lot back when I went home in my personal life. Not only with my mother being in a coma and me praying everyday that she would come back, but people in general trying to suck my blood. I was not focused on my career at that time, when I should have gotten with a different agent and kept pushing. I have never been injured. Everyone knows that. I have been blessed with health. I know that I can still play at a pro level.  There is others in the league playing at this age."

On his very lengthy off the court rap sheet since retiring from the NBA in 2001, and what he’s learned from these experiences and what has pushed him forward through it all.

"Life happens. No one is immune from pain. It is what it is. Only God can judge me."

On how he would respond to fans that looks at his career and say “J.R. Rider could’ve been so much more”, and if he regrets anything about how his career turned out:

"I do have regrets. However, you can’t move through life with the should’ve, would’ve, could’ve. You will kill yourself living with regret. As long as you’re healthy, God is blessing you, that is something to be happy about.  I have accomplished more than most, if not all of the people that have something to say about me. I don’t really care what people say. God has a plan and destiny for everyone. You must move forward."

On what he’s up to these days:

"I am a family man now. I waited to have a family, and enjoy watching my kids grow. I have a foundation called the Sky Rider Foundation, we give out scholarships to outstanding students that are interested in sports. It’s all about giving back to the kids. I have a documentary about my life called "My Testimony: Raw and Uncut". It’s my story in my own words. All the ups, the downs, the sugar, the shit. No stone left unturned. I hope everyone can watch it and be moved. God Bless!”

Footnotes:

Below is a trailer to Rider’s upcoming documentary:

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