Two of the NBA’s most intimidating, volatile, and captivating players have found new life after basketball, transforming their brutally honest and brash styles to the media, and the results have been entertaining.
Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes picked up their share of hard fouls and became renowned for speaking their minds, and such is the case with their “All the Smoke” podcast, which has made its way to Showtime television.
Jackson and Barnes, who played together on the 2006-08 Golden State Warriors, host an all-encompassing talk show with NBA guests to discuss the league, reveal untold stories, and even tackle current issues.
Jackson was known as a no-nonsense glue player during his 14-year career with 124 technical fouls and a reputation as a gritty competitor, trash-talker, and big-play maker. Barnes’s résumé is almost identical, making the league as a second-round pick, turning himself into a 3-point shooter, staunch defender, and enforcer for 14 years.
The close friends decided to collaborate on a podcast because they had so many stories to tell and finally could reveal them without NBA restrictions. It’s been a compelling mix.
“I think it’s important to create an atmosphere where players have a voice, and that’s what we’ve done with this podcast,” Barnes said. “Our playing style gave us that credibility with guys and letting guys know we’re coming from a real genuine place. We’ve been labeled things before and we knew they weren’t true, so we wanted to give guys an opportunity to speak their truth, let their guard down, and have a candid conversation.”
Neither Jackson nor Barnes considered a podcast before they were approached with the idea. But they each wanted a vehicle where they could be brutally honest about league issues, including marijuana use. So why not co-host a show where they can talk life with the likes of Kevin Garnett, Stephen Curry, Jemele Hill, and the late Kobe Bryant, whose last on-air interview was on “All the Smoke.”
“That’s the main reason when we talked about it, it made sense,” Jackson said. “We’re both coming from the same place as far as our opinions, both honest and both real and we both speak for the people. The chemistry is genuine to everybody else because we are really brothers. It’s not just two people working together and faking it on camera.”
The popularity of the podcast has expanded, and the one thing Barnes and Jackson want to emphasize is that they are approachable, despite their reputation. Jackson was involved and suspended 30 games for his part in 2004 “Malice in the Palace,” while Barnes was infamously known for driving crosstown to physically confront former teammate Derek Fisher, who was dating Barnes’s ex-wife.
But that’s the past. Jackson, 41, and Barnes, 39, said they have softened over the years.
“I’m approachable dawg, that’s one thing that messes people up,” Jackson said. “Perfect example, we’re shooting our show in New York and we’re on the street smoking and people walk up and we’re just pass them our joint and let them smoke with us. We’re definitely approachable like that.
“We give some much respect that when somebody disrespects us, it’s takeover times 10. We’re definitely not that person that people think we are.”
Said Barnes: “I think [fans] knew what we were doing was real, we worked hard for it. That’s why people respect us now in this next chapter. We call media out that hasn’t played and have crazy opinions. We speak for guys that they technically can’t say. We’re at a point where guys are asking to come on our show.
“I think people may be afraid to disrespect us in person, which is a good thing I guess, as far as being approachable in person, I think people realize how cool we are.”
Barnes said his relationship with Jackson started behind marijuana. Use in the league has been prevalent for years but many players have been able to pass the league-mandated drug tests. Now, Jackson and Barnes can be open in their advocacy for players using marijuana to treat pain.
“I took a hunch and thought he smoked cannabis at the time, which wasn’t something that wasn’t really talked about, and I guessed right and we bonded off of that,” Barnes said. “You roll a blunt up and an amazing conversation and friendship and things happen. He’s been one of my best friends since 2007.”
For Barnes and Jackson, their NBA playing days are over. Jackson has played the past three years in the Big3, but said he may pass on this season after playing last summer with a torn patellar tendon.
“I’m cool. I don’t have nothing to prove,” Jackson said. “I told somebody this, it might sound corny but losing Kobe has definitely taken a piece of basketball from me.”
“Absolutely not; 100 percent finished,” he said. “I signed a three-year deal when I retired because I wanted to spend more time with my kids. Once I stopped playing I didn’t have the urge or drive to play again. Now we can relax, talk about real issues, smoke, and just bond with the fans.”
Lakers knew he was special
Last Sunday was the Celtics’ first game against the Lakers and in Los Angeles since the tragic death of Kobe Bryant. A day later, Staples Center was the site of an emotional memorial for Bryant that was attended by several Celtics players.
Also in the audience was all-time great Laker Magic Johnson, who was a mentor to Bryant and called Bryant the “greatest Laker of all time.”
Johnson attended the Celtics-Lakers game and offered his comments on Bryant and his impact on the NBA.
Johnson said he first heard of Bryant after his Lakers draft workout in 1996 when he apparently dominated a matchup with ex-Lakers defensive ace Michael Cooper, who was 40 years old at the time. Bryant was 17.
“Getting a call from [Lakers GM] Jerry [West] and Michael to say, ‘Hey, this 18-year-old kid is the real deal.’ When Jerry said this is the greatest workout we’ve ever seen of anybody,” Johnson said. “Now just think about the Laker history and I was like, ‘OK, wow.’
“When [Bryant] came as a rookie, the commitment to being great, working hard, he was at 3 or 4 in the morning, already did a two-hour workout and then would come here and work out with the Lakers. He was committed to just dominating, and he did it.
“He cared so much about his body, his teammates, the Laker organization, the fanbase, and then after his career, winning the five championships, 81 points, 60 points. Who goes out with 60 points in their last game? It was truly amazing. Every night you might see something that you would never, ever see again.”
Bryant continues to be celebrated for his post-career accomplishments, which included winning an Oscar for his short film “Dear Basketball” and championing women’s basketball. Bryant had made a smooth and impressive transition to businessman and philanthropist.
“I think Kobe after his playing career and Pat Riley told us this. ‘You won’t enjoy what you accomplish until after it was over,’ ” Johnson said. “Kobe was living his best life after basketball. His relationship with his kids, his wife, the work in his community. He was about winning in athletics.
“He worked out with everybody. The list of players that this man worked out with, Kawhi [Leonard], Kyrie Irving, [Jayson] Tatum of the Celtics, on and on and on. He would give his time and his knowledge of the game to all these young players.
“I just love his relationship with his girls and his wife. They would come to the LA Sparks games and this, last but not least: He loved the Laker organization. He loved Jeanie [Buss]. He loved Dr. [Jerry] Buss and it’s going to be hard for the city to move on because and then going downtown to Skid Row, and people who were homeless, he was about that as well.
“It’s hard to say everything that he meant to the world, the NBA, to basketball fans because he’s bigger than life. It will take years to get over his passing.
“I would say this: I’m so proud of this organization. They’ve done a wonderful job of working with fans who were leaving flowers and everybody was going to make sure they said goodbye in their own way.”
Those were days for Lakers, Celtics
Magic Johnson surprisingly participated in a lively discussion about the Celtics-Lakers rivalry with Michael Cooper, Kurt Rambis, Brian Scalabrine, and Cedric Maxwell prior to last Sunday’s game.
Here are some excerpts:
Johnson: “I want to say the Celtics fans that are here, you’re blessed because it starts at the top at ownership and trickles down to everybody else. The adjustments you made to that roster, you guys are going to cause a lot of problems in these playoffs and I wouldn’t be surprised if both of us end up in the Finals.”
Rambis: “Who was that cheerleader who played for you guys? Oh yeah, M.L. Carr.”
Cooper: “Those are some of the things I hated about this team, especially this guy over here, Cedric Maxwell coming up with the slogan that still burns me today, ‘Tragic Magic,’ before Magic finally became the Magic Man to destroy this team. Those were the fun parts about this Celtic-Laker rivalry. To be part of it and go at this team every year and we knew that we had to play our best in the West because we knew the Celtics were going to come out [of the East].”
Maxwell: “We can finally learn to speak to Lakers after all these years. They brought out the best in us, we brought out the best in them. I think the thing I hated more about LA than anything, I hated that one damn song, “I Love LA.” It always got everybody fired up.
“The Lakers, swear to God, think we turned the air conditioning off in our building. We didn’t have no damn air conditioning. It was the Boston Garden, the ratty, dirty place that the Lakers hated.
“If I walked by and there was a Lakers car that was on fire, and I had water, I’d drink the water. I wouldn’t pour it on them. That was the hatred I had then — but now I would actually give you a sip.
“When we beat the Lakers, I thought they were the better team in ’84, but we taught them to be champions. It was a respect thing and we made you guys grow up.”
Rambis: “The rivalry goes back so long that winning in ’85 was so critically important, not only for us as an organization to beat the Celtics, but the outpouring of emotion and satisfaction from Laker fans that went back decades that it finally happened. We got phone calls and letters from fans. That’s typical of Cedric that he takes credit for our success. He probably wants us to give him a ring for helping us win.
“I think we spent the rest of the series trying to get back at the Celtics instead of playing basketball. We grew up, we matured as a ball club, but we also had revenge on our minds. It didn’t matter who we were playing, we were thinking about the Celtics in every single ballgame. We wanted to get back there. Just being able to walk off that floor and doing it in the Boston Garden was just tremendous satisfaction.”
Cooper: “After we finished dislodging our foot from their backside, we continued to grow up and got better. Which enabled us to come back and beat them in 1987 to becoming the first team in 19 years to repeat. We’re here about that the Celtics. I don’t like Cedric. Skal, unfortunately I don’t like you.”
Johnson: “They were physical that year , but we actually gave it to them. We won Game 1. We should have won Game 2, then the steal happened. They were a physical, more mentally tough team at that time. That series actually changed the NBA. That front line, you think about Larry [Bird], [Kevin] McHale, and [Robert] Parish, there will never be another frontline like that. DJ [Dennis Johnson], who both Coop and I played against in the summertime. It was hard because we loved DJ until he went to the Celtics. I would agree, they made us better.”
Maxwell: “The thing I love about the time that we played is we didn’t have no cellphone, so we didn’t have no friends. So I wasn’t going to shake your hand. I didn’t care about your wife, your kids, your babies. I didn’t care. It was just that hatred I had for you and it made us all better. When I see you now, I can actually respect you, I can actually look at you and smile and I don’t have to throw up in the back of my throat.”
Johnson: “We owe you guys a lot. You owe us a lot because we pushed each other to be great and we hated when the Celtics weren’t there. You talk about ’86, they hated that we weren’t there. Right? They were mad. The quotes in the paper were like, ‘Houston? We want to play the Lakers.’ ”
The Warriors fully plan to bring back Stephen Curry in a few days despite the fact they have an inside track for the No. 1 overall pick with the league’s worst record. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said last month in Boston that the Warriors were not going to hold out Curry so they would lose games. They plan to go ahead and play Curry for the final six weeks of the season and then take their chances with the draft lottery. The club has already ruled out Klay Thompson for the season and have been getting Draymond Green occasional rest. The goal for the Warriors is for Curry to find a chemistry with newly acquired Andrew Wiggins, who averaged 19.2 points in his first six games with Golden State . . . Don’t feel bad for former Boston College standout Jerome Robinson for getting traded from the title-contending Clippers to the lottery-headed Wizards. He is getting more of an opportunity to play, playing 17.6 minutes per game since the trade as he tries to cement a reserve role. The Wizards were able to acquire Robinson, who played 75 games over his first one-plus seasons with the Clippers, in the Marcus Morris trade and they consider him a solid prospect and piece for the future. They also added Charlestown native Shabazz Napier to become their backup point guard . . . Unfortunately, there was a casualty to that trade and it was guard Isaiah Thomas, who is still a free agent and available to sign with any club. Word out of Washington is that the Wizards knew pretty quickly that Thomas had lost a few steps. Although he was a 40-plus percent shooter from the 3-point line, he didn’t have the speed to get into the lane as he did during those Celtics days and he was unable to defend consistently. Thomas, who turned 31 on Feb. 7, may have to spend another summer hoping for a chance to catch on with yet another team . . . There are several players who are waiting for another NBA chance, such as Jamal Crawford, J.R. Smith, and Dion Waiters, all of whom would be eligible for a playoff roster. Waiters, 28, is the most intriguing because he is the youngest with the biggest upside. But he has a soiled reputation after a miserable stint with the Heat that included having a panic attack after taking THC gummies on a team flight. But when he’s right, Waiters is an explosive scorer who could help a playoff contender. The Lakers are interested, but they would have to make a roster move to accommodate Waiters.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources were used in this report.