C.J. Watson grew up on the rough and tumble inner-city streets of Las Vegas, clawing forward to create a future. With grit and perseverance, Watson sprouted through the desert asphalt, becoming a star basketball player at Bishop Gorman HS. Watson then played four quality years at the University of Tennessee, before surprisingly not being chosen in the 2006 NBA draft. Once again, Watson had to creatively carve out his future amidst uncertainty and substantial challenges.
Only about 1% of legit NBA hopefuls actually wind up playing on the big stage. After a brief stint with the San Antonio Spurs summer league, Watson packed for Italy.
Watson averaged 8.5 PPG with Bipop Carire Reggio Emilia before finally breaking into the NBA with the Golden State Warriors in 2007. Watson backed up PG Baron Davis in his first year, under the direction of Hall of Fame coach Don Nelson. All told, Watson would play 10 seasons for five different teams.
“I had so many great teammates that showed me the ropes in my earlier years in the league,” Watson told OSDB Sports. “Some guys were just great human beings and cared about you outside of basketball. A few of the names that come to mind are Al Harringnton, Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Kurt Thomas, Joakim Noah, David West, Joe Johnson, Solomon Hill, Reggie Evans, and Channing Frye, just to name a few off the top of my head.”
Noah and Watson first got to know each other a bit during a tense SEC college game between Tennessee and Florida in 2006. Noah was the Gators’ star center, and he and Watson were fighting for the ball toward the end of the game. Watson inadvertently elbowed Noah in the mouth, knocking a tooth out and sending him out of the game. Noah missed the final 1:50, and the Vols went on to upset the Gators 76-72 in Gainesville that day.
However, Noah did bounce back to lead the Florida Gators to a National Championship six weeks later.
Watson and Noah became teammates on the Chicago Bulls in 2010. The first thing Noah said to Watson when he saw him was, “No more elbows, man.”
Watson and Noah laughed about it, and the Bulls finished first in the Central Division two years in a row under coach Tom Thibodeau. Watson was Derrick Rose’s backup in Chicago, and that magical Bulls team narrowly missed shocking everyone to win it all.
After Chicago, Watson played for the Brooklyn Nets, the Indiana Pacers, and the Orlando Magic, closing out his career. An NBA title ultimately eluded Watson, but his hard work and dedication had paid dividends.
Watson realized his dream to play in the NBA, and he learned a great deal from his teammates and coaches along the way. Coaches “Nellie” and “Thibs,” in particular, provided a treasure trove of basketball and life experience for the Las Vegas native.
“Both coaches were great coaches and taught me a lot.”, Watson told OSDB Sports. “Coach Nelson wasn’t big on defense as much as Coach Thibs. So, from Nellie, I mainly learned to always be a threat on the offensive end. To always be able to knock down the three ball, be able to get to the rim and finish and just score. He was big on being able to score. He would take you out of the game if you didn’t shoot the ball.
“With Coach Thibs, I learned more about defense and preparation. He had us prepared for every game no matter if it was a big game or not. He always preached about never taking anyone lightly and never taking winning in the NBA for granted, because it’s hard and tough to do on a nightly basis.”
During this beautiful hardcourt hoopster evolution process, Watson also learned about himself, and what it takes to break through barriers. Watson found out firsthand what is necessary for folks to transform tough situations into favorable outcomes.
Watson is all about giving back to the community and empowering youth to reach for the stars and teaching them to never give up. Watson has been a tremendous force in the Las Vegas area, where he and the Quiet Storm Foundation have been helping to organize free basketball camps for the last 18 years. Quiet Storm also offers an after- school program for kids and promotes a black history essay contest.
When asked why working with children is so important to him, Watson told OSDB “I always wanted to be able to give back and just be a positive resource or role model for kids trying to do the same thing I am doing ... but I want the kids to be better than me and also give back.
“We started the foundation to create more resources for kids growing up in under-served communities. Just giving them hope and belief that they can make it out of any situation they are in to be successful in life, and through the programs we provide we try to do that for kids in our community.”
Another way that C.J. Watson uplifts youngsters and shows them they aren’t alone, is through the children’s books he publishes. Watson has published three nonfiction stories about his own life in a series called “C.J.’s Big Dream.” and is currently working on a fourth.
“It was just an idea that I had in 2019, during my retirement from the NBA,” Watson recalled to OSDB Sports. “I wanted to tell my life stories, which I believe are inspiring. What better way is there to reach the next generation than through books? Once I start an idea or project, I want to see it through, so I just started doing research and asking people who I knew wrote books or were in that industry, and now I’m working on my fourth book. Hopefully, people will like this next one just as much as the first three books.”
Watson seems to be addicted to playing basketball and giving back to the community.
After retiring, Watson was back in Europe again playing ball in Turkey. The Quiet Storm Foundation runs basketball camps annually in Las Vegas, and of course there is the emergence of rapper Ice Cube’s Big3 b-ball league.
Watson joined the Big3 as a member of the Killer 3s in 2019, and shot the lights out as a rookie. C.J. led the Big3 with a .692 3-point percentage, hitting 9-of-13 triples. This season, Watson and the Killer 3s narrowly missed the playoffs under head coach Charles Oakley. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Watson back on the Killer 3s in 2022.
“It’s just fun getting back out there playing against guys I faced in the NBA, and also some guys I watched but didn’t get a chance to play against,” Watson says. “The league has gotten a lot younger, so I feel like an old man out there, but it’s fun to just be around the guys and be in a locker room setting again, and to play in front of fans. Coach Oak is great. People think he’s this mean guy because of how he played in the league, but he’s just a down to earth guy. Don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t take any stuff, but he’s fun to play for. He knows the game and has a lot of knowledge.”
So, what’s on the horizon?
“I’m just trying to be a better husband, father, son, brother, and friend every day,” Watson told OSDB. “I’m trying to be a positive role model and give back to the community and just help out. I’m also working on finding some good deals for my angel investing and being more business savvy. Just trying to grow and learn more each day and be better than I was the day before.”