In New York City, the name Lance Stephenson is one that many would say will live forever. His success as a teenager at Lincoln High School put him in the limelight early. As his game progressed and he was drafted into the NBA in 2010, many thought the Indiana Pacers got a steal, despite character concerns that followed him into the league.
It took longer than expected but Stephenson is finally making an impact this year. He has been the starting shooting guard for the Pacers while Danny Granger has recovered from injury, and his solid play even netted him his own sneaker with AND1.
I got a chance to sit down with Stephenson during NBA All-Star Weekend to discuss his early fame, and his future in the league.
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Dime: You had a lot of early success and gained a lot of notoriety as a teenager growing up in New York before coming into the league. Tell me what that was like.
Lance Stephenson: It was great, especially in New York where basketball is real big. I think I deserved it, you know I worked hard and people noticed that at a young age. I’m just happy it translated to the NBA and I’m just working hard… trying to grind out.
Dime: Do you feel there was any added pressure being a New York product with New York being the Mecca of basketball?
LS: I wouldn’t really say pressure because I don’t think I had pressure. I just played ball. I didn’t really look at interviews, or magazines, or what people wrote about me. I just tried to stay focused and play ball and not worry about the fame. That’s how I take it.
Dime: What are some of your fondest memories growing playing ball before the NBA?
LS: Probably high school, winning four city championships. That’s tough, nobody ever really did that.
Dime: Who did you look up to both on and off the court and who were the people who helped to keep you in line?
LS: Well my family always kept me in a straight line. I looked up to a lot of players like T-Mac, Penny Hardaway and Magic Johnson. So I tried to take to what they did in the game and put it in my own way.
Dime: You know it’s funny a lot of people say T-Mac, who probably won’t ever make the Hall of Fame, and Penny, too, as guys who influenced their game. I spoke to your teammate Paul George over the weekend and he said the same.
LS: Yeah everybody liked those two. Especially because Penny is a big guard and I’m kind of like a big guard too. He could handle, and go to the hole, and see the floor well. I like his game and I just try to put some of that into my game.
Dime: Many are pointing at a steps towards maturity for much of your recent success with the Pacers. Would you agree or say that it has been something else?
LS: Just working hard during the summer and staying with the coaches looking at film. Communicating with the coaches so that they can trust me to stay on the floor. I did that during the summer and they gave me the opportunity to play and I’m doing a good job right now.
Dime: You stepped right into the starter’s role with Granger out to begin the season and even beat out Gerald Green. What has that been like for you being such a key contributor?
LS: It’s been great. Without my teammates I don’t feel like I could have done it without them. They helped me throughout the whole first half of the season showing me how to play the game, how to be a starter, and how to be consistent on the floor.
Dime: Granger is due back soon which will likely force you back to a bench role. Are you okay with that or do you feel you should continue to start?
LS: Danny’s a great player and I’m happy with anything the coach wants to do. If he makes the decision to bring me off the bench, I feel like I can come in as a sixth man and play hard. I can be on the second unit and be a scorer on the second unit. So whatever happens I’m prepared for it.
Dime: How close are the Pacers in the locker room?
LS: Ah man, we’re great. We always hang out with each other. Like right now the reason why I came out here (to Houston) really was to hang out with Paul George and Gerald Green during the All-Star break. We’re cool on the court and off the court. That’s what makes us a great team because we have that team chemistry.
Dime: So who are some of your best friends on the team? Is it Paul and Gerald who you just mentioned?
LS: Yeah probably Paul George and Gerald Green. Well, everybody is cool. I don’t want to pick out just two or three — we are all cool. We all hang out. Sometimes Gerald will hang out with George Hill or I will hang out with Danny. It splits up… it’s pretty equal.
Dime: What has it been like for you being an AND1 athlete?
LS: Oh it’s great! AND1 is great. They treat me as if I was LeBron. They make great shoes and they feel comfortable on the court. I decided to sign with them and they are doing good so far.
Dime: Have you been a long time supporter of the brand?
LS: Ah man since back in the day, man. I used to have everything AND1 when Stephon Marbury wore it. Everything! I had the shoes, the shirts, the socks. I had the whole gear. So to me AND1 is great.
Dime: What are some of your favorite kicks of all time?
LS: All time? Well every Jordan was hot. I liked the Reebok Shawn Kemps. Allen Iversons… I think the 3s, those were classic. Patrick Ewings were classics. Penny Hardaways were classics. T-Macs! So I love all those shoes. It goes with the player. I feel like when you had those T-Macs on, you could really play like T-Mac.
Dime: What does your future look like in the league?
LS: My future right now… I feel like after being at this All-Star event, I feel like I can be one of these players that can make it. I just have to keep working hard and be consistent on the court. I feel like a couple years from now I can probably be in this event.
Dime: A future All-Star?
LS: Yeah, that’s my goal right now.