The Passions Of Mr JJ Redick
The basketball ace on sport, food, fashion and watches
You might say that Mr JJ Redick is a professional enthusiast. As a full-time NBA player entering his 13th year in the league, as a star of the resurgent Philadelphia 76ers, and a part-time podcaster, style aficionado, gourmand and wine guy, Mr Redick is continually seeking out new fuel for his fire.
“Enthusiasm,” he says, lighting up, “and you can look this up – the root of the word is enthous: god within.” To be enthused, then, is to be possessed (by a god, but still), to be overtaken. As if there is no choice in the matter. “So what brings me great joy, what I am enthusiastic about, is ordained in a way,” he says. “It’s who I am. It’s my DNA.”
In 2009, Mr Redick discovered that food was one such thing to bring him great joy. After a childhood of picky eating, despite his mother being a nutritionist, and only discovering avocados at Duke University, where he was the National Player of the Year, twice, Mr Redick and his then girlfriend, now wife, set themselves the glorious task of eating at every restaurant on the San Pellegrino “best of” list. On this foodie pilgrimage, his come-to-Jesus moment was a dinner at The French Laundry. It was a meal so good as to course-correct his life trajectory, to begin a fervent and ongoing fascination with chefs (some of whom appear on his podcast, when he isn’t using his platform to solve crimes), to launch a new enthusiasm.
In a way, it makes sense that The French Laundry and its chef, Mr Thomas Keller, should have provided the gateway. Mr Keller is one of the more exacting chefs in the business, precise to the point of operose in his preparations. And preparations are to Mr Redick as metal wire was to Mr Tesla: the conductor for all his energies. In an article about his regimen earlier this year, The New York Times called Mr Redick “perhaps the most meticulous man in the NBA”. He eats, he trains, he even relaxes with obsessive rigour.
“I can’t be halfway,” he says. “My life is very intentional. I don’t just do things. [I act as if] I have some level of control, and this is sort of where I get in trouble. I’m constantly trying to guard against chaos, if that makes sense. Some of that is good. Some of that means that you’re 34, at the end of your career and you’re still trying to get better.”
The rest of it, he leaves for us to infer, is bad, agonising, fruitless, trying to hold the world up, Atlas-style, when you could just be chilling. “There’s a paranoia to that,” he says.
There is, however, also quite a lot of fruit. For example, last year, at 33 years of age, in his first year with Philly, Mr Redick put up a career-best 17 points per game and earned $23million, leading the 76ers to their first play-off berth in six years. Not that the most meticulous man in the NBA is resting on his laurels. “The minute you’re complacent, you’re gone,” he says. “So, part of this way of thinking is survival.” Part of it may just be how he is wired. Like the way he can’t just work out once or twice or three times a week in the off season. He has to either take two months off, not even touching a basketball, or go two-a-day throughout and risk burning out by the time pre-season rolls around.
He also really likes numbers, numbers such as the 342 shots he has to make at every off-season practice. He likes to contemplate statistics, arcana. “There are very few jobs where you can measure progress, measure improvement,” he says. “I think a lot of people measure that by their pay cheque, right? But, let’s just be honest, that could be a fallacy. I feel like I’m in a really unique position where I can measure that through numbers. But I don’t want to turn athletes into robots either, because I feel like I can measure that in ‘feel’, as well, by how I feel, how I move, by the shots I’m able to make. Like, eight years ago I wouldn’t even take those shots.”
Off the court, too, Mr Redick studies his moves, watches himself, what he responds well to, what inspires him. “There’s a thoughtfulness and intentionality to things that I’m into,” he says. “It’s not about having the money to go buy a watch, but about the process of discovering what you want in a watch. Or why it is that you like certain wines over other wines, and then who the best producers of those wines are. The nuances to it, the information that you process, it’s fun. It’s exciting.”
Appreciating that nuance and acquiring the information, never mind processing it, takes some time. As Mr Redick says, his passions, for wine, food, clothes and watches, roaring bonfires though they may be now, began more like pilot lights, only slowly gaining in heat, stature. “There are very few things that I’m into suddenly like that,” he says. “The watch thing took five years between the time when I bought my first watch and really got into watches.” The “watch thing”, when it was fully formed, was a world-class knowledge to go along with a world-class collection – or several collections, as he worked his way through his favourite pieces, buying and selling, selling and buying over the years. By that time, though, it was the possessions themselves, no god or animating spirit, that were possessing Mr Redick, he says. And so he purged them all, to turn his enthusiasms, and the scholarly devotion to their mastery, elsewhere. Towards, say, clothes.
“It’s not about having the money to go buy a watch, but about the process of discovering what you want in a watch”
The style equivalent of Mr Redick’s French Laundry moment happened the first time he tried on a suit by Tom Ford. “I was just like, this feels different, looks different,” he says. “There’s something to this. I think that was the summer of 2012 when we rented in SoHo. And I remember thinking to myself, why not just have a few things that are just really nice? I don’t need 15 polos. Why don’t I just have, like, two or three really nice polos? And then in 2015, the bomber jacket thing happened and that was another slippery slope into obsession. And then you have a kid and they spit up on you, they rub their pizza hands on you and you’re just like, all right, I’m not going worry about that.”
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Nowadays, with the NBA pre-game looking more like a runway at fashion week and players such as Mr Russell Westbrook creating capsule fashion collections, Mr Redick says he knows what he’s about wardrobe wise. “It’s not that I want a uniform, but I want to be able to mix and match a few really nice pieces,” he says. As far as the stunt dressing goes, that “isn’t me”. “That’s not my thing, but these guys know, when it comes to bomber jackets, I’m going to bring heat.”
Lest his Burberry blouson and his Brunello Cucinelli fetish begin to look like distraction, like superfluous strings on a guitar, Mr Redick says, “The whole basis of my life is basketball. I’d like to say I’m a father and a husband first, but the structure of my life is the NBA season. Before that, it was the college season and, before that, the high school and Amateur Athletic Union season. Everything is structured around that. And with these other things, there is a deep-seated inclination to separate myself from basketball. When I was a sophomore in college, I was frustrated, I wasn’t enjoying Duke. So I called my sisters and told them I was going to quit. I said, ‘I just want to be a normal kid. I just want to go to class. I would love to be in a frat. I’d love to write poetry. I want to pursue all these other things.’ They drove over from Raleigh and they were like, ‘You’re crazy.’ And obviously convinced me not to quit. Thank God they did.”
In his junior year, Mr Redick played like a man possessed, and was named National Player of the Year for the first time. Then avocados, The French Laundry, Tom Ford and Rolex... And still Mr Redick is expanding. He is still, demonstrably, improving in every arena of his life. “It’s been in me from the beginning,” he says. “I am obsessed with other things in the same way I’m obsessed with basketball. I think that gives me a healthy balance to my life.”