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Q&A: Paul Millsap on his career highlights, his NBA future and bringing change

The Nuggets forward discusses his role as the team’s veteran in the bubble

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – During an election year, Denver Nuggets fans have become familiar with the “Vote 4 Millsap” campaign.

Paul Millsap, the veteran forward for the Nuggets, chose “Vote” as the social justice message on the back of his jersey during the NBA restart. He wanted to put the focus on his passion for getting Americans to vote. Little did he realize at the time that given his No. 4 jersey and his last name being moved to the bottom of the jersey that it would read: “Vote 4 Millsap.”

“I had no idea because when we first did it they didn’t tell us our [last] names were going to be on the back,” Millsap told The Undefeated. “And I’ve really been racking my brain, ‘Should I change it?’ I don’t want the message to get misconstrued and taken out of context, and me trying to push my own personal agenda or whatever. And that’s not the case, man. The voting thing was definitely a home run for me to try to get out there. But with the ‘4’ and the ‘Millsap’ on there, I looked at it after the first game and I was shocked.

“I picked ‘Vote’ because it’s one thing that I feel passionate about. One thing that I’m doing outside of this is bringing awareness to our cultures, and our communities, about how important voting is. Not just on the higher scale, but also on a smaller scale. In the local towns and communities, making sure you’re voting for the right people. And just making sure your vote is counted, and just getting out there and just doing it.”

Millsap and the Nuggets need a win Friday night in Game 5 of their second-round series against the LA Clippers to continue their season in the bubble. They are down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

The 14-year veteran talked to The Undefeated about being the old guy on the Nuggets, his career highlights, his future in the league and the recent NBA protest in the bubble.

What do you remember about the 2006 NBA draft when you were selected with the 47th overall pick?

I remember being at one of my uncle’s houses in Ruston, Louisiana, not hearing my name in the first round. And after that, I had my mind set up. I was going to go overseas [to play] and then come back. … Then a team that I didn’t work out for, the Utah Jazz, selected me. But, it was a great moment.

Former Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan believed in you. How did that help?

Jerry Sloan was one of my biggest inspirations. The way he approached the game, the way he approached the other team. One thing that I learned from him, I always take it with me, is bring your hard hat every day. It’s one thing he used to say all the time. It stuck with me.

What were your thoughts when Sloan passed away on May 22?

Saddening. My heart goes out to the family. Jerry Sloan was like another grandfather to me. Coming into the league as a rookie not knowing what the league was about or not being outside of Louisiana. So he took me under his wing, and showed me what work ethic was. And that’s really how my career started, just keeping that work ethic and constantly trying to get better.

When did you know you were going to make that Jazz team?

I knew during the summer league. I had a pretty good summer league with them, Rocky Mountain Revue. I just went in there and I just played, man. … I didn’t think about making the team. I didn’t think about anything else but just going out there and just playing and rebounding, doing what I do.

After coming off the bench the first two seasons, would you consider your breakthrough that third season?

That third year, when Booz [Carlos Boozer] got hurt, I played. I don’t know how many games it was, but, during that stretch, I had some incredible numbers and that’s when I knew, I belong here.

What do you remember about your first All-Star appearance in 2014 with the Atlanta Hawks?

I know we’re on the road and Coach Bud [then-Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer] called me. I had no idea. I was making my plans for the All-Star break and he called me and he actually called me crying. It was a touching moment. He was so proud of me, his first year there, my first year there. And I was able to do that. …

Coming in, you set goals. It took me seven, eight years to make the All-Star team. … To make that team, man, it was really special for me.

What advice would you give to young players that didn’t get the easy road here?

Put your head down and go to work every single day. I guarantee you, if you do that, opportunities will come. When they come, you’ll be ready for it.

You are 35 years old and the only player on the Nuggets born in the 1980s. Do your teammates tease you about your age?

They tried to, yeah. They tried calling me old man. I’m still a kid at heart. So, I play with them. We play games, I joke around. I keep myself youthful. They keep me youthful. So, I don’t feel old mentally or physically. That’s a good thing.

What makes you feel like this team still has a lot more basketball to play?

I feel like we’re a complete team. We got vets. We got younger guys who are hungry. We got those guys who are trying to prove a point. We got coaches who are passionate about the game, want to continue to grow and get better. And we got an organization ready for that leap. We feel like with all that put together, we really have a good shot.

Have you thought much about your upcoming free agency and whether you have a future home in Denver?

We’ll see, we’ll see. My main goal coming here was to help this team and organization get over the hump and help some of these younger guys develop into superstars, which they are. I feel like I’ve helped through that, and we’ll see what this summer holds. At the end of the day, I love being here, but at the end of the day, it’s still a business. So, weighing both options and understanding the business of basketball. I got to make a decision based, you know, for myself and my family. And this is my family also. So, it’s going to be a tough decision and hopefully they want me back.

Paul Millsap of the Denver Nuggets shoots the ball against the Utah Jazz during the first quarter in Game 5 of the Western Conference first round during the 2020 NBA playoffs at the HP Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on Aug. 25 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

How much longer do you want to play?

You know my body says awhile. I feel great, my body feels unbelievable at this stage of my career. Sometimes I have to remind myself I’m 35, I don’t feel it. But I do have a family, I do have kids who I want to spend time with. My son is big in basketball, and I want to be there for him. But also, I love the game, and respect the game a lot for what it’s done for me and my family, and the places that it’s taken me. So, I want to try to give it that respect for as long as I can, but try to weigh family time and all that stuff in it, too.

You are only four regular-season games shy of 1,000 for your career. How do you feel about that?

I didn’t know. I try not to look too far ahead or too far back, see how far I come. But it’s been an amazing run, but it’s not over yet.

When the Milwaukee Bucks sat out their playoff game in protest of Jacob Blake being shot by a white police officer in Wisconsin, it sparked teams not playing for three days. As the elder statesman of the Nuggets, did the players lean on you for advice before play resumed?

I tried to explain to them, especially to our younger guys, the implications and what’s all at stake from both sides. And what would happen if we went home and what’ll happen if we stayed here. And at the end of the day, guys got to make a decision that is on their hearts. And that’s what it always comes down to. But knowing the overall big picture of the league, and the crisis that’s going on, we have to weigh those options and we have to do what’s best for pretty much everybody.

Why did you want to continue playing?

I felt like this is the best situation for us to express what we wanted to come here and express. And try to help with change the best way we could, and let our voices be heard, and make sure the people who need to be talked to are talked to. So, I know what the benefits of being here is from all realms and I wanted to be for sure.

Did you deal with much racism growing up in Denver?

If I did experience it, man, I was not aware of it. I think that’s one thing that’s big out there is a lot of people are becoming victims, or have been victims of racism, and not even understanding or knowing what it is. And we just got to be more aware, and educate those people on what it looks like and what it is, and continue to try to push for change in that area.

You opted not to bring your family to the bubble. What ultimately decided that?

I got four kids, and seven-day quarantine in a room, I probably would have had a split family. But in all seriousness for me, in my opinion, I don’t want to put my family through this. I want them to enjoy where they’re at and what they’re doing. They’re in school right now, and although I do miss them, it’s been two months, and I want to see them so bad. I just feel like the best decision’s for them to stay at home, be at home, and just focus on what they’re doing.

Have you had conversations with your kids about what’s going in the world?

You always juggle between should I just come right out and just be right upfront with them, or should I try to save some of their innocence. And at the end of the day, their life is more valuable to me than anything else. So, we’ve had those conversations, their mom’s had that conversation with them. And I think they understand the magnitude of what the world is in, the state of the world right now. And we try to make good decisions going forward.

As an African American man, how have you been taking everything that’s been going on this year?

As a Black man, I’m just seeing the things come to light that we’ve already known was going on. But to see it and to witness it has been heartbreaking. It’s been a heartbreaking year on all levels, because a lot of people don’t realize until it really hits home. I don’t want to wait until it hits home for me to understand it, and realize it. And just seeing the families broken and the people who are passed, who are victims of these situations, it just hurts my heart to see that. So, that’s why I’m here, that’s why I want to bring about change in the world and help that situation.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.