- Michael Porter Jr. entered college basketball last year as one of the most prized recruits but an injury forced him to miss a majority of his freshman season. Now as a rookie with the Nuggets, he is preparing for his return to the court.
The Denver Nuggets’ 2018 first-overall pick has tried to imagine a life without it, one where two back surgeries and months of rehab keep him from fulfilling the NBA dream he never doubted he’d achieve.
Once projected as a high lottery pick, Porter slipped to No. 14 after an injury-plagued season at Mizzou limited him to three games. And when Porter underwent a second spinal surgery in July, the 20-year-old rookie forward admits he again tried to picture a future in which he wasn’t on the court.
“If I didn’t play… honestly I really don’t know,” Porter told The Crossover when asked what he would do if he couldn’t play again. “I don’t think I would have a job. I’d try do something in the realm of sports, try to be an agent or something like that. But I’ve thought about this before and have never been able to picture it. I would just think, ‘Dang, what even interests me?’ And nothing really does.”
Porter is confident he won’t have to worry about it for long, though. On the court is where he belongs, and despite the hurdles he knows he’ll have to overcome, on the court is where Porter has no doubt he will be.
“I’m very, very motivated,” Porter said. “Basketball is my purpose. I just feel like I have had to go through some obstacles, but I know and truly believe this is my purpose, where I am meant to be, and that keeps me very motivated through the hard stuff.”
Porter caught up with The Crossover on behalf of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (which launches globally on Oct. 12) to discuss his new life in Denver, his future in the NBA, the gaming habits that kept him busy this summer, and much more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Alaa Abdeldaiem: What was your reaction when you got selected in the draft and you found out you were going to Denver?
Michael Porter Jr.: Man, I had no idea what Denver was like, but once I got here, I fell in love with it. Everybody is young and cool and hardworking, so I feel like I’ve been fitting in pretty well here.
AA: What would you recommend people new to the city go do or see?
MPJ: I would say they should go to a Rockies game. I don’t even like baseball, but those games are really fun. And then there’s just beautiful mountains around here. I haven’t really gone on any yet but I hear that’s super fun.
AA: What have you done during your free time this summer? Have you developed any hidden talents during your time away from the court?
MPJ: I wouldn’t say that I developed any hidden talents, but I definitely have been doing some different things. I’ve been reading a lot more than I usually do and playing a lot more video games like 2K, Call of Duty and Fortnite than I probably should.
AA: You’re telling everyone on Twitter that you might have to retire from 2K because you can’t find any real competition. Who have you played against on 2K that makes you feel like there’s no competition out there?
MPJ: I played the best. That’s what everybody claims to be. I invite strangers into my home and I’d smack them by 30 and take their money. I would play so many people who claim to be great, and I’d beat them. And so at that point I was like nah man, nobody is good at 2K.
AA: Have you played any of your teammates?
MPJ: I have a couple teammates who are good, but I don’t think any of them are better than me. There’s quite a bit of competition on the team, though. I think basketball players in terms of 2K, they’re better at 2K because they know basketball. It’s harder for those who don’t play basketball at a high level to really know how to play 2K and be good. Monte Morris, he’s pretty good. He’s beat me a couple of times. But DeVaughn [Akoon-Purcell], he is horrible. Like, horrible in all caps, he’s that bad.
AA: Why is COD Black Ops 4 one of your favorite games right now?
MPJ: It’s fun because you get to play against other people. It’s so realistic. You get to test yourself and see if you’re a survivor or not. The new battle royale game mode is super exciting. I love that just because I always thought, Fortnite is amazing, but if they made something that was like Fortnite where it is every man for themselves but is also realistic with real graphics, it would be super fun. So that’s going to be really exciting. I can’t wait to play that.
AA: If you could play against anyone in the world on Call of Duty, who would it be?
MPJ: Play against anyone in the world? Dang. I’m going to go with the creator of Call of Duty. I wanna see if he’s good or if he just knows how to play the video game, if he’s some real competition.
AA: You posted on your Instagram a while back that one of the first things you purchased after being drafted was a car for your mom. What’s the story behind that?
MPJ: Yeah, it’s just always been a dream of mine to be able to do something big for my mom. She home schooled us growing up. She’s amazing. We didn’t know we didn’t always have a lot of money growing up, and she never let us feel like we didn’t. We would get hand-me-downs a lot and she always made that seem exciting, as if she went to the mall and it was all brand new. Ever since I was little, I’ve always wanted to do something to give back to my mom just because she was such a good mom to us.
AA: What was her reaction when you got drafted?
MPJ: She was so happy. Sitting there, honestly that wasn’t how I’ve always imagined the draft going. I imagined being the No. 1 pick and all that, so sitting as a table together, it was a little bit of tension thinking, ‘Dang, where am I going?’ But then when I finally got picked, it was all joy. She cried a bit. It was a dream come true.
AA: Who is someone on the team that you’ve looked up to so far as you go through this rehab process?
MPJ: Probably Isaiah Thomas. We’ve gotten to connect a lot with us both rehabbing injuries and just every day getting to see him in the training room. He’s always telling me to be optimistic every single day and find a reason to go hard and be positive-minded.
AA: Was there ever a point in time throughout your surgeries where you thought you weren’t going to be able to get back on the court?
MPJ: I wouldn’t say that I ever doubted that I would be able to play. There are definitely dark days where you’re like, ‘Dang bro, this is just taking a long time.’ But no, I’m pretty optimistic. No doubt it increases your love and appreciation for the game. I realized how much I really love this game for sure.
AA: Do you feel like going into the season, you have a chip on your shoulder? Does this change your mentality in terms of how you’re going to approach the game?
MPJ: I really can’t have a chip on my shoulder until I get healthy, but once I get healthy, I’m going to play with a whole different kind of passion that no one has ever seen out of me just because I’m going to be so grateful to be back on the floor. This is definitely a new chapter in my life. It’s the NBA. Everybody is good now. The last time I really played healthy was high school, the beginning of the college season during exhibition games. I think people respect me as a player because they know the player that I am, but at the same time, I have to prove myself in this league just like everybody else does.
AA: Once you do get back out there on the court, who would you say you’re most looking forward to matching up against this season?
MPJ: Honestly, just the first player guarding me is going to feel so good to go up against and be back out there. But some guys that I play against that will really get me to go, ‘Wow, I’m really in the league,’ I would say LeBron and KD.
AA: What was your reaction like when you heard LeBron was leaving the East?
MPJ: I was so shocked. I didn’t think it was a weak move or anything like that like some people did because there are so many factors besides basketball that you have to consider. You have to consider that he has a family. You know, what makes him happy, does he like his teammates, some of those things besides just basketball. But people from the outside always make it seem like it’s just basketball.
AA: Do you feel like it makes your team and teams in the West a lot more competitive?
MPJ: I mean the Lakers are obviously a lot stronger but the Nuggets, man, we’re a good team. We already played them twice in the preseason and got a feel for them. I know it’s not regular season, but we can compete with anyone. But it definitely makes teams think, ‘Man, we gotta stack up and get as many good players as we can,’ because he’s the King, for sure.
AA: Is there a change in the way you’re going to play after these back surgeries, or do you feel like you’re the same player you were before the injury?
MPJ: I think I’ll be better just because I won’t be playing with pain. I’ll be way better than I was. In terms of athleticism and stuff, I don’t think that will change. I feel it in me. I feel it, and the day I’m going to get back out there I’ll be better. I just have to be patient.
AA: What would you say is the greatest piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?
MPJ: Surround yourself with good people. That’s good advice. But the best advice though, I would say is from the Bible, is to live with an eternal perspective.
AA: What does that mean to you?
MPJ: I’m a big believer. I believe that after this world, we’re going to live eternally somewhere. So if you live with an eternal perspective, you’re basically not living for this world. You’re not too worried about material things, about everybody liking you, about all of this stuff that people are caught up in like money and fame. Those are cool things, but those are worldly things. I’m more worried about eternal stuff, like your relationship with God, being a good human being, things like that. Everybody struggles with getting caught up in the world, but I have definitely tried to approach things with that mindset throughout even this rehab process.