Jason Terry: The Creation of a Leader
Jason Terry wasted no time throwing himself into the Boston Celtics culture after signing with the team in July. He tattooed Lucky the Leprechaun with a championship trophy. He declared his mission to kill the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers. When asked to compare his role to that of former Celtic-turned-foe Ray Allen, Terry simply replied, Who?
Terry is the new leader of the Celtics bench. In past years, the group had included reserves who wanted to be starters and rookies who didnt want to listen. Not under Terrys guard. The former Sixth Man of the Year and 2011 NBA Champion has the second and third units under close watch in his first season in green.
Push the starters, thats our job, Terry told CSNNE.com. Our job is to make them better and make it game-like every time we step on the floor. We want it to be even tougher than the game is.
He continued with a laugh, Theyre young, so theyre going to do whatever I say anyways. If I tell them jump on one leg, bark like a dog, theyre going to do it. But what I do is lead by example. I have to make sure Im right every day, make sure Im early, make sure Im in tune with whats going on, and then direct them with my voice.
Terry leads with the experiences and advice he has gathered over the past 35 years. From coaches to former players to, most importantly, his mother, each person who led him in the right direction has influenced the leader he will be on the Celtics this season.
Influence: Mother, Andrea Cheatham
The days and nights were long for Andrea Cheatham. A single mother of 10, she drove a city bus to support her family in Seattle. Back home, Terry, the second oldest, stepped into a leadership role to help raise his brothers and sisters. Feeding, dressing, and getting them off to school, he learned about accountability at a young age.
"Mom is the hugest influence on me growing up just because I saw what she had to endure," Terry said. "I had to have huge responsibilities. But what she was doing was preparing me for when I had my own family and being the head of my family."
Terry learned about unwavering perseverance from his mother. She lost her oldest child, Dele, when he was only two months old. Years later, a tragic accident stole her two-year-old son Caleb during a family picnic after he wandered down to the lake and drowned. Terry, then 12, found his brother.
I walked back by and I just saw his body floating, he recalled. I think about him every day, every day. Its just a situation where I knew that kid was going to be something. He was already a little athlete, running around. He would follow me, so it was tough."
Terry tattooed Caleb and Dele's names down his arms in remembrance. His mother's strength is also permanently imprinted on his mind.
Said Terry, "Watching her struggles and then watching her be strong and still being able to survive is whats given me inner strength to carry on."
Influence: High School Basketball Coach, Lou Hobson
There are talented teenagers who spurn the advice of their coaches. Then there are others who soak up words of wisdom from their elders. Terry was the latter.
As a student athlete at Franklin High School, he lingered over the advice of his coach Lou Hobson. Terry wasn't as highly recruited as other NBA players but he shared the same goal of making it in the pros. He plugged away, practice by practice, game by game, drawing interest from schools including the University of Washington and the University of Arizona, where he played college basketball.
"His motto was, The road to success is always under construction," Terry said of Hobson. "That just told me to keep working every day regardless of the outcome knowing that you can get better. Even when youve seemingly got to the top, theres still another step to go to."
Influence: Former NBA Player, Gary Payton
Terry grew up in Seattle mesmerized by the SuperSonics. Of all the players on the team, fellow guard Gary Payton captured his attention.
Terry looked up to the nine-time All-Star. After watching him as a spectator for years, he became Payton's counterpart when he entered the league in 1999 while Payton was still a member of his hometown team. The two developed a strong relationship as Terry made his way up in the NBA.
"Gary Payton was one of my first role models," Terry explained. "I used to watch him when I was a young kid in high school and we formed a bond and we would just talk throughout the season. He would watch me, I would be watching him, and we would call each other and reflect on what transpired out there in the game."
Payton retired in 2007. By that point Terry had finished his eighth NBA season and was well on his way to a career that would later include a Sixth Man of the Year Award and NBA Championship with the Dallas Mavericks. Payton's mentorship served as one of the foundations for Terry's success, a relationship he is paying forward to younger players on the Celtics.
"He was tremendous for me," said Terry.
Influence: NBA Coach, Avery Johnson
After competing as fellow players, Avery Johnson coached Terry for over three seasons on the Mavericks. He saw Terry's potential as a team leader and encouraged him to step further into the role in spite of its challenges.
"After (me) being in the league for five years, he took me aside and was like, Look, if youre going to play this position, you have to be more vocal and lead by example,'" Terry recounted.
Terry felt frustrated when he teammates didn't always listen, but he believed in Johnson's belief in him. Determined to make an impact, he stuck with his coach's advice.
"He (Johnson) knew I was a killer," said Terry. "He knew my competitive fire and my ability to learn. I was very coachable, receptive, and I watched a lot of film. I think he saw that in me and knew that I could take my game to another level."
The nights of frustration lessened over time and Terry emerged as a leader on the court and in the locker room, a role players around the league respect today.
"It was a process," said Terry, "But he got me there."
Now entering his 14th season in the NBA, Terry is taking everything he has learned from his role models and mentors over the years and sharing it as the leader of the Celtics bench. He views the team as a family, eager to form the types of bonds and relationships that have served as such strong influences in his career with veterans and rookies alike.
"Its about being together, especially when youre going after one common goal," he said. "And we know what that goal is."