Countless New York City kids grow up with aspirations of playing in the NBA. Lance Stephenson is one of the few who have succeeded.
Brooklyn native Stephenson, who while playing for the Indiana Pacers had been a known antagonist to superstar LeBron James, now shares the Los Angeles Lakers’ locker room with James.
Back then, Stephenson and the Pacers pushed James and the Miami Heat in the 2013 and 2014 playoffs. Stephenson gained notoriety after he was spotted blowing in LeBron’s ear in an attempt to get under his skin.
But times have changed, with the nine-year NBA veteran now playing and learning from the former four-time NBA MVP.
“It’s been amazing,” Stephenson told amNewYork before Sunday’s 120-96 victory over the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center. “He’s a great leader. He knows every coverage on the floor.”
Stephenson is taking the opportunity alongside James to improve.
“Learning from him every day, how he approaches the game, making me a better player also.”
James wasn’t the only reason Stephenson was lured to Los Angeles.
“Amazing team, and it felt like I could be very helpful to this team and win,” Stephenson said. “I knew this team was going to be good and have a chance to win so I just decided to make my way here.”
As a high school star at Abraham Lincoln in Coney Island, Stephenson won four consecutive high school championships, culminating in him being named the state’s 2009 Mr. Basketball. But Lance’s most memorable moment playing basketball in New York City might be one that Knicks fans remember, but not very fondly.
Stephenson, who led the Pacers with 25 points and 10 rebounds in the series-clinching Game 6, smiled as he talked about beating the Knicks in the second round of the 2013 postseason, a series New York was favored to win.
“It was actually funny because all my friends were going for the Knicks because that’s the home team,” he said. “So they were actually mad when we beat them in Game 6. I was just throwing it their face and bragging.”