Jonas Jerebko is from Sweden yet he speaks perfect English with no accent. The Celtics forward’s fluency with his second language comes from six years in the NBA, summers spent in Syracuse, N.Y., and English classes in his native country.
Jerebko’s journey to the NBA included a childhood in Kinna, Sweden, two years with his national team, a year in Italy, and six years with the Detroit Pistons before the Celtics acquired him in February. Jerebko re-signed with Boston for two years, $10 million because he felt comfortable with the team.
Now, he is fighting for a slot as the first small forward off the bench and has impressed in training camp. Jerebko has blended in so well that he hardly seems like a relative newcomer.
“When I got out of high school, I moved to northern Sweden, four hours from home, to a new city and new teammates,” he said of playing for his first Swedish professional team. “One year there, I go to Italy. And then going to Detroit . . . it feels great to be back here in Boston with the same coaching staff. I’m very happy I’m back in a stable situation.”
Every other summer in his younger years, Jerebko would travel from Sweden to Syracuse to visit his grandparents and spend the summer playing basketball. His parents made sure they spoke English at home so he would learn the language rapidly. By the time he finished high school, Jerebko was fluent in Swedish and English.
“It helped out a lot,” said Jerebko, whose father, Chris, played four years at Syracuse before settling in Sweden, where he played professionally. “Ever since I finished high school and I started playing in the Swedish league, I had a couple of Americans on my team. I learned how to communicate with them and then I moved to Italy and we had three Americans on my team there, and I had a lot of American friends playing basketball and that helped out a lot.”
Being a high school basketball player in a country where soccer, hockey, and outdoor winter sports rule was difficult for Jerebko.
“It’s a small sport in Sweden but I played all kinds of sports,” he said. “Basketball is a growing sport everywhere, but in Sweden it seemed to be put on ice. You barely played basketball in school, it was soccer, hockey, handball, floorball. There’s sports that you don’t even know about that are bigger than basketball in Sweden.”
What’s more, there are professional floorball leagues in Sweden. It is similar to field hockey but played indoors.
“It’s laughable,” he said. “You have no idea but it’s bigger than basketball.”
Jerebko seems perturbed that his NBA success, as the lone player in the league from Sweden, has gone unnoticed back home. During NBA All-Star Weekend, thousands of international media cover players from their countries. Jerebko said he hasn’t received much attention from Swedish media.
“It’s an honor [to play in the NBA] but at the same time somebody has to show the Swedish kids that anybody can do it, no matter where you’re from,” he said. “Swedish people are very locked in to their sports. It’s tough for a sport to break through when the media is not really into it.”
Financial advice there for players
Former Celtic Antoine Walker has worked to educate current professional and college athletes on the responsibility of handling money and wealth during their careers. Walker, a three-time All-Star, earned an estimated $108 million during his career, only to face bankruptcy and massive debts.
He has worked his way out of his financial issues and produced a documentary about his NBA life, entitled “Gone In An Instant.”
Walker is now working with Drew Hawkins, the head of Global Sports and Entertainment at Morgan Stanley. Hawkins created the Financial Education Program. Hawkins, Walker, and former NFL linebacker Bart Scott talk to NBA, NFL, NHL, Major League Baseball, and NCAA athletes about financial literacy and making sound decisions once those dreamed about paychecks become reality.
Professional athletes can face several issues when earning lucrative contracts: the lure of the night life, child and spousal support, additional family obligations, business ventures, and frivolous hobbies. All can lead to a loss of wealth and perhaps bankruptcy.
There are many documented cases of NBA players blowing their career earnings. Some, including former players Tate George and Jay Vincent, have served prison sentences for financially related crimes.
“These are not our typical clients that make a lot of money and have well-defined careers and earning patterns,” Hawkins said. “In a lot of cases, you’ve got teenagers that are making decisions that typical investors would be making at the age of 30, 35, and 40. They have to make those decisions at early stages of their lives.”
The fundamental question for many regular folks is, how could a professional athlete who potentially earns 50 to 100 times what normal Americans earn in a lifetime blow their income within a handful of years?
“A lot of them think this career is going to last forever and the money can’t run out,” Hawkins said. “And early on in the game when you think about taxes, when you think about agencies and the cost of being there, the glamour of having this huge contract, half of that at the blink of an eye, just based on taxes and you’re newfound uncle, Uncle Sam, takes half away. Unfortunately a lot of these individuals settle into a lifestyle . . . where what they’re spending far exceeds what they’re doing from a savings standpoint.”
According to Hawkins, many professional athletes make the mistake of being poorly educated on finances, misjudging how long their wealth will last, and not investing in retirement packages or low-risk investments.
Also, professional athletes are in the unusual position where their maximum earning power occurs in their 20s and early 30s, ages when most working people are just approaching their maximum earning power. Players such as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have handled wealth well. They’ve earned lucrative contracts and also made endorsement dollars.
But they are in the minority.
“A big part of this revolves around the education side,” Hawkins said. “We’ve had an opportunity to develop and create a financial education program. We don’t want to sit here and be Scrooge and say you can’t go out and do anything, but it takes a disciplined, experienced adviser to sit down and have the tough conversation out of the gate to have a savings rate in the neighborhood of 35 to 40 percent — putting themselves on a budget and looking how they get paid and managing the number of paychecks they have coming in.”
Hawkins, Walker, and Scott have talked with several professional teams and also the teams at Boston College about financial literacy.
“Often, these individuals will delegate this responsibility to someone else, an agent, and it’s great to seek other opinions but it’s your money, you should have a good, underlying foundation in terms of what’s taking place with your finances,” Hawkins said. “It’s a very tough component that they deal with and being able to have that level of discipline and a process in place to deal with this is a big-time separator.”
Hawkins said the program has been successful, especially with the presence of Walker, who doesn’t hesitate to tell his story of how gambling, poor investments, family obligations, and women robbed him of his wealth.
“They are listening and unfortunately at times jocks get pegged as not being bright, but these guys are very smart and very intelligent,” Hawkins said of his clientele. “We’re now entering into an area where they haven’t had the time involved to understand this particular component.
“Having the ability for individuals that they have seen go through and make some of the mistakes they don’t want to make and hear some of the horror stories, they can relate to a lot of these circumstances. They want to make sure, ‘Now, I get it.’ Couple that with a good, solid plan, we feel like we’re having an opportunity to make a difference.”
Howard’s season key for Houston
One of the league’s overshadowed story lines of 2015-16 is the return of a healthy Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets and his impending free agency after the season. Howard has a player option for $23.2 million next season, which could be waived if he produces an outstanding season. If he chooses free agency and displays his former skills, Howard could cash in on the biggest contract of his career.
Howard turns 30 in December. He has been passed by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and Anthony Davis among others as superstars.
Howard’s physical prowess has never been questioned, and despite poor free throw shooting, neither has his game. But his love for basketball has been questioned. Does he want to be great? Is he still capable of greatness? How much does he want to win a championship? And is he mature enough to take his craft and winning more seriously? He is a fascinating player, once considered a future all-time great but who has fallen short. Howard and LeBron James were supposed to carry the league beyond the Michael Jordan era, but only James has lived up to expectations. Howard said he still has something left.
The Rockets reached the Western Conference finals last season after an improbable comeback over Doc Rivers’s Clippers in the semifinals. A gimpy Howard, who sustained a knee injury early in the series, couldn’t help the Rockets get past the Warriors, who defeated Houston in five games and then coasted to the NBA championship.
Houston essentially brought back its entire core with the exception of Pablo Prigioni and Josh Smith, and added troubled former Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson. If Lawson can avoid off-court issues and join forces with a healthy Howard and MVP candidate James Harden, the Rockets could be a top contender again in the West.
Howard always has been considered a positive thinker and his outlook on this season is no different.
“We want to grow,” said Howard. “James and myself want to take this team to a great level and I think that together we can lead this team in the right direction, we can be unstoppable. I truly believe that. All of us just have a great feeling about what we can accomplish. That’s the only thing that’s been on our mind. Man, we believe. The first step in trying to be a champion is really believing. This unit, we really believe we have a chance.”
As the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft, Howard was considered a franchise-caliber player with Orlando, taking the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009. But his career has taken a downturn after that. He facilitated a trade to the Lakers in 2012-13, and was supposed to team with Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash for another Big Three.
That season turned out to be an injury-filled disaster for Howard, during which Bryant questioned his desire. Howard then signed with the Rockets. In two years in Houston, Howard has been solid, but he was limited to 41 games last season because of back issues.
He has declared himself healthy for perhaps his final year in Houston.
“I’m just looking forward to having an unbelievable season,” he said. “As the years go by, you don’t take anything for granted. I remember coming into the league [at age 18], and now I’m 30. It’s my 12th season and now I’m seeing guys who are 20 and 21 and they are just coming in.”
Howard said this past summer offered him an opportunity for career reflection. Howard is still a superior defensive center but the question is whether he remains among the league’s elite players. Davis, Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, and Marc Gasol have seemingly eclipsed Howard as top-notch big men.
This is a pivotal year for the Rockets. The combination of Harden, Howard, and Lawson, along with Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer, and Trevor Ariza, could form a contender — if Howard is healthy and fully invested.
“I just took some time away from the game, getting myself just focused on how can I be a better teammate, how can I be a better leader for this team, and how can I be better for this city,” he said. “I’m getting older now so I’ve got to do a better job of taking care of my body. This will be my 12th season and I’m reaching 30. I think this is the best time for me in my life.”
The Nuggets completed their training camp roster by signing veteran swingman Mike Miller and signing former Northeastern standout Matt Janning and former Wizards first-round pick Oleksiy Pecherov to training camp contracts.
Pecherov was the 18th overall pick in the 2006 draft and the 7-footer was out of the league by 2010, signing with Olimpia Milano in Italy.
Janning, who went undrafted in 2010, has played in Italy, Croatia, and Turkey, winning a Turkish Cup with Anadolu Efes. He played for the Celtics’ summer league entry in Orlando in 2010 and has spent time with the Phoenix Suns and in the NBADL . . . The NBA announced last week that current game officials will staff the replay center in Secaucus, N.J., and will make final decisions on calls dealing with a 2- or 3-point field goal, end-of-quarter field goals, out-of-bounds calls, and goaltending. On-court officials will determine flagrant fouls, clear-path fouls, off-ball fouls, player scuffles, shot-clock violations, and end-of-period fouls. The new setup does a better job delegating responsibility, is designed to reduce the amount of waiting time for calls to be determined, and will eliminate the three-official huddle at the scorer’s table to determine calls. When the replay center decides a call, only the crew chief will stand at the scorer’s table, and when on-court officials decide the play, two officials will consult with the replay center while the other officials will ensure players are ready to resume action when the call is completed . . . NBA training camps have begun and there are no signs of Carlos Boozer, Nate Robinson, Reggie Evans, John Salmons, Shawne Williams, or Jeff Ayers, all with notable experience who could help clubs. Several of these players may have to wait until the regular season begins and injuries occur before signing contracts . . . One of the more intriguing position battles in Portland is at backup point guard, where former Celtic Phil Pressey is competing with former NBADL Maine standout Tim Frazier. Pressey agreed to a training camp contract with Portland after being waived by the Celtics.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.