Something was up, a key piece of information withheld, and Terance Mann suspected as much waiting in the hallway of a luxurious Beverly Hills hotel this month.
The clues had added up. His mother, Daynia La-Force, had asked him to the hotel, which was reason by itself to go, but conspicuously little other reasoning was given. A man leading Mann to a guest’s room asked the Clippers guard whether he knew what was on the other side. Before the door swung open his mother began taking video on her phone to record her oldest son’s reaction to his early 25th birthday surprise.
Waiting inside an adjoining room was Allen Iverson, the Hall of Fame guard.
“Your idol, baby!” his mother yelled.
The former NBA most valuable player stood to embrace Mann as his expression changed from a nervous smile to something approaching awe. Others in the room laughed and whooped, knowing the significance. As a kid, Mann mimicked Iverson’s braids, headband and arm sleeve. As an adult, Mann has a poster of Iverson in his house.
The warm welcome might have awaited Mann even if he hadn’t made the NBA. Iverson knew La-Force in the 1990s when their playing careers overlapped at Georgetown. A mutual friend helped arrange the surprise. As Iverson told the assembled group, Mann is “family.” But when Iverson began talking about Mann, the basketball player, the praise reached a different level aided by events of the previous summer.
Luke Kennard’s 19 points in 23 minutes is a bright spot in the Clippers’ 122-114 loss to the Mavericks during a preseason game in Dallas.
“This … bad, man,” Iverson said, nodding his head. “This … is a certified killer.”
Coming from a former NBA MVP, the words were particularly surreal. La-Force recalled Mann “actually blushing.” He later called the recognition “crazy to me” — and yet it fit the pattern of a surreal summer that has seen his profile rise at breakneck speed ever since a breakout playoff run that included a career-high 39 points in June to clinch a second-round series victory against Utah.
“My life has dramatically changed in the last three months, for sure,” Mann said.
Mann had known local fame while at Florida State, but this summer he was routinely noticed in cities where he once traveled anonymously. During a visit to Las Vegas to watch the Atlanta Dream, for whom his mother is an assistant, Mann was stopped every few hundred feet inside one casino as his mother proudly watched. His hometown of Lowell, Mass., gave him a key to the city. Vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mann thought he’d surely fly under the radar.
“I was out there on the beach, I was going in town, and people were like, ‘Oh, don’t you play?’” Mann said. “I’m like, how the hell?”
He’s no longer known as the wing taken 48th overall in the 2019 draft, who played more in the G League than the NBA as a rookie, who was told on the eve of the playoffs in May that he was out of the Clippers’ rotation.
“We’d never been somewhere before the playoffs where guys are asking for pictures and autographs,” said Julius V, a Los Angeles-based trainer who has worked with Mann each of the last two offseasons. But now?
“People ask to take pictures,” V laughed.
They recognized Mann because of how often he seemed to be in the right place at the right time during a second season in which he continued to make the nuanced, smart plays that helped him get drafted while also improving his three-point accuracy by 7 percentage points to nearly 42%. Dunking over Utah’s Rudy Gobert, the three-time defensive player of the year, in the playoffs twice didn’t hurt.
Mann carried a fearlessness from his career’s start. But he has increasingly allowed that confidence to show through in different ways. When asked recently about being named by NBA general managers as a breakout candidate, a chip appeared on his shoulder.
“You said GMs, the ones that didn’t draft me? Until the 48th pick?” he said. “I don’t care about that.”
Amid such change, what stands out to those around Mann is what has not.
Though Mann understood this summer that he’d probably earned a larger, more consistent role off the bench entering his third season, V said the prospect of more security didn’t alter Mann’s drive to improve during their workouts. He recalled Mann landing at the airport at night and asking to meet at a gym before it closed.
“We always talk about this: Don’t do anything different than from what got you here,” V said. “With him, we talk about you need to approach this like it’s your freshman year at Florida State and there are all seniors on this team.”
Mann isn’t sure he loves everything that comes with broader fame. He’s had to be more aware of who is around him as he travels. He’s also on every opponent’s scouting report now. With greater outside expectations will come greater scrutiny.
“We only see 10% of Terance Mann right now,” teammate Nicolas Batum said. “He’s going to be great. You know that.”
Iverson won devotees like Mann during his NBA prime because, even as an undersized guard, he could take games over through sheer force of will. Clippers star Paul George can summon the same ability. When Mann talks of the Clippers’ potential, though, he envisions lineups where he becomes just one cog in a five-man blend of attacking, switching basketball.
“You’re going to see one guy have 20 one night, next guy have 20 the next night, I think it’s going to be different guys all the time,” he said. “That’s what I see, and I like that because it keeps other teams on their toes. It’s hard to prepare for a team like that where you don’t know who’s going to be that guy all the time. Obviously we have PG, we know what he’s capable of. We know what [Reggie Jackson] is capable of. But there’s a lot of surrounding pieces who can get the job done, too.”
Exposure has come with perks. In August he met with New Balance, Li-Ning and others to discuss shoe deals. He eventually signed with Anta and is hopeful the endorsement will lead to a tour of China next summer.
To help “get my name out there,” Mann said. “Spread the word.”
As he now knows, word can travel fast.
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