Seven-foot center relishes his role as Blazers' 'glue' guy

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Robin Lopez, putting up a jump hook last week against Cleveland, has joined four returning starters and helped transform the Trail Blazers into one of the NBAs top teams.HOUSTON — Robin Lopez is both a test and a treat for any interviewer.

Lopez is eccentric, bright, quirky, articulate, bashful, inventive, playful, erratically coifed, a bit of a quipster and very, very big.

The Trail Blazers’ 7-foot center is a paradox — at once accommodating but evasive, brief but insightful, funny but serious.

This is no quick study. He’s a character with a fertile mind and an odd way about him.

During a half-hour interview, the Fresno, Calif., native mostly avoids eye contact, squirms in his seat, goes prone on the bench seat a couple of times, adjusts his Mariners baseball cap multiple times and tilts his body to and fro, all the while continuing to answer questions in a polite if atypical manner.

When the dude with the Twitter handle “@eegabeeva88” asks to be excused for a minute to visit the restroom, the interviewer is left to wonder if he will return.

But Lopez does, and the result is the opportunity to cover quite a bit of ground, gleaming some light into the story of the “glue” guy to Portland’s remarkable ride through the first half of the NBA season.

Everyone knows about Brook, his 7-foot twin and All-Star center for the Brooklyn Nets who will miss the rest of the season with a broken foot.

Less is known about his older brothers, 6-10 Alex and 6-7 Chris, and their mother, Deborah Ledford, a middle/high school teacher who kept the boys in line, stressed education and offered love and support in a single-parent household. Deborah, who stands more than 6 feet tall, was a fine athlete herself, a world-class swimmer in the late 1960s.

“She’s had to sacrifice a lot for us,” Robin says. “She’s unbelievably intelligent, unbelievably passionate. Nobody in our family measures up to her.”

The family moved to the Seattle area for a year, 1995 — the year the Mariners beat the Yankees in the playoffs, then lost to Cleveland in the American League championship series.

“I liked the whole team, Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez particularly,” says Lopez, who sometimes can be seen wearing a Joey Cora jersey.

Brother Alex played collegiately at Washington and Santa Clara.

“He could have played in the NBA if we had known how to go about it then,” Robin says, somewhat cryptically.

Chris Lopez went no further than high-school basketball, though Robin says he could have been a “high D-1 player” had he not been derailed by “politics. He got fed up with all that junk.”

Robin says he has no relationship with his father, Heriberto Lopez.

Education was always stressed to the Lopez boys by their mother, a Stanford graduate whose parents were teachers. She was delighted when Brook and Robin landed at her alma mater. They each attended two years before coming out to the NBA.

Robin says he did well academically at Stanford, “but I’m not going to lie, it was a struggle at first. Stanford sets out to challenge everybody. But I was pretty successful at balancing classes and athletics. That’s what was really a challenge for me at first.”

Lopez says he is “about halfway” toward earning his degree. Is that a goal?

“I’ve love to some day,” he says. “It’s something special. My mom’s a teacher, so ... she’d like to see that, yeah.”

Lopez focused on “studio art” at Stanford. He’s a comic-book aficionado and collector and an amateur illustrator.

“I’ve always had a passion for drawing,” he says. “It’s always been a part of our family. I draw a lot. I carry a sketchbook with me on the road. My older brother and I are always sending pictures back and between us. I’m always working on it and trying to get better.”

Brook and Robin have done comic books together.

“Usually action-adventure stuff, in the ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ vein,” Robin says.

They’ve also put together some sort of television pilot, though Robin is secretive about it, turning down the chance to get some important publicity for it through the Portland Tribune.

“I don’t want to divulge too much,” he says, “but it’s a collaboration with my brothers.”

Robin is a minute younger than Brook. Robin’s helter-skelter hairdo is the easiest way to tell them apart.

“Brook got it cut one day and I didn’t,” he says. “People always ask me about (the hair). They want a satisfying origin story, but they won’t get one.”

The twins are pals.

“We’ve always been close,” he says. “It’s only natural to have some fights as kids, but for the most part, we got along. We’re pretty similar. He’s a little more stubborn than I am, but I can be bullheaded, too.”

Is Robin envious of his brother’s accolades?

“Not at all,” he says. “Not for one second. He’s a supremely talented player. That’s fantastic. I’m so happy for him. I want him to get healthy.”

Then, in deadpan: “He’s a bit of a jackass, though.”

How so? “I really shouldn’t talk about it, so I’m not going to. My mom would not be happy.”

Robin knew from a young age he was going to be an NBA player.

“It was a foregone conclusion,” he says. “I’ve been working on it forever. I was going to get there some way, somehow. I’ve always been very determined. I have a strong work ethic.”

Lopez also has a strong fun ethic.

“That’s one of the things I learned in Phoenix, playing with (Shaquille O’Neal), Steve Nash and Amare (Stoudemire),” he says. “You have to have fun playing basketball. Otherwise, it’s pretty worthless.”

Lopez has an off-the-wall sense of humor sometimes. He opened an Instagram account for his cat, Prince Edward Zephyr. “Seemed like he deserved one,” Lopez says.

Where did the name come from? “His name was Edward, and he seemed pretty regal, so I added ‘Prince,’ ” Lopez says. And Zephyr? “It’s just another good name.”

There’s a YouTube clip from earlier this season, before a game in Detroit, showing the Pistons’ mascot wearing a giant curly wig to mock Lopez. Robin jumps him, grabs the wig and puts it on his own head.

“We were just messing around,” Lopez explains. “He tweeted me the night before, talking some mess. I talked some back.”

Lopez and teammate LaMarcus Aldridge do a fun TV commercial for Portland’s McLoughlin Auto Mall, with Robin declaring of the auto dealer, “That’s the whole reason I moved here.” They share a singing role that will keep them about as far as humanly possible from the Grammy Awards.

It’s a reflection of Lopez’s instant affinity with Portland.

“It’s a town that wears its personality on its sleeve,” he says. “I kind of like to be the same way.”

Lopez enjoys being close to downtown, living along the South Waterfront.

Portland, Lopez says, “has a different vibe to it. You have big cities where you have a lot of weird stuff that goes on just because there are so many people. I liken Portland to a smaller San Francisco. That’s what I enjoy about it.”

What’s one thing Portlanders would find surprising about

Lopez? He thinks for a long


“That’s tough,” he says. “People have a pretty good read on my personality. I don’t know what would be surprising.”

Lopez says the people of Portland have been “very respectful” in approaching the Blazers’ new center.

“One or two cases go the wrong way, but the majority of interaction has been very positive,” he says. “I’ve been having a good time on the floor. Off the floor, I’m also having a great time. I love being back on the West Coast.”

But Lopez won’t make his offseason home in Portland: “I’m a California guy. I go back to Fresno every summer.”

He smiles when asked how he thinks the city’s fans would react to an NBA championship.

“That would certainly be exciting,” he says. “We’ve already seen some amazing things from our fan base. Just imagine how excited and how rowdy they’d be in that situation. That’s something you want to see.”

When he’s in California, he loves to visit theme parks. For hobbies beyond art, “I like to watch movies. I like to read — historical biographies, fantasy, folklore, a lot of different things. I love to travel. Nothing really out of the ordinary.”

Lopez says he has no girlfriend. Some day, he hopes to get married and have children. He drives a 2010 Infiniti and doesn’t consider himself a gadget guy. “It’s amazing what technology is doing,” he says, “but I don’t try to keep on the cutting edge.”

His closest friend among former teammates is New Orleans forward Ryan Anderson. With the Blazers?

“Everybody gets along so well,” Lopez says. “I hang out with a lot of different guys. I talk to LaMarcus a lot. I love hanging out with Joel Freeland.”

The Blazers, he offers, “are a special mix of guys. We have a very open team. Everybody feels very natural around each other.”

He loves his role with the team, as a guy who does the dirty work. He doesn’t much care about his numbers, other than “doing whatever I can to help the team keep winning. I’ll be that utility guy.

“There’s something to be said for stats,” he says. “Numbers can tell us a great deal about things that go on. But sometimes you need to read between the lines. There are some things that can’t be put in a statistical category.”

That’s the way Robin Lopez is, too. You can’t really put the young man in a box — in a very big box, even. One of a kind, perhaps, though brother Brook might have something to say about that.

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