JaVale McGee was a Golden State Warrior six months ago. Six months later, he’s their rival, aiming to end the reign of the back-to-back NBA champs. McGee’s one of a handful of new players on the newlook Los Angeles Lakers roster that now includes LeBron James, and he believes it’s time for the Warriors’ era of dominance to end at the hands of Los Angeles.
“The only thing that can stop us is us,” McGee says. “We just have to make sure we stay focused through the season. This is the season to do it.”
After two titles with the Warriors, McGee signed with the Lakers this summer. Despite the constant joking and Shaqtin’ A Fool appearances, McGee has a carved out a nice career and solidified himself as a respectable big man in the Association. Through six games in LA, he’s averaging an eye-opening 15.8 points per game to go along with 6.7 rebounds per game.
McGee doesn’t buy into any negative energy and, in fact, has deflected it into making an impact globally. McGee started a non-profit organization called Juglife, a foundation aimed to help everyone understand how critical water is to life and a active lifestyle. He and his organization traveled to Uganda this summer to focus on a major issue, providing clean, safe drinking water to schools.
“Personally, I’ve always been a philanthropist, “ McGee says. “I’ve always given away turkeys and did gift giveaways. When the opportunity provided itself for me to help people in another country with the bare necessities, which is water, I was eager to help.”
McGee expressed that he has big plans to take his organization to the next level. We talked to McGee about his philanthropy, playing with LeBron, shooting threes, a possible matchup with Golden State in the playoffs, and more.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
What pushed you to start Juglife?
We started in 2013. I would drink a lot of water and noticed the benefits on and off the court. My body felt better and, at the end of that, I wanted to let people know to drink more water because of it. A year later, we started making hats and hashtagging #juglife just for fun. Six months after that, my business partner got an opportunity for us to build water wells in Uganda. We said let’s just do it and if we only do one, at least we tried. We did that and it was just downhill from there. We decided to make it a charity. We’ve been building water wells from there on out.
Being from Flint, Michigan, did that inspire you in any way?
It definitely inspired me because of the water crisis out there. I wish I could do more in Flint but they estimated the amount that it would cost to fix Flint and it would be a little over $1 billion and I’m definitely not a billionaire. It’s extremely heartbreaking the way the city is being treated in my opinion
Kyle Kuzma is from Flint, do you plan on getting him involved as well?
Not only Kuz, but I plan on getting a lot of people in on Juglife. In the next run to Africa, we plan on bringing groups of people rather than just going by ourselves. We’re getting so many great responses from people seeing the work that we’re doing out there and everyone wants to take that humble experience in. I’ve been getting DMs and calls from all of my celebrity friends like “Yo we got to go next.”
What was that experience like in Africa and putting a smile on all those kids faces?
It was extremely humbling. Just thinking about the circumstances that they’re going through and these kids are still happy. The thing that really surprised me was their focus on education and how much Americans don’t take it as serious. We were going around looking at schools and we went to one school where they couldn’t afford more than one teacher but they had like three classrooms so we went to the classroom that didn’t have a teacher. These kids weren’t acting up or off the tables, they were studying actually trying to learn and these kids were like 7 or 8 years old.
Do you plan on going anywhere else in Africa?
Right now, we’re focused on Uganda because it’s such a large country that needs help. Eventually, we plan on going to other countries and continents?
Congrats on being a Laker, What made you choose LA?
It’s kind of crazy question. It’s LA. It’s a beautiful city. It’s amazing for exposure for basketball and business. In my career now, I’m really business-minded and I felt like it would be great for my career and brand. Also it’s one of the greatest organizations in NBA history. Also, one of the greatest players was coming so there were so many facets to it that made me feel like I made the right decision.
Speaking of LeBron, you played with the Warriors for the past couple years and have ended LeBron’s season twice. Now, you’re teaming up with. What’s that like being on his side?
It’s humbling because at the end of my career I’ll be able to say that I played with the greatest players in the league in my time and won championships with them. To be able to say that alone, is amazing. LeBron is a great player, great friend, and a great teammate all-around so it’s cool you get to see behind the scenes and not just what the media wants to portray.
"If they need ME to shoot the three, I’ll shoot the three. If they need me to run the floor and block shots, I’ll do that also. I guess I’m a utility player where I can do it all."
We saw your preseason 3-pointer, looking like another splash brother, do you plan on shooting more threes this season?
Oh yeah, for sure, I definitely plan on it. My main goal is to help the team as much as possible anyway I can. If they need me to shoot the three, I’ll shoot the three. If they need me to run the floor and block shots, I’ll do that also. I guess I’m a utility player where I can do it all.
Now you’re a two-time NBA champion. You’ve obviously been the brunt of a lot of jokes in your career. How does it feel to silence the critics?
I never been a person to be like “I told you so” just because I’m not doing it for them or anybody else. I’m doing this for myself, the betterment of my family, and making sure that everyone in my family is straight. If anything, I just feel good being able to provide for m family and bring opportunity my way.
You recently told the media that the young guys on your team like Kuzma, Ingram, Hart, and Ball are experienced already and the vets aren’t showing them the ropes. With that being said, what is the ceiling of the 2018-19 Lakers team?
I don’t feel like there is a ceiling. The ceiling is the championship. The only thing that can stop us is us. As long as we’re focused and all on the same page, I don’t see a team stopping us or at least preventing us from getting to the Finals except, of course, the Warriors. We just have to make sure we stay focused through the season. Our mistake margin is a lot smaller than everybody else because we don’t have players on three-year contracts where we have chances to do it again next year. This is the season to do it.
You mentioned the Warriors, how bad would you want to meet them in the playoffs?
That would be amazing. If the Lakers and Warriors meet in the playoffs, I feel like it would the highest rated playoff series ever.
Finally your brother, Nick Young, is still a free agent and has voiced his opinions publicly about helping this Lakers squad. Would you want him in purple and gold this season?
If he gets signed, that would be great so, definitely, yeah.