Q&A: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Courtesy of Steve Serby

Q: What was the worst thing you saw growing up in Chester, Pa?
A: It’s tough to talk about. Literally, where halfcourt is, my uncle got shot in the head.

Q: How old were you?
A: 12, 13.

Q: How did that affect you at that age?
A: It hurt real bad. As a kid, man, growing up, you kind of want to feel safe, and you want to be able to enjoy those childhood games, like Tag, and all this stuff. … Just be free, man and be a kid, and then after that happened, it was like we couldn’t do that anymore. We couldn’t run around outside, we couldn’t be out late at night.

Q: What has your mother (Rylanda) meant to you?

A: She means the world to me. Everything that I’ve done growing up, and the decisions I’ve made, pretty much reflected around how can I help my mom, and how can I change her life? As I got older and to see the struggle and the hurt that she was still putting on even when I was in high school, it was tough for me, so it kind of motivated me even more to want more, to get better, to keep grinding through those tough days. You may cry, you may hurt, but just to keep working and keep pushing through it, man, that’s what she put in me, not even without talking, not even without being near me, just the aura and the presence.

Q: Why would you cry and why were you hurting?

A: Cry just because I couldn’t do anything. And I was hurt because that’s just like your mom, and she took care of you your whole life. It’s just like you want to change it now, but in reality I couldn’t, I had to go to college, I had to complete two years in Arizona, I had to get my first check from the NBA from the Nets. Then I could do something.

Q: How did it affect you not having a father figure growing up?
A: It was tough, man. My younger stages in life as a kid, like I don’t know or remember much. But I do know I acted out a lot. I know I acted out for attention, I wasn’t comfortable with not having that father figure I had my grandfather, but he’s much older, his rules, discipline, you could just tell, like he’s a grandfather (smile), he was old-school, and that pretty much was like the missing point in my life where I was just like, “I need to find a father figure.” And I was out searching. I looked for my uncles, I looked for guys that played basketball. Like I wanted to pull my uncles in to be like a father figure, but they had their own kids and stuff like that. That’s pretty much what I spent a few years of my teenage life doing. It was a rough point where I was at a low, depressed like stage in my life not having that father figure around.

Q: Have you heard from your father (Ross)?
A: I heard from him not too long ago, but like probably talk once a year or something like that. I called him one day and I told him, I was like, “Hey, if you ever need me, man, here’s my number.” I have no like regret, no hard feelings about whatever we’ve been through because we’re human. We all make choices, we all make mistakes, but I’m willing to put it in the past. I didn’t need him to apologize, or none of that.

Q: When was the last time you spoke to him?
A: Five, six months ago?

Q: When was the last time you saw him?
A: I just can’t even remember. It’s been a little while.

Q: He went to jail?
A: He went to jail multiple times — violation of probation, drugs …

Q: He split with your mom early on?
A: I don’t even think he was there when I was born, I’m not sure.

Q: You’ve done some boxing. How would you have done against Muhammad Ali?
A: Um, um. (Laugh). I could make a case that I would have tried to hold down the fort, but chances are he would have got me.

Q: And early too.
A: No I would have lasted three (rounds). He probably wouldn’t have knocked me down because I’m good on my feet too. Then I would have been talking smack just like him.

Q: Boyhood idol?
A: Kobe Bryant.

Q: If he’s the Black Mamba, who are you?
A: I’ve been doing my homework on that, man, I’ve been looking at some snakes and birds (chuckle) and everything. I’m not going to lie. Ask any of my friends. We talked about it last year, actually. I asked him to look up some animals and see which ones best describe me or whatever.

Q: So what did you come up with?
A: The Honey Badger. … It was also a snake, but it wasn’t a Black Mamba. … Was it a rattlesnake because of the way I play? It was something along the lines of that, kind of like slithering. You know how the rattlesnake has, what’s it called, the rattle in the back? It kind of has that quickness to it or whatever. That’s kind of how I looked at myself.

Q: What’s your on-court mentality?
A: I try to play with no expectations. One of the fierce competitors. Relentless. Tough.

Q: What drives you?
A: I always had the mindset of whatever I decided to do in life, I didn’t just want to be someone that was there that people just knew about. Whatever I decided to do in life, I wanted to be great at it. Sometimes I feel like I’m a perfectionist, like I want to be great at this, I want to be great at that. That gives me my edge.

Q: Can you be great at basketball?
A: Yeah. I know so, and a lot of people believe in me, so it’s just about putting in the work and keeping the faith.

Q: Which athletes in other sports do you admire?
A: Danny Jacobs — everything we stand for in Brooklyn, he represents. He’s inspiring, especially to me and to millions. Randy Moss. (Also) I wanted to run track growing up, so I definitely loved Usain Bolt. One day I couldn’t sleep and I remember going to the track. Parked my truck, put the high beams on because there wasn’t any lights out there but one. I put the high beams on, and I told one of my close friends to record the time. And I ran the 100, and I was like super-impressed at the time I got.

Q: What was the time?
A: It was like at 10-something.

Q: How long ago was this?
A: It was — I want to say — when I was in college, I think I came home one summer, and I was just thinking about basketball, just getting better. I was just upset that night.

Q: Upset about what?
A: I just felt like I should be better.

Q: In basketball, you mean?
A: Better in basketball, in life. These are places you want to be like working out pretty much when you have those moments. Like mental toughness, you want to go to your place of balance. I couldn’t get in the gym at 2 a.m., so I went to the track.

Q: One person in history other than Michael Jordan you would have loved to go one-on-one against.
A: The Dream (Hakeem Olajuwon). His basketball skill set and footwork was amazing. I would definitely steal some of his moves (laugh).

Q: What are your career goals?
A: Ultimate goal — win some rings. And to be in the Hall of Fame.

Q: A scouting report on you.
A: Tough, energetic, slasher, capable of the catch-and-shoot, playmaker — just an all-around basketball player.

Q: What is the biggest area of your game you need to improve?
A: I feel like I’m moving closer towards it, but just like consistency from a mental approach every day. Just coming in the same way. I’m always going to compete, but as far as like some days not be at my best, I feel like if you can get over the hump when those days are rough, then the days when you’re feeling great will be even better.

Q: What did working with a sports psychologist do for you?

A: You just learn how to balance a lot of different things. … Multiple different challenges throughout your playing career, you just get better at from a mental standpoint, and then that helps you from a physical standpoint, things like sleep. Sleep helps you recover, sleep helps you think better, react better. All these different things that play outside of basketball help you in basketball. … The sports psychologist pretty much just helped me learn just how to balance when adrenaline’s built up, and you don’t get enough sleep, and when thoughts are just running through your mind, how to calm down, a lot of things like that. You just make the best decision in the moment … If I can have from a 90-100 effort each moment I’m in, I’m a solid 95 average.

Q: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate yourself as a trash talker?
A: I’m like a 6¹/₂ , 7. I got some areas I can improve in. And I feel like they’ll get better as my game gets better.

Q: What areas of your trash talking do you need to improve?
A: I would say my delivery. I feel like your delivery is everything in trash talking.

Q: Well what’s wrong with your delivery?
A: It doesn’t come out sometimes at the right time, it doesn’t come out sometimes like I thought it would come out. I should practice it in the mirror — “Uh, yeah, YOU.” (laugh). Maybe I’ll become good at it.

Q: What do you think of the rivalry with the Knicks?
A: Anytime you talk about crosstown rivalry, [it] probably like two percent revs me up more. I’m already at now 95 so, my average, but now I’m at 97.

Q: How would you define Brooklyn?
A: I look at Brooklyn like Chester. Just like tough, and a sense of pride, and gritty. You got to really have a toughness and an edge to you to be in Brooklyn.

Q: Favorite New York City things?
A: I like to go to the top of the Rockefeller (Center), I had dinner there. Pretty nice. I like to people watch. I like to go IPic movie theater. I like to try new restaurants.

Q: Your girlfriend Katherine reminds you of your mom.
A: I’m in love (smile). I can see myself with her.

Q: Three dinner guests.

A: Michael Jordan; Ali; Harriet Tubman.

Q: Why Harriet Tubman?
A: I’m intrigued about people willing to make sacrifices, and what it took for them to make those sacrifices through adversity and trying times. I would want to understand why she did it and what gave her courage to do it because a lot of people are just scared to speak up, to do certain things.

Q: Hobbies?
A: Golf.

Q: Favorite movie?
A: I’m still Super like goofy, like fun, but like I didn’t how to like express myself to females? So Hitch was my movie. And then I learned and then I was walking with a different walk, you know (laugh).

Q: Favorite actor?
A: Will Smith.

Q: Favorite actresses?
A: Angelina Jolie and Gabrielle Union.

Q: Favorite meal?
A: Pasta and alfredo sauce or marina.

Q: Best NBA moment?
A: To be determined (laugh).

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