I used to smoke Michael Phelps. For real. Before I was That Guy, I was a basketball player. And before I was a basketball player, I was the No. 1 youth swimmer in America (and I think maybe, at one point, in the world).
Back in the day, I used to crush Phelps. Lochte, too. Name an Olympic swimmer, and when we were 10 years old, I probably smoked them. That’s how good I was. I was so good in the water that it was actually kind of boring.
And I was a cocky little punk.
I know most people probably think I grew up in Los Angeles or something, but I actually grew up on a lake in Minnesota, about 10 minutes away from Paisley Park. So we’d see the legend around all the time. Honest to God, I used to go to the grocery store with my dad, and there’d be this stretch limo quadruple-parked right in front of the store. I’d always see this little kid walking around the cereal aisle wearing a purple suit with like 10 bodyguards.
Like all the time.
Finally, one day I said, “Dad, who’s that kid?”
And my dad said, “What are you talking about?
I said, “That kid over there with the Cap’n Crunch.”
And he said, “What? That’s Prince.”
He used to be roaming around all the time. It was no big deal. People wouldn’t even really bother him. That was Minnesota.
Anyway, since we lived right on the lake, swimming came natural. The only event that I wasn’t great at was the 200 freestyle. So when I was 12, there was this big swim meet in Rochester, and I’m like, I gotta smash this 200.
I got f****** discombobulated, bro.
I’d won every other event.
Boom, the whistle goes, and I’m in the water, and I’m flying. I touch the wall and turn, and I’m already so far ahead of everybody. I touch the wall and turn again. I’m just in the zone, right?
Finally, I touch the wall to finish. Done. Pop out of the water, pop out of the pool. F****** champion. Smashed the 200. No problem. Let’s go.
And then I hear my parents in the stands….
And they’re saying … something?
They’re like, “Get in!!!!!!!”
It’s like in the movies, though. It’s all kind of warped.
I’m like, What?
They’re screaming, “Kris, get back innnnnnnnn!!!!! Jesus Christ, get back back in the pooooooooooooolllllllllll!”
I turn around, and I see everybody is still swimming.
I didn’t smash the 200.
Somehow, I lost count of the laps. I got f****** discombobulated, bro. I did six, not eight. So I’m standing there, dripping wet, with this dumb look on my face, and all the parents in the stands are looking straight-up dumbfounded.
I was so embarrassed that I could’ve died. It was so bad. It felt like my world had ended.
From that day on, I was known around Minnesota by the nickname 150.
My own dad used to walk around the house, like, “What’s up, 150?”
For about 20 years, I tried to bury that memory. But then a funny thing happened. I was playing at Madison Square Garden for the first time after my marriage ended, and I was getting booed so loud that it was crazy.
I’m talking feel-it-in-your-bones booed.
I wasn’t Kris Humphries any more. I wasn’t a real person. I was That Guy. And I’m standing there at the free throw line waiting for the ref to hand me the ball, and the Garden is shaking, and all I can think is, Welp. Here we go again. One f****** Fifty.
I never wanted any of this.
My whole life, I just wanted to be remembered as a great athlete.
When I got burnt out on swimming in middle school, I shifted everything toward basketball. I used to have this little routine with my dad. We got WGN up in Minnesota, so we’d always watch the Bulls together and I’d crank out 500 push-ups and 1,000 sit-ups in the living room while MJ did his thing. I think I did a book report on Herschel Walker and read that he did that as a kid.
It’s funny because when I got to the NBA, I remember Carlos Boozer used to be like, “Set the screen, Bowflex!”
I was like, “Bowflex?”
And he goes, “Yeah, you look just like one of those smooth, bronze motherf****** in the Bowflex commercials.”
I told him how I used to do 1,000 sit-ups every night before bed, and he thought that was the funniest thing in the world.
Anyway, I always loved basketball, but when I was 13, I had The Moment. My dad had a business trip in Chicago, and he took me along and surprised me with Bulls tickets. This was ’97 peak Bulls. Peak MJ. I lost my shit. We walk in the building, and the lights go down, and they’re about to do the classic intro, and there was this feeling in the air. I can’t explain it better than that. It was this atmosphere. It was on another level.
The neon lights start flashing, and that song starts (you know the song), and they announce number 23, and everyone loses their minds. I can still remember every single detail. I can remember actually thinking, I’m gonna play in the NBA someday. I’m gonna be out there.
From that moment, my whole identity, my whole life, was basketball. I didn’t really have other interests. I didn’t do anything else. I was a gym rat. I patterned my game on finesse and scoring. I went through high school and college thinking that I was going to be the next Dirk Nowitzki.
When I got drafted by Utah, I thought that I was going to be a superstar scorer, 100%.
I was still a cocky little punk.
Then, I’ll never forget, one of our first games, we were playing against Dirk and the Mavs, and Don Nelson was their coach. I get into the game, and every single time they come down the floor, Nelson was running down the sideline screaming out plays with my number at the end.
Every single time.
ISO! … 43! 43!
SWING! SWING! … 43! 43! 43!
It took me about four trips down the floor to realize that when they call your number like that in the NBA, it means “run it straight through the punk-ass rookie every time.”
I got roasted. It was like, “Oh, this is the NBA. They’ll just shit on you, no questions asked, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The first couple seasons, I just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand how you had to act. I came up believing in that whole MJ killer mentality, and I thought you had to be kind of cocky. But I wasn’t MJ. I was averaging three and three.
Then one day, my agent, the great Dan Fegan (rest in peace), gave me the best advice I’ve gotten in my entire career. Maybe my entire life. He said, “Kris, I’ll let you in on a little secret. If you want to last in this league for a long time, people have to actually like you. And you know what? Let’s just call it like it is. People don’t like you.”
I know it sounds really simple, but I can tell you, after grinding through 13 NBA seasons, that a big part of sticking around, if you’re not a superstar, really comes down to … “Is this a decent dude who’s gonna shut up and work hard?”
If not, there’s 1,000 other guys who can jump out the gym. The thing is, there’s always another level to the grind. I always wanted to be Dirk, but I didn’t really understand the work Dirk put in to be Dirk. When I got traded to the Mavs, I remember showing up the first day of camp, and I was chatting with our trainer, and I said, “Man, just wait. I’m gonna be the hardest worker in this gym.”
And he’s like, “LOL, NAH.”
I said, “I swear. Watch.”
And he said, “Yeah, no. There’s a guy you might’ve heard of named DIRK.”
People think of Dirk as this silky shooter, but his work ethic was ridiculous. I’d get in two hours before practice, thinking I’m going to beat him to the gym, and he’d already be in there with his German shooting guru, practicing the wildest scenarios you could ever imagine. The dude would be shooting turnaround jumpers off one leg, squatting, with his guru’s hand in his face.
I’d say, “Dirk, when is that situation ever gonna happen in a game?”
And Dirk would say, “You never know.”
He was hilarious. He used to call everyone “Burgers.” I don’t know if it’s a German expression or something he just made up. But if he thought you were a clown, you were a “Burger.” So if some dude on the other team was trying to do reverse dunks or whatever during shootaround, Dirk would shake his head and say, “Get a load of this Burger.”
Or if we were up 20 and he was coming off the floor in the fourth quarter, he’d turn to the bench and laugh, like, “What a bunch of Burgers.”
He was my idol, but he was so cool that I got comfortable enough to start joking around with him in practice. Then, one day, we were laughing about something, and Rick Carlisle turns to me out of nowhere and goes, “Hey Humphries, don’t do that.”
Dirk? He doesn’t even need to practice. He’s f****** Dirk.
I said, “Do what, coach?”
He said, “You don’t joke around with Dirk.”
I said, “But we’re just … we’re just having fun, Coach.”
He said, “No. Dirk has fun. You don’t have fun. You need to focus. Dirk? He doesn’t even need to practice. He’s f****** Dirk.”
I don’t think I said a word or smiled for about two weeks. It was perfect advice for me, because they traded me to the Nets that season, and my career was pretty much hanging on by a thread. I was the fourth forward in New Jersey. I wasn’t getting any minutes. It was pretty much over.
Then one night, we were getting blown out in Miami, and Avery Johnson put me in. I made a stop. Made another stop and grabbed a board. Then the next time down the floor, Dwyane Wade tried to reverse dunk on me.
I blocked it, and it pretty much saved my career. In the next film session, Avery played the clip back three times for everybody, and he said, “This is how we need play. I want to see desire.”
He didn’t even say my name. But it hit me, like, O.K., this is the way I stay in the league. I rebound and I play my ass off on D.
The irony of my career is that I finally figured out what kind of player I was when I got to the Nets. I was going to try to grab 10 boards a game and shut up. I wasn’t The Guy. I was a grinder. I felt like I knew who I was, finally.
And then I met a girl who happened to be really famous, and I got married, and.…. Damn.
Look, I should have known what I was getting into. I was definitely naive about how much my life was going to change. But the one thing that really bothers me is whenever people say that my marriage was fake.
There’s definitely a lot about that world that is not entirely real. But our actual relationship was 100% real. When it was clear that it wasn’t working … what can I say? It sucked. It’s never easy to go through the embarrassment of something like that — with your friends, with your family…. But when it plays out so publicly, in front of the world, it’s a whole other level. It was brutal.
I didn’t know how to handle it, because I never thought I was going to be famous in that way. I remember having this moment when I was getting booed so hard in Philly, and I thought to myself, “Why exactly are they booing me, though? Is it just because I’m That Guy from TV? Do they think I was trying to be famous? Is it because they think I disrespected the game of basketball?”
The last one killed me, because all I’ve ever wanted to be known for was basketball.
My whole life, I was a really confident, happy person. But nothing can prepare you for the feeling of walking down the street, or being anywhere, really — the grocery store, the gas station — and having people literally running up on you and trying to film you, trying to grab you, saying God knows what.
That’s not natural. That’s not supposed to be real life.
I’ll be honest, I dealt with a lot of anxiety, especially in crowds. There was about a year where I was in a dark place. I didn’t want to leave my home. You feel like … I don’t know … the whole world hates you, but they don’t even know why. They don’t even know you at all. They just recognize your face, and they’re on you.
There were so many times when I was in a gas station just buying a water or something, and the cashier would give me a look, and I could just feel it coming.
“Hey, are you … That Guy?”
And I’d say, “Ha! Nah, I just look like him.”
Or I’d say, “Nah, I’m Blake Griffin. People get us confused.”
I didn’t want to be Kris Humphries. It’s the craziest feeling in the world, not wanting to be yourself. And I didn’t even want to say anything to defend myself, because it felt like I couldn’t win. You can’t go up against the tabloids. You can’t go up against that machine. There’s no point. And even if I played that game, I felt like it would be disrespecting the game of basketball.
You feel like … I don’t know … the whole world hates you, but they don’t even know why.
Honestly, the game was the only thing that got me through it. The game and my family.
I’ll never forget, we played the Knicks at the height of everything, and after the game Jeremy Lin was being interviewed on TV, and for whatever reason they asked him, “Why does this crowd hate Humphries so much?”
And Jeremy goes, “Man, I don’t know. I don’t get it, because he’s a heck of a rebounder. He plays hard.”
It was a small thing, but I’m sure he has no idea how much it meant to me. It really meant the world. My goal through it all was to stay in the game for as long as possible, because the game really is the greatest thing in the world. I know this might sound obvious, but maybe it’s worth saying, because I feel like now you always hear about what a grind the season is, and how it’s a business … and that’s definitely true … but I feel like what guys never say enough is this:
Playing in the NBA is also pretty much the most fun thing in the entire world.
And I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family where I never really had to worry about money — so I’m not talking about the money. I’m not talking about the jets and the hotels. I’m talking about when you get your name announced in front of 20,000 people, and you line up for the tip across from Dirk, or Duncan, or Kobe? Man, it’s unreal. Even getting shit on by Don Nelson is unreal. Honestly, 99% of the most fun times in my life have happened in the gym or in the locker room. Even when you’re just sitting around, bullshitting with the guys, it’s the greatest.
There’s one moment in particular that you can never take away from me, as long as I live. We were playing against Dallas after they traded me, and I went into the Mavs’ locker room to say what’s up to my old teammates after the game.
I had a pretty good game — something like 15 and 15.
Dirk and Jason Kidd were sitting on the trainer’s table, getting a massage or something. Two absolute legends, man. So I’m talking to Dirk, just catching up, and then Jason turns to Dirk and says, “Young fella gave you the business tonight, huh?”
I still get goosebumps, to this day.
If you ask me why I played the game, it’s for that right there.
Whenever I was in the gym, everything else went away. I might not have turned out to be the scorer I thought I was going to be, and I definitely went through some tough times, but at the end of the day, I lasted 13 years in this league. Not a lot of guys can say that.
Today, I’m officially retired from the NBA.
I know that most people will always see me as That F****** Guy from TV. And I get it. I signed up for it. I don’t want any pity at all. But I hope that true fans of basketball remember me as a grinder, as a guy who transformed into a heck of a rebounder, and as a guy who always tried to put the game in the best light.
I was never a person who wanted to be famous. I’m a guy from Minnesota who loves the game of basketball. And yeah, 99 times out of 100, when people come up to me, it’s still “Bro, are you that dude?”
But one out of 100, someone will come up to me and say something like, “Hey, all the bullshit aside, I watched those Nets teams, and you really played hard, man.”
Whenever that happens, I say thank you, but deep down, I almost want to stop and give them a hug.
Because that’s all I ever wanted to be known for. Even now, since I’ve stepped away from the game, I’m trying to stay under the radar and work on a new phase of my life. I’ve been developing some business ventures with a little inspiration from the legend himself.
It’s been its own special kind of grind, but through a lot of hard work, I’m actually about to open 7 Crisp & Green restaurants across the midwest, and I’ve already opened 10 Five Guys franchises and counting.
Thank you to Dirk.
Thank you to my parents, sister, family and friends.
Thank you to Coach Novak Sr. and Jr., Chris Carr and Trent Tucker for helping me get to the NBA.
Thank you to my fans and everyone out there who really knows who I am.
Thank you to the game of basketball and to the Minnesota High School Basketball Hall of Fame for the induction today – what an honor, I am truly humbled.
And of course, thank you to Jay, for not dropping me from the team.
Thirteen good years and out.