PORTLAND — On a cold and rainy night in downtown Portland, the Boiler Room lives up to its name.
It’s a Monday night and brave souls, glowing underneath the suspended pale white lights, face a room of drinking customers and in only three minutes time try to make them laugh. Some work their best blue humor, but even dirty jokes receive awkward giggles, or worst — the sound when punch lines fall flat on the floor and uncomfortable silence fills the space. The mustached emcee carries a trumpet and toots out “Taps” for the ones who stumble over their time limit. One after another, an open-mic comedian returns to his or her seat humbled.
It’s a tough room, but Trail Blazers reserve center Jared Jeffries stands at the edge of the bar waiting his turn.
He’s wearing a shirt that reads: “I’m Too Epic to Fail” but underneath the cocky apparel he’s a ball of nerves. Jeffries, 31, has only done this a few times before. He has learned to bring friends along to laugh and talk with so the wait won’t be so unbearable. He orders a shot, and toasts his small circle. Eighteen comics have already stood under the spotlight, now the tall guy’s got next.”It’s crazy ’cause I’m so nervous right now,” Jeffries says to the audience, impersonating a frightened voice. “I play basketball in front of millions of people every night. I got cameras here, I’m about to faint.”
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A 6-foot-11 professional basketball player walks into a comedy bar …
This is not a set-up to a joke, but rather how Jeffries spends his free time.
When the Blazers’ resident funny guy and unofficial team spokesman arrived in Portland, he wanted to get his karaoke fix. He discovered the Boiler Room, and happened to visit on a night that featured open-mic comedy.
“So I walked down there and I loved it,” Jeffries recalls, “I always wanted to do it. I was like, ‘I can do that!’ “
So when the Blazers are in town and have a Monday night off, Jeffries shows off his comic chops to a room full of strangers.
“(Jeffries) performs stand-up?” Blazer rookie point guard Damian Lillard said, expressing shock when told about his teammates clandestine career. “I would pay money to see that!”
Jeffries — try catching the 10-year NBA veteran without a wide grin etched on his face — stands out on the team as the most colorful character.
He has made Blazer fans howl in laughter during timeout vignettes shown over the Rose Garden scoreboard that feature him belting out pop songs in falsetto. Also as the one Blazer who doesn’t mind standing at midcourt for those rare pregame addresses, Jeffries can get a chuckle from the sideline even in something as serious as a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech.
However, it’s the behind-closed door bonding moments shared only between teammates that reveal Jeffries as a leading light in the locker room.”I’ve been on teams with vets and Jared’s one of a kind,” guard Ronnie Price says. “He’s special in his own right, because he is very intelligent and he lightens up the atmosphere.”
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The night after his Boiler Room appearance, Jeffries will return to another stage. A more familiar arena. He’ll no longer look out of place as a 6-foot-11 entertainer, though Blazer fans may still do a double take whenever they see him leave his seat from the end of the bench and walk onto the Rose Garden floor.
They’ve got a phrase for this inside the ranch-style farm home in Bloomington, Ind.
“Jared Jeffries sighting!” Tom Jeffries cracks whenever he sees his oldest son appear on the living room television set.
These sightings happen rarely as Jeffries averages just 1.3 points in 9.2 minutes per game, tied for lowest on the roster. Jeffries’ Monday night stand-up routine — the emcee stands down while he gets laughs over the established time limit — lasts longer than his time on the court against the Dallas Mavericks. He plays six minutes and 31 seconds of low-visibility basketball. Blink and you miss him stretching out a hand towards Dirk Nowitzki to alter jump shots. Jeffries works through the first and second quarters then remains seated in the second half. He finishes with no points, one rebound and two fouls.
It’s a very typical Jared Jeffries line — and great material for the wise guy back in Bloomington.
“I tell him,” Tom Jeffries says, “he’s one of the more higher paid guys to pat the other guys on the ass and say ‘good game.’ “
On a winter day in Indiana, the 72-year-old retiree would rather be fishing, but instead he’s cracking one-liners about his boy to a stranger.
Tom makes conversation effortlessly and cannot enter a room without making new friends. One minute with Tom and it’s easy to see how he’s the source of Jared’s big personality — and many of his punch lines.
Back at the Boiler Room when Jeffries takes the microphone, his entire routine revolves around growing up in fear of his father’s discipline. He tells the story about a fight in art class. Jeffries got suspended, but the worst would come later at home because the principal also called his father.
“He grabbed me. I prayed,” Jeffries says to the audience. ” ‘God, if some kind of way you could send a lightning bolt and strike this (expletive) down and kill him … I swear I’ll never fight again!’ “
Judging by the laughter, the crowd loves the secular prayer. So Jeffries follows with another Dad story. It starts with another school fight and call home but this particular time, a rebellious, teenaged Jeffries wants a father-son showdown.
“He came at me, and I hit him with a right. Boom!” Jeffries says, mimicking moves of a prizefighter. “Hit him in his side. And I felt great. I felt like God said, ‘You know what, I heard your prayers, son. Here’s your strength.’ Bam!””And I look up,” Jeffries continues in a soft voice, “and here came an overhand left from Satan.”
• • •
In his first year in Portland, Jeffries actually does more than — as his father jokes — pat his teammates’ backsides and jest in the locker room.
The Blazers brought in Jeffries last summer to add a veteran presence to a very young roster. How young? One of the newest Blazers had never taken a driver’s test before arriving in Portland. Another still isn’t old enough to legally order a drink.
Earlier this season, when two Chicago Bulls made a beeline toward Lillard, annoyed at his rookie mistake for dunking at the end of the Blazers’ double-digit win, Jeffries was the first teammate to defuse the situation.
“I would say 95 percent of the time, he’s joking, he’s playing around, he’s clowning. But 5 percent of the time, he’s serious,” Price says. “And in that 5 percent of the time that he’s serious, he’s so smart and so focused and aware, and knows the game so well, that when he does open his mouth and he is telling you something that could help you or help the team, you should listen. He does know what he’s talking about.”
Coach Terry Stotts knew little about Jeffries before training camp, only that he and the big man hailed from the same Bloomington North High School and former coaches revered him. But in their first season together, Stotts has learned that there is a sharp basketball mind behind that smile.
“He’s been in the league a long time, so he knows players, he knows their tendencies. He studies the game. He knows coaches, he knows Xs and Os of what teams are trying to get done,” Stotts says. “He has a great sense of humor, but you need to listen to what he says. I know I do. He’s usually right on and I value his opinion.”When his playing career ends, Jeffries has no desires to turn to comedy full time. He plans to coach basketball. He loves the energy of the game too much. After all, basketball allows him to be the character he is today.
“Being a basketball player, it gives you the opportunity to always be who you are,” Jeffries says. “You don’t have to try to fit in. You don’t have to try to fit into any kind of a mold. I’m not trying to impress anybody. It’s just who I am.”