SACRAMENTO -- Part Hollywood. Part New York. Part crazy. Iman Shumpert is one of those people who lives his life with a song playing in his head. Sometimes it stays on the inside and other times he can be heard belting out tunes.
He’s a live wire and when he first joined the Sacramento Kings there was some reservation as to how he might fit in with the young group.
A quarter of the way through the 2018-19 season, Shumpert isn’t just a valuable member of the rotation, he is a voice in the locker room, on the court and even on the big screen in the stadium during timeouts.
Following the win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday evening, Shumpert was in rare form. He had the locker room in stitches after a tough stretch that saw the team lose three in a row.
“He’s crazy, he’s a fun guy to be around,” Buddy Hield said. “His personality, it rubs off on everybody. We’re glad to have a veteran like that.”
There is a something different about Shumpert. He has an odd habit of telling everyone happy birthday, regardless of whether it is their birthday or not. He likes to talk and make noise, but his teammates have embraced his quirkiness.
“He’s positive crazy, that’s how I like to say it,” Bogdan Bogdanovic said. “For sure we needed him last year and he’s one of the toughest guys I’ve played with.”
The eight-year NBA vet brings a positive energy and a playfulness to the team, which is needed in a long 82-game schedule. After missing all but 14 games last year due to injury, Shumpert seems to appreciate the delicate nature of an NBA career.
“It’s a purehearted joy of playing basketball,” coach Dave Joerger said. “I don’t know what his career path and where he’s been as far as playing time and having a role that’s really meaningful. He’s playing minutes. He’s got a position where he’s got a younger team and he says, ‘I’m happy, I’m having fun.’”
In a locker room filled with kids, Shumpert is a big brother. He’s played in the Big Apple, he’s played for winners and he has a championship ring from his time in Cleveland. His opinion and advice matters to his teammates.
“We’re glad to have a veteran like that,” Hield said. “He’s been to the Finals a couple of times and he brings experience. He’s all about winning too. He brings the culture of winning. He’s always preaching that”
There was a time when Shumpert began to doubt whether he would be able to still make an impact on an NBA court. Injuries began to pile up, which affect each player differently.
“When you have those moments and you have those types of thoughts where you’re saying, ‘Is my body going to hold up, am I ever going to feel like felt when I came in?,’ you’ve just got a different appreciation,” Shumpert said last week following practice. “When you can wake up and say, ‘Man, I can do it, I don’t have this nagging injury bothering me this morning. My mental’s not on that, my mental’s on coming in here to play basketball.’”
“Being free of that feeling when it first hit in the summer, my smile came back,” Shumpert added.
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At 28-years-old, the former Georgia Tech star is one of the few veterans receiving playing time in Sacramento. He’s the only player with more than four years of experience in the league in the rotation and he’s clearly the team’s best perimeter defender.
A shooting guard for most of his career, Shumpert has found a home as the team’s starting small forward and he’s giving the team a spark or both ends of the court.
More importantly, he’s providing leadership and a some levity. He’s helping to build the culture of the Kings with one smile and one song at a time. He’s enjoying himself and his teammates have appreciate his presence.
An unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, nothing is guaranteed moving forward. But Shumpert is making the most of his opportunity to play the game he loves and he’s more than happy to act as a mentor to his young teammates. He lives in the moment and for now, the moment has him in Sacramento.