In the waning moments of a tied BIG3 matchup against the Killer 3s, Trilogy captain Jason Terry rises purposefully to greet his teammates.
One play earlier, David Hawkins attempted to score the final bucket but lost his balance and turned the ball over. Coach Kenyon Martin takes a timeout to regroup and plan for the final moments of the game. When the whistle blows, Terry pulls Hawkins aside, knowing exactly what to say.
Terry hasn’t entered the game tonight, but he’s shed his warmups and a towel rests around his neck. His black, red and white jersey reads “The Jet” on the back and he wears the signature headband he sported all throughout his 19-year NBA career.
Terry’s not going to be the hero today. He’s not going to score the game-winning bucket or dish out a crucial assist. He hasn’t played a single minute in this game. But he will steady Hawkins and prepare him for this decisive moment.
“Remember what we were doing great that got us to where we [are],” Terry says. “Calm down, go back out there, get a stop and then do what we do well on the offensive end.”
Terry reminds Hawkins exactly what he needs to do — find a high-percentage shot opportunity and take it. Hawkins has already scored 19 points in the game. As play resumes, Terry puts his arms up and yells to the crowd.
Trilogy forces a missed shot and the ball finds its way back to Hawkins, who does exactly what Terry instructed. With a defender draped on him, Hawkins drives, steps back and pump fakes. He catches the defender in the air and draws a shooting foul. Seconds later, Hawkins sinks the free throw (worth two points in BIG3) and Trilogy wins.
“[Terry’s] excellent,” Martin said. “He’s a vet. He’s been around. He’s a champion. He’s seeing things out there that he can intertwine with the guys and I think he did an excellent job of that today.”
Being vocal and coaching up his teammates is not unusual behavior for Terry. As a point guard, he’s been a natural extension of the coach all through his 19 years in the NBA. And as the 41-year-old transitions into the next chapter of his basketball story, his vast experience has primed him to succeed in his next endeavor — coaching.
Entering the world of coaching was no snap decision for Terry. He’s a basketball junkie. A lifer. An ambassador to the game. For the past 12 years, he’s coached his own Dallas-based girls AAU team nicknamed the “Lady Jets.” According to Shlomo Sprung of Awful Announcing, Terry reflected on his post-retirement plans by saying, “there’s no other outside interest for me than the game of basketball.”
Growing up in Seattle, Washington, Terry’s interest in the strategic and motivational sides of the game blossomed decades before he had any formal interest in becoming a coach. He recalls always being “enamored” with the X’s and O’s and the “ability to get a group of individuals to fight collectively for a common goal.”
“This is just my passion,” Terry said. “It’s something that has been my purpose primarily since I started playing basketball in the sixth grade.”
When the Atlanta Hawks drafted Terry 10th overall in 1999, he remembers coming into the league “fresh” and enthusiastic about playing in the NBA. His college resume may have featured a national championship and an All-American nod, but he didn’t know how to play point guard at basketball’s highest level. It wasn’t until he was traded to Dallas five years later that he began to understand his position under the tutelage of Avery Johnson.
Johnson, an assistant at the time, took Terry as his protege and imparted important lessons such as being early, leading by example and acting as a professional. As Johnson progressed to head coach in 2005, he and Terry became inseparable, spending hours and hours together discussing strategy and game planning.
“It was a whole transformation of my game,” Terry said.
After nearly a decade in Dallas, Terry joined the Boston Celtics in free agency for the 2012-13 season, coached by Doc Rivers at the time. A former point guard himself, Rivers recognized Terry’s interest in coaching and fostered it. Terry recalls Rivers assigning him “reading materials” — things like coaching books from John Wooden and Bill Belichick.
A year later, Terry arrived in Brooklyn by way of a trade where he overlapped with former NBA All-Star Joe Johnson. As Terry developed as a player, he grew more confident as a leader, something Johnson remembers from their time together as Nets.
“He was just a great vocal guy,” Johnson said. “Whether it was addressing us as a group or just pulling me aside and giving me little tips. Those things go a long way.”
Johnson recalls Terry’s influence as subtle reminders to be more aggressive. Reggie Evans, also a Brooklyn Net in 2013, remembers just how strong of a presence Terry had on the roster. Evans says Terry was coaching back then, always being proactive and reminding guys where to be on the floor.
“He was a coach inside of [Jason] Kidd, which helped us out a lot,” Johnson said.
But of all the coaches impacting Terry, Jason Kidd became the most pivotal.
Terry and Kidd formed a powerful relationship as teammates in Dallas, where they both contributed to the Mavericks’ 2011 championship run. However, Brooklyn cut the reunion short after dealing Terry to the Kings prior to the 2014 trade deadline. Two years later, an opportunity to join the Milwaukee Bucks in free agency offered not just the chance to play on a competitive team, but dive into coaching under Kidd.
Kidd mentored Terry in every aspect, showing him how to prepare the team, plan practices, plan for games and how to approach the development of young NBA stars. While speaking with Shlomo Sprung of Awful Announcing, Terry went as far to say he “acted like a player-coach with the team.”
To this day, Terry and Kidd remain close and Kidd continues to serve as his mentor. According to Terry, the pair talks daily.
“We played together and achieved an amazing goal together, winning an NBA Championship,” Terry said. “So that relationship is in that bond. It’s like a brotherhood.”
Point guards have often made good head coaches. Larry Brown, Red Holzman and Lenny Wilkens had long careers and Steve Kerr and Doc Rivers are two of today’s best. But some legendary players – such as Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson and Bob Cousy – had mixed results leading teams. Positional pedigree does not guarantee coaching success.
A successful coach, Terry says, is one that can inspire, encourage, educate and enlighten his players. And while wins and losses are one way to measure success, he says getting his players to become better versions of themselves is what resonates the most with him.
“It’s not coaching basketball, you’re coaching people,” Terry said. “And when you take that approach, I think you make your impact a lasting one.”
Although he’s been preparing for his entire career, real opportunities for Terry to start coaching have only arisen in the past few years. In 2016, ESPN’s Calvin Watkins reported UAB approached Terry about filling their then-vacant head-coaching position. Earlier this year, Terry told Awful Announcing he’s had several Division I opportunities and interviewed for head coach of the College Park Skyhawks, the Atlanta Hawks’ G-League affiliate
“Why not put that brain to use?” Evans said. “If I had the opportunity to hire him, hell yeah [I’m going to] hire him.”
For now, Terry continues to enjoy a summer of competing against familiar NBA foes in BIG3. Playing in the 3-on-3 league may not directly impact his job search but does afford him a chance to be the consummate teammate and extension of the coach he’s been throughout his NBA career.
“I’m aspiring for whatever is the best fit [or] opportunity,” Terry said. “Obviously, I’d love to be a head coach at some point.”