The Contract: Jimmer Fredette (Hardcover)
by Pat Forde
Jimmer Fredette gained national fame during his collegiate career at Brigham Young University, where he was the leading scorer in all of NCAA Division I basketball during his senior season. He earned every major National Player of the Year honor, including the Wooden Award, the Naismith Award, the Adolph Rupp Trophy, and the Oscar Robertson Trophy.
The Contract is the inspiring story of Jimmer’s journey from the playground to the pros. It’s the story of two brothers from a blue-collar Mormon family in upstate New York: Jimmer – trying to make it to the NBA. And his brother T.J. – trying to stay alive due to a debilitating illness. Each a lifeline to each other.
Along the way, T.J. wrote a contract for Jimmer to sign. It read, “I, James T. Fredette, agree…to do the work and make the necessary sacrifices to be able to reach my ultimate goal of playing in the NBA.”
Jimmer signed the contract, T.J. signed as the witness, and as Jimmer’s fame spread, the contact became a prominent part of the story.
Here you will find stories from Jimmer’s childhood and teen years as well as his special bond with his brother. In addition, you will learn more about Jimmer’s college basketball experience, his doubts, his work ethic, his unwavering family support, his insights about the NBA draft, and the role his faith plays in his life.
As T.J. said, “You did it, bro. Contract fulfilled!”
*Free Jimmer poster inside!
- Size: 6 x 9
- Pages: 208
- Published: 09/2012
About the Author
This, thought T.J. Fredette, is a heck of a way to die.
He was on an airplane, flying west with his family from New York to Utah. They were going to see Jimmer, the baby of the Fredette family, play the biggest game of his college career to date. It was January 3, 2009, and the sophomore guard at Brigham Young University would be starting against the No. 6-ranked team in the country, Wake Forest.
It was an exciting time, but not for the family’s middle child. For him, it was excruciating.
The flight was fine. T.J. was not.
“When I had to get on that plane, it was the worst feeling I’ve ever had,” he said. “I thought I was going to die on the airplane.”
Just as Jimmer’s career was taking off at BYU, T.J. was crashing with a debilitating vestibular disorder that took months to be diagnosed. It severely affected his equilibrium, balance, and ability to function in everyday life. For about a year, T.J. felt so disoriented and dizzy that he rarely left the couch in the family’s tiny, aluminum-sided house at 26 Ogden Street in Glens Falls, New York. An active man in his mid-20s, who had been a very good basketball player in his own right, had been reduced to a listless, depressed shadow of his former self.
Standing and walking were arduous tasks. He watched TV when he could, but even that was a chore at times. T.J. kept a pen and paper with him on the couch, and in intermittent moments of clarity he poured out his thoughts in verse. A rap artist with several recorded songs to his credit, he wrote dark lyrics during this time that were rife with despair:
This illness is steadily killing me
I wish it would but instead I’m living in misery
There’s not a doctor with knowledge equipped for healing me
They wish they could touch on the subject
But they’re not feeling me
I’m going crazy
If suicide is inside of me
This probably will be my farewell
I’d rather die than be alive and be a waste of flesh
Waiting for death . . .
The only respite T.J. had from his discomfort and depression was watching Jimmer play ball on TV for the Cougars. “It was a distraction that somehow helped lessen my agony,” T.J. said. “My little brother was helping me in ways he didn’t even know. With the tribulations I was facing in life, it was such a blessing to be able to experience joy for a couple of hours each time Jimmer had a game. It was my only escape, and without it, I don’t know if persevering would have been possible for me. I truly looked forward to watching Jimmer’s games.” The joy of watching Jimmer’s games had spurred T.J. to endure the nausea and join his family on the trip west for the Wake Forest game.
“I did not want to miss that game,” he said. “God gave me the strength to get there.”
Just leaving the house that morning was an ordeal. T.J. told his parents that it felt as though the left side of his body were being pulled to the ground—a common lament during those days.
But there was another factor T.J. was dealing with at the same time as the vestibular disorder. As an adolescent, he had been prone to panic attacks. Combining disorienting balance issues with an onset of anxiety spiked his misery.
When the plane took off, T.J. felt as if his eyes were still on the ground, causing dizziness so extreme that he completely lost his bearings. A migraine-caliber headache also set in, and he thought he might black out. Then there were random adrenaline rushes that came out of nowhere and further confused his nervous system.
“I remember feeling so anxious for T.J. every time the plane went through any dips or turbulence. His symptoms were so severe, all he could do was grip the armrest and hang on,” said Kay Fredette, the boys’ mother. “I really don’t know how we made it to the next gate after we landed to connect to a different flight. T.J. was so pale and unstable, but he has always had a will of iron when he wants to do something.”
Once the draining odyssey ended and the Fredettes landed in Salt Lake City, they made their way 45 minutes south to Provo. Jimmer took it from there. He scored 23 points and had nine assists in a close loss to a Wake Forest team that would be ranked No. 1 for a short time later in the season. It was, by all measures, an impressive coming-out party as a major college basketball talent, and the nation got its first significant taste of the kid with the unique name and the unique game.
The distraction of that game was good for T.J. “Jimmer’s stellar play took him away from his sickness for those forty minutes,” Kay Fredette said, “but there were times that he would whisper to me that he thought he was going to pass out. Of course, that made me very anxious, and I kept looking at him to make sure he was all right. His face was as white as a sheet. Somehow he managed to get through it, but it was a difficult time. I was trying to be excited and happy for Jimmer, but at the same time I was fearful for T.J. and very distressed at his condition.”
Said T.J., “The only time I remember being okay was when he was playing. I was so zoned in, I felt as though I was on the court with him. Then as soon as they called time-out, I had to sit down. Everyone is standing up, going crazy, and I’m sitting down with my head in my hands. I feel like God really helped me in those moments.”
This was a relationship coming full circle. For years, it had been T.J. lifting up Jimmer—galvanizing him, directing him, encouraging him, exhorting him. Now the roles were reversed.
At its core, this is a story of two brothers from a blue-collar religious family in upstate New York. Jimmer, you probably know about: on June 23, 2011, he was selected in the first round of the NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings with the No. 10 overall pick; he had won seven different awards as the 2011 National Player of the Year in college basketball; he led all of NCAA Division I in scoring, averaging 28.9 points per game; he carried BYU to one of its finest seasons in school history; and he became a national sensation in the process.
He was such a big deal in 2011 that he changed the language. He became both a one-name superstar—while the entertainment world had Bieber, the basketball world had Jimmer—and a verb. In hoops nomenclature, opponents strafed by Fredette’s shooting had been “Jimmered.”
But to know Jimmer, you must also know T.J.
T.J. Fredette is seven years older than Jimmer and different in many ways. Jimmer is measured in almost everything he says and does; T.J. is glib, extemporaneous, and witty. Jimmer is slow to anger and difficult to lure into a confrontation; T.J. at times possesses a hair-trigger temper. Jimmer was a solid student when the subject matter interested him; T.J. was rarely interested in any academic pursuits. Jimmer was a shooter; T.J. was a distributor.
Their common ground was Jimmer’s game and what it would take to maximize it. Toward that end, T.J. served as his childhood roommate, mentor, coach, adviser, motivator, and confidant. He’s been more involved on a daily basis in Jimmer’s success than any other person—drilling him, advising him, cajoling him, challenging him, lifting him up when he was down, knocking him down when he got too high.
It was T.J. who took Jimmer to play “prison ball.” It was T.J. who summoned all his creativity to invent drills that kept Jimmer interested in practicing fundamentals. And it was T.J. who wrote the handwritten contract that to this day remains taped to the wall above Jimmer’s bed in the Fredette home:
“I, James T. Fredette, agree on this day, January 27, 2007, to do the work and make the necessary sacrifices to be able to reach my ultimate goal of playing in the NBA.”
Jimmer signed the contract, T.J. signed as the witness, and a moment in Fredette family lore was cemented.
As Jimmer’s fame spread, the contract became a prominent part of his backstory. It was mentioned by ESPN on draft night in June 2011 and in just about every feature that was ever written on Jimmer. The contract idea was even stolen and implemented as part of a television plot involving two brothers—the younger one a rising basketball star, the older one his troubled mentor—on the CBS drama CSI: New York.
It’s easy to understand the Hollywood appeal of the Fredette story. But the tension between the brothers depicted on CSI: New York is pure fiction when it comes to Jimmer and T.J. They have taken turns being their brother’s keeper.
• • •
The oldest brother story ever told was a fratricide. According to the Bible’s book of Genesis, two sons of Adam and Eve were involved in the first murder.
Cain killed younger brother Abel in the field because God favored Abel and Cain was jealous. Thus sibling rivalry was born and became a part of the human condition. It has been a recurring phenomenon throughout history, a problematic family dynamic that almost everyone has had to deal with in some form.
Not the Fredettes. Not between Jimmer and T.J., even though the younger son went on to far eclipse the older in the sport both of them chose. If ever there were an opportunity for sibling rivalry to fester, this would have been it. But it didn’t happen.
“I’ve always just been so happy for him, to see everything he’s accomplished,” T.J. said. “There has never been any jealousy, just frustration at myself for not being able to get to where I wanted to be.”
Said Jimmer: “He’s almost like a father figure to me. He was proud of everything I did. If we were closer in age, we would have fought a lot more, been a lot more competitive, and been on the same teams, probably. It’s more like he was watching a son.”
To this day, T.J.’s customary greeting to his little brother is a brush of the back of his fingers against Jimmer’s cheek. It’s been that way since February 25, 1989, when T.J. went to the hospital to meet his newborn little brother. T.J. affectionately touched Jimmer’s jowly face and the bonding began.
“I was in first grade, and I remember they called me down to the office and said, ‘Your brother was born,’ and I got out of school,” T.J. recalled. “I was really excited to get out of school. He had a little ski hat on, big cheeks. I kept touching his cheeks. That’s almost like our hello, me giving him a tap on the cheek.”
Until that day, T.J. had been the youngest in the family, having arrived two years after sister Lindsay. Now the older boy had someone to dote on.
As a small boy, chubby-cheeked Jimmer returned the affection by following big brother everywhere. When T.J. went outside to shoot baskets on the makeshift court in the backyard, Jimmer tagged along. When T.J. started playing organized sports, Jimmer was always the team’s water boy. When T.J. got older and went to Crandall Park to play pickup basketball or traveled south on Interstate 87 to Albany for Amateur Athletic Union games, Jimmer sat on the side of the court and watched.
Most older siblings would tell their kid brother to beat it. T.J. never did. He was happy to have Jimmer as a tagalong and didn’t tolerate any of his friends picking on the little guy.
“He loves his family. He’s very loyal,” Jimmer said of T.J. “He loves the Godfather movies for the way family members are totally loyal to each other. They always put each other first. T.J. is also a tough kid—extremely tough. He’s gotten into some things that he probably shouldn’t have with his friends and fighting and stuff like that. You know, because he’s a pretty feisty kid. He and his friends, they’re all really feisty, have really short fuses. So, my mom was always worried that they were going to get into trouble. And I was always with them, too. But they would never let anything happen to me, so that’s why she was okay with it. She knew T.J. would see that I was all right.”
There were fights on the basketball court with other kids, but no serious fights between the brothers. Ever.
T.J. was an outstanding athlete, averaging nearly 25 points per game in seventh grade. But in eighth grade, he woke up one morning paralyzed by fear. As a baby, T.J. had experienced night terrors, but this was more severe. This was a full-blown panic attack, the first of many that would change his adolescent life.
During his eighth-grade year, T.J. estimates he missed 40 to 50 days of school because of his debilitating condition. The attacks subsided for a couple of years after that but returned his junior year at Glens Falls High School. The timing was especially bad for T.J.’s athletic career because he was playing varsity football and basketball. He again missed roughly 50 days of school.
After high school, T.J. went to play basketball at nearby Adirondack Community College and, while living at home, slowly got his panic attacks under control. But there would be no Division I dream come true for him, and no professional basketball career. So he diverted his focus to Jimmer.
“I put my attention on him at a young age because I knew I couldn’t get to where I wanted to be,” T.J. said. “Jimmer could do anything. I saw right away how good he was and how competitive he was. We’d go to work out, and I’d put more attention on him than on myself. One of us was going to do it, and I knew my time was passing. Jimmer was the one who was going to get it done.”
Jimmer, ever the pleaser, was happy to do every drill T.J. concocted. When T.J. had him dribble down a hallway with the lights off, jumping out at Jimmer to throw him off-balance, Jimmer was all in. When T.J.’s idea of toughening Jimmer included pickup games against inmates in nearby prisons, Jimmer never hesitated. When T.J. wrote the contract, Jimmer signed on the bottom line. He trusted T.J.’s guidance and his own ability.
“He’s got a very active mind,” Jimmer said. “And it’s always thinking of new ideas, always thinking of stuff. So that’s why, when we did these drills, there were a lot of unorthodox things that people would never think of. Most people are just generic—dribble up and down the court, do your moves, and keep your head up. T. J said, ‘We’re going to go in this dark hallway. We’re going to have one light at the end, and do all these moves. And you’re not going to be able to see the ball. And I’m going to jump out at you every once in a while. Keep your balance—and you just keep going.’
“It still does the same thing for you, but it’s just a fun way to do it. Maybe it was a better drill, and maybe it wasn’t. But it made it fun, so, I wanted to keep playing. You know what I mean? I wanted to play all the time because it was fun to do that type of stuff. That’s the way T.J.’s mind was always working and trying to create things.
“I’ve always trusted him. He’s never done anything to break that trust. That’s one thing that he is—always, whatever he says he’s going to do, he does it. With anybody. He hates going back on his word. He absolutely hates it. So he makes sure that if he says he’ll do something, he does it. That’s something I really respect about him, and I try to learn from him in that manner. I’ve always trusted him; I’ve always been around him—and whatever he’s told me to do, I knew it was going to be for my benefit. So, I would do it. And it’s always worked out. He’s never led me astray.”
Years later, it was T.J. searching for guidance. For inspiration. For a just a few hours of relief from the constant dizziness and headaches that had become his daily reality. Al and Kay Fredette watched their middle child waste more than a year of his life on their couch because of his vestibular disorder, which came on when he woke up from surgery to repair a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
“It was tough for Mom and Dad,” Jimmer said. “One son is almost to the point where he doesn’t want to live, and the other son is on top of the world.”
It had been no easy climb to reach the top of the world. Jimmer Fredette was an eternally overlooked and underappreciated talent, doomed by location and profile. He never played basketball at a big enough level to satisfy every doubter.
In high school, Glens Falls was far off the recruiting radar that was primarily focused on New York City and its surrounding areas. Even in upstate New York, players from Albany and Niagara Falls got more attention. Jimmer put up big numbers and led Glens Falls High School to some of its greatest successes, but to the consternation of T.J. and the rest of the Fredette family, those things never captured the fancy of recruiters from major colleges.
That’s how Jimmer slipped through the Big East recruiting net and wound up across the country at BYU. It was a great fit in religious and basketball terms—a Mormon university with an up-tempo playing style. For a scorer like Jimmer, Coach Dave Rose’s program fit his strengths.
But success was not immediate, nor was playing time granted without being earned. After a humbling freshman season spent as a reserve, Jimmer forced his way into the lineup as a sophomore, became a star as a junior, and then exploded as a full-fledged scoring phenomenon as a senior.
He didn’t just lift up a worldwide fan base with his play, taking a Mountain West Conference school to its greatest sporting heights in decades. That would have been enough, of course—enough to ensure Jimmer’s name would live on forever in BYU lore. But more important was the lifting he did at home, for his own family.
“Thank heavens for Jimmer’s success in basketball because it pulled us all through some really rough times,” Kay said. “Jimmer still doesn’t realize to this day how much he helped us all. His success was the shining light that got us through the darkness.”
The shining light coincided with an upturn in T.J.’s condition. After a succession of doctors could not identify or treat his ailment, the Fredettes finally found one in Vermont who diagnosed T.J.’s vestibular disorder and got him on the slow, grinding path back to health.
As T.J. began feeling somewhat better and Jimmer began playing better, the older brother reached for his paper and pen and wrote his most famous song to date. It’s called “Amazing,” and it gained national attention during Jimmer’s junior season at BYU. The subject matter is self-explanatory and deeply personal:
It’s been 21 years, but back when you were younger
I did everything I could as an older brother
To get you to understand that you were given a gift so with each other we would muster
Up a plan to succeed with one another
There’s no wonder you would slowly start to climb to success
But it wasn’t easy—working hard
Was something that we would stress
So I pressed and pushed you harder
Because you really impressed me when you told me that you wouldn’t stop till you were the best
So how could I let you settle for less
And every time I knocked you down
It was all just a test
But you got back up
I could see the dream was for the taking
When you were only five years old because it was truly amazing!
Remember when the media took notice
The local hero that you had become, so now the focus was to keep you levelheaded
You were bred to be a superstar
But the most important thing is that you never forget who you are
Be true to your heart . . . newspaper headlines every day
TV interviews and radio stations coming your way
The scouts all over the country flying in to watch you play
MVP awards, trophies galore, and it made me say
You were doing great, but this is only the beginning
Don’t be satisfied—we have to try to live out the dream
We need to magnify the talent that you have
Take it further and further
And every time we tasted glory we worked harder and harder . . .
You worked your way to see the national attention that you needed
The D1 level
Where you have succeeded at a level all the jealous people said
That you would never see
As for me
There’s no way in the world that there could ever be a prouder older brother
They said that you were too white
They said that you were too slow
But we continue to fight and ignite
The type of fire that had you practicing nights
When everybody was partying
You were keeping your sights on the dream, the NBA
I’ll never forget the day when I wrote you a contract that would say
That you would pay
You looked at me with fire in your eyes
Wrote your name upon the line
A defining moment in time . . . now it’s time.
Jimmer’s time came at just the right time for his stricken brother. A recovering T.J. said, “I’ve got something to live for.”