Jordan Clarkson is ready for the return of Donovan Mitchell: ‘He’s a real, real superstar’
The Utah Jazz guard talks about his Filipino and Black heritage, dating a pop punk star, Kobe Bryant, the return of his former teammate to Salt Lake City, and more
Very long braids. So many tattoos that there isn’t much room left for anything new to ink. Colored fingernails. Daring fashion-forward clothing. Of African American and Filipino descent. Boyfriend of a famous pop punk singer. Mentee of the late Kobe Bryant. And a headband-wearing Utah Jazz shooting guard.
Jordan Clarkson is known by Jazz and NBA fans as one of the most talented scorers in the league. And off the court, the 2021 NBA Sixth Man of the Year is known as one of the most unique, humble and daring as he has always embraced beating by his own drum.
“Just be you. If that’s different, be different. Whatever you love, just pursue. Don’t look back,” Clarkson recently told Andscape.
While the Jazz have cooled since their surprising 10-3 start, Clarkson has remained hot offensively. The 6-foot-5, 195-pounder was averaging a career-high 20.4 points, 2.7 made 3-pointers, 4.5 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game for the surprising Jazz entering Tuesday. The San Antonio native has also embraced being in Salt Lake City as he re-signed to a four-year, $52 million deal with the Jazz in 2020.
First-year Jazz head coach Will Hardy smiled at the mere mention of the “fun-loving” Clarkson on and off the court.
“I always try to stay out of Jordan’s way,” Hardy said. “He’s a very creative player, and he sees the game in a unique way sometimes. And I have to give him the latitude to be himself out there because when he plays freely, he plays with his instincts, he’s at his best. He’s a guy that I definitely don’t want to put in too narrow of a lane because of his ability to impact the game in a lot of ways. Off the court, he is as fun-loving and easy going, engaging a person as I’ve been around in the NBA.
“He’s very down to Earth. He talks about music, movies, food, all that stuff. He’s such a great guy. He’s got a bright smile. Always has such a great way about himself when he’s interacting not just with the staff and players in the facility, but when you see him in the community interacting with the fans at the games. He’s just one of those magnetic people that everyone seems to be attracted to. Then you see him around his daughter, he’s a wonderful father. Jordan’s a special guy and we’re lucky to have him in Utah.”
The following is a recent Q&A with Clarkson as he talked about his pride in being African American and Filipino, lessons learned from his father, his long hair braids, numerous tattoos, colored nails, his pop rock girlfriend; lessons from his former Los Angeles Lakers teammate, the late great Bryant; the return of former Jazz star Donovan Mitchell to Utah tonight and much more.
You certainly don’t look like someone from Utah, but Jazz fans have accepted you as one of their own. What has playing in Salt Lake City for the Jazz been like?
I would say, from the top to the bottom here in the organization, they’ve been trying to change culture-wise. Even the people in Utah — maybe not knowing or being oblivious, or whatever it is — just seeing something the same for so long. Then it happened for me to come into an organization and [seeing] something different. And all this stuff is happening around the world, as it has for many years, but it begins to just put out more on front street. And I’m there trying to bring change and show love all at the same time period. I think it’s really been accepted by the league and the people there.
Since you’ve been in the league, when were you able to just be yourself? Or have you always been yourself since you got in?
For the most part I’ve been myself in terms of who I was. It was just more of orientation; teammates accepted that. In Cleveland, it opened up for me. Even in L.A., maybe it was like, ‘He was young but it’s who he is.’ But I think here in Utah, they’ve done a great job of accepting who I am and loving me for me.
How did being Black and Filipino shape you?
It shaped me a lot. It gave me a different perspective on everything. Being Filipino or Black, having some white in me as well. Just taking on different sides and perspectives. Just understanding the history and culture. I appreciate every part about it. Learning about it for me was like I didn’t know much about my Filipino culture going into high school and college, and all through that. All I knew was really part of my dad’s side, his family, and stuff like that, and learning all about that. And then growing up, I’m not seen as just Filipino. I was a Black male growing up in San Antonio, Texas, as well.
Just like all my other [mixed raced] friends, we struggled going through that. It just gave me a different understanding. And as I got older, I started learning about my Filipino heritage and the struggles that they’ve been through. It’s just learning about the whole culture and having an understanding about everything has made me better as a person, gave me a lot of insight.
What was the toughest thing being a mixed-race kid growing up in San Antonio?
There were situations here and there. My dad did a great job of getting me prepared for that kind of stuff. There were a few times where I got [racially] profiled and pulled over and stuff like that. In terms of school, I grew up on the Northeast side, and everybody else looked like me. But in terms of running into anything, growing up, the challenges like that, people from the Filipino side didn’t really accept me at first. Just looking at me like, ‘Man no he’s Black.’ No, I’m Filipino, too. So, that probably was the biggest thing I had growing up, trying to figure that out.
You didn’t make any trips in the Philippines until you were an adult but have made several since. You’re also a member of the Philippines national men’s basketball team and were the flag bearer for the country at the 2018 Asian Games. What have those trips to the Philippines been like?
With my mom, we just didn’t really travel much back [during my childhood]. For me, it’s just most importantly love every day when I’m representing the country. Representing the people. For a month, I’ll stay there [in the offseason]. Yeah, and there has not been a time where I’ve been over there and wanted to leave. I had to come back. But in terms of the culture, I think the humbleness is different over there. Just from the top to the bottom, just everybody is just humble. Everybody is willing to give. I just spent a lot of time there just showing love.
How is your Tagalog (language spoken in the Philippines)?
I can’t speak that. I want to learn. It’s tough. I just know a few words, but nothing crazy. Like you’re welcome, thank you.
Are you going to get a home in the Philippines?
We’ll see, we’ll see. Definitely with the time coming up, [FIBA] World Cup and stuff like that we’ve been spending a lot of time over there.
Your dad has been a major influence in your life and those that know you say you mention his teachings all the time. Can you tell us about your father, Mike?
Working, grinding. When I was born, he got out of the military and started his own car wash business and hustled that up all by himself from the bottom and made it happen. The biggest thing he instilled in me was hard work. And at that time, I saw him grow his business, start to get successful and give back every time we had an opportunity.
He is giving money to homeless people, feeding people. Just doing things around the community, just giving back. So, what he’s instilled in me is just always staying humble and staying grounded. And knowing that everybody on this Earth is here together trying to work and share.
How did seeing your father help homeless people impact you as a kid?
It impacted me a lot. It just opened my eyes. It was just a normal thing for me. Not saying seeing a homeless person was normal. But us being around people and just trying to help them and extend our arms as much as we can.
The 2023 NBA All-Star Game is in Salt Lake City. Do you aspire to make your first NBA All-Star appearance in your home arena?
I’m playing to that caliber, making plays, trying to help my team win. I ain’t never been one to chase awards and accolades or nothing. I just kind of let the game speak for itself. If it happens, it happens, but definitely going to have to keep winning more games.
It’s not really on my mind. Not at all really. But I come out here, try to perform every night, give our team a chance to win. That’s all I’m really worried about.
How much time and energy have you put into tats with legendary Canadian tattoo artist Steve Wiebe, and why do you love them so much?
Just another way of expressing myself. Don’t really like talk and communicate with many people, so I think my tattoos are a form of expression. I just love being tattooed. I enjoy that time with the tattoo artist being able to work with him, too.
What stories do you think your tattoos tell? What is the most significant one to you?
Definitely my family tattoos. Shows where I’m from, stuff that has happened in my life. Yeah. My best friend had passed. This ‘Welcome to Texas [sign] …’ Just showing where I’m from. You see the San Antonio Tower [of Americas]. Just a timeline of my history. One of my favorite pieces too is the one with Kobe and the black mamba snake on my leg. That’s pretty cool. Just a story of my life expressed through them.
How much time do you put into your braided hair? What’s the process to your hair and who does it?
It takes forever. It’s done by my girl Gracie, she out in Pasadena. She was a friend of my homie’s when I first started getting braided. And my homie was like, ‘You need to start getting braided by her.’ And then from then on, we just hit it off and she just kept braiding me. Now my hair is super long. It takes a long time. The blow out and washing part is like the longest part. It takes about two, three hours. But once we get done with that, she does a really good job of twisting it up really quick, and making it happen. The whole process has got to be at least four, five hours. Maybe six.
She comes to the house, or she tries to meet me on the road at least every two weeks. Sometimes it’ll be a month before and you will see my hair starting to come out a little fuzzy.
Tell me about your painted nails. How much time and energy do you spend on your nails?
That’s like every two weeks, week-and-a-half or whatever, got to get my nails painted. Kind of started in the summertime. I was getting my feet done, and then my daughter started painting nails and I was just like messing around one day and just kept going since then. It was just another thing, putting art on my body. Show the swag wherever I am, and just expressing myself.
I don’t really get too much flack. Everybody around the league knows who I am, and respect it.
How much do you miss Kobe Bryant?
A lot. A lot. For sure. I’ve said that many times that you see so much of him on video clips. It definitely doesn’t replace him being here, but you always got a reminder of who he was, and little bits and stuff. You just hear him talking like he’s still here.
What did you learn from Kobe work ethic-wise and off the court?
In those last two years when it was almost over and he made his farewell tour or whatever it was, he was still the first dude in the gym, weight room, and getting up shots. Sometimes he’d be like, ‘Man, were you at?’ He did a whole practice and a whole film session before we practiced. And then coming in there changing stuff on the film game plan. Just being around all that early [former Laker Julius Randle] could attest to that, [former Laker] D’Angelo [Russell] as well, that’s helped us in our career tremendously. He pushed us too.
I think D-Lo got on a podcast and talked about a [Lakers game we had] in Portland. I think it was Dame [Lillard] and C.J. [McCollum] went crazy on us, and Kobe went off on a 30-, 40-minute rant on us. About us being young guys, and how those dudes were really taking control of what they got, and what they were doing. So, till this day all that stuff still stands for me.
Your girlfriend is also unique lady in herself in pop punk singer and songwriter Maggie Lindemann. What kind of vibe is it when y’all are together?
Oh man, we chill. We kick it. We are just the most normal people in the world. We love going to eat unhealthy food spots. I love seeing [her work], seeing her on tour, and play at festivals, and see her process of work. It’s different from me, too.
Is there a similarity between an athlete and being an entertainer? When you go watch her perform and get ready, what is it like?
For me, or for us, it’s like that time maybe 20, 15 minutes before. And everybody gets out the [locker room], and everybody kind of is in their own mode. It’s the same thing with her. She tells everybody get out the dressing room, she has to go through her vocals and lock in. She’s like, ‘I’ll see you after the show.’ It’s very similar. She’s writing and trying to do all that stuff for her music now. It’s crazy seeing her go through all that process. It’s been pretty dope.
Were you a punk rock fan before you met her?
Blink 182, people like that. I used to listen to a lot of stuff growing up. But it’s cool to see her because she had a good pop song at first, and she’s not trying to be viewed as a pop artist, kind of switching over into punk rock. People may not be accepting of her, but I think she’s well respected in that way, and trying to make her way through that. So, it’s pretty dope seeing her whole transition.
What makes a successful season for this Jazz team that opened with low expectations before surprisingly winning?
We want to definitely be in the playoffs. I know from the team for sure, that’s what we are working on, trying to win these games. But do I put expectations on us? No, because I think from the start of the season, we didn’t have no expectations. We wanted to come out and play hard, and compete every night, and be a fight team, win these games. And I don’t think we ever thought we would have had a crazy start where we were winning all these games. But I think we knew that we had a chance to compete in the playoffs, and make stuff happen.
Your former teammate Donovan Mitchell returns as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers to play in Salt Lake City against the Jazz for the first time on Tuesday. What do you think about the return of your friend and old teammate?
Donny is coming. That’s my guy man, always. Always show love to him. We talked a lot. He is a cool and down to Earth kid and he’s really starting to embrace that. He’s a real, real superstar, honestly. Seeing him go through all that so young is really crazy to me. I never had that experience. I saw Kobe, and LeBron, and them when they were older and understood a lot of things. And Donny’s kind of understanding it and really coming into his own as a man.