Written by Oliver Kay.
Raised in a family with its roots deep in the basketball culture, the sport had a natural appeal to the 21-year-old Sydney native. His father, Bruce Bolden, played in the NBL for 17 years, so for young Jonah the game was a natural part of his surroundings.
“I was always around basketball growing up. I was at [my dad’s] practices running around, [and] at games. So I feel like I was always inclined to play…I was always around [basketball]” said Bolden.
In his hometown of Sydney, basketball provided Bolden with a space to relax and enjoy himself. The joy of playing stemmed from the social interactions and the fun in succeeding alongside friends. “For me it was about having fun playing with people that I knew.”
With fun established, success soon followed and the NBA dream became increasingly more tangible. While in high school Bolden was selected to represent the NSW Metro State Team at the 2013 Basketball Australia National Championships. He would lead them on a dream run to the finals against Victoria Metro. He averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds for the entire tournament, but fell just short of the title.
In the same year Bolden also represented Australia at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship, helping the team reach the Semi-Finals.
It quickly became clear that the NBA was a real possibility and in August 2013 Bolden relocated to the USA. After playing high school basketball, followed by a short one-year stint with UCLA that was hampered by injuries, Bolden took the plunge into the professional lifestyle, and moved to Europe to test himself in new ways. “I just wanted to take basketball that much more seriously.”
Playing in Serbia, and then Israel, proved to be an invaluable teaching ground, showing him what it meant to play professionally. The experience opened his mind to the the challenges that come with being a professional athlete, both on and off the hardwood.
What stood out the most to Bolden, other than the obvious hurdle of playing against bigger and stronger opponents, was the importance of having a disciplined mindset.
“You’re a team but it’s also a business and you need to care, it’s your job. So you need to work as if it’s your job, you’ve got to come in and do your hours. It’s an everyday thing.”
Playing in Europe also made the simple task of being understood and understanding others a challenge, particularly in Serbia. “After the first month [in Serbia] I had adapted to the guys, [and] there was always a translator there. In Tel Aviv all of them knew English. In Serbia they had a translator or just they got the gist of it.”
In 2017 Bolden was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the the 36th pick. He would play another year in Europe in Israel but the NBA dream was now within his grasp.
He officially signed with Philadelphia in July 2018. However, the climb up the mountain was just entering a new stage. As an early second round pick Bolden had to prove himself, he had to earn every second of court time.
At the start of his rookie season Bolden went back and forth between the Philadelphia roster and stints with the G League affiliate team the Delaware Blue Coats, but Bolden’s outlook, in part forged by his father, remained resolute.
“I take [life] day by day, so it wasn’t a really big thing,” said Bolden matter of factly. “Sometimes it’s hard for guys and they second guess themselves. [Philadelphia] are a great organisation, they would tell me when I would go down and when I would come back up. So I was able to prepare myself and use those games to prepare myself for when I would come back up.”
Eventually, Bolden worked his way into becoming a mainstay of the Philadelphia roster, and was a part of the team’s deep playoff run.
Yet, even under the bright lights of the NBA and on the other side of the world from Sydney, having fun was part of the process. And it definitely helped having fellow Australia Ben Simmons with him on the ride.
“It’s good to have someone that you know and kind of grew up with. Playing with him on the big stage, It’s always a dream come true.”
Bolden’s second NBA season is now only a few months aways, and the team has a lot of expectations on their shoulders to come out of the Eastern Conference and compete for a title. For Bolden the goals of the new season are simple, win a championship and continue to grow as a player.
“For me it’s year two, so for me it’s [about] taking things that I worked on last year and implementing them in my game for next season and take the leap. Not being a rookie [anymore] and being a second year player.”
Bolden is ready and eager to begin the next phase of his dream playing professional basketball at the highest level. However, before the NBA season tips off, there is another order of business for Bolden; representing Australia at the World Cup and bringing home a medal.
“It would mean the world to the country, and to the players themselves. So for me, that’s obviously the goal… It’s definitely a challenge but I’m looking forward to it and I’m sure the other guys are looking forward to it as well.
"It’s always been a dream to play for the national team growing up. Being born and raised in Australia, for me it’s exciting times.”