So Telfair went overseas with an open mind. He embraced the new culture and said it helped him grow as a person.
“I was the different one,” Telfair said. “Instead of being from the states and being from New York City, more of a common person, you’re in China where you stick out like a sore thumb. You gotta start over, learn new things, eat new food. It was great for me. I’m so happy I went over there.”
And it helped his game, too. For the first time since high school, Telfair had the freedom to show off his creative playmaking skills. He averaged a league-best 26 points and six assists per game, rediscovering his confidence along the way.
“I was able to prove things to myself, getting an opportunity to play 30-something minutes a night, just go out there and hoop,” Telfair said. “Your team expects you to be a guy who scores 30 points a night for you to win. That was a big part of me going down there. Just to get that opportunity to get my legs back up under me.”
And now he returns to the NBA a more grounded individual. He turned down a two-year, $7 million deal in China for a $1.3 million veteran’s minimum deal with the Thunder. He’s behind Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson on the point guard depth chart, knowing a feature role doesn’t await.
But he brings a grateful mentality to a locker room full of young guys who have only experienced success.
He’s been on losing teams. He’s been forced overseas. He’s been through the professional fire. Now he just craves a minor role on a title contender.
“At this point, I’m putting that all behind me,” Telfair said of his NBA struggles. “I got a new lease right now with OKC and I’m just working hard. That’s the most important thing.”