• Corey Maggette, who recovered from an Achilles injury win Big3 MVP, talks to The Crossover about his relationships with Ice Cube, Donald Sterling, David Stern and more.
By Rohan Nadkarni
August 23, 2018

If you have any doubts about how seriously players take the BIG3, just ask league MVP Corey Maggette what he put himself through to play this summer. Maggette, 38, tore his Achilles on the first day of the season in 2018. After a successful 14-year NBA career, Maggette could have easily focused on his life after basketball. Instead, he got to work—with an assist.

“After the injury, I get a call from none other than David Stern, trying to help me out and protect me with the right surgeon for my surgery,” Maggette, who used to work for the NBA office, told The Crossover earlier this week. “It was grueling rehab. I had so many injuries during my career that I wanted to make sure I attack this like anything else. I did seven days a week of physical therapy. It was a very intense six months at the beginning. It was hard, a hard road.”

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The difficult path has led to success. Maggette was named MVP of the BIG3 on Tuesday, and Friday, his team Power will face 3’s Company in Brooklyn for the league championship. (You can watch the action live on FOX at 8 p.m. ET.) Hours before his MVP honors were announced, Maggette caught up with The Crossover to talk about his comeback, a text from Ice Cube, his relationship with Donald Sterling and more.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

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Rohan Nadkarni: Were you surprised to receive a call from David Stern after your injury?
Corey Maggette: You know, honestly I’m not surprised. Most people don’t know this but David Stern knows every, every single player that has come through this NBA. For him to give me a call and let me know the places I could go, it was unbelievable. It actually started with Steve Ballmer and Doc Rivers. They found out about the injury when I was in New York to support the Clippers at the NBA Awards show. The Clippers took care of my accomodations and made sure I was straight while I was in New York for two weeks waiting to go back to L.A. David Stern was the guy who told me who I need to go see for my surgery, he got me in right away. I was injured and I had the surgery the next day.

RN: What’s the experience like playing with your former Clippers teammates, Quentin Richardson and Cuttino Mobley?
CM: I’m going to start off with Q. I’ve known him since the fifth grade. I remember when we first started playing basketball, he was this big, pudgy, chubby kid who wouid only shoot threes. And then it was me, I wasn’t a basketball player at the time, I would just run up the court as fast as I can and try to get the ball. We played together with the Chicago Warriors in eighth grade and won the AAU Nationals. We played each other in high school. It was one of the biggest tournaments—they had us at Northwestern University because our schools didn’t have the capacity for the number of fans who wanted to watch the games. We played each other in college.

Then all of a sudden he gets drafted by the Clippers and we’re back together. And now we’re in it again. It’s like we never left. The reason I picked Q is not only because he’s a friend, but he’s a dog. He has a ton of grit, a ton of toughness, and he is the ultimate teammate. Regardless of what’s going on, he’s trying to pump up everyone on the floor. His competitive nature is unbelievable.

Cuttino and I hit it off my first day of Rookie Transition Camp. It was him and Steve Francis, they welcomed me with open arms, those guys were talking to me and I was a young kid at the time. And they started an early friendship. I loved going against him when he was on the Rockets, when he and Steve Francis were one of the best one-two punches in the league. I called him the Iron Man because he always led the league in minutes. One thing that he said to me—this might have been at our game in Miami—he said I might not have won a championship in the NBA, but I have championship pedigree. Those words gave me chills when he said that. That’s one of the main reasons why I wanted Cuttino on my team. If anything, he is the real Uncle Drew. The guy can still get the job done. It’s unbelievable to have him on my team.

RN: I love how competitive the games are. You can tell guys are having fun but also really want to win. Take me on the court, how intense does it really get?
CM: Well, well, Rohan, you already know we have the No. 1 trash talker of all-time in Gary Payton and he’s not even playing. It’s intense. It’s a mixture of old-school basketball and new-school basketball as far as from a physicality standpoint. Some guys didn’t play that many years in the NBA but had incredible careers in Europe. It’s not about your name it’s about your game, that’s a little slogan we have. That’s why we have a lot of trash-talking, a lot of pushing, a lot of shoving. You’re going to see it in the championship game. Everyone wants bragging rights.

It’s like you’re playing at the playground. It’s like you’re playing at Rucker Park. Playing in the West Side of Chicago. You have this intensity, it’s bragging rights, it’s respect. Everyone who played this game, it wasn’t just for the money. It started about the love of the game. These guys, Jermaine O’Neal, Amar’e Stoudemire, over 15 years in the league still have that love. For us, we love that grit and toughness. The hard fouls. It reminds everyone else that we still got it. We all love each other. After the games, we’re going out to eat. But when it’s on the court? We’re ready to go.

RN: Obviously, Ice Cube is really heavily involved. Have you had a fun moment that you’ve shared with him?
CM: You know what? The funniest is before the BIG3 started, I’m in Malibu at the Soho House with Cuttino. I’m sitting there and I get a message like, “Hey, Maggette, what’s going on? This is Ice Cube. Wanted to know if you were interested in playing in the BIG3?” And I’m like, “Ice Cube? Who the—who is this?“ And it was him. I was like, I have to call this number. And then I was literally talking to him. You think about the guy who made Friday, Are We There Yet?, and I’m really talking to the guy. I was like, wow. I was like, “Hey, what’s up Mr. Cube?” [Laughs] That was probably the coolest thing about it. This entire time, even last year with the injury, he was one of the guys calling me making sure I was alright.

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RN: We talked a little bit about your Clippers days. Do you have any weird Donald Sterling stories?
CM: [Laughs] You know, what I would say about Donald Sterling is everyone has their own view of who he is. For me, I take people for who they are. I have a forgiving heart on everything. That’s just kind of where I am. For Donald Sterling in particular, what I would say about him is, on the first and the 15th, I got paid on time. That’s one thing I would say. I got paid every time. There was never a late check. Nothing ever bounced.

On another note, I had a relationship with Donald. I was able to call him, talk to him and have a conversation. You probably won’t believe it, I still talk to Donald Sterling now. And he will always say, “Corey, I’m not that guy.” One of the most positive things I can say about Donald is he started to turn that franchise around, to build the practice facility, to get Chris Paul, Blake and DeAndre. As far as the other stuff, it’s unfortunate. I just hope regardless of all those other things, I hope he’s healthy. I pray that he’s doing well. And I tell him that. I have nothing bad to say about him.

He has his quirks. He’s probably the only owner in history when I played who had his own entourage of like 50 people. When we’d win a game, we’d have 50 people in the locker room, shaking hands and giving us hugs. It’s a little uncomfortable. But I would say he’s so happy about his team and his franchise, he wanted to show us off. That’s all I have to say about Donald.

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RN: What was your motivation to play in the BIG3?
CM: For me, it was a perseverance type of answer. Through my career I had those multiple injuries. I was always in the gym training, doing everything I could to help my body. And I always wanted to conquer things people said I couldn’t do. I remember I had a conversation with Kobe about my injury. And I told him, “Those bum-ass shoes you gave me, I tore my Achilles.” But he was a guy who hooked me up with his therapist. And Kobe said, “Man, you have to fight through that pain.”

I almost had the attitude that I didn’t want to do it. But I had a chance to persevere, I had a chance for my kids to see me play. A lot of times you get continued to get knocked down, but you still have a chance to get up. It’s like when you play Roulette. You gotta keep going. When that ball stops, that’s an opportunity for you to keep going.

RN: Any inside info on if Kobe is going to play next season?
CM: No, man, he told me no. He told me no last year. He’s been so busy with the film industry. For the guy who just won an Oscar, he’s doing a lot. He’s deep into that. What he did for basketball, the drive, the competitiveness, he’s doing the same in the film industry. I would be shocked if Kobe would play. I would say he’s not opposed, but he has better things to do right now. He played 21 years. He has five rings. At some point, that chapter has to end.

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RN: What would it mean for you to win this championship on Friday?
CM: Man, you know what, I can’t explain exactly how it would feel. I go back to my faith in God. He’s literally restored me to play this game again. I had injuries cut my career short. One time in particular, I blew my knee out with the San Antonio Spurs, the year they won their last championship. The hardest thing that I had to do was to go into Coach Popovich’s office and tell him I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have that drive and push because of injuries. It was like I was always rehabbing.

To be back in this position, no one expected our team to be here. Even last year, we were two points away from being in the championship. It shows our drive. To go to Brooklyn, the fans are amazing, I love New York. You’ll even hear fans talking trash. For them to see this, they get that shine as well. For me to come back, to even hear the MVP conversation, all I can say is it’s only the man upstairs who directed this entire path. It wasn’t me. It was Him. And that includes everybody on my team, who sacrificed time with their families to put it on the line. I’m just really thankful.

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