Jordan Bell was high above the Pacific Ocean when he first began to comprehend just how much his basketball life, and his actual life, had changed.
As the Golden State Warriors’ charter made its way to Shenzhen, China, where the team would play the first of two exhibition games against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Draymond Green summoned the rookie to the front of the plane.
Before the Warriors took off, Green had reached out, inquiring as to whether anyone had any requests in regards to in-flight entertainment.
“He hit me. He hit everybody. He was like, ‘Anybody need a laptop with like music and movies already on it? Hit me,’” Bell recalled. “And he sent it to me and I thought he was offering to pay for it.”
Then Green sent along a picture of all the prices.
“‘Oh, nevermind,’” Bell responded. “‘I thought you had the hookup or something.’”
When Bell arrived at Green’s seat, the veteran handed him a MacBook with all the controllers, converters and accessories he could desire.
This time last year, Bell was preparing to play in the NCAA tournament with the Oregon Ducks. Now, he’s an emerging fan favorite and X-factor for the reigning NBA champs.
It’s a rise that hasn’t been lost on the Long Beach native.
The No. 38 pick, whose rights the Warriors acquired from the Chicago Bulls for $3.5 million on draft night, has fit right in with the swaggering Warriors. He’s ultra confident and supremely athletic. Bell threw an alley oop off the backboard to himself in the fourth game of the season — a blowout of the Dallas Mavericks, no less — officially making his introduction to the NBA universe.
But even now, as just 16 games stand between the Warriors and the playoffs, Bell still looks around the court in amazement, seeing Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Green as his teammates.
“[It happens] damn near every time,” Bell said. “Like, during a game, practice, I just look over and I’m watching KD score, Draymond play defense or Steph and KD are doing some stuff with JaVale [McGee] on the bench.
“It’s just all surreal,” Bell added. “It’s not as much as it used to be but I still get a little fangirlish every now and then.”
Fortunately for Bell, Green, whose locker is nextdoor, didn’t hear that last part. From gifting the MacBook to famously FaceTiming Bell immediately after his acquisition, Green has made sure the onboarding of the ex-Duck has been seamless.
Bell is a huge fan, saying the polarizing forward is misunderstood.
“He’s a real cool dude. Like I know people like to paint this picture about him as such a bad guy because he plays with emotion,” Bell said. “But I play with emotion but I guess because I don’t get techs people don’t put me in the same [category]. He’s a real cool dude — probably one of the coolest people I’ve ever met.”
Bell too has flashed plenty of personality, exhibiting a flare for the entertaining.
Late in November when the Warriors were facing the Bulls — Bell’s would-be employer — the 23-year-old set basketball Twitter on fire, making a money sign and mouthing “3.5” after earning an and-1. Just don’t call him Mr. 3.5.
“Nah. I don’t like that,” Bell said. “People bought in too much to that. That was fun for one game when we played the Bulls.”
The return engagement in mid-January was as unfortunate as the first one was fun. Bell injured his left ankle 24 seconds into the evening and proceeded to miss the next 14 games.
The injury stalled Bell’s ascent up the ever-shifting depth chart of big men. Bell returned on Feb. 26 and looked out of sorts before a one-game tuneup with the G-League Santa Cruz Warriors last Sunday. On Tuesday, his first home game since Jan. 10, Bell came back with a vengeance. Bell was plus-20 in less than six first-quarter minutes, keying a 25-0 barrage alongside Andre Iguodala.
With his dunks and blocks that seemingly defy the laws of gravity, Bell has a knack for breathing life into the squad and into the Oracle Arena crowd. Then in the third quarter, Bell went up for one of those high-flying block attempts, landed in traffic and twisted his ankle — this time his right one. Facedown, he banged his fist on the court.
“I was just saying, ‘Fuck.’ Just, ‘Fuck,’” Bell said in the locker room after.
“Yeah, that’s all I was just thinking about, ‘Fuck.’ Some, ‘Asses. Fuck.’ Y’all probably can’t write that, huh?”
Bell knew immediately the injury wasn’t as bad as the last one. He received words of support from Stephen Curry, who’s as familiar with ankle-induced exasperation as anyone in the NBA and who endured his latest setback just a couple of nights later.
“Obviously, it is one of the most frustrating feelings in the world — in the basketball world — a freak kind of play where he’s playing great defense, goes up for a block, goes down on somebody’s foot,” Curry said.
The Warriors plan to re-evaluate Bell on Tuesday. Head coach Steve Kerr brushed aside the concern that Bell’s acrobatic style makes him injury prone.
“I don’t think he can adapt his play to try to avoid injury,” Kerr said. “I just don’t think it works that way. He’s just got to play. He’s been healthy in his college career. Just kind of a random deal.”
With the playoffs looming next month, the Warriors need the high-energy youngster to heal up. Sidelined or not, Bell doesn’t forget how far he’s come in a calendar year.
“It’s just really crazy how it all just — like a flip of a switch,” Bell said as he snapped his fingers. “It just all turned around.”
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