Celtics coach Doc Rivers wasted no time expressing his feeling towards his former power forward Al Jefferson.
"Al Jefferson is the ugliest..."
Of course, as Rivers blurted this out, Jefferson was walking right by him towards the visitor's locker room.
"We're still very close, as you can see," Rivers said with a smile after the room got a good laugh.
Rivers and Jefferson have remained close since Jefferson was the centerpiece in the deal that brought Kevin Garnett (and an eventual NBA title) to Boston. The two exchange calls and texts here and there, and especially during the offseason.
"He always puts a bug in my ear every now and then," Jefferson said. "It's still good to hear from him because he was my first NBA coach."
Jefferson still takes with him many of the lessons Rivers taught him in the first three years of his career with the Celtics. Both recalled a time in which Rivers asked Jefferson if he knew much about three-time MVP, and 13-time ALL-Star Moses Malone. Jefferson didn't; so the next day, Rivers showed up to practice with a highlight reel of Malone for Jefferson to study.
"Because I wanted him to play like that," Rivers said laughing. "I just thought rebounding wise and even some of his post moves - Moses was really unorthodox and I think Al is that way as well as you can see. And I thought it'd be a great guy for him to watch especially how hard that Moses played, I thought it would be good for him to see."
Jefferson watched the video that night, kept it, and brought it with him to Minnesota - and to Utah too.
"I still have that video as a matter of fact, I still watch it," Jefferson said. "To this day I still have it. And I watched the video and I was like, ‘Wow', not only do I look like Moses Malone, I didn't realize the great player he was, the way he rebounded, the low post game, stuff like that. Doc was the one who pointed it out to me."
While Jefferson is still nowhere near the likes of Moses Malone, he continues to work at his game. With the Jazz, he has a chance to get back to the playoffs since his rookie season with the C's.
Jefferson summed up his career in Minnesota as "a learning process". Now, he's learning what it's like to be on a winning team, and realizing the work it takes to be successful.
"It's a wonderful feeling, the only thing about it is when we do lose a game now it hurts a lot more now and it sticks with me. You would think I was used to losing game after game but now when we win games and when we do lose one it feels a lot worse."
"He's still growing as a player," Rivers said. "He's one of the better post players in the league and we thought he would become that at some point and he has. He's still improving defensively. The knee injury set him back a little bit but I think he's back to form now."
Almost two years ago, and in the midst of his best season statistically speaking, Jefferson tore his ACL. The injury put a crushing halt on the progress of Jefferson's career, as he was forced to focus on rehab and not basketball.
Sound a little familiar? The Celtics' Kendrick Perkins is coming back from the same injury - and with a little help from old friend Jefferson along the way.
"We're like two brothers man, and it's always going to be that way," Jefferson said. "I spent a lot of time with him this summer when he first had his surgery, just letting him know what he was about to see and what he was about to go through on this long road and long process."
"I know the first three months for me I was just laying on my back every day, I didn't even know if I was going to walk again. I mean, I knew, but it was just one of those things where I was just afraid that you were never going to be the same guy you were. I told him that it was going to be hard and you're going to think you're never going to be the same but you just have to work through it and work hard, and I think he got through that."
Jefferson's foresight into the injury recovery process is a little pay back for the help Perkins gave him when he entered the league as a rookie out of high school. The two young big men bonded instantly.
"When I first got here, he was the guy who came out of high school the year before me, so he kind of helped me kind of like how I helped him with the ACL," Jefferson said. "He kind of helped me and let me know what's going to happen - this transition from high school to the NBA. And we competed against each other. We competed all the time in practice. We always competed, you would think at times we hated each other but it was just how it is on the court - we compete."
Jefferson was bummed by the fact that Perkins wouldn't be playing in last night's game, but was happy to see his recovery on track.
"To see him out there running now and saying he's not that far away from being back on the court, it's a blessing."
Jefferson's 1-11 night from the field and 24-point loss will be a game in which he'd like forget, but his visits back to Boston are ones that he always cherishes.
"It's always going to be a great thing," he said. "Different in a good way coming back to where I first started. This is the team that gave me my first job in the NBA and for that I will always have the utmost respect for them."