As the confetti rained down on Oracle Arena, JaVale McGee, cradling his baby in one hand and hoisting the gleaming Larry O’Brien trophy with the other, looked up to the heavens. It’s anyone’s guess what he was thinking at that moment but his sister, WNBA player Imani Boyette of the Chicago Sky, was overcome with one very specific feeling: pride.
Some fans know JaVale as a slam dunk extraordinaire, famously dunking three balls at once during the 2011 NBA Slam Dunk Contest (his sister feels he should have won the title). On the court, he is controlled fury, taking off down the floor like a runaway freight train. His forceful dunks make the rim wobble like a punch-drunk boxer, while his blocks often send the ball several rows into the stands, leaving scattered popcorn and sodas in its wake.
Others know McGee as an internet meme, made famous by blooper reels. For all that is said about McGee, however, very rarely does it ever come from his own mouth. By nature he is quiet and reserved. To get an inside perspective on the recently crowned NBA Champion, WNBA.com spoke to his sister, Imani Boyette.
JaVale and Imani were born six years apart. They have the same mother but different fathers. Their mom, Pamela McGee, is 6’3” and a two-time NCAA National Champion at USC. She is also a former WNBA player as she played two seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks. JaVale’s father, George Montgomery, was selected in the second round of the 1985 NBA Draft. At 6’10” he had NBA-level height but never ended up playing in a professional game.
JaVale was born and raised in Flint, Michigan while Imani grew up in Los Angeles. The two only saw each other during the holidays. Boyette lived with her mother while McGee lived with his father. In the few days each year that they would spend time together, Boyette got a clear picture of her brother’s personality.
“He’s always been a big, goofy, quiet type of guy,” Boyette said. “That’s just him.”
At 6’7”, Boyette is one of the tallest players in the WNBA. But unlike her brother, she didn’t decide to pursue a professional basketball career until she was an upperclassman in high school.
“JaVale always wanted to be a pro basketball player,” Boyette explained. “It was always just a goal of his and he knew he’d be able to do. I think it’s just a lot easier to do something when it’s already been done. It’s easier to say I want to be a doctor if my mom’s a doctor. Since he saw our mother be a successful professional athlete growing up, it was much easier for him to have those goals and see them as realistic.”
In 2006, McGee headed to the University of Nevada to play college basketball. After his sophomore season, he declared for the NBA Draft.
Welcome to the Association
The Washington Wizards selected McGee with the 18th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. The family rejoiced knowing that JaVale would be playing in the best basketball league in the world. He also became the first NBA player to be the son of a former WNBA player.
“When I was younger, we had never been very rich,” Boyette said. “So I remember, his first year in the NBA, JaVale took me school shopping and paid for everything.”
Boyette said that after McGee started playing for the Wizards, they began spending more time together. During the offseason, McGee would stay in Los Angeles to train, while Boyette was attending high school in the city.
During the 2011 lockout season, Boyette trained with McGee and played pickup basketball with him:
“I played against a lot of NBA players. Ron Artest, Kenneth Faried – he was one of JaVale’s good friends – so I got to play with them and just like all the NBA circles in LA because I’d always hangout with my brother and he’d always put me on his team”
Following the 2012 season, McGee was traded to the Denver Nuggets. Boyette said she thinks the move to a new environment helped her brother:
“His first four years, he played on one of the worst teams in the NBA. I don’t think the Wizards were ever over .500% when he was there. And he had like three different coaches.”
Throughout his years in the NBA, McGee, like most players, racked up his share of blooper-reel plays. The plays made their way onto the internet as well as sports television and a public misconception about McGee began to form. People thought he was aloof and unaware, even unskilled on the court. In reality, McGee was warm, beloved by teammates, and an intelligent basketball player both skilled and athletic.
“[The blooper stuff] gave him a reputation that wasn’t exactly warranted,” Boyette said. “I get so mad when people make fun of him. I asked him once, ‘How do you deal with this?’ And he was just kind of like, ‘I don’t look at the internet. All these people have opinions about something they can’t do or wish they could do.’ And he was like, ‘Nothing on the internet pays my bills. I just keep my head down.’ And that’s probably why all that stuff lasted so long, because he doesn’t respond, he kind of minds his own business.”
Golden State of Mind
After three seasons with the Nuggets, one with the 76ers, and one with the Mavericks, McGee was a free agent going into the 2016-17 season. That’s when the Golden State Warriors called in need of a big man after trading Andrew Bogut.
McGee came off the bench most of the season, providing much-needed defense, muscle and energy to the Warriors. During the playoffs he was even better, frequently contributing with serious minutes and production.
“He really loves Golden State,” Boyette said. “They really supported him. He played with great players, he was playing in a system and a team that just asked him to be himself. Just do what he does well and rewarded him for being himself so he was excelling in that role.
You’ve got to think about it, like most of these players come out of college, 19, 20, and you can go somewhere where there is a great locker room culture like Golden State where they know how to win, or you can go somewhere like Washington.”
By the time the Finals rolled around, teammates, opponents, fans and the media were all singing McGee’s praises.
“Obviously I felt this way about him the whole time! It’s really nice for other people to join in my celebration because he’s been my favorite player my whole life but it’s cool when other people see what I see!”
Boyette believes that her brother’s NBA legacy has changed as a result of his season with the Warriors.
“When you win a championship, you’re one of the best and no one can ever take that away from you. No blooper reel, no negative comments, nothing can ever take away the fact that JaVale has a championship ring.”
But just because he’s a champion, doesn’t mean McGee’s goofy sense of humor has changed:
I'm the only person ever with a rat tail and a NBA championship! Let that sink in!🏆
— Javale McGee (@JaValeMcGee34) June 13, 2017