Over ten years as a professional athlete, basketball has taken Donald Sloan almost everywhere. After not getting selected by an NBA franchise in 2010, he began his journey with the Reno Bighorns in the G-League, to which he returned twice.
However, his career took an interesting turn very soon, as not one, but three NBA teams asked for his services during the 2011-12 campaign. The Atlanta Hawks, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Cleveland Cavaliers offered Sloan the chance to showcase his talent, but it was in his three-year stint with the Indiana Pacers and the Brooklyn Nets that he had the most success. Coming off the bench, the Texas-born point guard put up some of his career-best numbers and performances between 2014 and 2016.
China holds a special place in his path, as Sloan lit up the Chinese Basketball Association with the Guangdong Southern Tigers as many as three times. Although many European teams approached him, the once Texas A&M standout repeatedly chose other destinations. In fact, if it wasn’t for the COVID-19 pandemic, which stormed over China last winter, he might never have come to Telekom Baskets Bonn from Germany. It is somewhat ironic that Sloan barely showed his talents in a third continent, as he got to play only three games with the German side, the last one being Bonn’s farewell to the FIBA Champions League. AEK Athens, featuring seasoned veterans like Mario Chalmers, Nikos Zisis and Keith Langford, swept the series (2-0) and sealed the ticket for the tournament’s Final 8, scheduled for next September.
TalkBasket.net had a 70-minute discussion with the 32-year-old guard, in which Donald Sloan expressed his opinion on a variety of topics.
First on the list was the status with the coronavirus pandemic in the United States and its potential repercussions on the NBA, including players’ contracts. Following Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard and vice president for the NBA players association CJ McCollum, who estimated about one third of NBA ballers are living paycheck to paycheck, Sloan made a similar reference in this interview, explaining the implications and the background of the lockdown.
The interview is divided into three parts. The first is about the COVID-19 situation, the second is devoted to Sloan’s NBA and college years and the third deals with his past and future plans. To facilitate the reader, a summary of the most important quotes has been placed above each segment.
“I’m good. I’m trying to stay active as much as I can, running outside, watching a lot TV. Other than that, we’re pretty much locked down. In the States, numbers still seem to be rising. They said they’re going to wait for another three weeks to see if they will go down to change some restrictions, but right now there’s a lot of cases every day”, Sloan recounts from his Dallas residence. The USA -and New York, in particular- have been plagued by the pandemic, which has cost thousands of lives.
Part I: “President Trump could have taken the virus a little more seriously. The cancellation of the season is inevitable. If the top names in the league would have been OK, the owners would have the games played behind closed doors. LeBron and Durant will be fine even with a 50% cut, unless they’re willing to give up money so that other players can get more percentage. I will understand if players get a 20, maybe 25% cut on their salaries. A lot of guys live paycheck to paycheck and it’s going to be tough for them.”
Q: As an American citizen, are you content with the way President Trump has been handling the COVID-19 situation?
A: I feel he hasn’t done the best job of getting in front of it, as he could, but I guess he’s trying. Maybe in November or December, when they talked up the coronavirus for the first time before it got crazy in China and before it started spreading in January, he could have passed a couple of bills. He dismembered the Centre for Disease, a group of doctors that worked under the government, just a month before the pandemic got pretty bad. He could have reacted sooner, he could have taken it a little more seriously. In the beginning, many thought that the virus was going to stay in Asia or be as it is in Greece, Mexico and other countries right now, with low numbers.
Q: When did you get back to Dallas?
A: About two weeks ago. We stayed in Bonn for a couple of weeks, trying to figure out if we were going to play any more games, after our last one against AEK Athens in Germany. After that, we had a day off and there were rumours about the season getting postponed because of the virus or games being played with no fans. After the games were suspended, we had a week off, when we practiced once. It would have been OK to stay and wait in Germany, but they closed the facilities. So, there was no point in being there. A lot of guys decided to go home.
Q: What’s your status right now? What did they tell you in Bonn? The only thing we know it that the German League won’t be played at least until the end of April.
A: The GM of the team told me that clubs will be talking about the league in the next weeks. A couple of owners want to finish the season, whether that be with no fans or start again in June. The majority of the teams want to cancel the season, keeping as much revenue as they can and trying to focus on the next year. My position now is that the cancellation of the season is inevitable, no matter how much the teams will fight for the opposite. They will just come to the realisation: “Hey, let’s just cancel it”.
Q: Do you think the NBA reacted quickly enough to prevent games behind closed doors and an even worse scenario?
A: I know many teams which make a lot of money from sponsors, ticket sales, merchandise. In the NBA, money is being paid upfront, through the channels broadcasting the games. They have sponsors that have paid them already. So, I think NBA acted quickly enough, trying to do it with no fans, but once players like LeBron, Steph and a lot of big names stepped in and said: “No, we don’t want to play without fans”, things changed. If the top names in the league would have been OK, the owners would have the games played behind closed doors. It’s a players’ league. Players don’t have much say-so in Europe.
Q: Do you agree with the Basketball Champions League hosting a Final 8 tournament in September to finish the season?
A: Yeah, I heard that they’re going to do that and then they’re just kind of roll into the next season. It’s going to be tough for guys playing on all eight teams because they will have to go back a lot earlier than what they normally would, so that they can play all three games. Overall, I agree with this decision. It’s single elimination games and you play only three times, so it’s not too bad.
Q: In terms of players’ salaries, it seems that there is contradicting information about what’s going on. For instance, NBA teams reportedly intend to withhold up to 25% of players’ money if the season gets cancelled. Which would be the most fair or viable solution to you?
A: There’s a lot of money that’s going to be missed and not paid. NBA teams make money and a large sum is paid upfront anyway, as half-partnership or sponsorship with the team. It’s not like they’re going to give it in the end of the season. So, sponsors will probably be mad if their brand isn’t exposed, but due to the virus there’s no basketball being played. Money is already out and I think they should give the guys what they’re owed. I think that a normal salary should be paid because it’s agreed upon before the virus, but to protect the owners I will understand if players get a 20, maybe 25% cut on their salaries. A lot of guys live paycheck to paycheck and it’s going to be tough for them.
At the end of the day, you can’t have guys like LeBron, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul speak for the NBA players. They have many endorsements and commercials. You got to ask the guys on minimum contract that get $100,000 for the year or make $3,000,000 in two years. You can’t ask LeBron and Kevin Durant because they will be fine even with 50%, unless they’re willing to give up money so that other players can get more percentage. I’d want more money, only because it’s not the same like Europe. In the NBA, if you find a $1,000,000 contract, with taxes and all that you’ll probably get only $500,000.
Q: What happened in Germany?
A: They said everyone is going to get 20% less: staff, front office, players who accept the cut and are willing to stay there and wait what will happen with the season. Me and a couple of other guys knew that they’re going to cancel the season and there’s no reason to stay in Germany. So, I just agreed to the buyout and got my March payment.
Q: Are you a free agent right now?
A: Yes, I haven’t received my termination papers. Potentially, I could explore new opportunities. My agent believes that the league is going to start anytime soon and once they do, there’s going to be a lot of rushing, like trying to find and sign players to finish the season.
Q: In your first NBA season, back in 2011 when you split time between three teams, you witnessed the lockout. To what extent would you associate today’s lockdown to what happened then?
A: The last lockout was about who gets the majority of the pie, but guys were speaking for players who are already had a lot of money. So, they hurried up and signed the deal to end the lockout just because most players needed some type of income coming in. That’s why they ended up signing the deal they didn’t want to sign. Guys were becoming a bit hasty.
The only difference now is that it’s not our choice. I’m sure that 70-80% of the league would have been OK playing with no fans, but the big names wouldn’t play without them. I don’t think this is a majority-decision-type thing. It came from the 20% of the players who are the face of the league, who met with Adam Silver and made the final decision to cut it until everything is under control. There’s a few front office people doing a great job, making sure those people are tested, not showing any signs or symptoms.
Q: Do you believe players’ salaries will be reduced next season?
A: Yeah, the cap is going to be down because they depend on the revenue from this year. That’s how they set the cap. All the money teams thought were going to have for free agency is way lower now. There will be a lot of good guys taking less money or a lot of guys taking minimum deals, so that they can sign the big names they want to. It’s a change, for sure. The NBA is already talking about the league going from December to August. My idea was: Why not scrap this year and start again fresh in September-October? This will be an asterisk year. The only problem with that is guys trying to salvage the season so that they can still get paychecks.
Part II: “In terms of franchise, Indiana was the best place for me. China was a financial decision. There wasn’t room for me in the Wizards because Satoransky showed that he had grown as a point guard. I didn’t see an All-Star in DeAndre, but I knew Europe was going to be tough for Jimmer. He’s not a physical player and Europe is very physical, but referees in Europe choose when they want to let you play like that.“
In the second part of the interview, Donald Sloan refers to players: the ones that he looked up to, played with and against, or the ones that stood in his way to an NBA comeback.
Q: Being undrafted in 2010 delayed somewhat your NBA career?
A: No, I wasn’t ready yet. I thought I was because I felt confident at the workouts, but when I actually played Summer League and went to camp with Sacramento I realized I wasn’t ready. So, I played in the D-League to get better and gain confidence. I needed that year of development, before anything else was going to happen. By 2011, I was ready to go. Didn’t get to play right away, but I was good enough to beat a lot of guys who were drafted or were in camp.
Q: When you were playing alongside DeAndre Jordan in college (Texas A&M), did you see a future NBA All-Star in him?
A: He was only 17 at the time and he was a freak athlete. I didn’t see an All-Star, but a potentially good, solid NBA player who can rebound, box out etc, but then he kind of surpassed that. He’s having a great career. He was the No.35 pick in the draft, but had he stayed for another year (in college), he would have been in the TOP 20. He did what was right because he was able to play a lot.
Q: Coming from Dallas, who were your favorite players?
A: Probably Deron Williams, Steve Nash once with the Mavericks, Nick Van Exel. I didn’t really watch a lot of Jason Kidd. When he was in Dallas and they won it that year, I was rooting for Miami actually. Back then, I was a fan of LeBron and Wade, plus Bosh is from Dallas. So, I was kind of rooting for his hometown.
Q: Who’s the most fearsome point guard you’ve ever played against?
A: I’d probably have to say either Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker and I can’t forget Damian Lillard. All those guys, when I played against them, they were hard to stop. I played very well against anybody else: John Wall, Steph Curry, Rajon Rondo, Baron Davis.
Q: Which of your five NBA teams would you go back in a flash if you could?
A: Probably Indiana. I had a lot of success there. They were a pretty tight-knit team, with a winning culture. The city was easy to manoeuvre around and the fans were great. I’ve been to Atlanta, New Orleans, Cleveland, Brooklyn. Atlanta and Brooklyn are great cities, but in terms of franchise Indiana was the best place.
Q: After your probably best NBA season in 2016 with the Brooklyn Nets, you moved to China. Did you have no NBA offers at the time?
A: It was a financial decision. I had the option to go to Detroit, Chicago and San Antonio. All three were trying to get me on another minimum deal at around $1.2 million. After tax deduction and agent fees, there would be something like $700-800,000. In China, the team I played in 2013, made me an offer to come back and play with Yi Jianlian. Me and Carlos Boozer agreed to go over there and the money was great. China came with $2.7 million and tax-free. I was 28 at the time and I had the chance to sign my biggest deal so far. So, I went there, got to the finals and lost. After that, I had no real looks at getting back in the league. I’ve been in camp with some teams, but nothing happened.
Q: In 2017, Wizards coach Scott Brooks said they might keep you for the season. Were you disappointed by the way things turned out?
A: Supposedly, they needed another point guard and I was the one. So, I said: ”Let’s do it!”. But when I got there, the team already had John Wall and Tim Frazier, while Thomas Satoransky was supposed to strictly play at the “2” (because playing him at the “1” didn’t work out in the previous season) and coach told me that I’d probably be playing with him. I was cool with that, but when in camp they were really trying to push him at the “1” and there wasn’t any room for me because he was playing well enough to show that he had grown for the position. So, they stuck with him; John Wall plays 40 minutes a game and Tim Frazier was there in case anybody got hurt.
Q: How was your European debut with Telekom Baskets Bonn?
A: Good. Intense, physical, everything that I had imagined, pretty much. The BCL is a good competition, really controlled. It’s grown-men basketball. This is my first experience in Europe and I wish it could have been better. I was definitely looking forward to playing some pretty good games in the German League. We were going to play against Bayern Munich, Alba Berlin, Bamberg. But what can you do?
Q: For a guy that has excelled in China, how hard is it to adjust to another style of basketball? I was also thinking about Jimmer Fredette’s case and how he seemed to struggle in the Euroleague.
A: No, I think it depends on who you are as a person. Since he was in Middle school, Jimmer used to shoot crazy shots, dribble a lot, have the ball in his hands. He wasn’t used to a “real team” concept, a European, Spurs-style of basketball. China is perfect if you want to shoot the ball many times and you have only one other foreigner on the team. He proved he was a scorer in college, but when the time for the NBA came, they gave him a year and he didn’t show that he can do all that at a higher level. So, teams gave up on him pretty early. If he had played better in the Summer League, guys in the NBA would have thought that he should just get more comfortable. But he wasn’t able to do it in the Summer League either.
He’s not really a point guard, but a scoring guard. In Europe, it worked in some cases because certain things allow a player to dominate the ball and shoot a lot, but for the most part of the year that’s not going to pan out. With the team that he’s on (Panathinaikos OPAP), he can’t do that. His game doesn’t fit the team’s style of playing. That’s why it seems that he can’t do what he’s supposed to do. He’s still the same player, but on a different system. In the Euroleague, it’s tougher to score, but if he adapts, the more he will be able to play his game. He’ll adapt if his coach is willing to wait for it to happen. Teams in Euroleague want to win now and expect him to make all these threes, but Jimmer is not a physical player and Europe is very physical. He’s not used to physicality, size and style of play. I knew that it was going to be tough for him when he signed.
Q: How about yourself?
A: I’m more adaptable. I don’t have to take ten or twenty shots a game. I play my role, I try to see what’s going on throughout the game. It’s funny because in our last game against AEK Athens in Germany, as I was just getting adjusted and comfortable, ready to show what I can really do, I started getting these crazy foul calls. I’ve literally been in foul trouble two times in the past eight seasons. I don’t foul. I play aggressively, make a charge here and there. The most fouls I’ve gotten was two or three. For me, to be on the bench in the first quarter with two fouls and still seven minutes to play, it felt differently.
Q: That rings a bell. It reminds me of what Brandon Rush said about the impossibility to be physical in Europe at a time when physicality is a necessary condition.
A: (laughs). Yeah, exactly! They (referees) pick and choose when they want to let you play physical or when they will call a foul. I scored 14 points in maybe 11 minutes, but I was going to use that game as a statement: “Here I come, it’s time to do what i do”. I’m comfortable with helping my team win. I used to score 26 points in China and I don’t care if I average 10-12 in Europe. I think that if you expected a guy like Jimmer Fredette to average 20 points in Europe, for anyone who knew the league and how the game is played, that was going to be impossible.
Q: How were things in China?
A: Once the virus hit, everything went on lockdown. We were in the Chinese New Year, so there weren’t any games being played until February 1st. When my agent told me one morning that I had to get out, I hurried up, got on a flight and flew back home. Since then, there’s been no real communication on when the league is supposed to start back. So, I thought: “That’s done. It’s time to go to Europe”.
Q: How about the CBA?
A: Not everybody can go to China because they don’t need so many foreigners on each team. So, you see it as an opportunity to earn a lot of money in a short period of time. In China, once you’re registered with one team, whatever happens -say you get hurt and you’re out for one or two months- the team can keep you there, bring somebody else and then deactivate your contract. In this case, you can’t go back to China for the rest of the season. It’s not like Europe, where they cut you and you can go to another team, getting your letter of clearance. This means that because I was registered with the Beijing team in the beginning, now that they are trying to resume the season, a couple of teams that were interested in me can’t sign me. So, even for China, I have to wait until next season. Rules are a lot different, the money is good, but the league is nowhere near as good as it is in Europe.
Part III: “I probably should have come to Europe a little sooner. There were some teams that had contacted my agent over the years, like Maccabi and Olympiacos. After COVID-19, I could return to Europe as a starter or just work out for a couple of NBA teams and wait for free agency. China is still an option. Europe in 2016 would have been great and I think I’d probably be a starting point guard in most teams, but I had to secure as much money as I could.”
In this third and final act of the interview, Donald Sloan talks European teams’ efforts to sign him and his plans as soon as the pandemic goes away.
Q: You came to Europe for the first time at the age of 32. How did this decision come about?
A: I just think that it was an opportunity that presented itself over the years. I always ended up in Asia. I’ve had a few offers to go to Europe at different points, even at the end of my Chinese seasons. A couple of Euroleague teams wanted to finish the season strong, but at that time I may have been a little banged up. My family needed me to go home in Dallas. But other than that, I’ve always had my eyes set on -eventually- stepping over here. I’m not sure which league -of course I ended up in the Champions League and Germany- but at some point, for sure I knew I had to come.
Q: What do you make of Europe now?
A: They welcomed me with love, open arms, with really detailed, very physical, intense basketball. That’s what I’m used to. Playing in China over the years, I got away from that. There’s really no comparison between Europe and China. It’s night and day. You got some great players over here. Not that China doesn’t have great players, but every team here has guys who are capable.
Q: Were you prepared for that?
A: Mentally I was. I used to watch European basketball. I got a lot of friends and former teammates playing in Europe. I had to lock in and pay attention. There were some teams that had contacted my agent over the years, so I kind of looked at those teams and did a little homework because I knew that eventually I was going to end up coming. I had been trying to get used to the playing style and in my first days with Bonn, we had to go on the road against a tough Greek team. I knew it was going to be loud, calls may not go my way and I may miss shots. I was prepared for turnovers, missing lay-ups, but physically I had to get into the rhythm of a new team. Guys practice differently than what they play. So, when the game started speeding up, they were doing different things, out of character. I was trying to figure people out and at the same time find my own spots on the court. It was a close game and guys played hard. I kept trying to maintain the game flow and keep everybody poised.
Q: Did you expect to meet a player like Mario Chalmers overseas?
A: No, I didn’t expect that. Once they told me who we were playing in the first round of the play-offs in the BCL, I had no idea he was in Greece. I’ve been knowing Chalmers for a while. I had played against him in college when he was at Kansas and also in the NBA. We talked with Rio before the games against AEK. Of course, I didn’t tell him I was rooting for Miami in the 2011 NBA Finals because they beat us in college, so any time I played against him I wanted to win.
Even Keith Langford, who’s a Dallas guy and whom I’ve known when I was in Middle school and he was in High school, I didn’t know he was on the same team. So, I knew those guys before I even knew who we were playing. You know, basketball is a small world. It can take you anywhere.
Q: You’ve also been to the Philippines, apart from the US, China and Europe.
A: I’m making my round. It’s been great. I’m a journeyman. I like putting my footprint on different continents and styles of basketball: NBA, G-League, Europe, Asia.
Q: Were you ever tired of the back and forth between the NBA and the G-League?
A: It takes a strong person, mentally and physically, to endure it. The back and forth, the uncertainty, being on or off the team. I know a lot of guys that attempted to keep trying, pushing, pursuing and then they just stopped, like: “I’m down with you. I can’t keep doing that”. But if you stick with it long enough, you’ll get what you want.
Q: Is the NBA dream so alluring for an athlete so that he can easily give up on what other leagues may offer: money, role, playing time, wins?
A: You don’t play so many minutes in the NBA. Teams are stacked with superstars. You come to Europe and set the tone. You want as a player to be yourself. At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for your career.
Q: Do you wish you would have come to Europe earlier?
A: Certainly. I probably should have. I could have explored Europe a little sooner, but I do think that I’m more open now. Nobody can call anywhere and say I’m a problem to the team. Everywhere I’ve been, teams have always wanted me to come back.
Q: What was the story of European teams trying to sign you?
A: I’ve had options to go to Europe, several times, but I stayed the course and did what I thought I should do. Maccabi Tel Aviv offered me a contract for the 2016-17 season, but I ended up going to China.
Next season, I had a team from Russia -it wasn’t CSKA, it could have been Khimki- and I decided to go to the Wizards training camp. They told me they wanted to keep me as the third point guard, but of course they didn’t. After that, I went to the D-League (which later became G-League), because I wanted to wait and see if the Wizards would do something. I stayed there for three months and then got back to China.
After that, Olympiacos tried to get me in the end of the 2017-18 season, March or April, but they had six or seven games left. I was like: “Ah, let’s go home”. It had been a tiring year already because I’d started out with the Wizards, twisted my hamstring and sat out for a month, got back playing really well, went to China.
The next year, after I went to camp with Denver, Maccabi came again. I said: “Nah, I’m going to wait on China”. The money they offered me was good, but it wasn’t China-good. I had the choice to spend a partial year in China or give Maccabi the option to keep me the next year as well, but I didn’t want to give them that much leverage. That’s why I went back to China.
Then, I came home and last summer I had an offer from Bayern Munich. My agent told me they were offering something like $500,000 and we kept trying to get them up. It didn’t work and I decided to go to China again. Once I came back, past February, my agent told me there were offers from Joventud Badalona from Spain, as well as Hapoel Tel Aviv and another Israeli team. I ended up going to Bonn because of the head coach (Will Voigt).
Q: Now what?
A: I predict, depending on what happens across Europe (if they continue to play or not), a lot of teams are going to need a guard. So, I could possibly return (to Europe) as a starter or just work out for a couple of (NBA) teams this summer and wait for free agency, which I know this summer is going to be messed up due to the NBA suspension and Summer League cancellation. Things are going to be different this year, so I’m expecting a lot of different opportunities.
Q: Does this mean that you haven’t ruled out an NBA comeback?
A: No, probably not. Maybe two years ago, but the way that the league is now makes anything possible. Honestly, if I chose to go to a G-League team, I would probably get a call-up from them in order to lead them to winning games and be a good mentor to the young guys playing. But that’s not what I want. I want something substantial. I wouldn’t settle for a G-League contract. There’s too much basketball going on around the world. China is still an option. Once you win a championship over there and you go to the finals three-four times, then you’re always welcome.
Q: In terms of how your game translates to Europe, do you think that you would have been a great fit had you made the decision to play overseas in 2016, after your season in Brooklyn?
A: Yeah, that would have been great. I think I’d probably be a starting point guard in most teams. If a team in Europe had wanted me, I don’t know how much they would have paid me or wanted to. But let’s say about $800,000, three or four years ago. I could get that, but instead I went to China for three times that. I’ve never signed a deal for almost $3,000,000. I’ve signed for $700-800,000, even a million. So, that kind of jumped out for me more than the style of basketball or where I’m going because guys in Europe make $3,000,000 in three seasons. I was able to make it in one. You never know what happens in your career: you break a leg, have a career-ending injury. So, I had to secure as much money as I could. If I was 21 or 22, it would have been different. I’m already 32 now and then I was 28 and I had to do the best financially. You love the game of basketball and you’re passionate about it. It means the most to you, but you can’t do it for free.
Editor’s Note: The interview has been edited for length and clarity, although this Q&A reflects almost the entirety of the word-for-word conversation that happened.