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What Ja Morant had to say

Ja Morant’s 25-game suspension – a disorienting chapter to the start of a season that sees the Memphis Grizzlies reeling with a 6-18 record – ends on Monday (December 18). His pending return was the backdrop as he fielded media questions ahead of Memphis’ game against the Houston Rockets on Friday night.

The NBA hit Memphis’ two-time All-Star guard with the 25-game penalty after he briefly displayed a pistol in a video shared on social media this past May. He already had served an eight-game suspension for a similar incident in March when a video showed him flashing a gun in a strip club.

With some slight edits, here is what Morant said in response to questions from a press corps that had not heard directly from him in months.

Q – Ja, just walk us through what these last few months have been like for you … getting ready for (your) return and … what it’s been like to watch the team play without you.

Ja Morant – It’s been a process. Obviously thankful for the support I had during this time. Obviously, it’s not easy not being out there on the floor and having to watch. But with everything else, being around the team, being able to practice, being able to travel, the guys just constantly talking to me and vice versa, it’s been good.

Q – Ja, what would you say … are some of the main things that you’ve learned and reemphasized for yourself during this stretch?

Ja Morant – I’ve pretty much just been focusing on me, honestly, outside of the basketball stuff. But basketball wise, just becoming more of a leader with my talk. Obviously, it’s different when you are out there on the floor and you not. So, it’s not too much I can say. Obviously, I’m not out there in the fire with them, but as much coaching or things I see, I just tell them.

At one point during his media appearance, Ja Morant was asked, “Why should people believe that the changes you’ve made this time are long-lasting and sustainable?” He replied: “I can’t make nobody believe me, outside of my actions. Me answering this question with just words probably won’t mean nothing to nobody.” (Photo: Terry Davis/The Tri-State Defender)

Q – NBA commissioner Adam Silver mentioned that he was going to have what he called a check-in with you. What was that conversation like? What was his main message to you?

Ja Morant – It was good. He was just checking on me, see how I was doing, how the process was going. Pretty much that.

Q – Ja, after the ouster by the Lakers (to end the last season), you talked about needing to make better decisions off the court. In the last few months since mid-June, are there specific things you’ve done to help yourself maybe try to grow in any particular areas?

Ja Morant – Just protecting my peace.

Q – Hey Ja, I know you’re a superstar and all like that … how long should it take you to get to where you think you should be?

Ja Morant – Hopefully … the first game, but obviously it’s different when you are actually in the game getting game rep. I’m just (going to) try to come back, do whatever I can to help the team win. I’m not forcing a historic game my first game back. I’m just super excited to be back out there with the team.

Ja Morant starring as Ja Morant as he works past LeBron “King” James of the Lakers. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender Archives)

Q – Ja, basketball’s been your life. How hard has this process been the last few months? …

Ja Morant – It was definitely tough; horrible days … but like I said, to start this, with the support that I had throughout this process, it definitely helped me a lot. Pretty much all I could lean on at that time. Obviously, basketball is, like you said, something I’ve been doing pretty much my whole life. Something that’s therapeutic for me. Obviously taking that away, it makes it tougher. But like I said, I had the right people around me – from my family to the organization and to my other partners that helped me along this process.

Q – Ja, do you have a message to the fans, who are eager to see you back out on the court? And what have you learned from this process just personally and professionally?

Ja Morant – I feel like my only message is I’m just as excited to see them when that time comes.

Q – Ja, … back in that September timeframe, your team put out some videos, accountability on shirts, rebirth, gratitude. Why were some of those things themes that you felt like were important to you and important to put out?

Ja Morant – It’s pretty much just something we had to sit down and talk amongst each other. Just a word that each one of us came up with that we felt like could help me get through to send a message … and they decided to surprise me with T-shirts of the words that we pretty much agreed on. That’s all that was pretty much behind it.

Q – Ja, there was the first incident in March. You took time away to work on yourself and then despite that, what happened in May that led to the suspension still happened. Why should people believe that the changes you’ve made this time are long-lasting and sustainable?

Ja Morant – I can’t make nobody believe me, outside of my actions. Me answering this question with just words probably won’t mean nothing to nobody.

Q – Ja, two questions. One, just following up: What does “protecting my peace” mean? What does that look like? What exactly what does that mean?

Ja Morant – Just doing whatever I feel like that keeps me happy, keeps me in a good mood. Right now, honestly, I feel like the number one thing outside of being around my family and having more time to spend with my daughter is being around the team. I feel like that’s when I normally have my best days, when I’m normally in my best mood. Coming days, hopefully I’d be even happier when it’s a consistent thing.

Q – … What mistakes do you think you’ve made throughout all this, this last year or so, if any? … Or do you not think you’ve done anything wrong?

Ja Morant – I’ve made a lot of mistakes, not some that’s even been public; even with my family. It’s a lot.

Q – Hey Ja, talk about how this process has been, man. A lot of self-reflection and counseling, talking to people, spending time with yourself. Just talk about how it’s been over the last couple months.

Ja Morant – Basically piggybacking off the things I said earlier, it’s been tough – a lot of learning, a lot of teaching. It’s been a process. … I wouldn’t say I regret it, but I’m not happy that it happened. But I’m also grateful that I had this opportunity to, like you said, reflect and do things that I felt like was not only needed for me but for my family as well, for us to realize pretty much what’s all at stake, ways we can keep each other happy and how we just have each other’s back. I feel like we obviously been close before, but we came together even more during this process.

Q – As the losses have piled up, has that part of it been painful? And is there a part that makes you feel like you’re somehow responsible, or at least in part responsible for that?

Ja Morant – Yes, it’s definitely some guilt in that. Obviously, I’m not on the floor and obviously nobody likes losing. Our job is to go out there and get a win. I take full responsibility of that. … decisions I made didn’t allow me to be out there to go to battle with my team.

Jaren Jackson Jr. battles to score in the paint against Houston. He and Desmond Bane have shouldered the bulk of the scoring load for the Grizzlies during Ja Morant’s suspension. (Photo: Terry Davis/The Tri-State Defender)

Q – How have you watched the first 23 games so far and what is your evaluation of the team as you have been watching them on television?

Ja Morant – It pretty much has been film study for me. … I’ve been with (a) majority of the players for a while now. … We got some new pieces. So, me being the point guard, that’s guys I have to learn and find out where they want to be on the floor. As far as where we stand, I’m not worried at all. … We have guys out, but I feel like we’ve been preaching over the years that next man up mentality. I’ll say, I don’t think it’ll be long before we find it. I feel like we’re taking strides in the right direction as of now, as of late, and I feel like the only way for us to go is up.

Q – With that being said, Ja, what’s your level of optimism as far as getting into the … playoffs, etc.? What do you think about the play of Jaren Jackson Jr and Desmond Bane since you’ve been away?

Ja Morant – … The playoffs and playing is awhile from now. Like I said before, I take it day by day. I feel like each day we can get better at something … even if it’s an off day with taking care of your body or watching film, coming to a practice the next day or shootaround…. Just having our focus on the now. And as far as those guys and their level of play, I obviously feel like those guys (are) playing at an All-Star level, all-NBA level. And when I come back hopefully it stays the same and it just makes their job even easier.

When Desmond Bane and Ja Morant are clicking, good things have happened for the Grizzlies. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/The Tri-State Defender Archives)

Q – Ja, how is it for you to have Derrick Rose and Marcus Smart on the team?

Ja Morant – It’s great, honestly. Two veteran guys who are very vocal in our locker room … I feel like those pieces for us, not only on the court but off the court, will help us get better all around and excel and play at a high level.

Q – Ja, you talked about the support you’ve received from your family, from the organization. What about around the league from fellow players? Have they given you their support? And also, have they given you advice as well?

Ja Morant – No, I didn’t talk to none of them.

Q – No other players?

Ja Morant – No.

Q – Is there anybody you looking for as far as mentorship? … Is there anybody that you respect enough that you have been talking to as like a mentor?

Ja Morant – I feel like I have everybody around me now that helped me get to where I want to be. No knock to anybody who’s wanting to reach out or they haven’t been reaching out to me … but I feel like my family, the organization, my veterans now on this team is all I need right now.

Q – When you talked about the learning that you did, who were you learning from specifically, or what? Were there other resources like books or classes aside from people that you were learning from?

Ja Morant – Therapy. Learning from me. … I feel like I learned some stuff about myself … during that process, very eye-opening. Gave me a new look on life with how I go about my days, how I carry myself, just being grateful and thankful that I’m still here and in the position that I’m in.

Q – Ja … as you sit here now, just days away, how antsy are you that it’s finally here?

Ja Morant – I wish the game was just earlier and it’s me talking to y’all afterwards, honestly. But I can say it’s been a while, but it went by fast. I feel, like I said earlier, what helped me is being around the guys as much as I could be. … I’ve been counting down the days myself. I wake up every day and be like, “Yeah, you one day closer.”

Q – With everything that you’ve gone through and everything that you know is weighing on you as you start to play again, … is there a difference this time than maybe any other time you rolled out and played in terms of the pressure to do right as you move forward?

Ja Morant – I feel like that’s a good question. I honestly feel like I can’t go away from being Ja. I feel like that’s the most important thing, not trying to lose myself or be somebody that I’m not or act totally different. But the change will be my decision-making and how I go about my daily life of being an NBA player, a father, a role model, a brother, a son, and just focusing in on that; being the best Ja can be.

Q – You mentioned learning things about yourself. Do you understand now why the things that happened … happened? I mean, do you have a better understanding of it because of what you’ve been through? What’s that experience been like figuring it out?

Ja Morant – Yes, but I feel like it’s still a process. I obviously feel like I’m not done yet at learning myself or learning new things, but I definitely see why the things (that) happened (did) happen. But, like I said earlier, I can’t say I sit up here and regret it, because in the end, I feel like it made me better.

Q – The growth you made as a human, obviously it takes priority, but do you think what you’ve learned about yourself over the last year or so can help you level up on the court even more?

Ja Morant – I’m just going on the court to be Ja, man. Honestly, just every time I step on the floor, just going out there and giving my all and focus on getting the win.

Vintage Ja Morant giving his all. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/The Tri-State Defender Archives)

Q – Ja, have you paid attention to any of the polls or stories and just media talk about guys who they said have passed you since you’ve been gone away; guys who got better than you?

Ja Morant – … Hats off to them for leading their teams and playing great. Obviously, the league has a lot of talented players. I have no say on who’s better than me and who’s not. Obviously, that’s everybody else’s opinion … I don’t get mad about that stuff, man.

Q – Hey Ja, a couple of years ago, you guys always wore that chip on your shoulder. Do you have that same chip and edge that … may have been lost in the last couple of years, even though y’all was succeeding? …

Ja Morant – That’s a share size now. … not a little small chip no more; it’s a share size.

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