From the second he touched down in Toronto after being traded to the Raptors from the Sacramento Kings, Greivis Vasquez has been happy to be here. During his exit interview with members of the Toronto media on Monday afternoon, Vasquez, a self-described emotional guy, didn’t shy back from sharing his love and appreciation of a city he says, “changed his life and recuperated his career.”
Here is the full transcript of Vasquez’ year end interview, what made him fall in love with Toronto so hard and why hopes to be back. As far as exit interviews go, this is already an all-time classic.
In Game 7, they put you on Joe Johnson there. No one could stop him. What were you doing? He stopped scoring when you were covering him.
Greivis Vasquez: The reason we went far and that we won won a lot of games, it was because we all sacrificed one thing. So, Game 7, they told me, ‘Hey, we’re going to have you guard Joe Johnson.’ So my whole focus was like, I gotta stop this guy somehow, some way. I got into foul trouble real quick, which messed up a little bit because I couldn’t play the whole first half and I came back in the third quarter late. But I was like, I’ve got to stop, in the last five minutes of the game, I was like, he’s not going to score on me once. I don’t care, he’s not going to score. And I must be able to get stops and help my team in that aspect. And it’s about winning, I do whatever it takes to win and to help my team win. It was a really tough loss, and I can’t even, haven’t even [slept]. I can’t really swallow that loss. It’s not easy to swallow and it’s not easy to think about it. But I’m extremely proud of our team, our coaches, you guys, the fans. It was unbelievable, what a great life experience for me and my family.
I know it’s a quick turnaround, you’re entering free agency in July, what are your priorities going to be?
GV: Well, I want to be back. I really want to be back. I truly love this city. I love our fans, my family loves Canada, my kids love school, it would be heartbreaking if I don’t come back. ‘Cause I’m an emotional guy, so I really embrace, I’m really committed to the team, to the city, to this franchise. It was a very special year, and I came a long way, man. I had a surgery a year ago, I couldn’t even work out the whole summer. When I came here in December, I wasn’t really healthy and I gradually got better and I end up playing well the last couple weeks of the season, really put myself in a good situation. So I want to be back, I feel like Masai is going to get things done. I think he’ll get it done, he’ll bring everybody back. I think if we’re all back, we can dominate the East. And I know, I’m not saying this in an arrogant way, I think this team is a special team. Look at what we did with just one year together. It wasn’t really a full year ‘cause we all came — the four guys came in December, us coming from Sacramento. So hopefully everything works out. I want to come back. I love Toronto. I love this city. I love this country. I want to be back.
If the same guys are back, do you have a sense that that same feeling — the same thing that you and all your teammates have been talking about, the thing that doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score — the that feeling would sort of carry over?
GV: For sure. Definitely. It’s hard. It’s hard, you know, I was talking to coach Casey, and I wanted to start before. I was the starting point guard before. But it’s not about being a starter, it’s not about me being the main guy. It’s about winning, and I think we all understand that. It’s going to be questioned, you know, like, oh, we’re all going to get paid. We have to get paid, this is our job. How are we going to react? I promise you, personally, I will never change. Money won’t change me at all. Money might change people around me, but no, it’s not going to change me. I love this game so much and I respect the game, and I’m going to do whatever it takes, whether I have to play defence on Joe Johnson or whether I have to get 10 assists or whether I have to hit a big shot. That’s not going to change me. And I speak on behalf of the team, I don’t think it’s going to change Kyle. I think Kyle grew so much the whole year. Amir, DeRozan. I mean, DeMar, if you heard what he said last night after the game, he went through a lot his previous year. He don’t want to go through that, not making the playoffs. Now he got a taste of what it’s like playing in the playoffs. I don’t think it’s going to change. I’ll say this in a very humble way: if we keep this team together, we can be the OKC in the East. And that’s a big statement. But we’re that good, as a team, as a unit. We probably won’t have super All-Stars, but we have guys that can get the job done. And we play great together, that’s the biggest thing. It’s a great chemistry, it’s a healthy locker room, which is more important.
You said you love the city, you love the team, you really want to come back. What is it about this city? I mean, we saw, yesterday, the fans just riled up. What is it that makes you want to stay?
GV: The fans are just so into it. They love the team. They support you no matter what. Like, last night was a lifetime experience for me. That was unbelievable, when D-Will was shooting the free throw and the whole building was loud, that was amazing. I’m so thankful. I was like, I’m glad my family came, my kids were there, everybody was there, my girlfriend was there. We just couldn’t stop talking about it. You don’t see that in every arena. I don’t care, I was in OKC my rookie year, Game 7 to go to the Conference Finals, that was loud. They got great fans, too, but I think we got the best fans in the whole world, in the whole league. That was unbelievable. That makes you love the city. That makes you be committed. That motivates you to go out there and do your job because it’s people around you who are supporting you and they got your back. I have many text messages, every time I walk anywhere they’re like, ‘Good job.’ They’re a very class act. It’s just great, and that makes you really stay like this and want to be back because the treatment that you get here is first-class treatment. It’s really first-class.
You said you want everybody back. You spent five months playing for coach Casey, I assume he’s included in that along with the players. What have you learned about him?
GV: Yeah, for sure. You gotta give him credit. He did a lot for us. He really got better, too. We all got better. And he’s a very humble guy, very family-oriented. His wife and his kids were really involved with the team and do great things outside basketball. He got us together. You gotta have him a lot of credit. He’s gotta be back after the year that he has done. Man, I remember one time we come into the office and we have a talk and his talk with me was very inspirational. It was such a great inspiration talk because he was talking about when he won a championship with Dallas. He even showed me his ring, the championship ring. This guy, man. This guy did so much and really got us ready. As a leader, you gotta give him a lot of credit. He did a great job. He did a great job, I thought we got better throughout the season. We gradually got better and the coaching staff was great. He should be back, to be honest, because what a great job he has done.
You talked a lot this season about learning from Kyle. Now that the season is over, what can you tell us about him as a leader in the locker room and also just his competitiveness when h is on the floor?
GV: He’s a pit bull, he’s a pit bull. I love the fact that he made winning plays. What I learned the most, how to act like a pro. He’s a very professional guy. He comes here early, gets his shots up, gets his work done. He really takes care of his body, his diet. I mean, this guy is a pit bull on the court but he’s very mellow, friendly, he talks to everybody in the locker room. I just texted him, saying that I learned a lot, I felt like I got better because I played behind a guy that was a great leader, a great father, a great human being overall. This guy had an unbelievable year and he helped everybody else to have a great year. He helped me, and that’s the biggest thing. He was never selfish, he was a great teammate, a great leader and a great player for us. And you’ve gotta give this guy a lot of credit, too. The whole year, he really brought that fire mentality, you know? He got me fired up a lot of times, most of the time because I saw him diving on the floor, taking charges, hitting big shots. That gets us contagious. I was like, whoa, if he’s doing it, I gotta go to war with this guy. We all did. As well as DeMar, too. DeMar was unbelievable the whole year. I mean, the whole team. I can’t say enough. I can’t describe how great we were as a team, as a unit, because it was never about one guy. It was about the whole team. It was about the Toronto Raptors.
In addition to the importance of keeping this team together is there a piece or a specific position player that could help take this team to the next level?
GV: That’s a good question, but at this time, you know, I’m going to be very selfish. I like everybody that we have right now. It’s going to be painful to see somebody go, even if it wasn’t a main rotation guy, but that’s just Masai and the front office’s business decision. To me, I wouldn’t trade anybody from this team as of right now. Obviously, this is the NBA, things can change—
Maybe it’s a draft pick added?
GV: Maybe, yeah. That’ll happen too. We could draft, I don’t know, it’s just hard. You’re putting me in a tough situation, that’s not my job [laughs]. I can’t really answer that question as well as I want to answer it, but I feel like they’re going to add some pieces. You’re going to have to keep the main guys, the main core and probably move around a little bit. Some other guys want to play more minutes, I’m sure, but that’s not really up to me.
Admittedly, this is a hypothetical, but when the season began and you’re in Sacramento and you’re in a free-agent year and you’re thinking ahead to next summer can you kind of give us a glimpse of what you think your mindset might have been versus what your mindset is now?
GV: That’s a great question, buddy. I was very down. I was like, I was not happy. I was losing my joy of the game. I was like, ‘Where am I?’ I was lost. I was really lost, man. Nothing against Sacramento, it was just, it wasn’t really a good fit for me. I wasn’t being myself. I couldn’t really develop my game. It was a really tough locker room. But I got a phone call December 7th, 8th, and I was a happy man. I’ll tell you that. I was a happy man. I got a call from my agent and he told me Masai was trying to get me and I might be involved in a trade and I was like, well, God is really watching out for me. Then I got traded here and I just got my joy back. I was really happy. I was getting to know the city and I was like, wow, Toronto is the deal. It’s a big-time city. I was getting, you know, I was starting to get in love with the city, with the team. I was like, wow, this is different. This is winning basketball. This is winning basketball. When you’re around winning basketball you want to become better and your whole mindset just changes. You’re willing to do whatever it takes. Obviously my whole mentality changed. By December, beginning of January, I was like, I’ve got a great opportunity to prove myself and get back to what I was in this league. I thought they gave me an unbelievable opportunity. Right now, I put myself in a great situation like everybody else because the NBA rewards winning. As a player, if you’re in a winning program, you’re going to get rewarded eventually. It’s that time of the year. In a very humble way, I feel I’m very thankful for the opportunity, for the front office to look at me and give me a chance to develop my game because I was way behind. Look, I didn’t work out the whole summer, I didn’t go to training camp at all. I was basically, my season started in December. I was playing, what, 20 minutes a game in Sacramento. I wasn’t playing that many minutes because I came off my injury and then now I was playing six seconds left, down one, almost got a win. Almost is not good enough but I’ll take that over anything. So I’m very happy, man, and I’m very thankful because of this whole situation. Toronto really changed my life. It actually recuperated my career because I was very down. I was sad.
You said you love the city, you fell in love with the city, your kids fell in love with the city. What is it about the city that you love so much?
GV: It’s just the people are so polite. People are so into sports, whether its hockey, soccer, baseball, NBA. Everywhere I go, they show me love. You know? It’s fun. Everywhere, my kids. My kids love school. My son cannot wake up at 8 o’clock in the morning. He wakes up at six. Can’t wake up at eight. He wakes up because he wants to go to school. I’m sure school is doing a great job making him excited to go to school, as well as my daughter. My girlfriend is going to school, too. She’s learning English here. She loves how people are to her. And just the love, man. The people are so polite. The fans are the greatest fans. You guys do such a great job. Even though sometimes, you know…[laughs] it just, that makes you want to be here. That makes you want to be around people who really care and really do appreciate your work. I went to a restaurant last night, CopaCabana, it’s just down the street and the owner was like, he just showed so much sympathy. It was like, ‘Dude, don’t feel sorry about us. It was just a game,’ but he was like, he was hurt and he wasn’t even playing. And everybody in the restaurant eating was just so nice to me. I was like, wow. People really… that’s when you really stop everything, you think about, wow. These people really care about what you do. They really are thankful because you are on this team and you play for this city. And like I say, I want to do it longer. I want to be back here. And hopefully, you know, I end my career here because I really love it.