Basketball

Never short on self-belief, 23-year-old NBA rookie Jonah Bolden has found success with the Philadelphia 76ers. But his interests don’t just lie on the basketball court. By Donna Walker-Mitchell.
Credit: Supplied

NBA rookie Jonah Bolden on life with the Sixers

Growing up in Australia I was the regular high school kid playing representative basketball. I started at Bankstown and then moved over to the Sydney Comets in Alexandria. I just went with the flow at the time until I took a trip in 2012 with the Australian team where I went to the Adidas Nations in Long Beach near LA. Guys like Ben Simmons and Dante Exum were on the team. I saw then what the competition was like. It was vastly different in the US than what it was in Australia. I wanted to pursue it more seriously and see where it took me.

I remember my dad really encouraged me. I played almost every sport growing up and he would always say, “Just be a kid and enjoy it.” After that 2012 tournament in Long Beach I went to my dad and told him I wanted to take basketball more seriously. We looked at some high schools in the US so I could really focus on the sport. In Australia, I was in representative teams and we would practise twice a week and have a game on Sunday, but in the States it’s a Monday to Sunday thing, which was good.

I moved to the States when I just turned 17. I joined a school called Findlay Prep in Nevada. There was only one player from Las Vegas. The rest of us were from out of state. We lived in two apartments with two coaches who would supervise us. We bonded and until this day we are still in touch. Some are in the NBA now.

To be away from home at such a young age was at first a shock to the system. I hadn’t done it before. I didn’t know the guys. The program was a Monday through Sunday thing and we were getting up at 6am and going for runs, then we had class until 5pm and then practice after that. I didn’t have much downtime to think about home, which was a good thing.

My dad [Bruce] is someone I have always looked up to. He is a great example of what to do and how to be a professional athlete. He has always talked about treating everyone the same, whether it’s members of the media to the guys who give you food at breakfast. I’ve really taken that to heart and it’s helped me get to where I am now.

I go back to Australia every year. It’s usually for about two weeks during July or August. I go to Melbourne and Sydney. That’s where I have family. My mum’s family is in Melbourne around St Kilda and scattered around and my dad is in Sydney. My top priority is to see family and friends. I don’t really have big plans when I go back. It’s just enjoying downtime with them and catching up.

As for my future, I’m focused on doing what’s best for my team and myself. The goal for the 76ers is a championship, so for me it’s working towards what it takes to achieve that. My mentality is, “What can I do to get better today?”

I live in Philadelphia, which right now is pretty cold. Having said that, it’s a really nice city. The place where I’m staying is in a really nice area. The practice facility is actually in New Jersey so you have to cross over the bridge to get there. Where I live in Philadelphia is the arts district and it’s right near the steps that were in the Rocky movie so I walk around there a lot.

My dad was born in the US, but I never say I’m American. I say I’m Australian. Obviously I’m half American and half Egyptian and I was born and raised in Australia. I have dual US–Australian citizenship, so when it comes down to it, I’m half and half, but for the most part I identify as Australian.

I don’t know if I’ll move back to Australia one day as I think it’s too early to tell. I think I will probably go back. I went to college at UCLA in Los Angeles and have a lot of family and friends there. Even before college, when I was in high school, I would stay in LA in the summer. But Australia and Sydney are home for me.

When I’m not playing basketball, I like to work on other things that are important to me. I have a clothing brand I just started and so I’ve been busy working on that. I’ve always been into fashion and style since high school. You always know if someone is wearing something that has been selected by a stylist or something they personally want to wear and want to rock themselves. I’m a big believer in rocking what you want to rock.

The creativity for the clothing part comes from mum. I’ve always been a creative, artistic, intuitive person, but I get a lot of that from her.

You need to have an outlet away from basketball. Having an outlet is good. People say basketball is life. It is life, don’t get me wrong, but you need a balance and outlet to appreciate basketball. Some guys get to May and April and they have overdosed so much they are just looking forward to the off-season. I feel I have a great balance.

My one motto is “All Praise to the Most High”. In retrospect, my success is based on believing in myself and diving into the deep end. That’s what I did. I didn’t know what was to come when I was leaving Australia at such a young age. At the time I didn’t know what to expect or what to do. All I knew was I wanted to play basketball at the highest level. I had to believe in myself and work for what I wanted.

Have I ever had self-doubt? No, not ever. I have never struggled with self-doubt. I got to where I am because of self-belief. I don’t think you should ever doubt yourself in anything – whether it’s basketball or life.

This week’s highlights…

• Cricket: Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, day 2

Saturday, 10.30am (AEDT), Manuka Oval, Canberra

• Tennis: Davis Cup – Australia v Bosnia-Herzegovina

Saturday, 3pm (ACDT), Memorial Drive Tennis Club, Adelaide

• AFLW: Geelong Cats v Collingwood

Saturday, 6.45pm (AEDT), GMHBA Stadium, Geelong

Soccer: A-League – Sydney FC v Melbourne City

Sunday, 5pm (AEDT), Jubilee Stadium, Sydney

• Cricket: BBL – Perth Scorchers v Melbourne Stars

Sunday, 6.15pm (AWST), Optus Stadium, Perth

• American football: Super Bowl 53 – Los Angeles Rams v New England Patriots

Monday, 10.30am (AEDT), Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 2, 2019 as "True believer". Subscribe here.

Donna Walker-Mitchell
is an Australian journalist based in Los Angeles.