To say that the circumstances surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers have changed since Jordan Farmar's first stint in Purple and Gold came to a close would be like diagnosing Kobe Bryant's torn Achilles as a matter of mere foot pain.
When last we saw Jordan in his hometown team's colors, he and the Lakers were hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy after staging a stunning comeback to topple the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. Phil Jackson was still the head coach. Andrew Bynum had yet to bottom out on a bowling alley. Sasha Vujacic had yet to propose to (or split from) Maria Sharapova.
Indeed, the landscape of Lakerland has shifted dramatically over the last three years. The Zen Master retired, leaving Mike Brown, Bernie Bickerstaff and Mike D'Antoni to try their respective hands at leading the league's marquee franchise.
Bynum smacked down JJ Barea, became an All-Star, and was then traded for Dwight Howard, who subsequently bolted for the Houston Rockets. Steve Nash switched allegiances, thereby beginning a march to the trainer's table that nearly the entire team followed. At the top, the death of longtime franchise patriarch Dr. Jerry Buss has left the Lakers' hierarchy in disarray, with the leadership mantle to be split somehow between Jeanie Buss and Jim Buss.
Enter Jordan Farmar—not a savior by any stretch, but a welcome returnee nonetheless.
On a one-year, veteran's-minimum contract, no less. Talk about a hometown discount!
Now 26, Farmar has come back to LA older, wiser and stronger from stints with the then-New Jersey Nets, Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel, Anadolu Efes in Turkey. Farmar was gracious enough to speak with me over the phone about his new old team, his experiences abroad, his hopes and expectations for the future, and more!
BR: Welcome back to the Lakers! How does it feel to be back?
JF: Thanks, man. It feels great! It feels great, to be honest. Being a Laker is really special. It’s meant something to me my whole life. It meant something to me early in my career as a professional, and now it’s really special and exciting to be back here.
BR: From your vantage point, how have things changed around the organization since you last wore the Purple and Gold?
JR: Things have changed a lot. You know, the only people who are still here from when I was last here are Pau and Kobe. Everybody is new faces in the locker room, the coaching staff is different. But the people in the front office and on the training staff who I’m pretty familiar with have been the settling force in there, make everything feel comfortable.
BR: What was it that drew you back to play for the Lakers, especially since you had a pretty lucrative contract overseas?
JF: I had a hell of a deal, but I wanted to be back home. I wanted to be back in the NBA, but more so than that, I wanted to be back here. I felt this was a good playing situation for me. It’s a good opportunity for me to continue to grow and learn some things from Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni, get back and play with Kobe as his career’s starting to wind down now. There’s only a couple years left for him, and I know how important winning is to him. We’ve had some great times. We have a great relationship.
I’m just trying to be around to try and help, try and help any way I can to make that happen. I know the Lakers are going to be alright. There might be tough times here and there, but Mitch [Kupchak] is a great GM and the ownership group has always been committed to winning. They’re going to make whatever moves necessary to have to do to put us in the best possible situation.
BR: What role, if any, did Kobe Bryant play in bringing you back? Did he call you at all? Was there any contact there?
JF: No, not directly, not like any recruitment. I mean, we talk. I talk to Kobe every now and then. He was the first one to call me as soon as I signed. He was like, “I’m glad you did. Welcome home.” I’ve been around it before and was part of that actual core built from that fabric of the championship teams. Just to have that chemistry and camaraderie and familiar feel back was something I was looking for and, I guess, they felt the same way.
BR: What’s your relationship like with Kobe these days?
JF: It’s great. I mean, we’ve been through a lot of stuff together. I saw him every day of my life for four years. He’s the first one who called me when I got drafted. We’ve been through some good times and bad times. You know, we lost a championship together and sat there and cried and came back and won back-to-back. He was very influential on me early in my career. To be around someone like that every day is really a blessing for someone like me.
BR: What’d you learn from him?
JF: More so his work ethic and just determination, will to win. I mean, his willpower is what separates him from the rest of the people in this business. You know, he’s very, very, very talented. His skill level’s incredible. But he just has the will to work to be the best. Right now, he’s 35 years old or whatever, he’s got a very serious injury, and he’s worked harder than anybody to try to get back just to get out there and compete because he loves it. Now, that’s the kind of stuff that you see him put in every day and it can’t help but rub off on you if you’re paying attention.
BR: What do you expect to see from Kobe, considering the circumstances he’s dealing with right now?
JF: I expect a lot of the same. If there’s anybody I would never bet against or count out, it’s him. I expect a lot of the same from him of what we’ve been seeing for the past 17 years. Injuries are part of the game. It happens. He’s just been working with the best staff possible to get it right and get back. When he does, he’ll be himself. He’s constantly adjusted his game since he’s been in the league until now. It’ll just be a work-in-progress, but I don’t think you’ll see much of a decline in play from him at all.
BR: What are you looking forward to most about playing again with Pau Gasol and now Steve Nash? Obviously, these guys are older, entering the latter stages of their respective careers, coming off injuries and whatnot. What is it about playing with them that appeals to you and what do you hope to gain from playing with them?
JF: It’s not very often in the NBA where you can get the opportunity to play with guys with extremely, extremely high basketball IQ. I think, in terms of longevity, in terms of playing a long time, those are the guys that do it, the guys who really, really understand the game and can help pass that knowledge along. I have a good understanding. I’ve been able to be around Phil Jackson and Kobe and play at a high level and I’ve had good coaching throughout my career, so I’ve benefited from that a lot.
But just to be around them every day, just sit with someone who’s similar in stature with me—Steve Nash and me, we’re about the same size—and for him to use his mind and his savvy to be extremely successful in this business and have an amazing, Hall of Fame career, still pick his brain every day and ask him as many questions as I can, watch the way he goes about his work. You know, things like that are what I’m looking forward to being around those guys.
BR: Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to picking Nash’s brain about?
JF: I mean, just to see how he thinks about the game. You know, everybody views the game differently, everybody comes from a different background, so to ask him to be around, what makes him so successful, what does he look for in situations X, Y and Z, and then how does he go about executing it.
The biggest thing with him is that he’s been extremely, extremely efficient his whole career. Just to try to get as much as I can from him, honestly. I told him as soon as I walked in there, “I’m going to be annoying you all year. I’m going to ask you questions. I’m going to be in your ear, just trying to soak it all up,” and he’s like, “That’s what I’m here for,” so I think we’ll have a great relationship and I think I’ll benefit a lot from being around him.
BR: Have you guys spoken at all about playing point guard in Mike D’Antoni’s offense?
JF: A little bit. A little bit. I mean, that’s why I’m here, is to play point guard in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. He’s getting older and to spare him some of those heavy minutes will be our job, but that’s what I’ll be talking to him about. D’Antoni is very expressive and open. He and his brother Dan do a good job communicating what they want for our team and from me specifically, and I think I won’t have too much confusion. They’re pretty cut-and-dried with what they want, so it makes it easy.
BR: What is it that the D’Antoni’s want from you?
JF: To be aggressive, to push the ball, to use the tools that I have and the experience that I have to run this team when I’m in the game. Change the game, play at a higher tempo, control the pace and make everybody comfortable and make sure that everything is running smoothly—what any point guard is really supposed to do on the floor.
BR: Did D’Antoni’s preferred style of play factor into your decision to return to the Lakers?
JF: Absolutely. I mean, for me, the best offense in basketball is the Triangle offense, but it’s the worst, statistically, for a point guard, you know, to advance your career and to really make growth steps. There’s not much room for that, but in terms of five guys playing together, just taking what the defense gives them and just executing, it’s an amazing offense. For me, as a young point guard, I never had the ability to really run a team, to get out and go and to make decisions, to play freely, and that really excited me when I had this opportunity.
BR: Do you think, then, that Lakers fans will be surprised to see the Jordan Farmar of D’Antoni’s system in comparison to the Jordan Farmar of old under Phil Jackson?
JF: I think so a lot. Not necessarily just Mike D’Antoni. Just me maturing as a man and a basketball player. I was 23 years old when I left. Now I’m 26, I’ve played in New York, I’ve played around the world, I’m a father. My life has changed a lot since that time and I’ve just matured as a man and a basketball player, so I think that overall growth from that time until now is what will be evident.
BR: What’d you learn about yourself, your game, life, basketball, and so on while playing abroad, be it in Israel or Turkey?
JF: I think I learned a lot. First is just the cultural differences in how people live and think and value different things all around the world. And then, basketball’s pretty much the same thing. I mean, their view of basketball is completely different than American NBA basketball. Just to have that experience and playing in it on a day-to-day basis and live in a Muslim country under different customs and culture and cultural things that they go through every day. You can’t help but just be more well-rounded as a human being, I think.
BR: What are some of the bigger similarities and differences that you’ve found between the NBA game and the international game?
JF: I think the similarity is that it’s high-level basketball, either here or there. I think the biggest difference is that over there, you don’t have the superstars. You don’t have LeBron, Kobe, Kevin Durant, you know, those kind of guys. But you have 10 guys who can really play at a high level. The ninth man off the bench can come in and contribute in and affect the game just like the starting five. Everybody’s very skilled. Everybody understands the game. They can shoot the ball. They have a very, very high skill level over there. They just don’t have the superstar players.
And then, every game over there seems like life or death. The NBA is like, you may go on a couple-game losing streak, there’s going to be injuries and things that go on throughout the season and it’s a long season. But every game over there is like huge, huge consequences based on just how you finish at the end of the season.
BR: Do you think that playing overseas in a more pick-and-roll heavy environment has prepared you at all for playing Mike D’Antoni’s spread pick-and-roll system?
JF: Absolutely. The court is smaller over there, first of all. They let you foul. It’s kind of crazy. I had to face basically double-teams and traps on all of my pick-and-roll situations, so I had to figure out how to play a lot faster, how to move without the ball and then get into a pick-and-roll situation so it wasn’t so static.
Those are the things that you and the coaching staff work together to develop in your game to make it tougher for defenses to load up on me. They wanted the ball in my hands, they wanted me making decisions, and the other team would basically try to do the opposite: trap me and live with whatever happens.
For me to have to deal with that constantly throughout a season was good for me. It was really good for my growth. It was good to learn how to use my body, use movement without the ball, playing a little higher pace. Things like that will really translate this season.
BR: When you were in Israel, playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv, did you feel a stronger connection to the team because of your Jewish roots and because you spent some time in Tel Aviv as a child?
JF: A little bit. I mean, I think more so than usual in that way, they really embraced me like that. They felt that I was a good fit to lead their team and that was great. The experience in Israel during the lockout is what opened my eyes up to European basketball in the first place and entertaining the thought of using my NBA career in the middle to take a chance on it.
It was amazing. Israel, and Tel Aviv in particular is a great city. It’s kind of like Miami, where it’s a small beach city. The people are all about having a good time and enjoying life, but they really, really love and respect basketball, so it was a really good balance. It was good for me.
BR: Do you think you’d go back to play or coach in Israel at some point?
JF: I don’t know. I mean, I try not to plan it. I never planned on playing there in the first place. I never planned on living and playing in Istanbul. It just worked out that way, so we’ll see. I won’t rule anything out, but I think I have a long time to play here before I do.
BR: Have you considered suiting up for the Israeli national team?
JF: No, I’m American [laughs]. It’s part of my heritage, but it’s definitely not where I’m from. I just feel a little bit differently about representing my country.
BR: A few years back, you ran a camp that brought Israeli and Palestinian kids together on the basketball court. What role do you think sports, and basketball in particular, can play as a force for good in society and in bringing people together in that way?
JF: I think it’s huge. I think that the role of sports is ingrained in our society, whether we like it or know it or realize it or not. In America, Sunday is football and the NFL, and that’s what you think about, or NBA season in June is the finals. That’s just a part of our society and a part of our way of living. I think to use basketball, for me, as a medium to kind of bridge the gap...when the kids were out there on the court, they weren’t thinking that the person I’m passing to is my enemy, but my teammate, and we’re trying to work together toward a common goal. So it was cool to see them passing to each other and high-fiving, smiling, hugging each other when things are going well.
BR: Do you have plans for any other philanthropic endeavors like that in the future?
JF: Of course. My foundation and giving back is part of who I am and what I do, and we’re just going to continue to grow. I do a lot of stuff here in LA with the UCLA [Mattel] Children’s Hospital and all kinds of stuff. It’s a work-in-progress and it’s constantly growing in terms of what we do and how much we give back.
BR: As someone who grew up in the Valley, went to high school with Nick Young and watched you and Nick battle through high school, college and into the pros, I’m curious...what’s your relationship like with Nick nowadays?
JF: It’s good. We’re actually pretty happy and excited to play together. We played together on traveling teams when we were younger. We played against each other throughout high school and college and the NBA, so we’re excited to be on the same team this year. Both of us playing here for the Lakers, the team that we grew up watching and cheering for, it’ll be a lot of fun.
BR: What do you think it’ll be like for you guys to wear the Purple and Gold together?
JF: We’ll see. I think it’ll be a lot of fun. I’ve had the pleasure of already knowing what the experience is going to be like, so I’m just happy that he can share it with me.
BR: Did you guys talk about teaming up with the Lakers?
JF: Yes. Yeah, we did. I saw him when I came in and signed. He was in there working out, and I told him how great of a place it is, how great of an opportunity it will be. He agreed and shortly after, he was on the team with us.
BR: Are there any particular battles that you two have had over the years that stand out in your mind?
JF: The Cleveland-Taft one, probably. That’s where it all started and that was one of the most memorable. You know, I think we were both carrying our teams at that time and it was just a lot of fun. It was local, it was high school ball, it was pure, it was fun. They’re very memorable.
BR: What are your expectations for yourself and for this Lakers team this season?
JF: High. Both are high. I know what I’m capable of. I think I have plenty of opportunity to go out there and be successful. I think we are also very talented. We’re a lot better than people give us credit for. Only time will tell, but I think we’re going to be a good basketball team, and having a whole training camp together under Mike D’Antoni to start off on the right foot from Day 1 will help. Hopefully, we’ll have good health, which will be very important for us this season, but I think our style of play and the guys we have on board can jell well together.
BR: What’d you miss most about being a Laker while you were away?
JF: Being a Laker, just in general, is special. From everything that entails—stepping out on the court, representing that organization, wearing that jersey—to being in the community that helped raise me and being able to give back here. Just all the things that kind of come with being close to my friends and family. Living in Los Angeles with this nice weather, which is home for me originally. All of those things played a part in what I missed.
BR: What about the NBA as a whole? What’d you miss about playing in the NBA?
JF: The NBA is special. They have a good thing going. It’s a well-oiled machine. Things are set up the right way there. It’s a good life to live and we’re all blessed to be a part of it. I’m happy to be back in it and excited to come in and start up.
BR: You were something of a pioneer as a rookie, when you became the first player ever to play in a D-League game and an NBA game on the same day. What was that experience like for you?
JF: It was cool. It was humbling at the time. I wasn’t getting much playing time my rookie year at that point. I went down to work on my game, but they respected me enough and still thought I was good enough to contribute. They just wanted me to get more repetitions at the time, so they would send me down, I’d play a game, and come back up and play the same night. I’d play also with the Lakers. I did it three times and it was a good experience.
I ended up finishing the season really strong. I actually ended up the starting point guard going into the playoffs against Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns when we lost in six games that year. It was an up-and-down year. I came in as a young, 19-year-old rookie, I ended the season as the starting point guard, and that was part of the journey.
BR: How has your game and your mindset changed since the last time you were a Laker?
JF: A lot. A lot. I mean, I’ve become a much better shooter, a much better pick-and-roll player. Defensively, playing overseas, that was demanded because it’s always about wins and losses and nothing else really matters. That’s a big part of winning basketball games. I think it’s just all the way around, I’ve grown, and I’m excited to come in and contribute. Before I left to go overseas, I shot like 45 percent from three [44 percent, to be exact], 90 from the line [90.5], so I’ve had a chance to expand and grow my game, and I feel like I’m read to continue to grow.
Just the opportunity to continue to grow is big in this league, guys getting minutes and getting a chance to play and play through mistakes and play through adversity and things like that and what makes good basketball players. There are a lot of talented guys in the league.
BR: What are your thoughts on Lamar Odom’s situation? Have you reached out to him at all?
JF: I have reached out to him. I haven’t heard back. My thoughts are, nobody’s immune to tough times. It can come in any form to all of us, but people who love and care about you will be there regardless. I’m somebody who loves and cares about Lamar. He’s been great to me. He’s been an amazing teammate, friend, person. I think he’s one of the most incredible people you’ll ever meet, and I told him, “If you ever need anything from me, you can always reach out.” And I hope that whatever he’s going through, he gets through it healthy and fine and lives a great, happy life after.
BR: What do you see for yourself in the future in the NBA? You’re on a one-year deal here. What are you hoping to do with this one year and what do you want to do going forward?
JF: I mean, I’ll be around for a while. That’s my plan, to just go out there and be an impact player every time I step on the court, making myself a commodity. The Lakers and Los Angeles know how I feel about them in this situation moving forward. It’s not a secret that I would love to be here for a long time.
But yeah, I’m just going to go out there and play basketball, man. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a one-year deal or a five-year deal. At the end of the day, you’ve got to treat every game like it’s important. You’ve got to play, and I think that’s one thing that really helped me overseas is that everybody over there is pretty much on a one-year deal and their livelihood depends on how they play, so they come to perform every night.
Just having that mentality of knowing that it’s a big year for me will help push me through it. You know, just trying to stay as healthy as possible. Things happen throughout the season, but I’m just trying to stay as healthy as possible and contribute every time I’m on the floor.
BR: Did playing against guys who are on short-term contracts and playing for their lives make the competition any tougher for you overseas?
JF: Yeah, I mean, I was the one over there with the target on MY back. Everybody’s trying to make a name for how they played against me, how their team did against our team. You know, I was out there on a big contract, two-time NBA champion, left the NBA in the middle of my career. Everybody used that as motivation, and it was good for them and good for me as well. Yeah, it was a positive thing.
BR: What’s your relationship like with Baron Davis, as a fellow former Bruin and longtime NBA point guard?
JF: Oh, we’re cool. I mean, we don’t hang out or speak much, but when we see each other, it’s always cordial. We feel that connection of having been UCLA guys.
BR: Has he ever tried to get you to play in the Drew League?
JF: A few people have asked me from time to time. That’s not for me. It’s just not my scene. I really don’t like to play pickup as much as possible. I like to work on my game. I think the summer’s where you can make real, real improvements. I use every summer to get a lot better.
Some guys enjoy that. For some guys, it’s just fun to get out there and play pickup together. But for me, I’d rather spend my time working out individually and spending time with my family and stuff like that. It’s a choice. I mean, I see those guys playing and having a great time, but that’s not my cup of tea.
BR: You played in the Summer Pro League for a bit, didn’t you?
JF: With the Lakers, yes. When I got drafted by the Lakers, I played in the Summer Pro League.
BR: What was that experience like?
JF: It was cool. I mean, it’s kind of a thing that all rookies have to do now, with the summer league in Vegas or Orlando. When I got drafted, it was in Long Beach. You know, I had watched other guys come through there, beginning their career, and for me to take that as my first experience with an NBA team, so it was good for me. But it’s not pickup [laughs]. It’s not a pickup situation. It’s like you’re there with your team. You’re running the Triangle. It was my introduction to the NBA.
BR: Have you ever played in pickup games at the UCLA men’s gym or anything like that?
JF: Yeah, from time to time, but that’s also a little different too. That’s just being around those guys and getting in there and competing and working out. It’s not so much of a showcase.
BR: Where did you play ball when you were growing up?
JF: All over. I mean, basketball is pretty much year-round as a kid. Growing up, you play on traveling teams and tournaments all over the country and stuff like that. When I committed to UCLA, for the Men’s Gym, the guys who play at the Men’s Gym, it’s only NBA players and the UCLA basketball team, or that’s how it was when I was coming up. Coming into UCLA, I was one of the UCLA family, so I was able to play with Baron Davis, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Earl Watson and those guys every day as a 16-year-old kid, 16, 17, 18. Early, young, I played there a lot to spark that development.
BR: What was that like for you playing against these guys who were grown men, seasoned NBA pros, and here are you, a high school kid, coming in and playing?
JF: It was great. It was great. The best part is confidence building. You know, when you play well against those guys, you realize that basketball’s just a game, you just continue to work, and you can compete with anybody.
BR: What was your reaction when you found out that UCLA had let go of Ben Howland?
JF: I was surprised. He’d just won the Pac-12. I was surprised that it happened, but I also know the standard that UCLA and the Lakers hold themselves to. When you play for a prestigious entity or organization like that, it’s pretty much championship or we’re not going to be happy. It’s just the nature of the beast of being here in this big market of LA. People have a lot of things to do and they want to be supportive of a winner. At UCLA, if you don’t put a banner up, you didn’t really have the season they wanted to have.
BR: Have you had a chance to speak to Steve Alford at all since he was hired?
JF: I have. I have. He had an alumni dinner with all the guys over, current and former UCLA players, so we all got a chance to mingle and hang out with Steve. I went on a little TV talk show with him a couple weeks ago. I’ve had a little alone time with him just to talk about some stuff, but I’m excited and supportive of him because now he’s leading the Bruins and I want to always see them do well. He just seems to be moving in the right direction pretty fast.
BR: What do you think about the state of the program at this point?
JF: We’ll see. Like I said, they won the Pac-12 last year, so they weren’t bad. They’ve got some good players coming back, so they should be alright.
BR: Can we expect to see your fro coming back at all this season?
JF: No, I don’t think so, man. It’s too much of a hassle. I’m getting older and I’ve got more stuff to do. I’m just going to keep it low and move on. It doesn’t grow the same way anymore either. I’ve kind of outgrown it. My hair has changed over the years.
BR: Letting younger guys like James Harden get all the attention for their hair.
JF: Yeah, they can all do that and keep it pretty much the same all year long. I’m just going to focus on basketball.
BR: What kind of shoes will you be wearing this season?
JF: I’m signed with Nike, so I’ll probably be in a lot of Kobes. Whatever he comes out with, I’ll tell him to send me a pair of shoes. He’s my guy. I don’t think he’ll have too many problems with it.
BR: What’s the best thing for you about playing in front of those star-studded crowds at the Staples Center?
JF: The coolest thing has been, like, all the people who I’m fans of, their work and what they do, they’re fans of what we do. That’s a pretty cool phenomenon, to meet somebody and say, “Hey, I’m a big fan!” and they say, “Well, I’m a big fan, too!” You can exchange numbers and do whatever. It’s pretty cool.
BR: Sounds like a little mutual appreciation society.
BR: Now, here’s the most important question of all, coming from a Valley native...the 818: great area code or the greatest area code?
JF: Let’s say great, to be honest. I mean, Los Angeles has some pretty good area codes. 818, 310, even 323. I’ve spent time in all different ones. I grew up in 323, I went to school in 310 and I went to high school in 818, so I’ve got to combine them all, but the 818 was special for me also.
For more fun with Jordan Farmar and the Lakers, drop me a line on Twitter!