An undrafted rookie who signed with the Utah Jazz in 2009, Wesley Matthews has played for six different teams in his 11 seasons in the NBA.
Now, the 34-year-old swingman says he’s looking to cement his legacy by following in his father’s footsteps, signing a one-year, $3.6 deal in free agency last week with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
“Winning a championship is the No. 1 thing that I want to do,” Matthews said. “When I came into this league as an undrafted free agent, it was not only do I want to be best undrafted player ever, but I want to have some hardware.”
Matthews earned Mr. Basketball in Wisconsin in 2005 and later starred collegiately at Marquette. His father, Wesley Matthews Sr. won two NBA titles in back-to-back seasons with the Lakers in 1987 and 1988.
However, the younger Matthews describes his relationship with his father as tricky, noting that he was raised by a single parent, his mother Pamela Moore, and that his relationship with his father continues to evolve, particularly because he’s now a father to a young daughter.
Matthews says he still keeps a picture of himself in an all-denim suit with the elder Matthews handing him a basketball on the hardwood at the Forum before Lakers’ game.
“My dad and I, we are very much closer than we were growing up,” Matthews said. “And as I’ve gotten older and older, our relationship has continued to grow and it’s something I’m very proud of.
“It’s not easy, especially having a father who played for the Lakers, won championships and was an amazing player at the University of Wisconsin, my hometown. So I kind of get that question a lot often.
“But I think now being a father, being a parent and knowing that, just hearing the stories. My dad sent me a message not too long ago, and he told me that on my birthday, he signed his contract to become a Laker. … So just to see everything come full circle, it’s really only God that can write a story like this. And it’s not done yet.”
The well-travelled Matthews said he’ll have no trouble fitting into a Lakers’ culture led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He’s played with other high-level players in the league, including Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard in Portland and Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas, so he knows and understands how to play his role.
“I like to pride myself on the defensive side of the ball and obviously shooting threes is right up my avenue,” Matthews said. “But I look forward to not only defending and shooting threes, but playing basketball. Watching the Lakers from a distance and obviously competing against them, there’s a lot of ball movement, a lot of player movement. A lot of random situations, stuff I feel like I really excel in. An underrated part of my game is playing off the ball.
“Since college I haven’t been the go-to guy, so I’ve always had to find ways to play without the basketball. I’ve done that my whole life, so that isn’t anything new to me. I feel like I can provide that to this team, in a style in which they already do it.”
Matthews also talked about another tie to the Lakers – how Kobe Bryant helped motivate him to return from Achilles tendon tear he suffered while playing with the Portland Trail Blazers five years ago.
“It’s crazy, one of people that helped me through mine, rest in peace, was Kobe,” said Matthews, holding back tears. “I had no idea. … Damn, I didn’t really mean to get emotional. He hit me up. So I tore it when I was in Portland playing against Dallas, and he didn’t have my number, we didn’t reach out anytime before that.
“I’m pulling into my driveway and I get a call. And I had no idea who this number was. And it was Kobe. And he was just sharing his wisdom about it. And it really helped motivate me, because he was honest. And he said it’s hard. He said it’s going to hard. At that time, it’s not what you wanted to hear, but it’s what you needed to hear because I don’t want anything sugar-coated. I wanted to know what I was going to have to go through, and that helped. And he was always an outlet for me, and I like to think I can be that for other people.”
Matthews said fellow players like Rodney Hood, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant reached out for a few words of wisdom after suffering similar Achilles tear injuries.
“This thing is a fraternity,” Matthews said. “It’s a brotherhood, it really is. You never want to see anybody go down, and if you’ve been through something, then you want to share it. You always want to pass it down and pass it on. That’s one thing Kobe did for me, and I wish I could thank him again. But yeah, if I can be that for other people I’ll gladly do that.”