He grew up playing AAU basketball against Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony. Now he thinks he's better than Magic Johnson.
It's good to be Matt Kemp, the Midwest City High School graduate and Los Angeles Dodgers star who is looking to return to the lineup after the All-Star Game.
Kemp joked with reporters that he would be the first member of the 50-50 club, hitting 50 home runs and stealing 50 bases. That was before the All-Star center fielder spent most of this season on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.
Kemp, last season's runner-up for the National League MVP, recently met with Yahoo! Sports' Graham Bensinger for an in-depth interview on topics such as his love for basketball, ex-girlfriend Rihanna, his tumultuous 2010 season and his new contract.
How frustrating has the injury been for you?
“It's definitely been frustrating. I think I've been on the DL one time in my previous years. Second year in the big leagues I went on the DL one time. I never got used to getting hurt and watching games on the bench. So, it's a little frustrating for me to sit there and watch my guys go out there and play every day. But everybody has their challenges. This is one I have to overcome. I got to get healthy so I can get back out there and perform for my team.”
How is the recovery going?
“It's going good right now. We're taking it slow. I went on the DL and then came back for two games and did it again. That was frustrating. Now we're taking it a little bit slower so I'm for sure healthy and 100 percent.”
How challenging is it to embrace being the cheerleader on the sideline while you're recovering?
“If you ask my teammates, they'll probably be like he's crazy; waiving my towel and talking to them and just going nuts when somebody hits a home run. That's my family and when I see them do good … I'm just living through them right now. I want to be out there with them really bad. I cheer hard.”
Your thoughts on Magic Johnson being one of the Dodgers' new owners.
“Unbelievable, man. To have him around, to have him sitting there right by the on-deck circle, to see what type of person he is, to have conversations with him I'm just glad that he's part of the group and part of the team.”
What's this I hear about you saying you can beat him in basketball?
Oh, come on.
“I can beat him in basketball right now. He knows that.”
Really? Why does he know that?
“Because I'm faster than him. I can go around him.”
One column I read about you (regarding the 2010 season), “Dreaded going to work to play the game he grew up loving.” How much truth is there to that?
“It was a just a tough, tough, tough year all the way around. I think I stopped having fun, and that's probably the biggest thing you probably shouldn't do when you play baseball, is stop having fun. We were all frustrated. Um, we weren't playing good, we weren't making the playoffs, we were getting whooped day in and day out and it was definitely frustrating. It kind of didn't get fun for me and that's when it kind of just went all the way it went.
To what extent do you feel like people within the Dodgers organization had given up on you at that point?
“I don't think they had given up on me. I just thought they were frustrated like I was frustrated. You know, when we're not winning and things aren't going the way we want them to go, people are going to get frustrated. It was just one big team frustrated.”
But there was some just biting criticism directed your way.
“To say the work ethic wasn't there, I tried hard all the time. I never gave up; I never wasn't out there not trying. So for somebody to say I was giving up and not trying is not true.”
How would you describe that type of attention (that comes with dating someone like Rihanna)?
“It was pretty much overwhelming. It's not something I'm used to. I'm not used to going to a grocery store or to just somewhere simple and people following me around. It's overwhelming.”
Did you think you should have won (the 2011 MVP)?
“I think a couple people thought they should have won it. There was a lot of guys that had great years.”
Yeah, but that wasn't what I asked.
“Of course I'm going to say I should have won it, because every other person in that position is going to say they probably should have won it. So, yeah, I should have won.”
What do you think of the voting process? The MVP is one of those things that doesn't always take the best player in baseball. It's a different definition to each person.
“For me, I don't think they should hold (it against) somebody who doesn't make the playoffs. That's the excuse everybody is saying. … I thought I should have won, but hopefully I can do it this year.”
To most of us who cannot fathom ever attaining that kind of wealth, signing a contract like that (eight years, $160 million) what's it like?
“It was definitely a blessing. … I'm not going to lie, I cried. Because it's something that you dream about as a kid is taking care of your mom and your family and wanting to do good things for people. I made it. “
You apparently like when you see a woman walking by, you like looking at her feet to see what the shoes are. Why?
“I feel like you can tell a lot by a person's shoes.”
What can you tell?
“That they know what they're doing or they don't know what they're doing. I've always liked shoes. I peep everybody's shoes out to see what they're rocking.”
How was playing against Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony back in the day?
“It was unbelievable, man. We used to have so much fun doing that. When we played against Chris Bosh, I think I was a junior. All of this was my junior year, 2002. We played against Chris Bosh in St. Louis and then turned around and played Carmelo in Delaware. To see those guys now and see the position I'm in, man, it's crazy.”
You grew up with Blake Griffin back then. What was he like?
“Well actually Blake, I knew his brother more than I knew him; me and his brother played AAU basketball together. Blake was the kid on the other side of the court shooting around, dribbling and just having fun; just shooting with himself. Now to see where he came from and where he's at now is unbelievable.”
Do you all talk now?
“Yeah, we talk. It's funny because athletes we're all kind of busy and have separate schedules. I don't like to bother him during his season and he doesn't try to bother me during mine, but we come together a lot.”