LOS ANGELES — The speakers in the Lakers’ weight room have been blasting “Available,” a song off Justin Bieber’s newest album, “Changes.”
The song is the work of the team’s center, JaVale McGee. Yes, he’s the one that grabbed the auxiliary cord to play the song. He’s also the only one on the team who can take credit for producing it.
Between his day job and his side hustle, McGee has achieved a rare feat: He’s a contributor to the No. 1 album in the country and to the top-seeded team in the N.B.A.’s Western Conference.
McGee, 32, has been making music since he was a freshman at the University of Nevada. The self-described technology nerd started making beats on his computer as soon as he realized he could do so.
As he bounced around to different pro teams over his 12-year N.B.A. career — playing for the Washington Wizards, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors — he honed his music production skills during his downtime. N.B.A. road trips also gave him the opportunity to network. He met more seasoned producers when he traveled to Los Angeles, and had a fateful meeting in 2013 with Jason Boyd, better known as Poo Bear, one of Bieber’s longtime collaborators.
McGee released his first album in 2018, under the pseudonym Pierre, an alter ego that had been a source of mockery by sports fans. That year, he also won the second of his two championships with the Golden State Warriors before being courted to join the Lakers.
The New York Times sat down with McGee to discuss his music career, working on “Available” alongside trusted Bieber producers Poo Bear and HARV, and why most of his teammates may not know he’s on the Billboard charts.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
How did you start to develop as a producer?
I started in 2008, and I wasn’t really good. I didn’t understand that you have to get different sounds from different producers. I didn’t understand the intricacies of building relationships and producing. I thought you just make a beat and give it to the artists. But it’s not like that at all.
I really figured out it’s more about relationships rather than just making a million beats and hoping somebody picks it up. I have some good friends in the music industry and they would show me stuff. They would just teach me. You need this, buy this app, you need this right here. Just helping me get my producing right.
How do you find that balance, then, between being a professional basketball player and producer of Bieber bops?
I balance it by being a producer. I could rap if I wanted to, but I don’t think I would have time. It would take too much time away from basketball. As a producer, everything I have to do is right on my computer. I don’t have to actually go to the studio.
I tend to do studio sessions early because studio sessions can be extremely long. So I’ve learned not to start a studio session at 11 p.m. There are certain things that restrict me from being the best producer I could be because I have to go to sleep, but I make it work.
When did you sit down and create what we now know as “Available?”
I was in the studio with Poo Bear around November of last year. I didn’t know who I was making music for. I was playing some songs and samples and he stopped on this one sample that I had made. He looped it, put it in the computer and we just started writing to it. We ended up writing the whole song, but there were no drums or anything.
The original melody, when you hear it in the beginning of a song? That’s what I brought to the table.
And how did you find out that your work was going to be on Justin Bieber’s album?
Three months later, Poo Bear calls me, and we were talking about the fact that both of our houses had been broken into. We ended that conversation and he said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re on the album.’ I’m like, ‘What album?’
It was amazing. Justin Bieber is one of the, if not the, top artists out there. So to be able to keep working and produce something for an artist like that is amazing. And … I’m a basketball player.
You occasionally use the pseudonym “Pierre” for your music. Have you tried to keep your music production and basketball careers separate?
I sort of like having anonymity. I like to separate things. When I’m focused on something I tend to keep my focus on that.
But it’s a give and take. Originally, I didn’t want to be known as the basketball player who produces music, but now I’m embracing it a lot more. Being on the Lakers, of course you get a lot of eyes on you. So I’m trying to take advantage of that.
How did your team react to the news?
I really haven’t told anybody yet. I think I might send it in a group text. People who don’t know or aren’t in that circle are definitely going to be all: ‘Oh, that’s crazy. You produced a Bieber track? That doesn’t make sense.’
My teammates will say ‘aw man, that’s cool’ and then get over it. There’s just so much going on.