Superstar Memphis Grizzlies player Ja Morant recently seemed to be making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Things escalated when he was suspended by the National Basketball Association for eight games without pay after video footage surfaced on Instagram Live of Morant in a strip club with a gun.
“Ja’s conduct was irresponsible, reckless and potentially very dangerous,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “It also has serious consequences given his enormous following and influence, particularly among young fans who look up to him. He has expressed sincere contrition and remorse for his behavior. Ja has also made it clear to me that he has learned from this incident and that he understands his obligations and responsibility to the Memphis Grizzlies and the broader NBA community extend well beyond his play on the court.”
Many people weighed in with their opinions about Morant’s recent decisions and whether they believed he’d forfeit his position as one of the most famous faces of the league.
Now, the 23-year-old point guard is speaking for himself. Morant opened up about his last few weeks in a recent interview with NBA Hall-Of-Famer Jalen Rose on ESPN. Here are seven takeaways from the Ja Morant interview.
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Rose asked Morant what the last week-and-a-half had been like for him and he said he felt better than he had in years.
“I feel mentally good [in a way] that I haven’t been in many years since I really got drafted to the league,” Morant answered. “I’m in a space where I’m very comfortable. I took those days to be able to learn how to pretty much be there for myself and learn different ways to manage stress in a positive way.”
According to Morant, his suspension has helped him realize he doesn’t have to keep his feelings bottled up.
“I learned that I can open up and I can express my feelings and that it’s okay to be able to express your feelings,” Morant said, noting he is seeing a therapist, doing reiki treatments, anxiety breathing exercises and other things to manage his stress.
He added he wanted to “better myself and become a more healthy Ja” because he’s been neglecting his mental health for so long. “I felt like I didn’t pay enough attention to that when it got rough and I pretty much just let it all build up,” Morant said.
Ja Morant also said his daughter inspired him to seek help after making what he deemed a “terrible mistake” by brandishing the gun.
“I put myself in a bad position, and also, it’s my daughter. It’s time where she’ll even tell me she’s had a bad day and I felt like if she can tell me that, I can be able to go talk to somebody as well,” Morant said.
Rose asked Ja Morant if it had been burdensome, as someone responsible for so many other people, to prune his circle. He replied that it has.
“It definitely has been tough because, you know, I’m big on loyalty, but like I said, I have to be there for myself. I have to put myself in [a] good position,” Morant answered. “So, I have to go find out who’s really for me and who’s going to help me be in good positions at all times.”
Morant said his desire to “be free” caused him to make “bad decisions” to “escape” from the things that have been plaguing him. He said he apologized to everyone, including his family, team and the league.
However, he said the way he is being portrayed in the media is not who he is.
“I’m a totally different person than what’s being shown in the media,” Morant said. “I took that time away so everbody can see who Ja really is and what he’s about. … The gun wasn’t mine. It’s not who I am. I don’t condone it or any kind of violence.”
Morant added that he was working to “change this narrative” that has been circulating about him.
“[A] majority of the things that’s happened in the past, obviously, I kind of put myself into by even being there,” Morant said. “But all the incidents you’ve seen recently, most of them, it’s a lie; I can’t speak too much on those situations because all of them are sealed; and I really can’t wait to be able to finally tell the truth.”
“But what I can say is, like I said before, none of those are my character,” Morant continued. “I’m a big family guy. I always care for my family, so it was just me checking on my family’s safety. Once my family was safe, I left the scene.”
When asked by Rose if he was proud of his status as a role model, Morant said yes.
“I realize I have a lot of kids who look up to me, even probably some adults [and] a lot of fans, and I realize my past mistakes isn’t being a good role model,” Morant said. “Now it’s changing that. Finding ways to … be better, be more responsible and make better decisions.”
He also said he regrets the pain he caused his parents and family.
“It’s been tough and I feel like although it’s been tough on them, it’s been even tougher on me because I know they raised me the right way,” Morant said. “For me to be in the news for the wrong reasons, I know it hurt them to the core and it hurt me even more because I feel like I let them down.”
Though Morant admitted it’s been tough not playing the game he loves, he said it was vital for him to prioritize himself. He said the entire Grizzlies organization has been extremely supportive.
“Obviously, I wish I was out there on the floor with them each and every night we go to battle, but I had to be there for myself,” Morant said.
Rose highlighted that many people experience stress despite their success and talent. He asked Morant what advice he’d give to others dealing with stress and anxiety.
“Talk to somebody. You don’t have to be afraid and it doesn’t make you soft. It doesn’t make you weak to express your feelings to somebody,” Morant said. “That’s what I had to learn. I always was the type to keep everything in and bottle it up. [I was] not comfortable talking to somebody about what’s going on in my life.”
“As a pro, some people don’t realize that it’s a lot on our plate,” Morant continued. “I’m 23. I’m starting at a young age; came in young. I turned into a provider; I turned into a father, pretty much the breadwinner of my family. So it’s a lot on my plate outside of day-to-day life … so I had to learn that. I encourage anybody who’s going through what I’m going through to go talk to somebody.”
Being away from the basketball court has helped Morant not take anything for granted. He said he now understands what’s at stake.
“In the past, we didn’t know what was at stake … I realize that now. I realize what I have to lose and for us as a group, what we have to lose,” Morant said, adding he and his teammates would be “holding each other accountable” moving forward.
“I just can’t wait to be back to be out there with them and go to battle with them,” Morant said about his team. “We know what our ultimate goal is, and that’s to win a championship.”