Back in 2001, Luke Walton was part of a loaded Arizona Wildcats team, featuring starters Richard Jefferson and Gilbert Arenas, that reached the finals of the NCAA tournament. On the latest episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, the former Warriors assistant and current Lakers head coach talks about how Jefferson has continued to thrive in the NBA and discusses the legend of Agent Zero.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Bill Simmons: Explain how Richard Jefferson is still a rotation guy on a really good team to me.
Luke Walton: You want to know the truth?
Simmons: Just fucking explain this to me. It’s amazing.
Walton: You want to know the truth? He moved to the South Bay here in Hermosa Beach. So, he was on his way out.
Simmons: I should mention, he’s one of your buddies.
Walton: Yeah, he’s one of my best friends.
Simmons: He was out. He wasn’t on his way out, he was out. He was thrown in with a first-round pick to get him off a team. He was done.
Walton: His lifestyle changed when he moved to Hermosa Beach and this is how. His body was breaking down a little bit, and he moved here, bought a house, started playing beach volleyball with us every day in the summertime. He’s in the sand, he’s jumping a thousand times a day just hitting balls.
Simmons: Oh wow, so his legs are good.
Walton: Without even knowing it, everything’s getting stronger again. In the summertime, we play every day. He’s getting that workout in. Then, in the South Bay, everyone does yoga too. It’s all the California things that we get a bad rep for, but they’re actually good for you.
Simmons: Hey, man.
Walton: He starts doing yoga so much, and he falls in love with yoga. He opens his own yoga studio out here.
Walton: Now, for the past four years, every offseason, he plays beach volleyball and does yoga five days a week.
Simmons: And that’s how he’s dunking on guys at age ?
Walton: To me, like he doesn’t say this, but to me, it’s the only explanation. Because now, all of a sudden, yes he’s dunking on people again at the age of 36 … He’s playing great. He makes winning plays for them.
Simmons: He’s effective. He’s out there in crunch time.
Walton: I mean, he’s a huge part of why they beat us in the Finals last year.
Walton: When Kevin Love got hurt, they put him in, and his defensive intensity and switching onto our guards was a pretty big factor in the way that series played out.
Simmons: That must have left you conflicted.
Walton: No, no. There’s no confliction. I was …
Simmons: He’s your buddy, though.
Walton: I was miserable.
Simmons: You were mad at him?
Walton: It’s his favorite line now.
Walton: We’ll be playing, whatever we’re doing now, it doesn’t matter. The score will be 1–0 in anything. "It’s not over. I’ve been down much worse than this." That’s his go-to line now, and it drives me crazy. He’s a poor winner.
Simmons: Oh, that’s terrible.
Walton: He had a lot second places in his life up to that point. Bronze medal in the Olympics.
Walton: NCAA finals we lost together. Nets, twice, I think.
Simmons: When did you lose in the tournament? I can’t remember.
Walton: ’01. Duke beat us.
Simmons: Was it in the finals, though, or the semis?
Walton: No, the championship. We lost …
Simmons: Was that the Trajan Langdon?
Walton: No, no, no. They had … both teams were loaded.
Simmons: God, I’m so old. All the March Madnesses blending in.
Walton: Yeah, I know. The only reason it doesn’t, to me, is cause I was in … It was Carlos Boozer, J-Will …
Simmons: Oh, yeah, yeah yeah.
Walton: [Mike] Dunleavy [Jr.].
Simmons: That was a good Duke team, though.
Walton: Dunleavy, Chris Duhon, Shane Battier, Nate James.
Simmons: That’s one of the last loaded college teams.
Walton: In the whole Final Four, they were down 20 to Maryland, in the semis. When Maryland had [Juan] Dixon and Steve Blake and [Lonny] Baxter and the kid that could jump really high, played in the league for a while, can’t think of his name. We played Michigan State, who had Zach Randolph.
Simmons: Ooh, Z-Bo.
Walton: And [Jason] Richardson, and those guys. The whole Final Four was loaded.
Simmons: That’s a good one. Who was on your team? You had you and Jefferson?
Walton: No, no. So, Jason Gardner, point guard. Gilbert Arenas, 2-guard. Richard Jefferson, 3. Michael Wright was the 4. Loren Woods was the 5.
Simmons: Michael Wright. Oh, I liked Loren Woods.
Walton: I was coming off the bench on that team with like Eugene Edgerson, Justin Wessel and guys like that.
Simmons: You were there for early, early Gilbert.
Walton: Early Gilbert was really good at the game of basketball.
Simmons: Gilbert is the most underrated guy from this century.
Walton: He was unbelievable.
Simmons: He has a year-and-a-half-long stretch where he’s basically, if you just cover up his name and ask whose numbers these were, you’d be like, "I don’t know, is that [Russell] Westbrook, who is that?"
Walton: We weren’t even recruiting him until late. It was us, Cal State–Northridge and like Kansas State or something, at the time. We jumped on late and he signed with us, came in, stole the … Ruben Douglas who was in my freshman class was our starting shooting guard. Ended up leading the country in scoring at New Mexico after he transferred. Within the first two months of the preseason, Ruben was so … Gilbert had taken the spot.
Walton: Ruben just got up and transferred, before the season started, so he wouldn’t miss an extra year, and Gilbert was just this kid none of us had ever heard of, that was cocky …
Simmons: I was gonna ask, was he a little loopy back then? I’m guessing yes.
Walton: Oh, god. Everything. Everything was a practical joke.
Simmons: He missed his calling on Twitter, but he was still one of the early internet basketball heroes.
Simmons: He was one of the first ones to blog, all that stuff.
Walton: Everything was a practical joke to him. On the road trips, he’d put pennies in everyone’s hotel door so you couldn’t get your key in there. But he was damn good at the game of basketball.
Simmons: He was really, really great. So, Richard Jefferson, you need the Celtics to take care of him for a little revenge. I’ll tell the Celtics. In the Eastern finals, if the Celtics and Cavs meet.
Walton: He’s still my best friend, so I’m still … I’m pulling for him.
Simmons: Oh, OK.
Walton: I do want him to win, just at the time, I had no love … well, I wasn’t like, "If the Cavs win, it’s OK cause Rich — and they got Channing Frye on their team, like that’s fine." I really did not want them to win. But when I saw him afterward and you see the joy that comes from how much hard work …
Simmons: Oh, yeah. I would argue he was one of the happiest.
Walton: You can’t help but just feel happy for people like that.
Simmons: Could you coach him? Could he come back for one last year down the road? Or would that be too weird?
Walton: That’d be tough.
Simmons: Assistant coach, maybe?
Walton: Yeah, I mean, something.
Simmons: I’d think it would be fun to coach him. You’d just yell at him. Maybe that would be your revenge for the Finals.
Walton: Yeah, but there’s also relationships where he might forget that I’m his head coach and take it back to like the fact that we know each other for 20 years, and then it gets awkward. So we’ll see.