Catching Up With Kenyon Martin

By Bryan Crawford #26

Kenyon Martin was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft and spent 15 years as one of the toughest players in the League at the power forward spot. Think about this: In his second season as a pro, Martin anchored the defense of a New Jersey Nets squad that went from worst to first in the Eastern Conference and made it all the way to the NBA Finals. In his third season, Martin helped the Nets make it to back-to-back Finals, and by his fourth year in the NBA, he was an All-Star. Kenyon Martin didn’t have a Hall of Fame career, but he was certainly respected for what he brought in between the lines by his teammates, peers and coaches around the League.

Now, the big man is bringing that same energy to the summer basketball showcase, the BIG3. As captain of Trilogy, his squad ran the table and went undefeated last summer to take home the BIG3 championship title, all without a true point guard on the roster, which makes their spotless record last season even more special. This summer, Kenyon Martin and Trilogy hope to repeat as champions and the former pro sat down to talk he BIG3, his NBA career, and how he’s preparing his son, Kenyon Martin Jr., to follow in his footsteps.

Trilogy won the BIG3 title last summer and went undefeated. What was that experience like being the last team standing in such a competitive league with so many great, former NBA players?

It was great to go out and accomplish something we set out to do. For me, I want to win every game I play. I know it’s not possible all the time, but each time I step on the court I’m trying to win. The BIG3 is something new, but for us to win on that level, it was awesome. There’s something to be said for being the last team standing, especially the way this league is going, growing and continuing to expand.

Trilogy has already lost in week one. Being the champs, you guys have to know there’s a target on your back. How did the team handle the opening weekend loss?

We didn’t handle it very well. We didn’t come out like we were the champs. We were missing Al Harrington in the first game due to a minor injury he suffered in practice in the week leading up to the game, but there’s no excuses. We came out with a nonchalant attitude like we were just going to step out on the floor and beat the other team. Like you said, there’s a target on our backs and we have to be on our ‘A’ game at all times, which I don’t think we were in the first game. Even with Al being out, we still have to play our game. We got smacked in the mouth, so we’ve just got to go back to the drawing board and get ready for week two. We can’t lose two games in a row, and I think we know that. So we’re going to be ready Friday in Chicago, so everybody make sure you get your tickets.

There’s a lot of ex-players from the NBA in the league and even though it’s 3-on-3 basketball, how competitive does it get out there on the court?

Honestly, the only real difference is the configuration of the court (the BIG3 is played on a halfcourt with a three-point line, but also features three “four-point” zones), but the basketball is still as competitive as it comes. A lot of us playing in the BIG3 now, [we] battled against each other for years. I played 15 years. Jermaine O’Neal played something like 17 years and Al Harrington was in the NBA for 16 years. A lot of the guys in the BIG3 now spent years in the NBA, so we’ve played a lot of basketball against one another. It’s just like in boxing if there’s a trilogy between two guys in the ring. The first fight might be a draw, the second fight might be a little better with them picking up where they left off, and the third fight might be historically good because now they’re so familiar with each other. I think that’s why this league is as competitive as it is, because we all know each other and we’re familiar with each other’s games.

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What’s been your impression of the way the fans have embraced the BIG3 and come out to support and watch the games?

That’s been great, man. A lot of these guys are household names and a lot of the people who come out and watch the games are familiar with our generation of players who competed in the NBA and watched us play. But then all of a sudden, we’re not in the NBA anymore and it seems like we just disappear. So people want to come out and still get a chance to see us play, and as you can see, a lot of us still have something left in the tank.

Do you do any recruiting of ex-NBA guys to get them to take part in this league?

Of course. All the time. Before we got started, guys were hitting my phone asking me about it. So I’m definitely recruiting for the BIG3 any chance I get because that’s what it’s about, helping this league grow. We need name guys who can play, and I think the ones who do want to play in the BIG3 understand that because they see where it is and how it’s growing. If you come out to the games, if you have any competitiveness in you, you can’t help but to want to play.

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During your NBA career, you played on those great New Jersey Nets teams that went to back-to-back Finals. Of course you came up short, but that team was right on the cusp of doing something great. When you look at the way teams in the NBA are constructed now, do you think those Nets squads may have been ahead of their time?

Oh, yeah. We played fast, scored fast, we defended hard. We were similar to the Golden State Warriors now. We just didn’t shoot a whole lot of threes. Of course, we had guys like Kerry [Kittles] and Lucious [Harris] who could shoot and stretch the floor, but for the most part, we just got up and down the floor and played fast. So yeah, I think we were ahead of our time a little bit playing that way, especially if you look at this generation and the way basketball is played.

Looking at the League now and taking those Nets teams you played on as an example, if you were coaching yourself on that squad and had to face the Warriors, how would you game plan to beat them?

You just gotta go out and play. The Warriors are beatable, but first and foremost, you have to be disciplined defensively against them. You can’t over-help and you can’t put yourself in compromising positions on the defensive end. They’ll exploit it all because they’re so unselfish as a team. They averaged 30 assists a night. So you have to make a guy like Draymond Green be a scorer and super aggressive on offense so that on defense, he won’t be as effective at helping out in the corners. You have to trap Steph and Klay at times, but the Warriors still put you in a position where you have to pick your poison. Obviously, they have Kevin Durant who can score at an alarming rate, but there’s ways you can beat them. But it starts with being disciplined on both sides of the ball.

Your team in New Jersey was loaded with talent, much like Golden State. What do you think of the ways teams with that kind of talent are coming together now?

We put our team together differently. I was drafted. Richard Jefferson was drafted. They traded for Jason Kidd. So if you’re doing it that way—where you’re drafting guys and adding a free agent here and there—that’s the way I think it should go. Today, guys want to team up and superstars want to help one another and play together to get a ring—that’s something I don’t agree with. It’s not my thing, but if that’s what the guys in this generation feel they have to do to win and be successful…to each his own.

You played with two of the best point guards in Jason Kidd and Chris Paul. Who threw the best lob pass?

J. Kidd. No question. He had no fear. He didn’t care about turning the ball over on those passes. He didn’t care because he was always trying to make his teammates look good. CP is a great player and I take nothing away from him, but he’s not going to make that kind of risky pass. Everything with him and passing, more times than not, is always going to lead to an assist and not a turnover. He’s not going to take those kinds of risks and that’s a huge difference.

How much has the game changed today with respect to the power forward position that you played?

I think the way my position is played today is where it needs to be. You have to be able to shoot the ball from the perimeter now and do other things on the court. I think these guys today are evolving. You look at somebody like Anthony Davis, who is really a 5 man, but he can handle the ball like a guard, shoot like a guard and give you problems on the blocks. You’ve got another guy in Kristaps Porzingis doing the same thing, so I think it’s great to see how the power forward position has changed.

In college at Cincinnati, you played with “The Helicopter” Melvin Leavitt. Do you think Zach Lavine is somebody you could compare him to when it comes to dunking and pure athleticism?

Actually, I think Zach might be more athletic than Mel was and also taller. Melvin could definitely get off the floor. He had a dunk against Alcorn State University that immediately comes to mind. It was a tip dunk. A huge play. But I think if you took Zach Lavine, Melvin Leavitt—and you have to throw James “Flight” White in there, too—in their primes, that would be a hell of a dunk contest.

@kenyonmartinjr in the lab with @olinsimplis working on his 1 2 thing!! #hegotnext #watchyahead still

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Your son, Kenyon Martin Jr., is going into his senior year of high school and being recruited by a lot of different schools. How have you prepared him for this basketball journey and progressing from level to the next?

I just have honest conversations with him. I put the pressure on him to want to get better. I put the pressure on him to put the time in to actually get better, and I just try to be honest with him about what can happen and what won’t happen if you don’t put the time in in the classroom, on the court with his game or in the weight room with his body. I just try to be as honest as I can with him, but I’m also his biggest supporter as well. I critique his game so that he can understand what he needs to work on and I let him know what he does well. I also try not to let him get caught in the pressure of being my son. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of pressure because it makes him work harder and want to be successful even more. People always want to talk about his dad, but I tell them, no. He put the time in. It has nothing to do with me. He’s always trying to go out and get better to reach his ultimate goal, which is playing in the NBA. I know what it takes to get there and he has all the tools. One thing I do know is basketball. I see the way the NBA is and when I look at his skillset, it translates. But, that’s not going to happen without hard work. So I tell him that all the time to get him to understand.

What kind of sports parent are you? When you go to your son’s games, are you and yeller and screamer, or do you just sit quietly and watch?

I’m both. But when I yell, it’s not at him. It’s usually about messed-up calls here and there. Or if I see something going on in the game, I’ll yell out instructions to him at times. But I think now I’m getting better at just watching. I’m getting pretty good at that.

For the first nine weeks of the season, the first game of the night will stream live on Facebook Watch in the U.S. and globally via the BIG3 on Fox Facebook page. The three additional games each Friday will air exclusively on FOX or FS1 and simulcast live in the FOX Sports app. Week two of the BIG3 kicks off Friday, June 29 in Chicago.