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Warriors center Willie Cauley-Stein is more than meets the eye

‘I want people to look at me, think I’m some thug and then talk to me and realize this dude is intelligent.’

SAN FRANCISCO – Willie Cauley-Stein is used to being judged by his appearance. He has ink all over his 7-foot body, including tattoos under his eyes. He wears a headband over his braids. And he sports expensive jewelry and, occasionally, ice grillz.

But the Golden State Warriors newcomer hopes his fans will discover he is more than meets the eye.

“With the face tats and all the jewelry and swagger, it just intimidates people,” Cauley-Stein told The Undefeated. “I’m a shy dude, believe it or not. I’m not going to go be the first one to talk to you, even if I wanted to. … Most of the time I got this look on my face like I really want to talk to you, but I don’t know how to talk to you. It’s mutual.

“They don’t know how to come up to you either. They say, ‘Man, you got tattoos on your face.’ The first thing that they see. They’re not even looking in your eyes. They’re looking at the tattoos on your face. I made that perception on me because I felt like that’s part of my movement. I want to look like the ’hood but … I want to get past the perception of what people put on people. The stigma that they put on, on people that look like me.”

Cauley-Stein, who changed his middle name a few years ago to “Trill,” which means true and real, is a native of small-town Spearville, Kansas. Fans can catch him riding the streets of San Francisco on an electric bicycle and bringing a silver briefcase to work at the Chase Center. And, in his free time, he enjoys painting street art.

The fifth-year NBA veteran recently sat down with The Undefeated to talk about his personal movement, his struggles with the Sacramento Kings, and his fresh opportunity with the Warriors.


Willie Cauley-Stein of the Golden State Warriors saves the ball from going out of bounds during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Nov. 17 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

What do you see in your own tattoos?

It’s a timeline of what’s going on in my life. Sometimes I got to look in the mirror and remember, like, ‘Damn, I went through some s—.’ I see it on me. I’m looking at it every day, like, ‘Oh, this is why I’m here. This is what I got to do.’ It became like a constant daily affirmation. …

I had some tattoos [at Kentucky], but I hadn’t really gone crazy. And my mom was like, ‘You don’t go crazy.’ She knew all the things that come with having tattoos. She’s more tattooed than me, so she gets the stigma on it. And, to me, I want that. I want people to look at me, think I’m some thug and then talk to me and realize this dude is intelligent. Just completely different than what we thought. And that’s my whole movement. You can’t look at me and already put some tag on me and then not even have a conversation and confirm your tag.

Why did you sign with the Warriors last offseason?

In Sacramento, they put a tag on me that I wasn’t invested or I didn’t care about hoops like that. A lot of stuff that this platform exited out. You can’t go to one coach or one trainer in that facility and say I don’t work hard. But that’s one thing that they used to say. ‘Oh, he don’t work hard enough, blah, blah, blah.’ Dude, you don’t know how hard I’m working. So, that was like the biggest thing for me was the clout that this team has. The championship. Got wins. But most importantly, they get it. They get it from a perspective that some teams can’t even get close to touching. …

If I wasn’t invested in hoops, I would not come to the Warriors. The stage is too hard. Everybody’s looking at this. If I didn’t really like hoops, I’m going to go get a bag somewhere else. A little pretty bag.

Why did you take the Warriors’ bag?

I wanted to prove that I’m invested in this game. Yeah, I’m here for the money. But I’m also here to try to win something. I ain’t never won nothing. This is a perfect place for me to try to win something, given all this stuff that’s happening. There’s still next season. There is still years after that. I feel like I walked into a door into the league. Like I finally get a real introduction into the league by being a Warrior.

This is a perfect place for me to try to win something, given all this stuff that’s happening. There’s still next season.

What is it like being on a team with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green?

When you are on the same page … and you got these three guys carrying this and you see how they move, you see how they work. Like, damn, I ain’t doing nothing compared to them. So, what’s the difference? The stage. The chemistry. The coaching staff. The upper management. It’s all got to go together or you are not on the same page.

What do you think of the Warriors’ mass injuries?

We still got our personnel. It sucks because I thought it was going to be different when I signed. But also, I wasn’t signing to come play with Steph, Draymond and Klay because of what they did. I wanted to be part of a winning program, regardless if them dudes were here or not. This is still a winning program, and they run it like a winning program whether we lose every game or not. The fans and the coaches are still going to be on some winning s—. That matters, man. I will run through a wall for coach [Steve] Kerr just based off of the last month of me conversing with him every day. You can’t say that about a lot of other teams, that you would run through a wall.

Willie Cauley-Stein (center) of the Golden State Warriors dunks in front of LeBron James (left] of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center on Nov. 13 in Los Angeles.

Harry How/Getty Images

You have a player option for next season, but it appears you love it with the Warriors.

I love the guys. I love the environment. I love the city. And I haven’t been in a city like this. It’s all new and energizing in a way. And there is a lot of opportunity to grow in life, period, not just hoops. And that all comes from just being around these group of guys and the group of coaches, the atmosphere around the city.

What was the best and most challenging part of your time in Sacramento?

My best part about Sac was the city in itself and the relationships I made. And the most challenging part was definitely trying to play up to their standards of hoops.

You are big into art and painting. What advice would you give a kid who is an aspiring painter?

Keep creating. At all costs, create something. I don’t care if you’re good at it or if you think you’re good at it, because it’s perception. Somebody ain’t never drawn before goes and draws a picture of something. There’s a billionaire over here that’s going to buy it for a million dollars just because of how abstract it is, and you ain’t never painted before. That’s how powerful art is.

What does the game of basketball mean to you?

All this that we’re doing is fueling from a ball bouncing on the ground. It’s incredible to me. Financially free to move how we want. We can post what we want, we can make what we want, we can create anything that we want because now this ball bouncing gives us the opportunity to do that. And that became a lifestyle. And everybody in my campaign knows that hoops is what’s driving this.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.