Robin Lopez: Portland Trailblazer

He’s Big With Reading.

Perhaps you think you know who Robin Lopez is because you have seen him block shots, reel in rebounds and send the basketball swishing through the net for the Portland Trail Blazers. With his curly, out-of-control locks, the 7-foot, 255-pound starting center has played a significant role for the Blazers this season. Or perhaps you remember Lopez when he played for Stanford University with his twin brother, Brook, who now plays for the Brooklyn Nets. Both men were drafted to the NBA in 2008, with Brook heading to Brooklyn and Robin to the Phoenix Suns.

Maybe you think you know who Robin Lopez is from seeing him and teammate LaMarcus Aldridge in the television commercials for Portland’s McLoughlin Auto Mall, where they both sing humorously off-key. Lopez even quips the car dealership is the reason he moved to Portland.  Or maybe you just know him as the tall, intimidating player who wears jersey number 42 for the Blazers.

Describing himself as a chameleon with many facets to his personality, Lopez is the type of person who will only let you see what he wants you to see about him. He’s a man who carefully contemplates his words and one who is devoted to his family; mother, Deborah Ledford, older brothers Alex and Chris and twin, Brook. Born on April 1, 1988, Brook is one minute older than Robin.

Robin Lopez joined the Blazers last summer after he was part of a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. Watch him play and you’ll see he’s the kind of player that makes things happen for his teammates – contributions the stat book doesn’t reflect.

On his profile page on the Blazer’s website, there is a video clip of him and Hooper, the mascot for the Detroit Pistons, who wore a black, curly wig to taunt Lopez. Wrestling Hooper to the ground, Lopez removed the wig and placed it on his head with a mischievous smirk before tossing it back. Yet, this is the same man who helped kick off the 2014 Wizard World Portland Comic Con and presented a custom Blazer jersey to Marvel creator Stan Lee and is the spokesman for the Read Big program.

“If I’m not playing basketball, I’m reading or thinking of stories I can create,” Lopez said in a press release for the nonprofit program. “I am so fortunate to have a mom who shared with me her love for books and helped me, from my earliest memories, take great adventures through reading.”

Kenneth Faried, Robin LopezDesigned to inspire students to read, the Read Big campaign features an animated superhero resembling Lopez and holding a “Read Big” book. When shown the cartoon charter of himself, Lopez said with barely breaking a grin, “I am not that handsome.”

Intelligent and thoughtful, he spoke with enthusiasm about topics that interest him, while shying away from talking about himself – something he said he doesn’t like to do. “I like to think of myself as a pretty normal person,” he said.

What is your role on the Portland Trail Blazer’s team?

I think it is to alleviate as much as I can and take the load off the other guys’ shoulders. I just try to help out as much as I can. It’s all about my team when I am on the floor. On the court, I have a one track mind and that is helping my team score a win.

What are you like off the court?

Off the court, I am a very friendly guy. I am like a chameleon socially. I can have fun with anybody and strike up a conversation with almost anybody. Off the court, my focus is allowed to drift to other areas. I am allowed to relax my brain.

You have been compared to the King of the Nerds of the NBA and a super hero. How would you describe yourself?

I definitely do think I have a nerdy personality. Super hero is an awfully flattering comparison but I am not sure how apt that is. When I was in school, the people I always hung out with were usually the smarter kids. I think it is a little atypical for an NBA player to have so much personality really show. I think that is in part to how in the past few years more and more NBA players are using social media to show more sides of themselves.

If you were a super hero, what would be your secret identity by day and by night?

That is tough. Everybody wants to say they would be a blue collar worker or something like that but I think there is a certain appeal to the Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark socialite, playboy billionaire types. I think if I were to compare myself I would be a blue collar kind of person by day like Clark Kent. I think that would be a pretty good comparison.

From the 9- to 16- to 40-year-old fans, they see you and other NBA players as their heroes. How does that make you feel?

It is kind of weird to think of myself like that. Like I told you, I think of myself as a very normal guy. That is what makes this job so special is that there is that connection that sports gives people. A team can link an entire town or country. That is something other spheres of life can’t accomplish.

What are some of your favorite places to visit in Portland, especially when you have out-of-town guests?

I love Powell’s. I could get lost in that place. I love they have out-of-print books because they are so hard to come by in this day and age. Anytime my mom comes to town, I have to take her to Powell’s. In the fall, I went to Portland Timber’s games which was unbelievable because it was like a European atmosphere. I like going to Forbidden Planet and Things From Another World – there are so many great comic stores in Portland. I like going to the Pearl District.

What do you like about living in Portland?

I was surprised coming here that it is a small town that has a very distinct culture. People are very true to themselves and they are very open in their personalities and that is something I admire quite a bit. I think Portland has its quirkiness but here it is more natural. When people ask me about Portland, I feel awkward answering for Portland because I have only been here since last summer. Portland does seem like a natural fit for me. It does feel that way. I like I have a view of Mount Hood from my place and the whole coastal range. I love seeing the mountains.

Robin Lopez, Ekpe UdohHow do professional athletes feel about fans asking them for autographs or photographs?

First of all, it is a blessing that they even know who you are and they are asking for your picture or autograph and when you put yourself in that person’s shoes, you are going to make their day just like that.

Growing up as a twin, did you ever pull any pranks like switching places? Switching dates?

Brook and I switched places twice – once in first grade and once in third grade. In first grade, we switched clothes before class and I think Brook must have given a better performance than I because he was able to convince my teacher he was me but I wasn’t able to convince his teacher that I was Brook. He may have stayed more silent. There are differences in our personalities with Brook being much more outgoing and much more outspoken. We are both stubborn but I think Brook is definitely a little more stubborn but you’d have to get his take on that and I am sure he would have a different answer. In third grade, we tried the same thing only we did it for our PE class. Brook has a high school teacher’s assistant that was a terror and he wanted me to bite the bullet for him and go to class. But she figured it out right away. We have never switched dates. Brook and I have always had different interests in girls.

How so?

I better not say.

Where did you get your love of reading?

From my mom, who it was passed on to her from her mom. My grandma had a large collection of books in her house – two or three rooms and my mom has a library in her house and in her room. My mom taught math, German and Spanish and coached swimming.

You are the spokesman for the Read Big Program? What made you decide to volunteer?

Growing up I was given a lot of opportunities and I have been very blessed. People did a lot for me and I decided if I ever had the chance to give back and provide opportunities for people who are less fortunate than I feel it is almost my duty to do so. Something like the Read Big program is something that is close to my heart and close to my interests so it makes it something really easy to do. More than anything it is fun – all the experiences with the program have been such a joy. I like hanging out with the kids, reading with them and making appearances at the schools. This is the fun part of my job. Plus I am kind of just a big kid. I like the questions the kids ask me from can they touch my hair to how tall I am. The program stresses the importance of kids learning to read.

What do you say to students who tell you they can’t read or they don’t like to read?

I think it is important to find something that interests them. I think some people don’t always think it is popular but I am a big fan of comic books and for some kids who don’t have the patience to read a chapter book, I think comic books can almost be a stepping stone to getting them to read chapter books. Comic books are a combination of pictures of what is going on in the story and there are words for them to read. I think comic books do a good job of not speaking down to kids and help their vocabulary. They are excellent stepping stones into reading. I really think the main issue with getting kids to read is finding something that interests them the most. Because in school, they are reading for math, language, comprehension and in their minds, reading is a lot of work. If you introduce them to read something that is fun and awesome than they will enjoy reading.

Image_014What are your favorite comics?

I love Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Not to get going on a whole long winded speech but my favorite comic strips are Little Nemo, Pogo, Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes and I think Calvin and Hobbes are direct descendants of both Pogo and Peanuts. The thing about Calvin and Hobbes is it takes everything those comic strips do so well and it combines them into something new, fresh and unique. That run Bill Watterson had those 10 years is hard to come by. It is brilliance. The amazing thing about Bill Watterson is with a newspaper comic strip brevity is key. You have to know not only what you want to say but exactly how you want to get it across and Bill Watterson was so masterful in getting every bit of detail of every bit of space. I could go on and on about Calvin and Hobbes.

What books are you currently reading? Do you read more than one at a time? Do you read using an electronic reader or a book? How large is your library?

Right now, I am currently reading For Your Consideration, a biography by Rod Serling. I prefer having a book in my hands, particularly turning the pages. I don’t have a number to give on how many books I have but I plan on cataloguing my collection this summer.

If you weren’t a NBA player, what would you be doing?

I think I would be drawing and designing cartoons. I like to be creative and I carry a drawing notebook with me wherever I go.

What do you like to draw?

I like to draw adventure and action stories. Kind of in the vein of Raiders of the Lost Art, Buck Rogers, Tarzan and Princess of Mars series.

What else are you working on?

My brothers and I are working on a couple pilots for TV shows but one in particular. One is more a comedic kids’ show. I don’t abhor the word kids’ show but I prefer to call it a show for all ages or for the family. I don’t think a kids’ show should be something that makes their parents want to bang their heads against the wall while watching it with their kids. We are also working on a series that is suited for prime time that is an action/adventure series. Brook and Alex are more the writers for the projects and Chris and I are more the artists. We all collaborate and we all get along really well. Brook was a creative writing major and I was a studio art major (at Stanford.)

Portland is famous for two television shows – Portlandia and Grimm. If you could choose one to be in, which would it be?

I love, love, love Portlandia. That would have to be the one.

If you were to invite 3 to 5 people to dinner, who would it be? What would you want to discuss?

I have been asked this question before and I can’t shorten it past 10 people: Walt Disney, Marc Davis, Osamu Tezuka, Carl Barks, Bill Watterson, Herge, Hayao Miyazaki, Grant Morrison, Harrison Ford and Walt Kelly. And here, I am not doing any of the talking, just sitting back, listening and picking their brains. Hopefully, Mr. Watterson would show.

What is the best advice given to you by an NBA player?

Shaq told me it’s all business between the out of bounds lines. That has stuck with me, particularly as I get more familiar with the players in the league.

What does it take to get motivated each day to compete at the professional level – especially on days when your back is hurting?

Motivation isn’t too tough for me. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the other guys. That’s what you do in a team sport.

How do you deal with adversity, especially after the team has lost a game?

You have to take playing in the NBA day-by-day. And you have to have something to distract you from this like drawing and writing. I have a great circle of friends back home that I can talk with. I am very fortunate to have that and that makes it easier to get away from basketball and talk about other things. The NBA season is so long that some players can get burned out. I think it is important to have other interests and I think it can be detrimental not to because that is when bad stuff can happen.

What is your definition of a hero and who are the heroes in your life?

A hero is somebody who comes into somebody’s life, however fleetingly and makes a positive impact. We get caught up in grand gestures, which is fine, but the little things are just as important and far more frequent, which dulls their shine a bit. Obviously, my family and in particular my mom have sacrificed a lot, but my friends back home have done so much for me too. And Harrison Ford. I always ask myself, “What would Indy do?”

About The Author: Kristine Thomas