Bam Adebayo on being named first-team All-Defense: 'It's a stepping stone'

Bam Adebayo was named to the NBA's All-Defense first team for the first time in his career, but he doesn't want to stop there.
Miami Heat v Boston Celtics - Game One
Miami Heat v Boston Celtics - Game One / Winslow Townson/GettyImages

Sitting in front of his fireplace with a wide grin following the league’s announcement that he made first-team All-Defense for the first time in his career, Bam Adebayo beamed about his latest accomplishment.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Adebayo told reporters, including this one, on a video call.

Adebayo, a Defensive Player of the Year finalist, had been named to the All-Defense second team the previous four seasons but never cracked the first team. He finished third in DPOY voting this season behind Rudy Gobert and Victor Wembanyama.

Although league insiders and close observers appreciate Adebayo’s contributions on defense, he’s been overlooked for the NBA’s highest honors for most of his career.

Adebayo was helped by the NBA's decision to go to a positionless format for the All-Defensive teams for the first time. The first team featured four centers (Gobert, Wembanyama, Adebayo and Anthony Davis) while the second team included four guards and a wing.

But Adebayo garnering the third-most votes is also a reflection that the greater basketball world – and the national media, in particular – is finally taking notice of his defensive abilities.

“Peers-wise, I feel like I’ve had that respect through my years in the NBA. But obviously to get the [DPOY] award you have to prove that to the media,” Adebayo said. “So are people starting to pay attention? I feel like they are at this point. This is my first time being first-team in my career. I feel like it's a stepping stone. We're just gonna keep this ball rolling.”

Here are the main quotes from Tuesday’s media session.

Q: Were you disappointed to not win Defensive Player of the Year?

For me, it's a stepping stone. I wouldn't say it was a disappointment. I didn’t vote. It is what it is. I don't control that part of it. For me, in my eyes, I'm always the Defensive Player of the Year.

Q: How do you balance continuing to grow as an offensive player when there's so much on you to carry on the other end?

Defense isn't only about me. It’s the other four guys on the court that help this thing work and navigate the way Spo wants it to, the way I want it to, the way the team wants it to run. And we want to have fun on the other end. So I depend on my teammates a lot when it comes to the other end – feeding me the ball, getting me easy baskets, getting me in a rhythm so then the game becomes easier as a whole.

Q: What are you proud of in terms of how you've changed the way the league and especially the media views what impacts winning defenses in the league?

Obviously, they don't vote that way. But for me it’s bringing that next level of being an all-around player. Being on the level of there is no weaknesses on the dfeenisve end. You can put them in any coverage, you can put them on anybody. A lot of times – I don't know if you can stack track this – but when teams put you in the strong-side corner so you can't help or make plays… I don't know how many times I go to that corner, which is a lot, especially in the playoffs.

Growing up you see guys that one, when you come into this league you just want to be a specialist and figure everything out. I knew my gift was defense. And being able to be as versatile as possible was the reason why I got on the court. So when you see kids want to mimic that. It’s just respect for you and what you've done in this league so far.

Q:  Rudy Gobert wins Defensive Player of the Year but his team’s defense was also the No. 1 defense in the league. Is there anything you can do as a team to improve from the No. 5 defense to the No. 1-rated defense in the league?

We always strive to hold teams under their averages and, like I said, it takes a team effort. I'm the backline, I do most of the communicating, but guys got to want to defend at the end of the day. So for us as a team, we can strive to be the No. 1 defense. We still have room to grow. We listed top five? We still have four spots to get one. So for us, that's the goal. That's my goal to keep improving this thing to where we will be the top defense.

Questions and answers were edited for brevity and clarity.