Even with Kobe Bryant’s return this season, that couldn’t dissuade Lakers coach Byron Scott from starting Jordan Clarkson at shooting guard, the future Hall of Famer’s longtime position. But Clarkson is the Lakers’ likely 2-guard of the future, and he’s continued to prove he’s worthy in his second campaign, improving his scoring and shooting numbers through eight games.
Over the weekend, the 23-year-old brought those accuracy skills to the test in another setting: the Lakers’ hotel in New York City, Langham Place, to debut the new Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 video game.
Activision surprised Clarkson, who’s a big Call of Duty gamer, with a PlayStation 4 to hook it up in his hotel room overlooking Fifth Avenue—and the NBPA was there to see him first give it a go on the controls. The conversation covered COD, learning from Bryant, his training preparation for the season, community work in the Philippines, new mobile app partnership and much more.
Jared Zwerling: What do you think of the game so far?
Jordan Clarkson: I think it’s dope. It’s crazy real. It feels like you’re watching a movie. Ugh, I’m already dead, bro. [The first time he plays Zombies mode, his character dies in about 20 seconds.]
JZ: It’s, OK, man. I know you’re really an Xbox guy. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.
JC: I’ll get the controls down.
JZ: So how long have you been a Call of Duty guy?
JC: For a while now. Call of Duty is the only game I really play. I used to be a big Halo guy, but Call of Duty has taken over. I like Zombies. It’s just fun to play with your friends and then guys around the league. Everybody plays it and then everybody on the team plays it. We just get on Xbox Live and just play games all day.
JZ: Who’s your toughest competitor on the Lakers?
JC: Roy [Hibbert] is probably one of our best gamers. We haven’t had a chance to get on this [new game] yet, but hopefully we get on that.
JZ: How about around the league?
JC: My boy Andre Roberson is like a crazy gamehead, so he’s really good at Call of Duty. He’s sick at video games. He kind of got me into that whole video game stuff. I’m not on his level though.
JZ: You talk more trash on the court or when you’re playing video games?
JC: We probably talk more trash playing video games than we do on the court. Video games get a little serious, more serious than the game sometimes. So that’s crazy.
JZ: You said you used to be a Halo guy. Why the change to Call of Duty?
JC: Halo is like spacey and Call of Duty is like real-life stuff, so I like the real gameplay and I think it’s way better. It’s definitely dope.
JZ: What are your favorite features of the game?
JC: This is like my favorite thing on the game—playing Zombies, easily.
JZ: The graphics are so real I don’t think I could play this in a dark room by myself. Ever have nightmares after playing Zombies?
JC: Nah, nah. This game keeps me up though—all night sometimes when I’m bored.
JZ: I won’t tell Byron Scott that.
JC: Me and Andre played one night and we were up to like five in the morning on Zombies. I think we got to like level 30 or something. This is on the last game. We were just playing it forever and finally we were just like, “Alright, the sun is coming out, bro. We’ve got to go to sleep. We’ve got practice in the morning.” But we spent a lot of time on this game. When you’re done with basketball stuff, it kind of frees your mind a little bit. You get to take some anger out.
JZ: You play on road trips and long flights?
JC: Roy always brings his little [portable] box. Most of the time, I’m sleeping on the planes though. But when we flew to Hawaii [during the preseason], we were playing [NBA] 2K and stuff. But in the hotels, I’m definitely probably going to bring this now. It’s a little smaller. I’ll probably bring this, play this in the room, occupy my time, especially on the road.
JZ: Do you sense that Call of Duty continues to get more popular around the NBA?
JC: Yeah, it’s definitely one of the most played games I feel like in the NBA. It takes our mind off stuff, so it’s definitely something that we can occupy our time with, and it’s fun to play, too.
JZ: Does the game help with teammate bonding?
JC: Oh yeah, for sure. We don’t go to each other’s houses and stuff, so definitely when we’re at the crib and we get online and we all play, it definitely helps us with team chemistry, just talking through that stuff. Even when we’re on the road, like in Hawaii, we would just go to each other’s room and play the game and stuff. So it definitely keeps us around each other, it helps that chemistry a little bit. I feel like if you get along off the court, it makes a lot of things easier on the court. You feel comfortable talking to people.
JZ: What’s the chemistry like so far with your team?
JC: I think it’s coming. It’s early right now, but it’s definitely coming. We’ve got young guys, including myself, and then some vets. They’re doing a good job of talking to us and leading us right now.
JZ: How are you feeling so far at the start of your second season?
JC: I feel good. I had a long offseason, hard. I worked my tail off. It’s a little different now because I’m a starter; I kind of know what to expect. I love it. I feel we can do some special things with the team. We’ve just got to continue to grow and come together.
JZ: How did your trainer Drew Hanlen help you this past summer?
JC: Drew did a lot for me this summer. I spent like two weeks of every month with him. He just kind of tightened up everything in my game, and he’s really detailed with my stuff. He did a lot of stuff with my shot in terms of keeping my balance right and just trying to make my game and my jump shot more consistent. So we put a lot of work in. I thank him for all the time he spent with me. It’s pretty dope.
JZ: Drew also told me he worked with you on finishing around the rim, pace and changing speeds, and making reads and decision-making.
JC: Yup, for sure. That was a big thing, too—pick-and-roll stuff, finishing at the rim, different kinds of finishes and balance on my shot. “Balance, balance, balance”—that’s what he always said to us.
JZ: Were they group workouts?
JC: Usually it would just be the two of us. I worked out with Brad Beal and Zach [LaVine] a couple of times, and once with Kelly Oubre and another time with Andrew [Wiggins].
JZ: Some of the top up-and-coming shooting guards in the game.
JC: Oh yeah.
JZ: You mentioned balance with your shot. Now that you’re playing alongside Kobe in the starting lineup, what’s that balance like for everyone with finding the flow in the offense?
JC: It is a little interesting. We’re still kind of trying to figure out what we’re doing on the offensive side. But I think the biggest thing for us is probably just moving the ball. A lot of us get stagnant and get caught up to ourselves, in terms of running isos and stuff. We’ve just got to figure out a way to move the ball and play with each other better. As long as the ball is moving, everybody is going to be happy as long as everybody gets a touch, so I think we’re doing a good job of communicating with each other. I think it’s coming along.
JZ: What are you learning from Kobe with basketball?
JC: A little bit of everything. He’s really big on thinking the game, making stuff easier, thinking every play, seeing the way the defense is and making a play off what they give us and not trying to force it. So that’s probably one of the biggest things that I’ve learned from him this year—not forcing it, just play what they’re giving you.
JZ: How about on the business side?
JC: A little bit. We sat down in Hawaii; we talked about that stuff and how he got started with his career with his whole Asia stuff. It’s pretty cool to hear about what he did, and I definitely try to take some of what he did and put it in my book a little bit.
JZ: Speaking of Asia, you were in the Philippines this past summer twice, once with the NBA and Nike, and another time just for fun. What impact did being immersed in the country’s basketball culture have on you?
JC: It’s great. In the Philippines, they’ve got so much love for the game of basketball—it’s crazy. There’s like a court everywhere, on every corner out there. They’re so passionate, they love the game so much. It’s actually amazing just going out there and actually seeing it, and being a part of the culture and learning about it for myself. It’s a great experience for me. I’m trying to do as much as I can to represent the country and the people, so I’m trying to stay on top of my stuff. We’re putting together some stuff for the summer of 2016, so be on the look out for that. I’ll be spending a lot of time over there in the Philippines as well.
Most fun I have had in a long time, such a joy being a part of this. #nbacares A photo posted by Jordan Clarkson (@jclark5on) on
JZ: How were the fans over there?
JC: Everything is heartwarming and you really can’t even explain how much love they’ve got out there, how much love they showed. They were coming up to me and just saying good things, and it’s all positive. I loved it.
JZ: Overall, what’s it like to be a Laker with all of the attention that comes along with it?
JC: It’s great, but sometimes a lot comes with it. It comes with a lot of pride, though, as well, because you know you’re representing one of the biggest brands, and you’ve got to really watch what you’re doing. But at the same time, it’s amazing to wear that purple and gold and be a part of this great historic organization. I’m definitely trying to put a banner up soon, but we’re working.
JZ: Off the court, you’ve been working with a mobile app. Tell me about it.
JC: It’s called “lettrs.” It’s in the app store right now. It’s just a way to connect with the fans. Instead of sending fan mail, it can send a letter digitally—just a way to interact with my fans and make it more personal, and something that’s lasting throughout your life. I definitely wanted to do something good and talk to them.
The other day I heard from a couple and the lady was fighting cancer. They sent me a letter on the app and I gave them tickets to the [Nets] game and signed some stuff for them. It was a cool experience. I’m just trying to find a way to affect people and affect their lives and help them any way I can, and just bringing them joy and excitement.