Roy Hibbert kept experiencing the same thing in Los Angeles, where fame is measured in box-office promise and reality-TV ridicule.
He was reminded of his almost-famous stature whenever he arrived at high-end restaurants with paparazzi lingering near the entrance.
“I’d get out of the car and before I even opened the door, cameras would start flashing. And all of a sudden as soon as I got out, they’d stop and just go back,” Hibbert said.
After the Lakers acquired him from small-market Indiana in July, his profile grew in some of the same culinary haunts.
Larry King saw Hibbert dining and brought him to meet a handful of guests at a nearby table, where pictures were taken with the 7-foot-2 center.
Sylvester Stallone approached Hibbert’s table at a different eatery and wished him well, a particular thrill for Hibbert because of an interest in martial arts.
“People really love the Lakers out here. I walk down the street now and get stopped four or five times, taking pictures,” he said.
He says it with the same wonderment of someone discovering life beyond Earth. Or in his case, Middle America.
He is more of a practical solution than hailed savior, the latter tag almost certainly bestowed upon LaMarcus Aldridge had he signed with the Lakers in July (it wasn’t close).
Hibbert will try to fix what continually ailed the Lakers last season, an appallingly bad defense that ranked 29th out of 30 in defensive efficiency.
If you tell Hibbert the NBA is phasing out 7-foot centers in favor of 24-foot shooters, he’ll remind you that the Golden State Warriors needed shot-blocker Andrew Bogut to get to the NBA Finals.
On the other hand, Hibbert consulted a nutritionist a few months ago and lost 14 pounds, getting down to 268.
“I saw how the trend was going with big guys in the NBA with how Golden State won,” he said. “I started changing a little bit.”
He’s not becoming a three-point wizard, a stretch center if you will. He hasn’t worked on that aspect of his game. Just trying to be leaner and faster, even though the Lakers swear they don’t care about getting any offense out of him.
Hibbert’s exit from Indiana was apparent after an end-of-season meeting with Pacers President Larry Bird and Coach Frank Vogel. He was told the direction the Pacers wanted to go next season. It did not involve him.
The Pacers drafted center Myles Turner from Texas in late June and were in a bit of a conundrum that same day when Hibbert, 28, officially exercised a player option for $15.6 million next season.
It wasn’t surprising for a player who admitted he hadn’t shown his best, averaging 10.6 points and 7.1 rebounds last season. The free-agent market would have been tepid.
But the opt-in concluded his career in Indiana. The Pacers were ready to trade him.
Quite coincidentally, Hibbert had rented a place in Beverly Hills after Indiana’s season ended in April. He and his wife spent previous off-seasons living in different parts of the country — New York one summer, Washington another summer — and chose Los Angeles this time.
He was at SoulCycle in Beverly Hills, spinning away on an exercise bike when his agent, David Falk, kept calling him. It was the Fourth of July. Hibbert wanted to finish his workout and was hungry afterward. Falk would have to wait a bit.
The two finally talked by phone from a patio table at The Farm, an always-busy restaurant favored by Hibbert.
The conversation would change Hibbert’s life. After seven seasons with Indiana, the only NBA team he had known, he was now a member of the Lakers for the paltry sum of a 2019 second-round draft pick.
“I was sitting at that table over there,” Hibbert said Monday, after ordering a maple-baked salmon salad and some fingerling potatoes on the side. “I was pretty stoked.”
It wasn’t completely out of the blue. Hibbert’s agent had made a list of teams that needed centers and presented it to Bird, who countered that Indiana would try to accommodate a trade but not take back any bad contracts.
A financial sacrifice was also required from Hibbert, a rarity in a league where salaries and TV deals keep getting more lucrative. He agreed to take only $100,000 of his $2.3-million trade kicker so the Lakers could also sign free agents Lou Williams and Brandon Bass.
“In the long run, it was a no-brainer,” Hibbert said. “If I were to say I wanted my $2 million and the trade couldn’t get done, I would have been back in Indy and wouldn’t have gotten that $2 million anyway. I would have had to basically fight an uphill battle just to try and get on the court. Hopefully I can make that [money] up in the long run if I do well.”
His introductory news conference for the Lakers made social-media rounds not for anything he said at a table alongside Williams and Bass. It was what they didn’t say.
When asked if they had heard from Kobe Bryant, all three players were awkwardly silent for 10 seconds before another question was asked.
Bryant bore the brunt of the discomfort, the obvious implication that he hadn’t greeted them warmly. Or at all.
“I think he caught a lot of flak for no reason,” Hibbert said in retrospect. “He was overseas in China, I guess for a while, doing what he was doing. He’s reached out to me and we talked.
“It was funny, I guess, looking back. Ten seconds. I just told him, ‘I’ll be ready on the defensive end to help whatever way I can.’ He was all about that. I will say that.”
Before Hibbert moved out of his Indiana home last week, he invited Paul George to come over one last time, hiring a barber to give the former Pacers teammates haircuts in the barber-shop chair in Hibbert’s man cave.
“I don’t harbor any resentment. I don’t want to see those guys do badly,” Hibbert said.
He obviously wants to do well with the Lakers, who start training camp Sept. 29 in Honolulu. He’ll be a free agent next July.
The Lakers keep telling him they have plenty of scorers — Bryant, Williams and Nick Young. They want him to block shots and rebound. Period.
His steady defensive play made him an Eastern Conference All-Star in 2012 and 2014, and he owned one of the most unusual stat lines in NBA history — 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocked shots against New Orleans in 2012.
Maybe he’ll return to those ways as the Lakers try to crawl out from under their worst season ever. His personal renaissance in L.A. could soon go beyond recognition at restaurants.
Follow Mike Bresnahan on Twitter @Mike_Bresnahan
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