On Thursday, the Chicago Bulls signed Mike James to his third stint with the team this season. In this week’s column, James writes about his up-and-down year in and out of the NBA.
You never know quite when you’re going to get that call. When I came back to Chicago the first time this season—in late January—I had been at home preparing. Kirk Hinrich got hurt and Chicago called needing me to fly to Cleveland right away. I got in the night before a game and went straight from the plane to a hotel. I didn’t even get to see most of my teammates until shootaround the next morning and when I did, it felt like everyone was surprised and shocked to see me. I played that night, though.
I didn’t have a rhythm because I’d last played in mid-December, so all I could do was trust the work that I’d put in in training. My work was my rhythm. The same is true right now.
The Bulls and I had been talking for the past few weeks. I learned that there was an opportunity to come back to Chicago, but when they started signing players, like Ronnie Brewer, I wasn’t sure they’d end up signing me. It all worked out, though.
There’ll be an adjustment getting back, of course. I know all the plays, but I haven’t run them in a while. Everything is going to be going so fast around me at first. To slow it down, I’ll have to focus on the work I’ve been putting in and just trust in that.
As long as you’re going to play hard, Coach Thibs is going to let you play. I love that about him. The one thing he respects most is a player who plays hard. No NBA player should need to be asked to play hard but, for whatever reason, finding that motivation to play at a higher level is a problem among professional athletes in general. But as long as you commit to competing at that level, you’ll always have a place to play.
Before getting this most recent call from the Bulls, I was in Houston working with coach John Lucas, who I’ve worked with my whole career. He really prepares me. His workouts are some of the most intense I’ve ever taken part in. I know that when I’m working with him, I’m getting the closest thing to the game reps and preparations that I need.
He helps me keep my mind and my body right; he’s a motivator and a mentor; and he’s honest with me—he’ll be the first one to tell me when I’m no longer capable of playing. I trust what he says and how he trains me, so I keep working with him.
The truth is that being back and forth with the team this year sucked. But the experience taught me how important your work is—doing everything you possibly can to stay in the best shape possible and taking care of your body to avoid injury. There was a point earlier in the year when my mind was right and I was feeling great—getting minutes and playing well—and then I got hurt. That’s been the story of my season. I can deal with anything that’s within my control, but when it’s out of my control it’s really frustrating.
I still love the game, but I know that in order for me to play it at the high level I want to, I have to work harder than everyone else—even just for my own sanity. I’ll probably never pick up another basketball when I’m done playing. But I know that while I’m still playing, I’m going to prepare in a certain way, and that’s going above and beyond, more than what the normal player can do. That’s what I have to do in order to make myself feel ready. It’s what keeps me in the game.