RICHMOND — When Jodie Meeks turned 30 this summer, he wanted to celebrate with a night of elegance and sophistication. Inside a downtown Atlanta hotel ballroom, guests dressed accordingly for the black tie event with a casino night theme and toasted the birthday boy with glasses of red wine.
Turning 30 in the NBA marks a new phase in a player’s career, and Meeks embraces it. After signing a two-year, $6.7 million deal with the Washington Wizards, he believes he can add another veteran influence on the second unit and inside the locker room. Since injuries disrupted his previous two seasons, it’s been a while since the NBA has seen the best of Meeks — only a few years back, he scored a career-high 42 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder and dropped nine three-pointers on the Orlando Magic, an opponent record.
Now at the start of his first full season since 2014-15, Meeks isn’t lacking for motivation.
“Just because I want to show that I’m healthy,” Meeks said. “I’m not old and washed up or whatever you want to call it.”
Washington landed Meeks early in the offseason although his recent body of work — appearing in just 39 games for the Detroit Pistons and Magic from 2015 to 2017 — made it a curious decision to agree to terms on the second day of the free agency signing period.
In the second game of the 2015-16 season, a year into his three-year, $19 million deal with the Pistons, Meeks fractured a bone in his right foot. Then last season with the Magic, after a second surgery was required on the same foot, Meeks was sidelined again after a freak accident — he caught his right hand on the jersey of New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis and needed surgery to repair the dislocated thumb.
Even so, the Wizards wanted Meeks as a replacement for sniper Bojan Bogdanovic. Despite the long absences from the game, his reputation as a career 37.6 percent three-point shooter endured.
“Many times he has made big threes,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s a big-time three-point shooter who can get hot and stay hot.”
Brooks was the Thunder coach in 2014 when Meeks, who was then with the Los Angeles Lakers, dropped 42. Brooks also recalled last December when Meeks torched the Wizards by making 4 of 5 three-pointers and scored 18 points in only his third game back with the Magic after recovering from a second foot surgery, which followed a trend that some of Meeks’s best work has followed an injury.
Orestes Meeks noticed it when his son played college ball at Kentucky. The pressure was intense, and the fan base was so obsessed that Orestes remembers being pestered for his autograph just because he was Jodie Meeks’s father. Yet the young Meeks thrived in the atmosphere. After bilateral sports hernia surgery wiped out his sophomore season, Meeks returned to lead the Southeastern Conference at 23.7 points a game and set a Wildcats single-game scoring record with 54.
“One of the things about him that maybe a lot of folks don’t realize is his mental approach to things. He’s very strong mentally,” Orestes Meeks said. “He has an underdog mentality, for whatever reason people don’t recognize [him] for who he is.”
Meeks has a hypercompetitive side that flares up even in friendly settings. When Meeks hits the links with longtime trainer and friend Derrek Hamilton, the pair plays for 50 cents a hole (despite of the casino night birthday with fake chips and toy money, Meeks isn’t much of a gambler). But losing pocket change doesn’t sit well with Meeks.
“He’s mad when he loses $3,” Hamilton said. “He’s mad as hell, he couldn’t even think.”
This cutthroat streak, paired with his focused offseason training, bolsters Hamilton’s belief that Meeks will bounce back from the last two seasons.
Though Hamilton said Meeks streamlined his workout regiment from previous summers, he added more core work. Meeks doesn’t prefer to play pickup basketball in the offseason but spends most of his time on the court fine-tuning his skill set. Every workout, Meeks must make 500 shots — 75 percent of his attempts come from beyond the arc. Meeks also continued implementing what his trainer calls the “Ray Allen Method.”
When Allen last played in the NBA, he was 38 but remained effective in averaging 37.5 percent from the arc. As Meeks advances in his career, with hopes of playing deep into his 30s, he views Allen as an inspiration.
“As I’m getting older, I’m trying to stretch more and pay attention to how my body is feeling day-to-day,” Meeks said. “I talk to Ray Allen every now and then, more so when he was playing. Just try to get different tips … and now try to put that into my regiment.”
Meeks sees positives from two seasons mostly lost to injury. From sitting out so many games, he feels refreshed and believes the time off has extended his prime. With a healthy body and clear mind, he’s out to prove that his age and experience can be turned into yet another asset.