It’s been 18 years since Richard Jefferson put on shows inside Phoenix Moon Valley’s gym, dunking, scoring, swatting away shots, leading the Rockets to five wins over big man Chad Prewitt and Phoenix Greenway, including a two-point victory in the 1998 Class 4A state final.
“He is the still the same humble kid,” his high school coach, John Boie, said Friday morning before Jefferson returned to the gym that hangs three of his jerseys — his No. 44 Moon Valley, the No. 24 New Jersey Nets he broke into the league with in 2001, and, the latest, his No. 24 Cleveland Cavaliers jersey that he wore this past season when the Cavs won the NBA championship.
In front of the student body during a pep assembly, Boie unveiled the 1998 state high school basketball championship trophy, before introducing Jefferson to thunderous cheers.
Jefferson walked through the doors, holding up his cell phone, videotaping the scene, carrying a bigger trophy — the NBA championship trophy.
Students went bonkers.
Jefferson sat the trophy next to the high school trophy on a table, before taking the microphone and addressing the students.
“Look at these two beautiful trophies,” Jefferson said. “These are the only two trophies that I have won. For the Cleveland Cavaliers and in this gym at Moon Valley High School.”
“A lot of you guys weren’t even born when I won this thing,” Jefferson said, placing his hand on the high school gold ball.”
Jefferson thanked Boie, the school for allowing him to return and to have multiple jerseys he has worn to adorn the gym wall.
Jefferson then told the students about his rough start in high school, calling himself “a bit of a knucklehead growing up.”
“I actually failed freshman P.E.,” he said. “I failed freshman P.E., because I didn’t dress out. But part of that failure was growing up and maturing. Coach Boie told me when I was a sophomore and I was 6-foot-6, ‘Richard, I can’t have you on varsity if you’re not going to be eligible.’ I was like, ‘OK, I’ll start getting good grades.’
“For me, basketball has always been that motivating factor. … I just want to tell you guys that basketball was my passion. Find your passion, find something that you love to do and let it take you to wherever you want to go. It could be art. It could be teaching. It could be sports. It could be anything that you want. Find it and allow it to take you wherever you want. There’s a large world out there and I think you guys should use any opportunity you have to experience it.”