For the third time in five seasons, Dion Waiters—The Internet’s Shooting Guard—has a new home, and he’s finally growing into the player that he’s believed he was all along.
After a long month of July—one that saw his former teammate Kevin Durant leave for Golden State—Waiters finally reached an agreement with the Miami Heat, a one-year, $2.9 million deal to become the team’s new starting two-guard. Since then he’s emerged as one of the team’s most relied-upon offensive options and its go-to player late in close games.
Days after hitting a game-winning three to deliver the Heat a win over the Warriors, Waiters showcased his fearlessness again on Wednesday, sealing a 16-point comeback win over the Nets in Brooklyn with a dagger. As it was before his first moment of glory, Waiters was tightly guarded. That wouldn’t stop him from demanding the ball from teammate Wayne Ellington and launching from several feet beyond the arc.
He’s seen more than most 25-year-olds in the league have—coming up alongside Kyrie Irving in the Cleveland backcourt before playing with two MVP candidates in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant—and has already cemented himself as one of the NBA’s most fascinating minds. Now, he’s on a mission to prove he can back up his audacity.
The Crossover caught up with the lone citizen of Waiters Island following Heat shootaround on Wednesday in New York to discuss his game-winner, his history as an Internet meme and the aftermath of the Durant–Russell Westbrook split.
Where does your confidence come from?
Dion Waiters: Just growing up in the inner city, coming from that tough environment. Just having that self-confidence. You need it. I think you need it no matter what you do. And that’s what I’ve got.
I’m sure you’ve seen players—good players—that might shy away from that shot.
DW: A lot of ‘em. A LOT, man. That’s where names are made at. Being able to take that type of shot and being confident and making it. Even if you miss it, at least you had confidence to take the shot. And you gon’ miss and make in this league. It’s a miss and make league. As long as you have that confidence to take that last shot, knowing—I’m pretty sure you can’t go home and sleep at night knowing you had the opportunity to take that shot and you shied away from it. I just wanted to take on the challenge.
You’ve been very clear about how much you’ve wanted a home—a home that’s yours—a space that’s yours. You had to let the crowd knows whose city it was.
DW: (Laughing) When you’re caught up in the moment man, that’s how it is man.
What are the elements that you’ve experienced since you signed that have made you feel this way so far?
DW: Just everything. The organization, the people around the organization, my teammates, coach, of course Pat [Riley]. I feel right at home. I think this was the best place and opportunity for me. Like I said before when I signed, it was never about the money. It was about the opportunity, just having a place you call home, and enjoying it and having fun. You know, I wake up every day with a T-shirt and shorts on. So you know, it’s cool man. I’m excited. And I was happy I made that decision.
Was it a little poetic hitting that one against KD? How did it feel?
DW: That’s big bro right there. You know, just some type of moment. He know. He know I wanted that.
Did you know you were a meme the other night, with your arms folded?
DW: I seen it. (Laughing)
Did you ever see those videos of you calling for the ball, back in Cleveland and OKC?
And what did you think?
DW: I love it. I’m pretty sure, if you go look around the league you’re going to see everybody’s hands up. It just so happened, the teams I was on, the attention we were getting. Look at me now though. Look at me now though. That’s why I stick with it.
It was weird when Durant announced his departure from OKC on the Fourth of July, everyone was in different places. Do you remember where you were?
DW: Yeah, I was in bed.
Were you surprised like everyone else?
DW: Nah, nah. To be honest, I really wasn’t surprised. At all. I kinda knew, but I didn’t know. I hadn’t talked to him. But things happen, man. Everybody’s going to do what they like, man. The man made his decision, and that’s what it is. That’s still, like I said, still my brother. We still talk. I was in bed though, man. Just waking up and my phone—everybody’s calling me. ‘Did you see!? Duh duh duhhh duh duhhh.’ I’m like, he made his decision. What do you want me to do?
You’re not surprised everyone’s so upset though, right?
DW: Nah. I mean, he knew the backlash was gonna happen, I’m pretty sure. As a human being, as a person, you can’t make a decision based on what other people are going to think. He might have seen something in Golden State before they started winning and got that good. I mean, they had a couple pieces. His mind’s probably been there. Just so happened that they win the championship, and they have the great record and whatever, and he went there. So all that backlash comes with it. But he don’t care. It is what it is. Everybody’s got to continue to move forward with their life.
Russ has been playing so well now.
DW: Russ has been playing well though. When he had KD.
When Durant left though, do you think Westbrook was a little extra motivated?
DW: Of course. Because now he’s so hungry to win, and take his team to the playoffs and prove that he can lead his team to the playoffs by himself. Russ is a competitor, man. That’s what he does. I seen that when Kev was there. He still put up numbers and things like that. But now he’s just… it’s all his.
It’s crazy that he wasn’t even voted in an All-Star starter.
DW: Yeah man, that’s why I don’t… that’s why I don’t even believe—that s--- was right there man. S--- was right there. How things work around this league man...
Have you been to Hassan Whiteside’s house to see his fish tank yet?
DW: I haven’t seen it yet. I be on his Snap, though. He had a scuba diver in there the other day—Scuba Steve over there.
What’s on your playlist right now? You post music videos sometimes, rap lyrics.
DW: You know we’ve got Meek Mill, of course Jay-Z. Rick Ross. Bunch of young guys from Philly. That’s pretty much it.
What’s up with your Eagles?
DW: Give us two years, man. We need a receiver, we need a solid corner—we’ve got Malcolm Jenkins back there. We need a running back too.
You think Carson Wentz is alright?
DW: Yeah. Hell yeah. He just needs a couple pieces around him. They’re good. They gotta start letting him open it up a little bit man. Stop those five and seven-yard passes every time man. Let him open it up a little bit. He’s got one hell of an arm. So, you know, they’ve got to figure that out.
The first few questions come from a media scrum. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.