Twin brothers Brook and Robin Lopez were always up to something, even when they were 5 years old in the back seat of their mom’s car on the way to their older brothers’ basketball games.
They created their own little world, drawing pictures or plotting stories they invented with fictional characters from their vibrant imaginations. Then they’d get to the games and the two of them, especially Brook, were captivated by another art form — basketball.
In some ways not much has changed.
In their downtime Brook and Robin are still designing an imaginary world, jotting down sketches and writing stories. Now they share them across the country through Facebook or text messages, instead of across the back seat of their mother’s car.
But just like it did when he was a kid, basketball captivates Brook, and the Lakers need that. The 2017-18 season is the start of Lonzo Ball’s NBA career, a season with which the Lakers hope to attract superstar free agents for next summer. As they try to do it, Lopez will drive the effort.
Coming off a 26-56 season that helped them earn the second overall pick in the draft, the Lakers are no longer bound by concerns about the draft lottery. Having traded away this year’s lottery pick, the Lakers are out of the lottery for the first time since 2013. That means all they want to do is win games and look like a strong enough team that a player like LeBron James or Paul George might want to join.
Their front office of president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka is entering its first full season. They added rookie Ball, an exciting point guard who they hope can be their first great player at the position since Johnson. They spent the summer hoarding salary-cap space, adding players on the condition they were not committing financially past this season. But whether those players want to be Lakers depends in part on how attractive this team looks.
The Lakers acquired Lopez in a trade this summer and it’s his job to make the Lakers’ offense operate the way coach Luke Walton wants it to. Lopez is expected to serve as a calming veteran presence on the court, amid a team filled with players who can’t rent a car on their own yet. Lopez, who has averaged 18.6 points a game in his career, has the talent to lead the Lakers to a few more wins. And, if it lasts only one year, Lopez’s expiring contract will clear the space for the Lakers to sign one of the stars they’ll seek.
“It’s weird being one of the older guys on the team,” the 29-year-old Lopez said. “That turnaround happened so quickly. A year or two ago I was playing with [Kevin Garnett] and Paul Pierce and all of a sudden the next few years I’m playing with 19-, 20-year-old kids. It just flopped so fast. “
Lopez missed the start of the preseason with a back injury, and not until that healed could the Lakers truly get an idea of what he would bring to their offense. He showed off his three-point shooting right away, making two quick threes in his first game back.
“He likes to joke around, but he’s very, very serious when it’s time to play basketball and try to win and we’re competing in drills,” Walton said. “He’s kind of a calming force for our young guys.”
Lopez is much more accustomed to being a younger guy on a team than an older guy. He and his brother were so big from the time they were toddlers that sometimes strangers would wonder why these kids they thought were 5 or 6 years old were acting like babies.
“When I saw that, I would loudly say, ‘Boys you just turned 2 years old, you gotta act like big boys now,’” said Deborah Langford, their mother.
They played with older kids in basketball leagues that were divided by height rather than age.
That height might have helped Robin’s quest to learn how to shoot as a child. By age 4, he’d taught himself how to shoot a 10-foot jumper, waiting until his older brothers were finished with a basketball hoop on the side of their house in Los Angeles.
Now seven feet tall, Brook’s size is an advantage more than a curiosity. And all the time he spent throughout his life learning how to shoot properly is an aspect of his game that fits perfectly with the modern NBA and with the way the Lakers want to play.
He still has that work ethic he employed when he was 4. Nearly every day after the Lakers finish practicing, Lopez is the last one on the court, shooting threes-pointers, working on post moves and trying to get better as the season approaches.
“I’m having a great time,” Lopez said. “I’m so excited for the season to start. I don’t know if I can pinpoint one thing. I think the energy about this group is so great and positive. It’s just going to be such a great moment finally stepping on the court for a real game.”
Even with all the work he’s put in on the court, Lopez hasn’t lost touch with his other passion — the fantasy worlds novelists create.
Growing up in a family of teachers and librarians, Lopez learned to love imaginary worlds. Langford used to read “Lord of the Rings” to him and his brothers as bedtime stories.
“When you look at [J.R.R.] Tolkien, he created an Elvish language, an Elvin language for the books,” Lopez said, referencing the language elves spoke in “Lord of the Rings.” “That’s just so insane to me. I love the idea of just getting in every nook and cranny of that world and realizing that.”
In their spare time, the Lopez brothers are trying to create that themselves. The sketches and stories they share with each other, they hope to one day turn into a trilogy of novels.
It’s an adult evolution of something he loved as a child, just like this season of basketball will be.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli