Gerald Henderson Jr. Gets Real About Retiring Young and Preparing for the Future
Basketball is literally in Gerald Henderson Jr.’s blood. His father, Gerald Sr., won three championships during his 13 seasons in the NBA. In a family like that, Junior was constantly surrounded by the sport.
Gerald Jr., though, won’t be around the NBA as a player anymore. After suffering season-ending injuries, undergoing multiple surgeries and countless rehab and physical therapy sessions, he is officially ending his career after eight seasons.
Though hanging up his jersey wasn’t in his plans just yet, Gerald now speaks eagerly about the big ideas he has for his future. While basketball has always played an integral role in his life, he makes one thing clear: it does not define him.
On May 4, the 2006 McDonald’s All-American and 2009 draft lottery pick will be inducted into his high school’s Hall of Fame. Before he went back to Merion, Pennsylvania, for the ceremony at Episcopal Academy, Gerald opened up to CloseUp360 about his career and off-the-court impact, and what it’s like as a young player to sustain devastating injuries and have to hang it up in his prime.
This is Gerald Henderson Jr.’s journey, in his own words, edited for clarity and length.
Gerald Henderson is retiring from the NBA after eight seasons in Charlotte, Portland and Philadelphia. (Colin Cassidy)
As a player, it's hard to see into the future because you've always played. You've never not played. So you don't really see yourself in a situation where you're just not playing. You don't even know what that feels like unless you're injured or spend a little time out.
Ever since I was little, I've always played basketball and probably started because of my dad. I was four or five years old when he retired, and he played for 13 years, won three NBA championships—two with the Celtics and one towards the end of his career with the “Bad Boy” Pistons. He had a crazy career.
But he's always somebody I've looked up to and for sure in a basketball sense. He was always my first coach. I learned everything growing up from him. Even in high school, college and in the pros, just him being there for advice, whether it be watching film together through text messages or whatever.
I always thought that I would play as long as he played. That's not going to happen for me.
The big thing is my injuries. I've had six surgeries since 2008. Wrist surgery. Hip surgeries. Achilles surgery. They piled up, among other injuries that haven't needed surgery. They just kind of accumulated and made it very difficult to play and to play healthy, to put everything into actual basketball.
It became more just making sure that I could get out there on the court, as opposed to really working on my game, spending time on my game and developing myself. I've spent years working on my body—which, as an athlete, you have to do. It became less about maintenance. Instead, the game became rehab and physical therapy.
Last summer, coming back from my third hip surgery, I had a resurfacing procedure done where they actually put some metal in my hip. It's a new procedure. It's not a hip replacement, but they put a little cap and ball in there for you. Tennis player Andy Murray just got it done. Hockey players actually have played with them. It's a procedure that they felt like I could go back and play. And so I said, “Okay, well, it's my last shot to do it. Why not do it?”
So I got myself back to really good form. And I was a couple of weeks away from training camp. Actually, my wife, Nilou, and I got married last summer and didn't go on a honeymoon because I was training, and was right in the middle of working out for teams.
Gerald with his wife, Nilou, and daughters, Roya (far left) and Zara (far right). (Colin Cassidy)
It was September 2018 and I was out at Golden State. I was feeling great. I had a few really good days out there. Then I was just playing pickup, just a routine play, just cutting down the lane, and my Achilles snapped right in half.
With a torn Achilles, I could have tried to come back and still play. But immediately, I was just was, like, I've had enough, because the process of surgery, which a lot of athletes know, it's painstaking.
It takes time and you go through a lot of pain. You go through a lot of stress and mental pain and frustration—all that stuff. And I've been through a good amount of it with the amount of surgeries that I've had, especially coming back and the way that I did from the hip surgery. It was a big hit for me. So it’s not that I didn't feel like I could come back, but it just wasn't worth it to me.
I kind of prepared myself for it last year, and even the year before that, because I knew how terrible my hip felt my last year playing. But before my last season in 2016, Philly gave me an offer that I really could not ignore compared to the other offers that I had. I was a free agent. This was the summer of ‘16. I knew where the health of my hip was. It was really bad and knew that I probably couldn't play that much longer in the kind of pain that I was in. So I prepared myself from there on to not play and made that a reality.
I tried to give it that last shot after I got my third surgery. But I always keep things in perspective.
Gerald's various injuries led him to retire from basketball at 31. (Colin Cassidy)
Basketball is just a part of who I am. It's not who I am. It's a piece of me.
I've learned so many things from the game. There's always been more to life than basketball. And for me, going forward, there's tons of life left. At 31 right now, I'd only be playing for so much longer. I’m retiring kind of early for what one would think would be a long NBA career, whether it's 12, 13 years, whatever that is. But the average is probably around three, four years.
My parents have been great for me in the aspect of retiring from basketball because my dad has gone through this process before and my mom as well, being the wife of a player. They’re preparing me in terms of making sure I'm saving my money and making sure I have some other interests as well, because once you stop playing, you get tons of time on your hands. You're going to want to have a hobby or pick up another business.
I’ll definitely be playing a bunch of golf. I played in a ton of celebrity charity tournaments. When I was younger, probably from about age 11 to about 14, I was a junior golfer. I picked up the game of golf really young and got really good at it. I was a scratch golfer, but decided at 14, 15 years old that basketball is what I wanted to put all my time into. But one thing me and my dad share for sure is golf and playing all the time and playing matches, which is always fun. He was just down here and we were playing.
Being home has definitely been different. It's different because when you're playing, at least during the season, you're there half the time, so you get kind of used to that. You miss out on a lot of things for your kids that you wish you were at. But you kind of get used to the travel and being away.
But these last two years have been the complete opposite of that. It's still a tough transition because, instead of being out on the road doing my thing and kind of just checking in, now I’m all the way in. I’m taking my kids to school, picking them up, taking them to gymnastics class. I'm checking homework—all stuff that, if I was playing, that would be spontaneous, like if I could do it, I could do it. It really wasn't expected of me.
But as you keep doing it, it's fun. You get to really be involved and see how your kids are changing. You get to put your imprint on their development a bit more. I've enjoyed that for sure. It's definitely a change. Every day's not always roses and daisies, but it's fun.
I really love being a dad.
We always throw the ball around. They like playing basketball out in the driveway and stuff. I got two little girls, Roya and Zara. They're more into gymnastics and cheerleading. I wouldn't put any pressure on them to play basketball. I'd put it in front of them, and see how they liked it and see if they wanted to pursue it. But at this age and even as they get older, to me, it's all about them having fun with it and just learning to love the game. I wouldn't have them take it too serious. Over time, if they got a passion for it and love to do it, then that's what you got to build first. But I'd love for them to play basketball. If not, I'd love for them to just do whatever they wanted to do.
Gerald spent more time with his daughters while attempting his NBA comeback. (Colin Cassidy)
I also have real ambitions to jump into real estate. I've always been into real estate investment and real estate development. The design intrigues me, building really intrigues me—even the art inside a home. I have a few nice art pieces, including “My Favorite Days Require Sunglasses” by Kimber Berry. I also collect classic movie posters.
My wife's a real estate agent, my mom and dad are both real estate agents, so something in that niche is in my future. I've already kind of started on some things—flipping houses in Charlotte here. The market is really booming here, tons of development going on around the entire city. I know the city pretty well. I've lived here for the last 10 years. I'm from Philly originally, but as I've been down in North Carolina, going to Duke for three years, I've been here in North Carolina for 13 years. It's been my home for almost half of my life now.
I have some charity stuff, too. This will be the sixth year of my golf tournament, the Gerald Henderson Charity Golf Invitational. I've had it in Charlotte and Philly. It's benefited a few different charities along the way, including the Community Partnership School’s Scholarship Fund. I'm real ambitious to help kids that just don't have the opportunities that maybe I had growing up.
I had a father who played in the NBA for 13 years. I grew up in a great family, stable family with great role models and I had great opportunities. I had to put the work in. That was my big thing. I had to learn how to work and make some stuff happen, but I was put in a position to do it. It was laid out for me, so the work was the big thing, whereas it's not as easy for everyone as it was for me. My stage was kind of set. And all I had to do was work my ass off to get here.
Whereas, some people, they don't have both parents, they don't have some of the financial backing that it may take to go to private school and get the kind of education that I had. They just don't have those kinds of resources.
Then, this Hornets broadcasting opportunity came to me in January. I've done a little bit of broadcasting in the past. I did the pre- and post-game show for FOX Sports Southeast and it was perfect for me. I'm really learning about it and I think I have a career in that going forward, if I choose to do that. And I learned a lot this year from everybody there.
Broadcasting, it's a fun thing. I get to still be around basketball and talk basketball. The Hornets have been a team that I was there for six years, so I know everybody there. My real good buddy, Kemba Walker, who was in my wedding, I got to see him play all season and that was fun. And it was his best year, so that was fun to watch.
Gerald played three years at Duke University before becoming a lottery pick of Charlotte in 2009. (Colin Cassidy)
I've built so many friendships through the game—from teammates, competitors, coaches, GMs, owners, just everything. And I would advise guys to network not just with your teammates, but everybody else that you work with—even a support staff and trainers. I mean, I probably got better relationships with trainers than anybody else because I've spent so much time with them.
But build those relationships, especially some of the people higher up—owners and GMs and coaches—because you never know when your career's going to be over with and what you may want to do next. A lot of guys jump into the business side of basketball. Some guys, it's harder than others because they don't have any relationships built over time.
I'm a part-owner of a company called Active Dreamers. It's an NBA-licensed bedding and pillow company. We're expanding a little bit, doing a few other things now, but the CEO of it, his name's Jack McClinton. We played against each other in college. He went to Miami. We were able a have a sit-down meeting with one of the 76ers’ owners, Michael Rubin, who's become a buddy of mine. He's the head at Fanatics and our product is on his site now.
He's opened up some other avenues for us, and I was able to do that just from my time with the Sixers and just getting to know him a little bit. And that's completely non-basketball related. So build those relationships. Everybody you see around that front row at those games is doing something, you know? Build those relationships and have hobbies.
Gerald spent his first six NBA seasons in Charlotte. (Colin Cassidy)
Everybody's different. Everybody's got a different past. Everybody's got different minds. Everybody's got different ambitions. Everybody's got different options. I couldn't make a decision for somebody else, but I would tell them do what you want. There's no perfect decision that you're going to make. The perfect decision is the decision that you make.
For me, I'm a strong believer in God. I really am. And I know that this is a path that's been designed for me. I'm just myself, and God's got his vision and ideas for everybody. So I don't ever question what's written.
This was not my original plan. My dad played in the NBA for 13 years. I thought that I would do that or more. But you find out in life that your plan is not the plan. For me, it's all what God sets in your plan. So, I'm secure in that because at the end of the day, it's already written.
It really ain't all about basketball. There's a bigger plan there that basketball is just a part of.