Credit: AFP – Scanpix
Credit AFP – Scanpix

Under normal circumstances, Jordan McRae would need no introduction. The 1,96 m. swingman, who won an NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, has joined forces with Metropolitans 92, the French club aiming high at both the domestic level and the EuroCup.

His career includes so many twists and turns that one cannot but accept that everything is possible.

Jordan McRae

Jordan  McRae
Team: Metropolitans 92 Paris
Position: SG
Age: 30
Height: 196 cm
Weight: 91 kg
Birth place: United States of America

McRae was drafted 58th overall in the second round of the 2014 NBA draft by the San Antonio Spurs but began his professional career playing in Australia and the NBA G League.

He made his NBA debut with the Phoenix Suns in 2016 as the first NBA player from Hinesville high school of his native Georgia.

Less than two months later, his luck changed since he signed a 10-day contract with the Cavs, which was converted to a multi-year contract.

Under the guidance of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, the Cavaliers made it to the 2016 NBA Finals, where they defeated the Golden State Warriors 4-3, to become the first team in the NBA history to win the championship after being down 1-3.

McRae participated in only two playoff games, tallying 9 points.

However, his term in Cleveland was short-lived. In March 2017, he was released by the franchise, and it didn't take him too long to decide on his next station.

This time, the destination was not an NBA team but EuroLeague regulars Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz.

When McRae put his signature on the contract with the Spanish side, he could not have expected the ordeal he was about to go through.

Before the season even tipped off, he suffered a shoulder injury that would accompany him until the end of the 2017-18 campaign. In the meantime, he appeared in three EuroLeague games, averaging 5.0 points on 4/17 field goal attempts overall.

After a disappointing year, very few would bet their money on McRae making an NBA comeback.

Against all odds, the Tennessee graduate worked his way onto the Washington Wizards' roster, earning a two-way contract that allowed him to play a total of 56 games with them from 2018 through 2020.

Splitting time between the Wizards and his next NBA team, the Detroit Pistons, Jordan McRae posted his best numbers during the 2019-20 season: 11.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists on top of a solid 37% from behind the arc.

However, another surprise was on the way. Despite those numbers, no NBA team offered him a contract. Consequently, McRae had to continue his journey in Asia, where he played eleven games with the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball Association in 2020-21.

Now at Metropolitans 92, coached by French NT longtime specialist Vincent Collet, the 30-year-old guard-forward hopes that he can be a significant pillar in his team's game.

After winning both its groups last season but getting swept in the quarterfinals, the Paris-based club has had a sizeable roster shakeup, with several new additions to the roster, which could facilitate a long run in this season's EuroCup.

For starters, the French side takes on Turk Telekom in Ankara in both teams' season opener.

As for the former NBA champ? His stint in Vitoria four years ago left a bitter taste. "My first European experience wasn't the best. But I'm here now, and I'm trying to have a better one," Jordan McRae told BasketNews in a lengthy conversation. "One of the big reasons that I came here is because they wanted me to lead this team to a place they'd never been," he added.

The experienced swingman with the impressive wingspan further expanded on his goals with Metropolitans 92, European basketball, mishaps with Baskonia, and the feeling of being wanted again, which tops every other reason that brought him back to the Old Continent.

Jordan, how is life in France? Can you draw any comparisons with Vitoria?

So far so good. Everything is going well. My family is here. I'm in a group of good guys. I like the coach.

Obviously, Paris is a lot bigger than Vitoria. In terms of being American, it looks more like America as far as the food and the lifestyle.

The team is coached by Vincent Collet. Given that he's accomplished a lot with the national team of France, were you familiar with his work? How would you describe his style?

I actually love his coaching style. He's a teacher; he really wants you to learn the game. When he tells you to do something, he explains to you why you're doing it.

He's doing an excellent job with the national team of France. They get better and better every year. Being able to learn new things and get different points of view of how they play here it's been good.

By the way, did you watch the Olympic Games?

Yeah, I'm a basketball guy! I watch the Olympics, EuroLeague, EuroCup, Champions League... everything. While in the States, I found a way to download EuroLeague TV on my iPad, and I watched the Final Four.

This season's EuroCup features some teams loaded with former NBA and EuroLeague players. What do you make of the competition? Do you see any clear favorites to go all the way to the trophy?

I would say our team, of course (smiles). But the thing about the EuroCup is that you can be the best team all year, you lose one game, and it's over. You have to be ready at the right time.

Teams try to match talent with talent, going out to get former NBA guys. When guys like that come over here, they want to win.

Recently, you beat AS Monaco by 27 points (108-81). It was a result that made a lot of noise throughout Europe. Do you consider it a statement on the part of your team to other contenders?

I'm one of the new guys to Europe. I lean on Vince Hunter and Will Cummings to show me the way. The guys are just saying that it's another game for us. But you're right. I think it shows that we can compete at a high level.

Do I think that we'll go to Monaco and win by 27? No, you have to be realistic, I don't think that's going to happen. But it showed that we can compete with the best of the best.

This past summer, French teams brought in many former NBA players, like Mike James, Dante Cunnigham, and Kyle O'Quinn. What's the basketball culture like over there?

This is a great league. Outside of basketball, the way of life is amazing. I've been wanting to take my family to Paris for a vacation for a long time. So, to be able to live here and see the Eiffel Tower out of my window is great.

Many were surprised to see you again in Europe after your short-term stint with Baskonia. You played a total of 37 NBA games during the 2019-20 season, essentially posting career-best numbers in almost every basic statistical category with the Wizards and the Pistons. What happened next, and you didn't return to the league?

It was a time when I had some offers. I just turned 30 years old this past year. I wanted to go somewhere where I can play all the time.

I did a lot of great things in the NBA, I averaged 12 points in my last year. I didn't want to go from that role, playing behind Brad Beal and essentially being the sixth man, to a team where I wouldn't play.

I want to have fun with it. I'm in the prime of my career, and I want to play as much as I can, maximizing my talent on the court instead of sitting behind guys.

When you moved to the Pistons, you said that you chose Detroit "because they're in a rebuilding phase, and it's always good to go to a team that wants you." You had played for Cleveland and won a championship with them at the age of 25.

From your experience, where did you enjoy basketball the most? On a team with future Hall-of-Famers, like the Cavs, or on other squads, like the Wizards, where you were a more important piece and got to play more?

Obviously, winning the championship trumps everything. But I took two different experiences away; playing alongside LeBron, who's arguably one of the greatest players ever to put his hands on a basketball, Kyrie, Kevin Love, and J.R. Smith, you learn so much from watching how they lead teams and how they conduct themselves on and off the court.

I won a championship with them, and then with the Wizards, I was the older guy. I was trying to tell guys what to do, and I was sharing my experiences from the Cavs: from not playing with them for two weeks and then playing 20-25 minutes.

Everything after that year was much needed for me as a person and a basketball player.

In an interview two years ago, you said that getting injured in Spain was a sign from the basketball gods telling you that you had made the wrong decision because you thought you could have stayed in the NBA. Was going overseas really the "easy way out" for you back then?

Having played behind LeBron and all those guys for two and a half years at 25, my main focus after that was to play. I wanted to get on the court and play. I had never gotten hurt before that. It was kind of a freak accident. That made me believe that I needed to give the NBA another chance.

Having a significant role on a team and being able to play were factors to be reckoned with, I guess.

Of course. I wanted to prove to other people and also to myself that I was a guy that they can count on, night in and night out. Playing behind Brad Beal, one of the three best shooting guards in the NBA, showing that I could play with and without him, leading the team to some wins, I showed what I was capable of.

Credit AP – Scanpix

When you were deciding to come back to Europe, after your term in Baskonia, did you think that you had left some unfinished business here, something to prove?

I definitely felt like that. One of the big reasons that I came here is because they wanted me to lead this team to a place they'd never been. It was something that I wanted to do.

This game is weird sometimes. I played 11 games in China last year. I was supposed to play a lot more, but because of the COVID rules, it was impossible.

So, a lot of teams were acting as if I didn't how to play anymore, and they didn't see me as if I didn't just average a career-best the year before in the NBA. European teams were unsure about who I was. They were asking if I could still play. For me, it was kind of a slap in the face. I've worked very hard throughout my career. My resume speaks for itself.

Once I heard that Metropolitans wanted me, I jumped to the opportunity to be where I was most wanted. Now, I'm here trying to win as many games as I can. Once again, I'm back in a situation where I am trying to prove things to myself and to everybody else. So, here we are.

Were those teams afraid of you getting injured again?

I'm not sure. I couldn't control the fact that I played 11 games in China. I was supposed to play 30, but I couldn't get over there. By the time I played my first game in China, I had spent a full year without playing. Metropolitans didn't hold things against me that I couldn't control, and that meant a lot to me.

In Spain, you had a lot of injuries to go through. How comfortable were you feeling with the European game? Did you have time to adjust?

I didn't get to learn the European game in my first go-round. In Baskonia, a lot went on. Our coach quit five games in, I got hurt, and the team was trying to force me back earlier than I was supposed to be back. All that played a part.

So, my first European experience wasn't the best. But I'm here now, and I'm trying to have a better experience.

How was it playing-wise?

I only played 2-3 games. It's hard to say. The European game is different than the NBA and China. EuroLeague Basketball is a league of its own. I didn't get to experience the full portion of it, so I'm going through a lot of my learning curves now.

You can watch it on TV, but it's not the same as being on the court, learning how the spacing works and how physical the league is. Actually, playing is a lot more physical than it looks like. If I have one thing to learn is what you can get away with in every game and what you can't.

After your experience with Baskonia, were you reluctant or hesitant to come back to Europe?

I was reluctant to come back, to be honest.

It was hard for me because I'd never gotten a serious surgery like that before, and obviously, I didn't want to have surgery. When I tried to play through my injury, and I realized that I couldn't, I was treated like an outsider.

That was tough because who wants to sit out 6-7-8 months? I definitely didn't. Once I chose to get surgery, to be treated as an outsider of the team was tough.

Credit Jon Izarra/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

So, I assume that you did your research before signing with your current team.

I did. That comes with age. Back then, I heard I was going to get good money, and I said, "let's go." I didn't really know much about Vitoria or the team. This time, I learned who the president and the GM were. I also talked to some players who had been here.

For a player coming from the NBA, does being in the EuroLeague make any difference compared to the EuroCup or the BCL?

It doesn't. Outside looking in, you see the EuroLeague, and everybody wants to be on a EuroLeague team. But once you really learn about it, essentially, it's all the same.

In any case, it must be very confusing, especially for American players, to see four continental competitions in Europe right now.

It's confusing for Americans because when you are in the NBA, and you get to the G League, that's kind of a demotion. In Europe, going from the EuroLeague to the EuroCup or the BCL can be perceived as that, but that's not what it is at all.

Kevin Punter goes from EuroLeague, averaging 16-17 points a game, to Partizan, who play in the EuroCup.

Yes, but Partizan have Zeljko Obradovic on the bench, who's the winningest coach in European basketball's history.

The winningest coach ever could have easily gone to a EuroLeague team, but he chose the EuroCup. I think financials have a part to play in that as well, but it's not a demotion at all.

The EuroLeague has got teams like Real Madrid, Efes, and CSKA Moscow. Those teams are obviously a different league.

If you were to put your priorities into perspective, would you choose a EuroLeague or an NBA return?

By the end of next year, I'll be 31. Coming to Europe was best for me, for my family, also for my mental health. The feeling of being wanted is something every basketball player in the world wants. My options are 100% open.

Something that a lot of players don't want to say is that we need to focus on what's happening right now. Sometimes we're so caught up in worrying about next year's team or money that we forget to enjoy what we're doing right now.

This year I decided to sit back and really focus on being here in Paris, with Metropolitans, trying to win the French League and the EuroCup. I feel like if I put my focus and attention on that, then everything else will fall into place.

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