Editor’s note: NBC Sports California’s fourth “King of the Day” this season is Cory Joseph. Stay with our digital and TV coverage all day long to learn everything about the Kings' backup point guard.
Before the Kings took on the Detroit Pistons on Sunday afternoon, De’Aaron Fox came out on the floor at Golden 1 Center to test his lower abdominal tightness. He worked with player development coach Rico Hines and you could see the 22-year-old point guard begin to loosen up and move freely.
That wasn’t the case for Cory Joseph, Fox’s backup.
Joseph looked good for a minute or two when he first walked on the floor, but then he grabbed at his bruised right heel. After playing in the previous 253 consecutive games, it appeared that Joseph would see his streak end.
When the official active report was handed in, Joseph, surprisingly, was available. With his team trailing 18-1 four minutes and 22 seconds into the game, coach Luke Walton called on Joseph to steady the ship.
Joseph answered the call with a made 3-pointer less than two minutes later, which gave Sacramento its first made basket. The Kings would rally back and beat the Pistons 106-100, and it all started with a single made bucket.
This is who Joseph is. He’s not a scorer, unless that is what the Kings need. He’s made a strong career in the NBA as a role player, which is something he takes great pride in, just like he does with his games-played streak.
Joseph has helped grow the game of basketball in Canada significantly (photo via USA Today Sports Images)
For decades, Canada has been known as a hockey country. That notion is changing, and Cory Joseph is at the forefront of the movement.
Beginning with the inception of the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies leading up to the 1995-96 season, Canada took a deep dive into NBA action. The Grizzlies struggled to take hold, and would last just five seasons north of the border before relocating to Memphis.
The Raptors didn’t suffer the same fate.
While they struggled in the standings, Toronto got a little luck when they selected Tracy McGrady during the 1997 NBA Draft and then traded for rookie Vince Carter on draft night 1998.
Having a pair of young stars to rally around seemed to help open doors for a fledgling franchise. But regardless, just having the Raptors in Toronto helped spark the imagination of young players across the country.
“It meant everything to the youth growing up in that area,” Joseph said during the taping of the Purple Talk podcast. “Watching guys like [Doug Christie], Damon Stoudemire, Marcus Camby, Dell Curry, Donyell Marshall -- there were a bunch of guys that we were able to see up close and personal playing on the TV.”
The globalization of the NBA began years before. Spreading to Canada made logical sense, but it wasn’t an easy market to break into. But once it took hold, the game grew quickly.
“We didn’t get much exposure to basketball up there,” Joseph added. “We didn’t have the camps we have now and things of that nature. Being able to have the Raptors there and spark it, I think they came in '95, that was able to spark a lot of those things.”
Joseph was just four years old during the Raptors' inaugural season. Like so many other young kids in Canada, he was drawn to the flashy new thing. Joseph and others put down their hockey sticks and started what would become a basketball revolution of sorts.
“For so long, it was us trying to figure it out, trying to run with the big boys,” Kings chief of staff Roy Rana told NBC Sports California. “We had a lot of great Canadian talent over the years, but we were never able to get it over the top and into the NBA. For our grassroots system, for our coaches, it was -- how do we do that? How do we figure that out?”
Rana, who joined coach Walton’s staff over the summer, has known the Joseph family since Cory and his older brother Devoe were toddlers. Rana has a longstanding relationship with Cory’s parents, David and Connie Joseph, and he started coaching Cory in seventh grade.
“When I found out we signed him here in Sacramento, it was a surreal moment because Cory and I have shared so much together over the years and it was totally unexpected when I took the job here,” Rana said. “Although we’ve crossed paths and obviously we have familiar relationships with his family and beyond, we haven’t been able to spend this much time together for many many years.”
The two have been part of a shared basketball story for years, even if they haven’t always walked hand in hand. Rana helped spread the game in Canada through a grassroots movement. Joseph became a guinea pig of sorts as the game grew.
For a player like Joseph, who had already won two Ontario provincial high school championships in 2007 and 2008 playing with his brother, skill wasn’t the issue. Finding the type of notoriety in Canada that would draw NBA buzz was difficult.
“We always had a good amount of players go college and D-1, that was kind of our NBA in a sense, before players were making the NBA,” Joseph said of his experience as a prep athlete. “So we had talent, but the exposure wasn’t there, you know what I mean? As the exposure grew, I think kids started to be more inspired and more interested in the sport and started to work harder. And then it kind of trended in that direction.”
Needing to take his game to a bigger stage, Joseph, along with AAU teammate and lifelong friend Tristan Thompson, made their way to Henderson, Nev. for a new adventure.
“That’s one of my brothers,” Joseph said of Thompson. “We’ve been on a life journey, not just basketball. We got up at a young age. We were playing in AAU in grassroots Canada.”
The pair joined Findlay Prep, where they, along with current NBA player Avery Bradley, became a force to be reckoned with.
“Findlay Prep was a great opportunity for me to move and get more exposure,” Joseph said. “The exposure I was talking about. When I was growing up in Toronto, people knew there were some players -- (Steve) Nash and those guys that I mentioned, came out of Canada, but the exposure wasn’t there yet.”
Joseph and Thompson took their basketball journey to the next level. Their squad would go on to win back-to-back Nevada state championships and earned both the opportunity they needed to land scholarships with the Texas Longhorns.
After just one year at the NCAA level, Thompson and Joseph entered the 2011 NBA Draft. Thompson went No. 4 overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Joseph would have to wait until the San Antonio Spurs’ selection at pick No. 29 to hear his name called.
“I think me and Tristan were the first ones to go in the first round together -- two Canadians in the first round,” Joseph said. “Ever since then, that was nine years ago, there have been multiple Canadians every year. It’s been a huge blast of Canadian talent just getting into the NBA.”
There had been Canadian born players who made it to the league before, but they were few and far between. Rick Fox began his career in 1991, the year Joseph was born. Nash joined the league in 1996 and Jamaal Magloire was drafted four years later in 2000, just to name a few.
For years, there was a trickle of players streaming in from Canada, but Joseph and Thompson opened a floodgate of young players who had grown up with the Raptors. They were only the beginning of an invasion of talent from the north.
“This wave is a result of many, many years of young kids participating in the development system in Canada and really following guys like Tristan and Cory,” Rana said. “Their leadership and just kind of following their path.”
Canadian players Anthony Bennett (2013) and Andrew Wiggins (2014) were No. 1 draft selections in back-to-back seasons, and the stream of talent hasn’t stopped.
Kelly Olynyk, Jamal Murray, Nik Stauskas, Trey Lyles, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Brandon Clarke and R.J. Barrett all have gone in the lottery since 2013 as talent has poured in from the region.
While it started with the Raptors, it really was Joseph and Thompson who blazed the trail for the current group.
Joseph always has played for the national team, including last summer when he represented Canada in the FIBA World Cup (photo via Associated Press)
Joseph isn’t just a kid from Canada who came to the states and turned his back on his country of origin. Even before he left for Findlay Prep, Joseph joined the Canadian National Team program and he has been a part of the squad ever since.
“I’m very prideful,” Joseph said of representing his country. “Since I was maybe 15 years old, I’ve played for the national team, even the junior national team.”
Needing to push himself and search out new challenges, Joseph used the national program as a way to expand his game. It allowed him to travel the world and test himself against global opponents.
“It helped my development,” Joseph said of the experience. “Every summer I looked at it as an opportunity to get better and to compete against some of the best talent in the world.”
Playing internationally is a theme in Sacramento. General manager Vlade Divac and assistant GM Peja Stojakovic made their names playing for the Yugoslavia and Serbia national teams. The same goes for current Kings teammates Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica.
Harrison Barnes has been a part of Team USA for a decade, and both De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley gave the program a shot last summer.
“I always look at it as an honor to play for your country, not many people get to do that,” Joseph said. “Especially, Canada is considered a hockey country and to be a part of that turn where everyone is interested in hockey and then they are more interested in basketball, it’s a very special thing.”
At 28, Joseph is one of the elder statesmen of the Canadian national program. He is the team captain and he hopes to lead a group of highly skilled young players this summer at the Olympic games in Japan, although they’ll need to win a qualifying tournament in June to make the field in Tokyo.
“He’s very quietly become one of the great Canadian players of all time,” Rana said. “But he’s done so in such a humble way. He’s still underrated -- his impact. We’ll only appreciate him more as he continues to enter this stage of his career.”
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is coaching the national team, and he has a long list of players to choose from when constructing his roster for this summer. Joseph should be on that list.
After spending so much time in the program, Joseph would like to continue to contribute to the Canadian basketball program after his playing days.
“My heart is definitely there,” Joseph said. “If I get the opportunity to give back to the youth that’s coming up, to be a part of that next generation, would be something I’m interested in.”
Joseph has never missed the playoffs in his eight-year NBA career (photo via USA Today Sports Images)
Joseph started winning at a young age. As an AAU standout, he was part of a group of players that would bus down from Toronto and play in tournaments all over the U.S. He won two championships in Canada as a high school player, and another two while playing for Findlay Prep.
In his lone season at the NCAA level, he helped Texas post a 28-8 record and they made it to the third round of the NCAA tournament.
“He’s been tremendous, he’s done it all and he’s done it the right way,” Rana said. “He’s just a winner. Everywhere he goes, he wins. He’s had a huge impact. He’s helped a lot of players dream the dream. His name might not be in the lights like some others, but he certainly has been a leader and a trailblazer for sure.”
At the NBA level, Joseph has made the postseason in all eight of his seasons as a pro, including a championship as a member of the Spurs during the 2013-14 season.
“He’s someone who has been in the playoffs every year of his career and he shows that by the fact that he doesn’t miss games, he doesn’t miss practices, he can’t walk one day and the next he’s doing everything he can to help his team,” Walton said. “He’s been an incredible example of a leader, leading by example for the group.”
The experience of playing for the Spurs during his first four seasons in the league left an incredible mark on Joseph as a player. He got to go to work every day for one of the greatest franchises in professional sports, including a Hall of Fame coach and three-or-four Hall of Fame players.
“I got thrown into practice, Tony (Parker) was cutting me up,” Joseph said. “I had T.J. Ford, from Texas, that was helping me too. I had a lot of guys there just to help me, not only on the court, but to grow from a boy to a man. Professionally, it was amazing for me because I got to see it done the right way from Tim (Duncan), Tony, Manu (Ginobili), Pop (Gregg Popovich).”
When you play for the Spurs, it’s about something much bigger than one individual person or player. It’s about sacrificing for the team and putting in the work.
“Every day, just consistent with the way they worked, their routines, just doing everything the right way, on and off the court,” Joseph said. “I think that just built me into the professional I am today.”
While Joseph hasn't developed into a star at the NBA level, he learned about who and what he is in the league during his stint in San Antonio. It’s a lesson that he can impart onto others as he makes his way through the league.
“Everyone knew their role and everyone was trying to be a star in their role and it just fit together,” Joseph said. “It was great.”
When Joseph signed a three-year, $37 million contract with the Kings in the summer, it was to back up Fox. An early-season injury cost the Kings’ starting point guard 17 games, which thrust Joseph into the starting lineup and a role that he’s rarely had during his time in the NBA.
“He brings it every game,” Fox said. “He knows what he needs to do. He does his job and he does it extremely well. There are times when you need someone to step up and he’s the guy taking big shots to stop a run. He’s definitely come through for us.”
“He’s a great guy to learn from,” Fox added.
Not known for his scoring ability, Joseph does what is necessary. If his team needs a big shot, he doesn’t mind stepping up, but his real role is to manage the game and help slow his opponent on the defensive end.
“His leadership has been huge,” Walton said. “Starting with losing De’Aaron for as long as we did, after getting off to such a slow start. He was a big reason we started to find some success early in the season.”
Joseph is part of a veteran group that has helped hold the Kings together through adversity and a slew of injuries. The team enters Tuesday just 3.5 games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff chase and a lot of that has to do with Joseph and a small group of veterans that have helped get the team back on track.
“You want guys like Cory, you want guys like Harrison (Barnes), just ultimate professionals that are about doing their business every day,” Walton said. “The consistency that they bring is what it takes.”
Behind the scenes, Joseph is a player that his teammates rely on. He is quiet and professional. He has a contagious laugh and he always shows up.
Joseph doesn’t need a reminder as to how many consecutive games he’s played in. He knows the number and he takes great pride in watching it grow, even when he has a difficult time getting out of bed the next day.
“You have young players like De’Aaron and Marvin (Bagley) that you want to be stars in this league,” Walton continued. “One of the hardest things to do and one of the hardest things to figure out as young players is how do you do it every single night. I think Cory might not be an All-Star, but he’s had the success that he’s had because of how he goes about doing his business.”
From Canada to the Kings, Joseph has been the consummate professional. He’s a leader in his own way both on and off the court, and he’s someone that the coaching staff and players can rely on.
“He’s loved by his teammates,” Rana said. “And for the right reasons. He’s about the right things and any organization that has a character like Cory Joseph is better for it.”
Plenty of players have taken big-money contracts from Sacramento and not lived up to them. That is not the case with Joseph. He’s the same player today that he was last season in Indiana, and he will be that same player next season as well.
The Kings don’t always get it right when it comes to free-agent acquisitions, but Joseph is a keeper. He isn’t flashy and he doesn’t need 10 shots a game, but he shows up every day with his lunch pail in hand and gives you a consistent effort you can count on.