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It's been a big year for Bobby Portis. He turned 20, became the first Arkansas Razorback basketball player to win SEC Player of the Year since Corliss Williamson in 1995 and was selected, with the 22nd pick of the NBA draft, by the Chicago Bulls. Not surprisingly, the readers of the Arkansas Times named him Best Athlete in Arkansas.
I caught up with him for a phone interview a week after he had finished NBA summer league play — where he outplayed No. 1 draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns in one game and generally drew positive reviews for his play — to talk about hard work, Twitter, emojis and the future of his signature headband. Our talk has been edited for length and clarity.
What's the difference between Razorback red and Chicago Bull red?
Razorback red is different. I grew up here. It's something that's in my skin. It's something in my body. It's something that I really take pride in because I was a guy who was from Arkansas and wanted to make my team great. Since I'm a Chicago Bull now, that will be ingrained in me forever, too.
Hall High School, where you graduated, has gotten a lot of recent negative attention for poor academic performance. What was your experience there like?
I had a great experience at Hall. My four years of high school were good. It was productive in the classroom and in the court. All through high school I had a 3.2 [grade point average] and up. It's basically on the kids to want to be there and want to learn. It's not about who teaches you. It can't be on the teachers every time.
You've kind of got some old-school philosophies. I noticed last year you tweeted, "I'm thankful my childhood was filled with imagination & bruises from playing outside instead of apps and how many damn likes u get on a pic."
Some people want to live life so they can be famous and have all the assets. I want to work for everything that I do. It's not about having things around me. It's about me working as hard as I can to provide for generations to come.
You hear stories all the time about athletes struggling to make it in college. Do you think college athletes should be paid?
It was crazy in college. Being home was different because your mom was right there to provide for what you needed. In college, you were on your own. College kids should get paid. It should be a stipend that they get every month. It should vary from city to city. The cost of living is higher in some places.
Obviously you earned a tremendous amount of money for the university.
I would come to the games, and I'd see everybody in headbands. I was like, "Where are they getting these headbands from?" They're making money, but we aren't. Over time, the NCAA will do something to help students get money.
Is the headband integral to your game?
Not necessarily. That's something I did to change my image as a kid. Growing up, in eighth and ninth grade, I was getting a lot of fouls and technical fouls, and I felt like it just changed my whole demeanor. Now I can't wear a headband, that's Bulls' rules.
Speaking of fashion, the NBA has become really fashion-focused in the last decade or so. You wore a sharp, fitted Razorback-red suit on draft night. Do you care about fashion?
I like fashion a lot. That's just a part of who you are. I like [Oklahoma City's] Russell Westbrook's attitude and his swagger off the court. He has a lot of different styles. He primarily wears anything to look good.
He gets clowned a lot, though. Have you ever gotten made fun of for something you wore trying to be fashionable?
Nah, not at all. In college, I only wore sweats. People don't really dress up in college to go to class.
Do you think you'll go back to school?
That's one of my big goals. If I have kids, I want my kids to see their dad not just to say, "Oh yeah, he played in the NBA, but he still came back and got his degree." I'm 45 hours away. I would have graduated this year if I had come back.
You got a little bit of heat after you were drafted for a tweet you sent a long time ago talking negatively about your new teammates Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose.
Those tweets were in 2011 when I was 16 years old. I can't take it back, but I can apologize for it. You really get to see how people can really blow up something that's so old. I'm glad I went through it. Twenty minutes after I got drafted, my phone is blowing up. I'm thinking it's messages, but it's Twitter. I got 15,000 retweets about that tweet. I got on TV the next day and everyone is talking about it. It's a life lesson, how stuff can get twisted around. Hopefully, Pau and Derrick can accept my apology.
One of the biggest stories this NBA offseason had to do with emojis. How is your emoji game?
I love emojis. Me and some of my friends, we don't text, we just have emoji wars.
What's your go-to emoji?
The little smirk face.
Is that how you react to people in real life?
Kind of. I'm not a guy who really talks a lot. I think I'm a guy who talks more on the court than off that court.
You talk a lot of trash?
That's just who I am as a player. I try not to target anyone. But if I'm trying to make you have a bad game, I'm going to make you try to do too much.
Who was the best trash talker in the SEC?
Besides me? Honestly, no one really talked trash to me.
Have you thought about what you might want to do after you finish your career?
I want to get in something like communications. Maybe motivational speeches. I feel like everyone needs that person to talk to and motivate them. Besides that, I want to get in something with business. Maybe something in the front office.
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