In January, Portland center Festus Ezeli gave his Trail Blazers teammates a pep talk – or at least tried to. Only C.J. McCollum and others weren’t having it. They reportedly interrupted Ezeli and told him, in essence, to stop talking.
Did that actually happen? Was there a legitimate beef between teammates?
Ezeli says no.
“That story got blown way out of proportion, but you got to talk about something, right?” Ezeli said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “It wasn’t fully true. We had a tough game, and we had a tough stretch at the start of the season. With the Trail Blazers, when I got on the team, one of the things that I brought to that team and what I bring to a team is experience, playoff experience. It was a case of I had been talking to them and they were receptive to what I had been bringing, but it was a bad day. It was a bad day and a bad loss. It was one of those games where I kind of let them have it. It wasn’t pretty, but that’s part of who I am and that’s part of what I bring to a team.
“I love this game,” Ezeli continued. “When I see something not going the way it’s supposed to go or us not giving the effort that we’re capable of, I say things like that. But it was a case of the wrong time. It just wasn’t the right time for that. It was just one of those situations where kind of my emotions got ahead of me. It wasn’t something where we had a falling out. It was, ‘Hey, we know what we did. We know what we did wrong. We know what’s going on. Let’s focus on the next one and build back up.’ That was more of what the conversation was.”
Ezeli, 27, won a title with the Warriors in 2015 and helped them reach the Finals in 2016. He signed with Portland last July but had various knee issues. He underwent season-ending surgery in December.
It was the NBA’s first surgery involving a cadaver donor.
“Someone had to pass away for me to get it,” Ezeli said. “It’s one of those situations that’s bittersweet because you know I have to wait for someone to pass away, and it was a complicated surgery because it has to be had as soon as the person passed away. It was like five days after (the person died). It’s kind of a rare surgery and it’s something that could help a lot of players out. It’s a new surgery and something a lot of players (could do). Part of it is also writing a letter to the family of the person that passed away and just letting them know I’m grateful for the second chance.”
Ezeli was also asked about the 2016 Finals; specifically, about what went wrong. The Warriors became the first team in NBA history to squander a 3-1 Finals lead, and Gio and Jones felt that Ezeli’s Game 7 defense on LeBron James was a major factor in the outcome.
“I’m actually glad you said that,” Ezeli said. “Some people crush me behind my back and smile me to my face, so I appreciate you guys saying that. But no, it was unfortunate. Our team, at that point, we dealt with a lot of health issues. It was unfortunate because we had a great year. For us to end that way with the little things that we had going – everybody’s dealing with (something), but that’s kind of how the game goes. The year before (when) we won, the Cavs (had injuries). Sometimes the game is a game of attrition. Who can fight through the longest? It’s not just about the game. People don’t see that part of the game. . . . You (got to) take it for what it is. We came out there, we lost the Finals. Definitely not what we expected. That’s not the way we expected to perform. That’s why it’s (fun) watching these guys play right now.”
Indeed, Ezeli is watching the Finals – and enjoying them.
“Man, I have no choice but to,” Ezeli said. “It’s motivating for me because I’m in my recovery mode. It’s motivating for me to get out there and watch them and see them do their thing and see them get that ring that we felt like was ours last year.”