Hang Time: The circus of life

BySam Alipour ESPN logo
Thursday, September 27, 2018

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Oct. 1 Gaming Issue. Subscribe today!

JaVale McGee is shouting about something or other -- I can't quite make out his words. That's because I'm a zillion feet in the sky, praying and sweating and soon to be barfing, I'm sure, all over the trampoline below us. "If we time it so I land when you're jumping," McGee shouts, "you'll go even higher!" This is a fact. It is also a horrible idea, confirmed when the Lakers center's next bounce launches me into space like a jet-propelled doll.

It's a Wednesday early in September, and we're in a warehouse not far from the Lakers' facility and about to get a lesson alongside the adorable and highly talented cast of Le Petite Cirque, a troupe of circus performers that Nathalie Yves Gaulthier -- Le Petite Cirque's owner, director and our coach today -- calls a "Cirque du Soleil for child prodigies."

Our fellow cast members, all ages 8 to 16, include a stilt walker, contortionist, foot archer and twin-sister trapeze artists. But the true star of today's show is the cute-as-all-get-out, 22-month-old Genevieve Grey McGee -- or Gigi, as her dad calls her -- who arrives a bit grumpy, milk-drunk and groggy from a nap. But not to worry. Before long she is on fire, all giggles and smiles and curious, big eyes, bouncing with Papa on the trampoline. Welcome to daddy duty, JaVale McGee-style.

ESPN: Why are we here playing around on circus equipment with Gigi?

I want to foster her athleticism. She's gonna be extremely tall, and already she's very athletic. Also, I want to help her creativity and confidence. That's why I have a habit, especially in public places, of letting her roam, doing whatever she wants as long as she's not walking into a pit of fire. Steph Curry has two girls, and he taught me to instill confidence in her. That's a big thing with little girls, he said. I really took that to heart.

What was the biggest surprise about fatherhood?

You don't really think you're a sensitive person until you have a girl. She fell a while back, hit her head on the ground and just started bawling. Then I started crying harder than her! I was like, "What is going on?!" Like, it just hurt me so bad that my daughter got hurt. It was a crazy feeling.

What's the worst thing about being a dad?

The baby's first six months, when all they do is sleep, poop, eat, sleep, poop, eat. You're just like, "Why are you so boring?" But when they start crawling and smiling and laughing, you're like, "OK, woo!"

You're one of the funniest, wackiest dudes in the league. Some might say a weirdo.


You even have an alter ego, your music producer alias named Pierre. Is Gigi more Pierre or JaVale?

Probably Pierre. She's a very funny child who does whatever she wants, no questions asked.

What's the difference between Pierre and JaVale?

Pierre is weirder than JaVale. He's everything I can't be as an NBA player. He's outgoing, does whatever he wants to do, doesn't care what anybody's saying. He lives in his own world.

You released an album earlier this year as a producer. You gonna try to make some music with Lonzo Ball, your new teammate and rapper?

Definitely. I was in the studio with Zo the other day, cooking up some stuff.

I've been hearing for years from guys around the league that your old teammate Kevin Durant has some skills as an emcee.

Oh yeah, KD can rap for real. He probably has like 100 songs that he doesn't put out. We worked together on some things that he's got on his hard drive. I don't think he's gonna release it because he might get sued by Nike for all the curse words in our songs. [Laughs]

You once said you're the only NBA player with a rattail and a ring --

Now I'm the only NBA player with one rattail and two rings!

Why did the rat-tailed big man with two rings sign with L.A.?

Going back to Oakland was a great opportunity, but coming here with LeBron and knowing how that is gonna set the city on fire, a city that I already live in [in the offseason], I definitely wanted to be a part of that. I signed like a couple hours after LeBron.

What did you learn in Golden State about championship culture that you can instill here?

It's relaxed -- not as tense as you assume it would be. Also, the team is not run by the coaches, it's run by the players. And it's all about defense, by far. Everybody looks at how Steph and Klay score, but that team -- Klay, Draymond, Kevin and those guys all play amazing defense.

The game plan and culture here should look familiar with former Warriors assistant Luke Walton in charge.

Exactly. And that was a big factor for me -- I'm basically going to the same coach. We don't have four All-Stars here, but we have guys who want to run the floor, and I fit right in with that as an athletic big who can run up and down the court like a gazelle.

Pop quiz: What happens when you put Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley and JaVale on a roster?

The Meme Team.

I'd binge-watch a reality show of that locker room.

I would too. It's definitely gonna be hilarious. But all memes aren't bad. There are some positive memes out there.

This roster was designed in part as an answer to Golden State. They wanted guys who can create around LeBron and get under players' skin. You know the Dubs. Will that help?

Definitely. If you look at all the guys we signed, they don't care about anything other than getting wins. It's definitely gonna be a show, but these guys are workers, grinders, and there's gonna be some real fire lit under our asses out there.

Can we expect some insider trading? I feel like you might have been brought here in part to offer insight on the Warriors.

Luke was there too, so he knows the playbook. Me and Luke are definitely corroborating to tell all their secrets. For example, when the starting five sits out, they lose.

That's all you got?

That's all I'm saying.

Angelenos are dying to see which one of these young guys will emerge as our second star. You got Ingram, Zo, Kuzma and Josh Hart coming on strong. What's your read on that young core?

It's truly amazing. I see these guys in the gym every day, and for young guys, they're extremely focused, extremely on the grind. They can score, they can play defense. They're big guys too, long and lanky. They're gonna do very well this year, especially if they can hit shots and play great defense.

You've had a memorable career. You struggled a bit early on, made enough mistakes to be a regular on "Shaqtin' A Fool," but you've grown on and off the court and have the hardware to show for it. When you retire, how do you hope you'll be remembered?

I'm hoping I'm remembered as one of the most prolific shot-blockers. I'm definitely a smarter player than I was, especially defensively. I used to be a wait-at-the-rim big, more of a Rudy Gobert-type of player. Going to Golden State, I really fine-tuned everything on defense, which is important because the NBA is moving away from standard bigs and going toward bigs that can switch and things like that. I feel like people think that I have mental lapses and I'm injury-prone, which isn't true. You just don't know me. You're watching TNT and think it's real.

So in your mind, was Shaq picking on you because you made an irregular amount of mistakes, or was he just being a jerk?

I don't know. I'm sure you can find the same amount of lowlights for Kobe, for Jordan, for anybody who's an All-Star. But you keep showing just one person. And it got to the point where I'd miss a layup, then I'd be on the show. Like, people miss layups. Like, that's not a thing. So it got to a point where it had to end. At one point everybody grows, and they have to speak up and defend themselves as a man.

You did take exception to it, publicly.

Yeah, because it starts affecting how other teams look at you, like, "Oh, he's not a smart player" because someone picked up all of his lowlights and put it in a reel. I definitely didn't feel like it was fair or needed at all. Like, at all.

Two likable big men. I'd like to see you guys patch things up. Will you?

There's not really anything to patch up. I've seen him plenty of times. It's not like we're drawing blood when we see each other. People come to an agreement, an understanding.

Daddy's played for a few teams now. Which team will you push Gigi to root for?

I don't think I'll be that father. If she likes the color purple and wants to cheer for the Sacramento Kings, then that's her team. But I will encourage her to try different sports -- sports that girls make a lot of money in. But she might go be a doctor or something, and that's great too.

For sure. Just don't let her be a Kings fan.

[Laughs] If she wants to be a Kings fan, she can be a Kings fan.

You're the worst dad. Last thing: I became an uncle last week, and I'm in love with my little niece, Kiana, and can't wait to babysit. But Uncle Sam isn't a diaper-changing type of dude. What's your position on uncles changing diapers?

Do it. Yes, baby poops are bad -- worse than adult poops, depending on what the baby eats. [Laughs] It's very surprising, like, "How does this little baby have this much stuff in her?" But do it. It's just six minutes.

Six minutes?! That's a long time. Which dude is this right now, JaVale or Pierre?

This is JaVale.

Let me talk to the other guy.

Pierre says change her diaper.