Jameer Nelson in teaching role with Magic
Former St. Joe's great Jameer Nelson is in his 10th season with the Orlando Magic, who now are rebuilding.
WASHINGTON - It didn't seem like so long ago that Jameer Nelson was entering the NBA, fresh off a Saint Joseph's career that will live on forever through his records and the team's accomplishments.
It was 10 seasons ago when Nelson was starting that final year on Hawk Hill. It was so long ago that he is now starting to reflect on everything that happened during that time when even fantasies seemed to come true.
Seated in the lobby of the Georgetown Four Seasons yesterday afternoon, Nelson, who just recently started his 500th game for the Orlando Magic, chatted about how his NBA life has come full circle. He came in with Dwight Howard to a team that was starting over. Five years and an All-Star Game berth later, Nelson and the Magic were in the NBA Finals, starting an extended run as one of the most exciting and best teams in the league.
Now, the Magic has started over again, Howard and almost all those players on all those terrific teams a memory in Central Florida. Only one player remains - Jameer Nelson.
The race for the lottery in the Eastern Conference is far more competitive than the race for the top. Going into last night's games, only Indiana and Miami had winning records.
The Magic is in the tougher race, one Nelson could do without but understands.
"We are in a rebuilding process," he said. "We have a lot of young guys. Those guys have gotten better over the summer. The future could be bright because of the talent we have."
Nelson has scored 7,539 NBA points and gotten 3,117 assists. He has played 17,321 minutes. He has been what he was at Chester High and St. Joe's - a winning player.
"I'm in a different chapter of my career," Nelson said. "I still feel young. I'm only 31 . . . I'm also helping and teaching, trying not to step on any toes because I'm not the coach."
When you have been to the Finals and won multiple series and started 39 playoff games, this has to be different, even if Nelson was once where all his young teammates are now.
"My coaching staff and my general manager know this is difficult for me, but I wouldn't be here if I couldn't handle it," Nelson said.
He had other opportunities in the summer of 2012, but, even knowing what was about to happen with a new basketball regime in charge, he decided to stay. He is getting paid, but, if basketball were the most important thing in his life, he probably would have signed elsewhere.
"My loyalty is here in Orlando," Nelson said. "I don't know what they feel like they are going to do with me, whether they want to move me or continue to have me here. Me personally, I would like to stay."
And not just for the basketball.
"My life outside of basketball is more important to me than basketball, always has been,'' Nelson said. "Basketball is something I was blessed with and something that allowed me to take care of my family."
Nelson majored in sociology at St. Joe's. He knows how important it is to have a stable family situation.
Nelson and his wife, Imani, have four children: Jameer (12), and three daughters (8, 5, 16 months).
"My wife and kids have developed relationships [in Orlando]," Nelson said. "One of the main things is school. I don't want to move my kids from school to school."
Nelson might not play tonight when the Magic are at the Wells Fargo Center to play the Sixers. He sprained a foot against the Sixers last Wednesday in Orlando and probably needs a few more days to get it right.
He has not shot well this season, but he has played well. He still sees the game as he's seen it since he was at Chester, leading the Clippers to a state championship.
"I've never started off a season scorching hot," Nelson said. "I never get discouraged because of the work I put in during the summer. Every month, I feel like I get better during the season."
In 2008-09, Nelson shot 50.3 percent and 45.3 percent from the arc while averaging 16.7 points and running the most dynamic offense in the league. The Magic was 33-8 halfway through. It had just come off a four-game road sweep of the Spurs, Kings, Lakers and Nuggets, outscoring them by a combined 63 points. Nelson had 22, 23, 28 and 23 in those games. He was selected for the All-Star team.
A few days later, he tore the labrum in his shoulder. He was declared out for the season. His team was so good, it made the Finals against the Lakers anyway. Nelson came back for that series, but was not the same player in June he had been in January. The Lakers won in five.
If Nelson had not gotten hurt, maybe the Magic wins that title, Howard stays and there is no second rebuild.
Would Orlando have won it?
"Who knows?" Nelson said. "They were a good team."
They were and so was the Magic.
The very next year, the Magic swept the first two playoff series before losing to the Celtics in six in the Eastern finals.
Nelson averaged 19 points in those playoffs. Nobody could guard him.
Then, trades were made, the Howard drama unfolded and here Jameer is, the elder statesmen, the teammate for the younger players that Grant Hill, Steve Francis, Stacey Augmon, Pat Garrity and Keyon Dooling once were for him.
"I'm very fortunate to be here standing tall 10 years later when I was told I wasn't going to last, I wasn't going to get better," Nelson said.
He heard all that, but he never listened. He just learned. Now, he's teaching what he learned.
And he still loves coming back home, where he and his family share a very nice house by Merion Golf Club in the summertime, where his mom is only 5 minutes away.
"It's fun to be able to play in front of your friends and family," Nelson said.
He may not get that chance tonight, but he has had plenty of chances. And he will get plenty more.
"I am just starting to reflect on what happened at St. Joe's," Nelson said. "I really can't reflect on what I've done in the last 10 years in the NBA, because I'm still in it."