Utah Jazz, Real Salt Lake: Friendship began at UCLA for Earl Watson, Nick Rimando
friendship began at ucla for jazz guard, RSL goalie
Watson's mother is from Mexico, which is why he wonders when Latino Night at a Jazz game is going to happen and why he'll represent the country's team in the Pan-Am Games this summer. But he didn't grow up playing soccer.
Watson described his childhood environment as an all-African-American neighborhood in Kansas City's inner-city, where basketball dominated the spare-time scene. He grew up shooting balls, not kicking them, but he knew all about soccer.
"I'm half Latin, my mom's Mexican, so it's a natural sport that I always liked," Watson said. "But it was a sport that I just never played. I was never exposed to it."
The exception was when he'd visit his maternal grandma, whom Watson said lived in an all-Mexican neighborhood.
Being a basketball junkie, Watson would bring his basketball with him. Only problem?
"There wasn't no basketball hoops up," he said, laughing. "So, sometimes I'd bring it and they would take it from me — my cousins and the kids in the neighborhood — and they'd drop it and start playing soccer.
"I'm like, 'Hold on. You can't kick my ball,' " Watson recalled, explaining that basketballs get knots in them when kicked.
The other kids responded by saying, "We don't play basketball over here."
That's when Watson tried to strike a competitive compromise.
"I ended up playing like pick-up soccer. I sucked at it, so I would try to convince the kids to instead play kickball," he said. "That was my story growing up with two different ethnicities (Mexican and African-American) and neighborhoods."
Coincidentally, Rimando also has a mixed ethnic background, having parents of Filipino and Mexican descent. The two pros were also born on the same week in June of 1979 (the 12th for Watson; the 17th for Rimando). And they also share a bond of being proud parents. Watson has a young daughter, and Rimando has two small children.
"He's a guy that I've seen mature and grow," Watson said of Rimando. "I'm most proud of him of his family. I had a chance to sit with his family at a (RSL) game. It's a beautiful family and amazing support."
Rimando was impressed with how kindly Watson treated his family and others at the game. He wasn't surprised. The Jazz player, he said, has been "very down-to-earth" since college when he could've had a big head for playing Bruin basketball.
"He was a real cool cat," Rimando said. "Just like he was at UCLA."
But because Rimando is from the L.A. area, he can't be swayed to switch sides in the Jazz-Lakers rivalry despite his old schoolmate's position on the home team. (It helps him like the Lakers even more that another UCLA hoopster from their era, Matt Barnes, is on the team. P.S. Watson didn't openly admit it, but his bio reveals that he liked Magic Johnson growing up.)
Even Rimando's most ardent Real supporters haven't been able to convince — or razz — him enough to change his allegiance.
"I get grief from this all the time from the fans here how I'm not a Jazz fan," Rimando said, smiling. "I support the Jazz — just as long as they don't play my Lakers."
Rimando learned his lesson about wearing an L.A. purple-and-gold jersey — "I really got heckled bad," he laughed — so he won't sport a Bryant jersey, as Watson joked he might.
But Rimando, whose seats are by the Jazz bench, likely will be the only guy in the arena cheering on a Utah player while wearing a pair of Kobe shoes.
And for the record, he has been forewarned about potential incoming basketballs.
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