On and off the bench: 'THE KID' HAS CHEMISTRY
It's great to have character in an NBA team's locker room. It's not bad — for the media, at least — to have a character or two on the premises.
Evan Turner qualifies for both.
The 30-year-old reserve swing man for the Trail Blazers is known as "E.T." around these parts, which reflects a personality that occasionally borders on extraterrestial as much as his initials.
"I like to have fun, and I like the people around me to have fun," says Turner, who is in his third season in Portland.
Turner has fun on social media, in interviews, in the world of fashion and art and, most of all, while playing the game of basketball. But he says an NBA career is not going to be the end-all, be-all for Evan Turner the human being.
"Playing basketball is a blessing, and I love it with a passion," Turner says. "But most people believe when you retire (as a player), it's the end. I think I'm going to keep going on and being greater in different aspects. All the trials and tribulations have helped prepare me for something bigger in life."
"There will always be haters, that's just the way it is. Hating dudes marry hating women and have hating-ass kids."
Turner has come a long way from the poor kid who grew up on the west side of Chicago, youngest of three boys, raised primarily in a single-family household by his mother, Iris James. Turner was a sickly youngster ("I was allergic to everything") with a speech impediment and a learning disability. Basketball was his refuge, but school came first.
"My mom always preached the value of education," Turner says. "She would say, 'You're going to college.' When I would struggle with school, she'd say, 'Well, you'd better figure it out.'"
Turner went to elementary school with eventual NBA player Iman Shumpert and grew up in the same high school district (Farragut) as Kevin Garnett, but his mother used family members' addresses to get her sons into better schools than in the neighborhood.
"I was bused to the suburbs from late elementary school," Turner says. "I said, 'Mom, we have to worry about the school district finding out.' She said, 'The books are way different, you learn a lot more, plus the influences there are going to be more healthy for your outcome than in the inner city.'"
Turner says he didn't fully appreciate the influence his mother had on him until he got older.
"I've been blessed to have her in my life, to have a mom who cares so much about me," he says. "She has always (looked at the) bigger picture. I've never been arrested. I've never been in jail. I was spoiled with love."
Turner says his mother taught him an important lesson when he was attending a science fair at age 11.
"I was asked a question, and I guess I didn't look them in the eye," he says. "My mom grabbed me by the shirt and said, 'Do you want to be a man?' I learned to shake with a firm hand and look people in the eye."
Though his father, James Turner, was only on the periphery in Evan's life, both sets of grandparents lived nearby and were involved.
"I was fortunate enough to have a circle of influence where they kept me accountable and set the right standards for me, and I stayed out of trouble," Turner says. His mother was the biggest motivator: "She always said hard work and perseverance reap great rewards."
Turner, who grew to 6-6 as a high school senior, was a star at St. Joseph's, a Catholic school.
"I'm Christian," he says. "I'm a believer. I'm a follower (of God). I was taught that was the foundation of everything. As I've gotten older, I've comprehended something bigger. I've tried to pick up my own path and my spiritual connection with Him."
"I hate when stuff doesn't make sense, like Notre Dame being in the Atlantic Coast Conference and they're in Indiana."
Though Turner and his father weren't close, he helped steer Evan to Ohio State. He lived in Ohio, and every summer from about age 10 to 15, Evan attended summer basketball camps in Columbus.
Turner blossomed as a player at Ohio State, winning the John Wooden and Naismith awards as college basketball's best player as a junior despite missing a month of action after breaking two vertabrae on a nasty fall after a dunk.
"I remember thinking, all this work I put in — what does it all mean?" Turner says. "I was lucky enough to have the right support system — and God — behind me to allow me to not be paralyzed and carry on."
Turner gets emotional thinking about it.
"To get those awards was ... surreal," he says. "One thing I've always thought about was, when I have kids, that will be dope to show them."
Turner is considered one of Ohio State's all-time greats. His No. 21 jersey was retired in a ceremony in 2016, and a hallway in the school's sports training center is named in his honor.
"That makes you forever young," he says with a grin.
The second pick in the 2010 NBA draft by Philadelphia, Turner has had his ups and downs through a nine-year career, the last three in Portland. In 2016, he signed a four-year, $70-million contract that has been widely viewed as a bad deal for the Blazers, who have used him primarily off the bench.
"The lessons I've learned have shaped me into who I am today," he says. "I've had to sharpen my blades in other areas where you figure it out in regards to patience and perseverance through tough times.
"I went from being a kid with little, to having my life on a big stage and sometimes getting flak that I felt was undeserved. Now I'm more accepting and can take it all in stride and come back with a smile on my face and have the grit to keep going."
"People keep talking about my satchel, aka my man purse, but I use it out of necessity lol. My skinny jeans don't really fit anything in them."
Turner offers musings on social media (he's @thekidET on Twitter, @evanturner on Instagram) on a variety of topics.
"A lot of people take social media so seriously," he says. "I talk about what I want to talk about, post what I want to post, because I can. At one point when I was younger, I worried about my image or how I would be perceived by people. But image isn't really who you are. There's a beauty in complexity.
"At some moments, I'll tweet biblical verses. At other moments, I can tweet mantras. Some moments, I just tweet some tomfoolery and joke around. I just take it for what it's worth. I put out whatever feels right at that moment."
Turner provides commentary on a few recent tweets:
"Just took a big L in monopoly. I'm fighting the urge to go over to the table and flip the board. It may seem childish but I was emotionally involved."
Explanation: "I take that stuff serious ... everybody walks away from the table pissed if they don't win, you know? When you compete, you want to do a good job. What do they say — sports and games are for kids, but adults ruin it?"
"Nico Mannion got 25 on 10 shots. The gingers of the world have found their leader. He's DIFFERENT."
Explanation: Mannion, a point guard from Italy who has signed with the University of Arizona, played in the Nike Hoop Summit. "When I was in second grade, there was a redheaded kid, I was the only black kid in the class. He was a ginger. Everybody was so mean to him, I was like, damn, he's getting treated worse than the black kid."
"IExplanation: "The '7s' in the world need a leader. I'm like, man, I could have gotten that, if that's the case. We're about the same level in regards to looks."
Turner is a favorite of media who, when looking for a quote, often seek out Turner to find one.
"I'm just gonna start lobbying for a spot in the rafters now," Turner said after notching back-to-back triple-doubles this season.
Asked for a preference for a first-round playoff opponent, Turner named the Los Angeles Clippers.
"Just for selfish reasons," he explained. "Nice weather; easy flight; nice weather. Everybody wants a little sun. Being in L.A., I start switching over from cotton to silk. Get my sexy on. I got some sunglasses I want to wear. Mostly for fashion reasons."
"Even a broken clock is right two times a day."
Turner is one of the more stylish dressers among the Portland players, and has fun with it. Teammate Anfernee Simons says he was sometimes asked by Turner on road trips this season to carry a shopping bag for him as part of his rookie duties.
Simons and fellow rookie Gary Trent Jr., Turner says, "get a lot of perks from (the team's veterans), too. We're actually pretty nice to them. They do a good job of not taking things personal."
Turner's attention to fashion, he says, is due in part to the walk-up shots taken by photographers (including team photo chief Bruce Ely) as they enter an arena before games.
"When we go outside, Bruce is always there," Turner says. "I can't be bagged up. That would be uncomfortable.
"One thing about clothing and how you dress, as I get older, everything is about expression and being natural. Back in the day, I used to always wear black and gray because I wanted to just blend in, not be out of the ordinary. But I wasn't living in that sense. Clothes are much more than just trying to be cool or popular to me. It's an expression of myself, it's art, and I like to get jiggy."
Two years ago, Turner and some friends opened a clothing outlet on the Ohio State campus called "Madison USA."
"We started in urban streetwear ... we're into that type of stuff," Turner says. "I'm into fashion, but I want to continue to be in the community, to be able to give back, to do something in regards to sportswear."
Turner is giving back to young basketball players with his involvement in the annual Evan Turner Prospects Showcase in Chicago. It's a late opportunity, held in the spring, for college coaches to look at players who had previously not been awarded a scholarship. Two weeks ago, $2.2 million in scholarships were given to 220 high school seniors and 60 junior-college sophomores from throughout Illinois.
Turner was not on hand — he was busy playing ball with the Blazers — but was involved with the organization of the event, and funded it with the help of donations. His mother delivered a motivational talk to the youth.
"She relays info that education is the most important thing you can have, above and beyond basketball," Turner says. "Our whole staff does a lot of work. We started with 50 kids the first year and have grown ever since."
Tournament director Daniel Poneman hopes to expand the event to other cities throughout the country.
"We need people to follow Evan's lead," Poneman says. "Evan is a special person. It took a special type of person who has that foresight to want to do this."
"I am here to bring more love into the world."
Turner isn't sure what he'd like to do after retiring as a player, but he has some ideas.
"Maybe coaching or the front office," he says.
"I get hit every now and then that my voice is annoying, but an old white lady told me one time that I had the sexiest voice since Barry White," he says. "So I might cross over. Damn, it's gotta be true.
"One thing I've always been into, I want to write scripts for movies or TV shows or documentaries. I'm reading a book called 'Tigerland,' about this high school in Columbus. The story takes place in the '60s during the civil rights movement. That would be a dope story to tell."
Turner feels as if he has fit in well in Portland.
"I dig the city, man," he says. "I'm at the age where I can appreciate the simplicity of things, the green, the scenery. I wake up and see the mountains. ... Even the couple of times when it's snowed, I've enjoyed the beauty.
"When I was a kid, I never thought I'd be living in Oregon. That was as far as the moon to me. I like living here. I enjoy what it has to offer — the wineries, the 'Portland Weird' type thing and the cultural life."
It boggles Turner's mind, sort of, that he is the oldest player on the Blazers roster.
"It's crazy," he says. "Shows you how much the game has changed. When I was 21, you had 37-year-olds telling war stories in the locker rooms. They kept everything calm and chill, but whatever they said went. Now I talk to Gary Trent, he thinks I'm old."
Something that truly boggles Turner's mind: He already has made more than $100 million in salary in the NBA. He can think of two major reasons.
"For one, it's God," he says. "For two, it's the result of somebody who doesn't quit."
He talks about his mother requiring brain surgery, losing her job and having to put three boys through high school.
"I had the right type of role model, who let me know if I worked hard, it would work out," he says.
He resents critics who said he was overpaid with his last contract. He believes he deserves it.
"Sometimes when I hear people talk bad about (pro) athletes — they can say whatever they want, but it's a 'F-you' thing," he says. "We're the American dream. We didn't give up. We didn't quit. Never made excuses.
"Tupac talked about 'the rose that grew from concrete.' Everybody wants to look at the thorns. But myself and some of my peers who sacrificed a lot of our childhood and faced adversity and challenges, we kept chasing the dream."
Turner is rolling now.
"Every now and then you get booed or have somebody say something about you, but who … are you?" he says. "I never stole anything, I never took anything from anybody, and before I hit 30, I've made $100 million in a society where I was supposed to be a statistic, growing up in a neighborhood where gang-bangers were selling drugs and doing this thing and another.
"I kept my head down and kept working. I don't think I'm better than anybody, but I worked hard for everything I've got. The whole conversation about my contract, well, I've earned everything I've got."
Turner has a little more to say.
"During the times I was down, with the support of my family and my team and the people close to me, I made it through, stuck it out, worked hard," he says. "When people have said tons of things about me, I've never bitched. It's like, 'All right, bro', if you want to look at me this way, OK. But look at the whole picture.' And people don't."
Interview over, Turner relaxes. He beckons the humor card a final time.
"You're going to win an Emmy for this," he says. "Or a Pulitzer."
"God doesn't give us all the details, because he trusts us."