TORONTO – Each player’s press conference at NBA Finals media day began the same way. A player sat down. NBA communications director Jim LaBumbard immediately called on a reporter for a question.
Except Kyle Lowry‘s.
Lowry sat down smirking at LaBumbard, who previously worked for the Raptors.
“You ready?” LaBumbard asked.
“Sure, go ahead,” Lowry said.
Lowry has been preparing a long time for this moment.
He has spent most of his career just trying to prove himself as a full-time starter, getting bounced from the Grizzlies to the Rockets to the Raptors. He found a home in Toronto and developed into a star. But that just set him up to be tormented by LeBron James nearly annually in the playoffs.
Now, Lowry has finally reached the pinnacle of his sport, the NBA Finals.
“He’s been hit upside the head from every different angle and every different angle in the world – whether it’s personal, everything,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said, “and he survives it.
“There’s something about that guy that I just believe in. It’s incredible. We have been through so much, and he’s a winner. There’s no other way to put it. He’s a winner.”
Lowry is a five-time All-Star in his 13th season. Just seven players have hit that honor-longevity combination then played in their first NBA Finals:
- Tracy McGrady (2013 Spurs)
- Mitch Richmond (2002 Lakers)
- Kevin Garnett (2008 Celtics)
- Alonzo Mourning (2006 Heat)
- Reggie Miller (2000 Pacers)
- Chris Mullin (2000 Pacers)
- John Stockton (1997 Jazz)
Only Garnett, Miller and Stockton were still stars by their Finals debuts. Mourning was a role player. McGrady, Richmond and Mullin were deep reserves.
Lowry is still a star.
He’s an unconventional one who does so many little things to help his team. He takes charges, sets screens, tips loose balls, makes extra passes, directs teammates. Of course, he scores and assists plenty. But traditional box-score stats don’t fully capture his impact on the court.
They certainly don’t capture his impact off it. Lowry, who spent a while moping about his close friend DeMar DeRozan getting traded, has become an ally of Kawhi Leonard. Though not facing his own contract-year speculation, Lowry understands the pressure stars face. He also relates to younger teammates just tryin to establish themselves in the league, a predicament he faced early in his career.
“He’s a better teammate than he is a player,” Fred VanVleet said.
But for everything Lowry did right, postseason success eluded him.
His individual performances were up-and-down through the playoffs. He wasn’t as bad as his critics made him out to be, nor did he sustain the high level of play he demonstrated in the regular season. But Toronto consistently struggled.
So, when he finally won the East, Lowry – who’s often brooding publicly – became uncontrollably overjoyed:
Yet, as the NBA Finals approach, he’s locked back in.
“Getting here doesn’t do anything but getting here,” Lowry said. “We still want to try to win this.”
It’s the right approach and of course the one Lowry would take. He’s a true competitor. A championship would be so satisfying.
But, after all he’d been through, getting here did mean something to him. You could see it all over his face.