Dancing With the Stars: Iman Shumpert opens up

If only for a brief period of time, former NBA champ Iman Shumpert has traded in his basketball shoes for dancing ones.

The 2011 first-round draftee is currently a contestant on the 30th season of Dancing With the Stars, paired with Daniella Karagach, who last season finished in third place with rapper Nelly. Shumpert appeared in two games for the Nets last season, and while he is still hoping to break back into the NBA, he’s currently staying in shape in the high-intensity world of ballroom dancing.

When Shump’s agent called and asked whether he would be interested in joining the show, he realized it could almost be therapeutic.

“Why not say yes and take on a challenge?” Shumpert asks. “While I’m working on basketball, if I’m doing some other stuff I’m attached to, maybe I won’t be as pissed I’m not on a team.”

Shumpert has made it through the first two eliminations on the show, fighting through a massive height difference between himself and his partner. He says dancing is less nerve-wracking than basketball because in hoops, you could be as ready as possible but someone on the other side may be a little bit more ready on a given night.

Ahead of Week 4’s Disney-themed competition, Shumpert caught up with Sports Illustrated to discuss his dancing, his desire to get back in the NBA, and more.

SI: I watched you do the jive and it was incredible. And I feel like the judges robbed you with the score they gave you on your first dance. Is it hard for you to go up there, give all this effort, and then you get a tough score from the judges?

Iman Shumpert: It’s not as tough for me, man, I play basketball. I don’t think people realize how hard the criticism is surrounding the game that I’ve played. My whole life my father raised me on constructive criticism. He’s always planted a battery in me to want to take on challenges and take on things that I’m not so strong in. It kind of goes hand-in-hand with being a man.

SI: What was your training like for this show? And what was the most challenging part for you?

IS: The most challenging part is remembering the steps. A lot of the music that we’re doing isn’t the music that I’ve been accustomed to dancing to. Even though like “Hey Ya” is one of my favorite songs when I’m riding in the car with my family, it’s not a song that I usually get up and go into the jive. So I think that the biggest challenge is trying to remember the steps to music that I’m familiar with as far as dancing and then trying to dance within the structure of whatever that ballroom dance is. Sometimes you’re listening to a song and you want to just move the way you want to move, but you’ve got to stay strict to that ballroom style. That’s probably why some of my scores don’t reflect the showmanship that a crowd would see.

SI: Your wife [Teyana Taylor] is a legendary dancer, and you guys appeared in a music video together, although she was doing the heavy lifting in that one. Did you practice with her at all? How much advice have you gotten from her?

IS: She was actually filming a movie in New York, and now she’s preparing for a tour. So we actually have been living separately as we both had to abide by the COVID stuff and quarantine. She hasn’t been dancing with me. She’s been more of a coach, and even in some of the dances she doesn’t know everything about, she’s saying “This one is more about your attitude.” She’s like, “You got to dominate the tango.” She’s like “You have to know your stuff and move your partner around and be in her face.” It was funny because Danielle was like “Man, you really brought it when the lights came on,” and that’s because I got cursed out before.

SI: Your former teammates have been tweeting about your dances, trying to get you votes. What’s the reaction been like from them? 

IS: It’s crazy, everybody is way more supportive. I thought more people would be like, “Man this is crazy, your big 6′ 6″ ass.” But it’s been more people saying they respect my moves and showing another side of myself. Seeing me doing it with a smile, even though I’m not on a team, I’m not depressed in the corner somewhere. I’m just continuing to challenge myself any way I can. I’m gonna do that but trust me, in my head I’m thinking, it’s just loading a space; somebody is gonna call. You know, hopefully once the season picks up, somebody says they need me. They’ll ask “Are you in shape?” and they’ll be thoroughly impressed with what they see.

SI: In terms of basketball, how frustrating has this period been for you? What can you even do at this point to try to get back in the league?

IS: There’s a feeling like it’s so far away, but then as I watch these games I see that I can still have an impact. I got to rest on the guys just knowing who I am, knowing my work ethic, knowing what I can do and what I’m capable of. I’m not a person that’s gonna be running around here trying to jump into summer leagues and get all this footage together; I’ve got to take care of my body and think the right way.

A couple years ago before I joined the Nets I wasn’t doing anything and they called me to see what I was doing. And when Kyrie [Irving] Facetimed me, I just so happened to be in the gym. He called to see if I had been working out, and I was like, y’all ain’t gotta worry about me doing my job. I just finished my third straight run. I love basketball. I love it. This is what I’ve been doing since I was a kid. I’m not playing just because somebody calls. I play because I like playing.

SI: Is it very important to you to sign only with a contender? Are those the only teams you want to play for?

IS: You know what’s crazy, I enjoyed my time with Sacramento so much. That was probably one of my biggest heartbreaks. I found a place where I liked having the young blood around me. They didn’t really understand everything, but it’s like, I didn’t understand anything when I got in the league. I feel like they’re a step further ahead of me, because at least they have that gene in their mind that says, ‘Yo, I don’t know what’s going on, but I know I’m athletic enough to do this. And I don’t care if y’all yell at me tomorrow.’ 

I was so much more disciplined. I’m like, I don’t want to get yelled at because, you know, these are my favorite players, Carmelo Anthony. Amar’e [Stoudemire]. Oh my god, Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd. J.R. Smith. I don’t want anybody to get mad at me. I’ve been waiting my whole life to look around a locker room like this.

I took whatever I learned in a locker room, and I felt like I passed it along. And I was able to be that bridge for communication between the young guys on our team and the veterans on our team and the veteran league that we play in. And when the playoffs come, it’s very detrimental to your team if you don’t have players that have been around the block before, as far as, you know, actually eliminating teams from the playoffs. 

That championship hunt is different, but it’s something that I’ve done again and again. You know, I’m not gonna sit here and act like the teams I was on weren’t very talented ballclubs. But just being in those situations, learning those situations, being comfortable in those situations. Understanding the game plan, understanding the adjustments that have to be made, understanding the coaches around their schemes, knowing these things and taking it and giving it to players as young as them. 

I felt like our relationship was really growing out there in Sacramento. So when I left there to go to Houston, it was a very strange feeling. But other than that, I don’t have to go to a contender to feel happy. I just want to play basketball the right way. And I want to stand on that whether I’m in the league or not. 

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