Memphis Grizzlies superstar Ja Morant, in an interview Wednesday, said he realized how much he is risking with his pattern of poor off-court decisions during the week and a half since the incident that resulted in his eight-game suspension from the NBA.
Hours after the Grizzlies played the Nuggets in Denver on March 3, Morant posted an Instagram Live video from an area nightclub in which he could be seen holding up a handgun with his left hand. The All-Star guard soon thereafter entered a counseling program at a Florida facility while the league office investigated his handling of a firearm.
“Honestly, I feel like we put ourselves in that situation with our past mistakes, and now it’s only right that we focus in and lock in on being smarter and more responsible, holding each other accountable for everything,” Morant said Wednesday during an interview with ESPN’s Jalen Rose, referring to his inner circle. “I feel like in the past we didn’t know what was at stake. And now finally me having that time to realize everything, have that time alone, I realize that now.
“I realize what I have to lose, and for us as a group, what we have to lose. It’s pretty much just that being more responsible, more smarter and staying away from all the bad decisions.”
Morant conducted the sit-down interview with Rose in New York hours after meeting with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who called Morant’s conduct “irresponsible, reckless and potentially very dangerous” in a statement Wednesday announcing the eight-game suspension.
Morant has been away from the Grizzlies since the video was posted, and the franchise had previously announced he would be out at least through Wednesday’s game against the Miami Heat. The eight-game suspension from the league covers the six games he has already missed, including Wednesday at Miami.
“It was good — pretty much an open discussion,” Morant said of his meeting with Silver. “Obviously, he said things I need to be better at, but more of just showing his support towards me. I accepted that, and I also sent my apologies to everybody — to the league, myself, my teammates, my family for putting that negativity towards all of us with a bad decision.”
Morant said the gun displayed in the video “wasn’t mine” but did not specify who it belonged to or how it ended up in his hands.
“It’s not who I am,” Morant said. “I don’t condone it or any type of violence, but I take full responsibility from my actions. I made a bad mistake. I can see the image that I painted over myself with my recent mistakes. But in the future, I’m going to show everybody who Ja really is, what I’m about, and change this narrative that everybody got.”
Morant described his decision to conduct an Instagram Live session while partying at Shotgun Willie’s, a strip club in Glendale, Colorado, as “pretty much just trying to be free.”
“I used that as an escape, which I shouldn’t have,” Morant said. “I feel like that’s the reason I made many bad decisions in my past, which doesn’t pretty much describe me, doesn’t describe Ja as a person. I’m a totally different person than what’s been shown in the media. That’s my job now. That’s why I took that time away, to become a better Ja, so everybody really can see who Ja really is and you know what he’s about.”
Morant vaguely discussed other recently reported incidents, including a fight with a 17-year-old during a pickup basketball game in his backyard, a confrontation with a security guard at a Memphis mall after his mother called him, a confrontation at a Memphis high school in response to his younger sister being insulted during a volleyball game, and a postgame confrontation between Morant’s associates and the Indiana Pacers that prompted an NBA investigation. None of the incidents resulted in an arrest or criminal charges.
“The majority of the things that’s happened in the past, obviously, I kind of put myself into by even being there,” Morant said. “But all the incidents you’ve seen recently, most of them is a lie. I can’t speak too much on those situations because all of ’em are sealed. I really can’t wait to be able to finally tell the truth. But what I can say is, like I said before, none of those are my character. I’m a big family guy. I always care for my family. So it was just me checking on my family’s safety. Once my family is safe, I left the scene.”
Morant entered the counseling program in Florida soon after he posted the video in Colorado. He said he talked to therapists, learned that it was OK to express his feelings and worked on techniques to handle stress, such as Reiki treatments and anxiety breathing.
“I feel mentally good — like I haven’t been in many years since I really got dropped into the league,” said Morant, 23, a four-year NBA veteran. “I’m in a space where I’m very comfortable. I took those days to be able to learn how to pretty much be there for myself and learn different ways to manage stress in a positive way.”
Although Morant is eligible to rejoin the Grizzlies on Monday, he will not play that night at home against the Dallas Mavericks. He said he needs to take some extra time to prepare physically for his return after not working out during his time in Florida.
“I also put my team in a tough position with me not being able to be out there on the floor for decisions I’ve made,” Morant said. “I regret all that. I can’t wait to be back out there on the floor now, knowing what my punishment is. I accept that, and I feel like I deserve that punishment for my mistakes and what I did. But when I get back out there, I’m going to be ready to go and ready to push for a ring.”