Isaiah Rider: Slam Dunk Contest Legend Wants to Set Record Straight on Career
On the eve of another NBA Slam Dunk Contest, I recall past stars of the league's annual talent showcase. Vince Carter's epic display in 2000 and Michael Jordan's back-to-back championships in 1987 and 1988 are two that stick out.
Another memorable year for the dunk contest was 1994, when it took place in Minneapolis. That year, home-town favorite and rising star Isaiah (J.R.) Rider Jr. stole the show with one of the contest's most memorable slams, "The East Bay Funk Dunk," shown here:
As you can hear, Charles Barkley thought it was perhaps the best dunk he'd ever seen, and many shared his sentiments.
Rider's career was about more than dunking though, as he was an effective scorer throughout his nine-year career.
Rider averaged 17 points, four rebounds and three assists throughout, for five different teams. He earned a championship ring with the Lakers in 2001 despite being left off the playoff roster, even after he was the team's top bench scorer through the regular season.
Things weren't all rosy for Rider though, as his career and reputation has been tarnished by reports of locker-room dissension, problems with coaches and run-ins with the law.
Up to this point, Rider hasn't often given his account of what transpired throughout his career, and most notably at the conclusion of it.
He has a documentary soon to be released. Its aim is to set the record straight about his career and life.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Rider about the documentary and other questions about the past and the present-day NBA.
Here is the Q&A from our conversation:
BM: Tell me about the documentary.
IR: My upcoming documentary is called My Testimony: Raw and Uncut. It's my story, in my own words. A lot of people don't know everything that happened. A lot of things have been blown out of proportion by sensationalistic journalists. I am clearing the air, my way.
My documentary will have all the ups and downs, no stone left unturned. I hope everyone can get something out of it.
BM: What things were blown out of proportion?
IR: What was blown out of proportion was every time something happened, media outlets everywhere picking up the story and running with it. Every step I take, every move I make.
BM: At what point do you think your career really ended? Not when you stopped playing, but when you knew, 'I'm virtually done.'
IR: I'm sorry but I never thought, 'I'm virtually done.' That was never my thought process. Signing with the Lakers ended my career. I went from starting my first seven years, to coming off the bench with limited playing time there.
I should have signed with Miami, which was the plan that summer. Last minute move the night before flying to Miami, Phil and Shaq called me on three-way and asked me to join the Lakers.
I wanted a ring and went there. After playing my heart out all season, only to be left off the playoff roster for two reserves, hurt deep.
BM: What do you believe was the reason you were left off the Lakers' playoff roster?
IR: "It was something that happened at practice, it was an egotistical power move by Phil Jackson. To play around with someone's career like that wasn't cool and it hurt me deep down.
Very painful to go there wanting a ring and sit down in a suit the whole playoffs.
BM: Do you still watch the NBA?
IR: Yes I do, I pay attention to all sports.
BM: I watched you play, and I was always impressed with your combination of strength and athleticism. Do you see anyone that plays now, that reminds you of yourself?
IR: There's a lot of young talent out there right now, I don't get into comparing and contrasting myself with others.
BM: Are you going to watch the dunk contest and are you impressed with it lately?
IR: I will be there in Orlando. Every year it's exciting to watch. This year I'm glad to see D-Will in there representing the T-Wolves. Reminds me of when I was a rookie for the Wolves and won it. Maybe next year I can be one of the judges.
BM: There was some talk of issues with teammates. Did you have any memorable chemistry issues? If so, can you expound on them?
IR: Talk. That's all it is. People love a good rumor. I have always gotten along with my teammates. Except in Atlanta I was unhappy.
I mean, I'd score all the points, we'd lose, and these guys are in the locker room laughing and giggling about what strip club to hit up. I demanded a trade, at that point in my career, I wanted to win.
BM: Are you still in contact with any former teammates?
IR: Yes I am, over the years I remain in contact with a handful of players. I wouldn't say we hang out every day but I know who I can call and has my back.
BM: Do you feel like you could have played longer? If so, what prevented you from having a longer career?
IR: I know I could have played longer. I could still be playing pro today. Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, there's a lot from my era still in there.
First of all I needed a different agent, someone who believed in me and not just stuck on the fact that he lost money via my split-second decision to play in L.A. for less (rather than sign a big contract in Miami). Pat Riley, I apologize, big mistake.
Secondly, when I got back home I had a lot of personal things going on. I was deeply affected by my mother suddenly falling into a coma, I kept her on life support for over four years praying that she would come back. Rest in peace mama.
BM: Would you ever pursue working with the NBA in any capacity?
IR: I would consider coaching, I have been offered coaching positions at different levels. From college, to ABA and WNBA. Joe Bryant (Kobe Bryant's father) tried to bring me on with the L.A. Sparks last summer.
He's a good man who has always reached out throughout the years. I'm open to exploring my options.
BM: I saw you tweeted you were injury free, do you still play?
IR: I have been blessed with health. I have never been injured, Thank God. I shoot around at my house or at the gym I play pick-up games.
BM: Have you ever considered playing overseas?
IR: I have seriously considered it. I have had numerous offers from China, Greece, Israel, PR, Taiwan, Japan.
BM: You said you have had several offers to play overseas, what has stopped you?
IR: A couple of reasons play into the decision. However, the main reason is I just wasn't sure I wanted to end my career overseas. That may not be my calling, I'm letting God order my footsteps now.
BM: Who or what has been the cause of the way your career has been perceived?
What has been your opinion of Isaiah Rider, and his career?
IR: I'm not really about the blame game. We all make our own decisions. I made some bad decisions career wise as well as in my personal life. I will say that having the media following me around waiting for me to fall didn't help.
BM: What have you been doing since your playing days concluded?
IR: Living life. I waited to have children so I am enjoying family life now. It's all about giving back now through my foundation. If you know any outstanding students, encourage them to apply for a scholarship on my skyriderfoundation.org website.
BM: What is your foundation's goal?
IR: I just want to help kids. With today's economy some parents cannot afford to send their kids to the extracurricular activities. It's very costly, there's registration fees, equipment, uniforms and shoe costs.
If a kid has dreams to be somebody, I want to help. I want to stress academics, so if your grades are up, you can get a $250-$500 scholarship to help with the costs.
I also hold a summer camp at my high school Encinal High in Alameda, Calif., and outstanding students will be able to come for free.
BM: What is your biggest regret about the way your career transpired and ended?
IR: I don't regret anything. You can't live like that. It is what it is. I've made mistakes, I'm human. I feel as though I have accomplished a lot. Made my mother proud (rest in peace mama). You have to move on with a positive mind.
BM: What are you most thankful for today?
IR: I'm thankful everyday that I'm healthy and being blessed by God. I get to wake up everyday with a smile on my face, a beautiful family, and watch my kids grow.
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