Whenever Jordan Poole enters the press conference room at the Chase Center to fulfill his media obligations, the 22-year-old Golden State Warriors guard playfully reminds the team’s PR staff that he expects his discussion with reporters to last no longer than one of those Mike Tyson fights back in the day. Naturally, this made me want to talk to him even more. Especially considering Poole’s new status as the rising star of these NBA playoffs and the most unexpectedly important piece of the Warriors’ plan for the future.
Was this perceived reluctance to share more of himself with the adoring Dub Nation more about him being difficult, shy, guarded or maybe indifferent to all the attention that’s coming his way of late? You’d like to think a guy who wasn’t a lottery pick (28th out of Michigan in 2019) — and who was still finding his way in the G League around this time last year — wouldn’t be too big for his britches already. Even if he had opened this postseason by dominating the Denver Nuggets in the kind of way that almost made you forget he was sharing the floor with a bevy of future Hall of Famers.
There was no better way to get a sense of who Poole is than, well, asking him to talk for more than 90 seconds. Nearly 20 minutes later, with Poole proving to be a delight during our Wednesday discussion that lasted twice as long as originally advertised, it was quite clear he’s the kind of player and person who will elevate the Warriors’ already-elite program for years to come.
The thing about covering this Golden State team in the playoffs again is that it feels both familiar and foreign all at once. You have all these years of history with their greats like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, marveling at their ability to get this franchise back to title contention even after Kevin Durant decided to depart. But then you sit down for the first time with their latest star in Poole, who was a 15-year-old playing in his hometown of Milwaukee when the Warriors won their first of three titles in 2015, and you start to wonder why the basketball gods are always so kind to this group.
With the Warriors set to tip off against Memphis in the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday, Poole’s playoff challenge is about to get a whole lot tougher. But if these last few months are any indication, with Poole ascending in Curry’s absence late in the regular season and helping put the Nuggets in an early hole in the first round with his dynamic play, he’ll be ready for it.
(The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. Author’s notes are in italics.)
So, I was honored that you agreed to do this. Every time I see one of your pressers, I hear you say “90 seconds!”
Yeah, and I’m waiting for somebody to stay true to their word.
But they don’t really ever agree to 90 seconds, do they?
I tell them 90 seconds. (And) before all of the last couple of months, I wouldn’t be up (in front of reporters) too long. It was quick — get in, get out. But now, people want to ask …
… about his remarkable play. ln the last 20 regular-season games, with Curry out because of a sprained ligament in his left foot, Poole led the Warriors in scoring (25.4 points per) while shooting 42.6 percent from 3 (on 9.9 attempts per). And while he was slowed in Games 4 and 5 against Denver in the first round, he averaged 28.7 points (66.7 percent overall, 59.1 percent from 3-point range), 4.7 rebounds and three assists in the first three games.
So personality-wise, have you always been a don’t-love-talking-about yourself guy?
Yeah. If you go to my college interviews and stuff, whenever we would do media, I never really was a fan.
I don’t know … but I used to want to do journalism.
Did you really?
Right, so I kind of get the concept. I feel like, you know, they’re looking for their big break, as well. Everybody is looking for their big break. They’ll get it however they can. So, if you don’t give them the opportunity, you know? But I mean, I keep it pretty neutral.
Did you ever dabble in any type of journalism stuff?
I took a lot of English classes, but I was only in school for two years.
Well, thank you for doing this. The spotlight around you is obviously getting bigger and brighter. And from a human perspective, I just find it really interesting that not only are you killing it, but you’ve found a way to shine in this place where Steph, Klay and Draymond and the rest of them are still here. It feels like this environment would be ripe for young, talented players to get lost.
So for me, it’s like, “Damn, how did this guy do this?” And listen, things like Steph and his injuries (this season and two seasons ago, when he only played five games) opened doors in terms of opportunity. But still, for you to find your way, to deal with the grind of the G League and make it through like this, I just think it’s pretty remarkable. Are you as impressed as I am?
Yeah, I mean some things definitely had to fall into place. But I try to simplify a lot of the logic as best as I can, and I mean, essentially, I kind of didn’t have a choice. I mean, you do, but if you want to be the best possible player you can be, if you want to make an impact, if you want to be able to say that you can be out there on the court with some of the greatest players of all time, you kind of have to put yourself in that situation. I just felt like my back was against the wall, and I didn’t have a choice but to come in and work every single day, right? I can’t say that I want to be great or that I want to make an impact if I’m not applying myself. It just happens to be that these guys are some of the greatest basketball players of all time, so you’ve got to work a lot harder to even gain their trust. That’s just kind of what it was.
But that could go both ways, right? I talked about that with (Warriors assistant coach Chris) DeMarco (who has led the way when it comes to Poole’s development). His point was that you got to see Steph play, see Draymond work, learn from that example, and the bar was high and you had to live up to it. But on the flip side, a lot of players might start feeling bad for themselves because of what’s around them. Like, “Man, there’s no spot for me here.”
I mean, to counter it, I look at it like, I’m seeing what works for these guys at the highest level. I’m seeing it every day. I’m seeing what Klay is doing. I’m seeing what Steph is doing. Like, how they work out, when they work out, how long they work out, who they work out with, what they do in their workouts, right? It works, so it shouldn’t even be that complicated. Why would you want to try to do anything else? Obviously, you want to have your own uniqueness to your game, right? You want to have your own type of style, but the formula is kind of right there. And if you really want it, just follow the study guide. You don’t have to be the guy to say, “Oh, I did it this specific way,” or “I did it my way.” You could test that theory out if you want, but it’s right here in front of me, so I’m going to just follow that. You still have player development coaches and coaching staff and a lot of the vets who are still just telling you to keep going, boosting your confidence, telling you if you’re doing something wrong. Obviously, there’s the little intangibles in there. But big picture, they’re giving me the study guide, and I happen to have the creators who wrote it, so I get to ask any question I want.
This is a little bit of a cliché question, but I think it’s still worth asking: If I asked you what was your lowest point when it comes to belief that something like this might happen, what comes to mind?
Thirteen seconds of silence pass before he answers …
There was never really a point to me where I didn’t believe it would happen, if that makes sense. If anything, when it gets tough, that means it’s working. That’s how I look at it. If you go through a bad shooting streak for a week, two weeks, normally the people who come out of those go on a hot streak or something like that. I mean, my rookie year was rough.
To say the least. With Curry playing just five games because of his broken hand and Thompson out for the season after tearing his ACL in the 2019 Finals, Poole shot just 33.3 percent overall and 27.9 percent from 3-point range in 57 games while averaging 8.8 points, 2.4 assists, 2.1 rebounds and 22.4 minutes.
But I mean, as expected. It was the first time coming into the new situation. I didn’t know how the NBA worked, what the players on the court were like. I didn’t know any of that. So I was expecting it to be tough, which it was. But as soon as I found out what it was I needed to work on, I was able to kind of focus on that. In terms of belief, I mean, there really wasn’t anything (challenging) in the league. High school was probably harder than (the NBA). My senior year of high school, I went to a prep school (transferring from Rufus King High School in Milwaukee to La Lumiere School in La Porte, Ind.), and that was probably tougher than that. My two years at Michigan were pretty tough, so …
What about the G League experience? I know it wasn’t all that long, but what are those memories like? You hear stories about guys getting down there and having to adjust when all of a sudden there’s nobody to pick up your bag for you.
I did three (games) my rookie year (with the Santa Cruz Warriors). And then, I did 11 in the (Orlando) bubble. So, the bubble was everybody was in the same place. There wasn’t any traveling. If anything, that felt like an AAU tournament. And then, the three games, I traveled once to Salt Lake City, and it was just regular flights. Get on the flight, bring your own bag, go through security checkout.
No roach motels?
Yeah, like, I mean, it may not be Four Seasons, but I’ve got somewhere to sleep, and I’m getting up and I’m going to play basketball the next day. And it’s not like I had lived the life that much to that point anyway, right? … You’ve got to remember where you came from. You grabbed your own bags growing up. You grabbed your own bags in high school. You took the bus to the games, or you caught a ride. You’re never too big. Just remember where you came from, is essentially what it is.
So let’s talk about where you came from. What’s the family story? Who are your influences and inspirations? I always think back on the old Kobe (Bryant) documentary (from 2015) — “Muse.” Who’s that for you?
I mean, Kobe was my favorite player growing up. D-Wade and Allen Iverson in terms of basketball. And my parents had a pretty big (influence). No one out of the ordinary. My dad (Anthony) played basketball in high school and played football in college. He was more of a football player. My mom (Monet) was a high school athlete but not in college.
You’ve been around for a minute, but to all of a sudden be having these kinds of games on the playoff stage is different. What’s the world around you like these days?
I keep a small circle. I’m not, like, a big social media guy. All I have is Instagram, and I’m rarely on that. I don’t do much. I just kind of chill at home, be to myself. I put all of my energy into the hoop stuff, go home, restore my energy so I can come back and do it again.
All right, let me get to hoop real quick because I’m already pushing our time.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ninety seconds. (laughs)
Exactly. With the landscape of this Warriors group, what’s your vision for where this is all going? You’ve made it very clear that you’re a huge part of this. My guy Tim Kawakami from The Athletic came up with that nickname (for the Curry, Poole, Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Green lineup of) “Death and Maxes.”
That’s tough. That’s tough.
And I don’t know if you’d heard, but Coach (Steve) Kerr told him, “Man Tim, you must be Jordan’s agent” because of the idea that you’d be a max guy.
I haven’t heard any of this (laughs). I don’t have any social media. I don’t have anything. I’m just not hearing this.
Poole, who has one season left on his rookie deal worth $3.9 million, is eligible for an extension this summer. If a new deal isn’t done, the Warriors would have the ability to match all offers that come his way in restricted free agency in the summer of 2023.
But where’s this all going?
In terms of this year or just in the future in general?
Well, I feel like this week is a microcosm of what’s to come. You’ve got starting lineup decisions to be made and tough choices coming. So what’s the vision?
In Game 5 that night, Kerr opted to start with the Curry, Poole, Thompson, Wiggins and Green lineup. (Death and Maxes, Poole Party, DeathPoole, whatever you want to call it.)
I can say that it’s pretty awesome to see the cohesiveness we have with so many different ages (of players), right? You have a lot of youth and a lot of energy, guys who are willing to learn, who really want to know information. And then you have a lot of experience, a lot of guys who have been through it and have a lot of knowledge, and they know how to kind of guide that. So, we’re in a situation where we feel as if everybody can help us, whether it’s now or whether it’s next week or whether it’s next year; we feel like we have all the right pieces, and we are all bought in. I think we know we have a really special situation going on this year, especially with a lot of the older guys who’ve been through it, and they know what championship runs consist of and they’re really confident that we could do something special this year. I think that in terms of where we go, I mean — up, I guess.
How are you processing the starter component of all of this?
I mean, it’d be cool to start. It’d be cool to be out there in the starting lineup. But being able to know that I can go out there and impact the game with 25, 30, 35 minutes, I mean, that’s all I really care about. Having the opportunity (was big). I mean, a couple years ago, I wasn’t even on the court. Last year, I wasn’t playing games. Knowing that you can go out there and feel like you can help — and not being able to — is a sick feeling. So now that I’m out there, I mean, it’d be cool to start. But if I don’t, I just know I can impact it however I can.
There’s a video that went around the other day of you in Game 3 (against Denver) sitting in Coach Kerr’s seat in the huddle and just lifting everybody up. Somebody made the point to me that a couple years ago, you obviously didn’t have that voice. What’s that evolution been like?
Growing up, whatever team I was on, I was always a leader. It was more so in terms of giving guys confidence, telling them, “Yo, just be yourself.” You don’t have to overthink it. Just positive reinforcement, positive reinforcement. And when I got here, it was pretty cool to see how much of an impact Steph has and the player that he is. But he wasn’t insanely vocal. And then we have Draymond, who was like the most vocal. So, I was able to kind of pick and choose a little bit, see what direction I wanted to go in.
Klay wasn’t really around in terms of practice because he was hurt. But naturally, I’m always ready to give positive reinforcement. I do a lot of it in the game, like talking to Klay, talking to Steph, at the free-throw line, walking back from timeouts. But at that time, it was the last couple of minutes, I think, the last two minutes. And no one had said anything. I’m (thinking), “This is the time where we all, this is where we win the game.” And it had nothing to do with age to me; it was more so, like, I built the relationship with Steph, with Klay, with Wiggs, with Draymond, that I could go and tell them, like, “It’s your time, (so) step up.” That’s all it was. It was more so confidence. It had nothing to do with basketball. It had nothing to do with plays, nothing to do with switch here, switch this. It was like, “Steph, be a dog. Klay, when you get any look, knock it down. Wiggs, be aggressive. Draymond, take somebody out the game.” It was more (a message of), “This is the time, of any time, to step up.” People on the bench, like the other guys, they were kind of just chilling.
You didn’t like the energy.
I mean, the energy wasn’t bad; it was just that we could take it up a notch to win the game. I feel like it was the right time to give those guys confidence. And, I mean, it paid off, you know? We won the game.
Does it blow your mind at all that people are making this Steph comparison now? I know players don’t like comparisons, and you’re you. But to be in this market, and this city, still be playing with him and to have people talking about how you remind them of him.
That’s pretty dope (smiles). That’s pretty dope … that’s pretty dope (laughing). It definitely is, especially being so young. I mean, I watched Steph growing up my whole life.
All right, that was way longer than 90 seconds. Thank you, man. Nice to meet you, best of luck and keep it up.
(Top photo of Jordan Poole: Garrett Ellwood / NBAE via Getty Images)