The yin and yang of Jordan Clarkson, the Utah Jazz’s interplanetary rock star

Alternately chill and wild, budding fashionista and vow-of-silence monk, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year seems universally beloved — perhaps because he’s a bit of everything to everyone.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) as the Utah Jazz host the Charlotte Hornets, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.

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When Jordan Clarkson is told that almost every single Utah Jazz team member who’s been asked about him and his one-of-a-kind personality invariably uses some variation on a “unique vibe” theme, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year gets uncharacteristically guarded, even confusingly reticent.

His initial, muted response basically amounts to, If they say it, OK, that’s fine, but I really don’t have an opinion on it either way.

Let’s fast-forward, though, roughly two and a half minutes later, to the part where he’s embraced the premise with full-throated veracity:

“I’m different than [anyone] in the world, period. I would say I’m from another planet!”

And there’s the JC we’ve come to know.

When the Jazz acquired Clarkson from the Cleveland Cavaliers back on Dec. 23, 2019, in exchange for Dante Exum and second-round draft picks in ‘22 (owned by the Spurs) and ‘23 (owned by the Warriors), they not only got back a player unlike anything they’d had recently, but also a personality unlike anything they’d experienced, either.

Asked what he’d say if required to write a biographical tagline about himself, he replied: “‘He’s different. He’s really different.’ In my Tyler, the Creator voice.”

His affinity for that particular iconoclast hip-hop star makes a lot of sense. ‘Cause yeah, JC is a bit different. But that’s probably to be expected with extraterrestrials.

Thing is, discussions of shot profile vs. assist totals aside, Clarkson the person (or alien or whatever) is seemingly beloved by everyone. Who — other than that one drunk guy in San Antonio — doesn’t like him?

And how does that happen? What exactly is it at the heart of the guru of the Good Vibes Tribe that makes him so distinct? So universally adored?

That “guru” thing just now was meant flippantly, but when you sit down with JC and listen to him speak about the underlying forces that have shaped his sense of self, you realize it’s actually pretty apropos.

“Yeah, I’ve always been kind of chill or whatever. I don’t know, I just kind of came into my own as I grew up, just kind of understanding … everything — understanding myself, understanding other people,” he said. “Just trying to bring light, a light vibe or whatever, a sense of freedom, a free mind and spirit — whatever it is — to anything that I’m involved in.”

Guru … new-age hippie … self-help shaman … whatever.

They all seem plausible. Then again, perhaps he’s simply the personification of yin and yang.

It’s impressive, really, how interchangeably he can switch between being different from everyone in one breath, then claim, “I’m not different than anybody else, I’m the same as anybody else,” in the next.

Or how he can lament, on one hand, how “we’re always worried about ourselves and how we look,” then, on the other, later explain without a trace of irony, how he’s not merely a brand ambassador for activewear label Lululemon, not merely a devotee of famed streetwear designer Don C, not merely “on the phone all day just scrolling through different websites and finding clothes and going through different designers’ pages, seeing what they came out with,” but now actively sketching his own future fashion line, because, “I just enjoy clothes, period — the art [of them]. I don’t really just buy clothes, I buy pieces now. A lot of that clothes stuff is art, and we gotta praise the artists.”

Turns out, the Jordan Clarkson Experience is a bit of a rollercoaster — to the point that teammate Joe Ingles actually, legitimately (jokingly) advocated selling tickets, or something like that.

“Hell of a dude. If you could ever get a weekend with JC …” the Aussie begins, trailing off before inspiration strikes. “It should be auctioned off! Let’s auction off a weekend with JC and see what happens.”

The sound of silence

Informed of this business proposition, Clarkson tilts his head back and laughs for a few long seconds.

Still, let’s not outright dismiss this as a joke. What would happen in such a scenario, JC?

And just like that, the duality of Clarkson reappears.

“It would matter what [specific] weekend they got to hang out with me!” he begins. “If it was a weekend in Vegas … or it could be a weekend where I’m not talking at all — like, I’m just kind of doing my monk thing, just listening and taking in the frequencies and the energies of the world.”

Sorry, say what now?

“Vegas JC,” he elaborates, is about “just fun, going out — you might catch me at a bar, a dive bar, at a beach, maybe, just drinking, chilling, having some beers from a cooler. That’s my way of having fun. Just talking and having great conversations. Dude, I’m trying to give you a good time.”

But then …

“Then there’s the other one where I don’t say a word,” Clarkson adds. “Like, days where I don’t say a word. It’s hard, but it’s awesome, though.”

Yes, Jordan Clarkson claims that he literally sometimes goes days — plural — without talking at all, just to see if he can. Presumably during the offseason, as absolute silence would be bad for communication on defense.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) celebrates a thee point shot in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the LA Clippers at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.

He said it began as a lark, a small individual challenge — could he go a mere 15 or 30 minutes without speaking? He could. So then he expanded up to two hours, then some more, then eventually a whole day where he just won’t say anything.

Then again, he says he’s more of a listening guy anyway:

“I think it’s cool and interesting to hear what people think is cool and interesting. That’s just who I am.”

Being perceived as a happy, smiley persona is all fine and good, he adds, but at the same time, actually taking the time to care about what people have to say is a means of developing strong bonds with them, and that ultimately is a big component of why he’s a happy, smiley person.

It’s pretty much always been that way for him.

“I always am able to adapt to my environment or what’s around me [because] I got an understanding of people,” Clarkson said. “Growing up, I had many different types of friends in many different circles that I was a part of, and I got to know people. I feel like that’s one of the reasons why I am the way I am.”

‘Every day is a vibe’

There are tons of reasons why Clarkson is the way he is — that’s ultimately true of everyone, right? — but looking at the manifestations is way more fun than examining the causes, in his case.

For instance …

Less than two weeks after being traded, JC was doing one of his first interviews with a Utah beat writer post-shootaround in Orlando, and, when asked what he’d learned about his new teammates thus far, observed Ingles sitting down next to him, and in that exact moment responded, “Uh, Joe’s [an] a—hole.”

When a Jazz PR staffer-turned-Zoom moderator asked if he could hear her alright, he initially answered, “Yup,” then, three seconds later, cut in: “Dang, I should’ve hit her with a ‘No,’” and giggled uncontrollably.

He got hit up by a television news reporter this past autumn for a man-on-the-street interview about the Jazz, and — realizing she was oblivious to the fact that, y’know, he’s a player for the Jazz — he just went along with it and answered her questions, spelling out his name for the chyron and everything.

After a game in Washington, D.C. this past December, Clarkson entered the interview room wearing sunglasses and swigging a beer, then sat down at the table, glanced at the laptop being used to broadcast him to media not in attendance, snatched it up mid-question, used it as a mirror to check that his outfit and hair were on point, then displayed a peace sign and asked, “‘Sup, everybody?” into the camera before turning his attention to the query at hand.

He’s shown up to media availabilities with a Japanese samurai-style topknot hairdo; or wearing seven styles of flannel sewn together, plus a personalized ballcap featuring the acronym LTFF (“Let that f---er fly”); or accessorized by an oversized crocheted handbag.

Because why not?

Each of those aforementioned team members asked about him couldn’t help but have a smile creep onto their faces when “JC” and “personality” were uttered in proximity to each other.

“Every day is just a vibe. You know what you’re walking into, you know what type of guy you’re getting every day,” said Donovan Mitchell. “That level of consistency has helped him be who he is. You know what you’re getting into. He’s a great teammate, but a great person at his core. That’s what we see in him. It doesn’t matter if he’s hitting shots, missing shots, he’s a guy that’s always energetic, always there, just making jokes and being fun.”

Bojan Bogdanovic agreed with that, saying that Clarkson is “always in a great mood — singing, dancing, whatever,” and as a result, “you are in a better mood [by being around him].”

Second-year guard Trent Forrest, though, focused on his fellow guard’s more contemplative side, noting that despite Clarkson’s exuberant, free-wheeling reputation, he actually finds him to be a quiet, reserved sort, at least until he’s approached, anyway. Then, Forrest said, he enjoys everything “from his drip — how he dresses off the court,” he clarifies unnecessarily, to stories of “how he was when he was with Kobe, with LeBron.”

Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert both focused on Clarkson’s multifaceted nature:

“He’s a super-chill dude, but has this fire to him,” Conley said. “He’s almost got a rock star-ish vibe to him, where he kind of does what he wants to do when he wants to do it, and you can’t tell him anything.”

“I just think he’s one of a kind, in a good way. He’s very himself,” added Gobert. “He’s very … I wouldn’t say open-minded, but he’s a free spirit. He’s seen a lot in his life. I love to be around him. He’s a fun guy to be around. He’s chill, and at the same time he has a little wild side to him.”

Even coach Quin Snyder loves to discuss him, calling him “authentic” and “bold” but also pointing out that Clarkson’s magnetic force of personality elicits leadership qualities that the high-volume, low-regret shooter perhaps doesn’t even realize exist: “I was giving him a hard time the other day — if you pulled him out of the card game, what would happen to the card game? He does have that impact on our team.”

Ingles, meanwhile, has plenty of tales.

After Clarkson’s trade to the Jazz, the Aussie got the scoop on his new teammate from countryman Andrew Bogut, who spent 24 games on the same Lakers roster as Clarkson during the 2017-18 season, and gave a “good guy” review. Ingles also loves re-telling the story about the first conversation he ever had with Clarkson: “It was him telling me to pass him the ball if the shot clock was down because he’ll get a shot off. Which is exactly him on the court.”

As for off-court stuff, “It’s just him. He has fun. You’d find it hard to find someone that enjoys their life every day more than what J.C. does,” Ingles said. “I’m not saying he’s out there doing these crazy-a--, wild things, but he enjoys and has fun and lives every day to the full extent.”

Bogdanovic brought it all home: “He brings all of us to his world.”

Presumably, Bogey meant that more figuratively than literally. But who can say for sure?

Clarkson, having long since lowered his walls, can’t resist doubling down.

“[There are] different versions of me, and I feel like these guys get to see them all,” he said. “They’re very blessed to come to my planet sometimes.”