In the 2001 NBA draft, the Nets acquired Richard Jefferson via trade with the Houston Rockets. Jefferson was a 6-7 small forward from the University of Arizona, fresh off a run to the NCAA National Championship game. Little did we know we were acquiring a major building block for even the immediate future.
Once the Nets made the trade for Jason Kidd, they instantly became a fast-break team and Jefferson was the type of thoroughbred needed to run alongside Kidd.
As a rookie, in the Nets first run to the NBA Finals, Jefferson did not start, but he was still an invaluable part of the team, often finishing games. His role then was just to fill the lanes on the break, finish plays (which he did, sometimes in spectacular fashion), provide energy and play good defense.
This remained Jefferson’s role until the Nets moved Keith Van Horn in 2002, opening up room in the starting lineup for RJ and getting him more minutes. Soon his role on the team expanded. More plays were run for him and at times, the offense was running through Jefferson.
By the time his final season with the Nets was complete in 2007-2008, Jefferson was a bona fide leader of the team and on most nights carried our offense (22.6 ppg, a career high). In fact, that season he topped 20 or more points 66 times.
Throughout his entire Nets career, Jefferson (along with Kidd and Jason Collins) was one of the cornerstones during our franchise’s most successful decade of NBA seasons.
But, in my opinion, there was more to Jefferson’s story than his on court exploits. There was the way he handled himself with the media, which, most would agree; Jefferson was usually one of the more animated interviews you could get.
He carried himself with a certain brash and bravado that bordered on arrogance, but you also got the feeling Jefferson was always well aware of how he was perceived and was able to deliver measured if not humorous responses to questions. He provided great one-liners, often with a smirk. I also admired Jefferson’s approach to the game. He was a guy who always worked hard, came to play everyday and remained out of trouble off the court. A true professional, if you will.
Ultimately, my lasting image of Jefferson will always be this clip I provided below, because I think it sums him up well; His bravado shining through brightly, made him unafraid of the moment, even as a rookie in the NBA Finals.