Shortly after Ramon Sessions was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, a horde of fans recognized him and chased him through the hallways of his hotel. Vander Blue, who only played two games for the Lakers during the 2014-15 season, laughs when he recalls being stopped by TMZ during that stint with L.A.
Most players who have donned that purple and gold jersey will tell you that it’s a unique experience. When you’re a Laker, you get a ton of exposure and you’re treated like a celebrity.
If role players are chased down by fans and paparazzi, what’s it like being a fan favorite on the Lakers? Larry Nance Jr. can answer that question, as he has won over Lakers Nation since being selected with the 27th overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. Fans fell in love with his high-energy play, team-first approach, excellent work ethic, charismatic personality and, of course, impressive poster dunks.
Nance Jr. has been productive this season, averaging 6.8 points (on 54.9 percent shooting), 5.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 steals in 21.9 minutes per game. The 24-year-old easily leads the Lakers in Box Plus/Minus at +2.2 (no other Laker has a positive Plus/Minus). Nance Jr. also ranks first on the team in Value Over Replacement Player (1.5), first in Steal Percentage (3 percent), second in True Shooting Percentage (58.5 percent), second in Defensive Rating (109) and second in Offensive Rating (117).
Nance Jr. is known for being humble and self-deprecating, but he opened up to HoopsHype about how his life changed when he joined the Lakers, the wildest interactions he’s had with fans, his desire to remain in Los Angeles long-term, the overwhelming support that Kobe Bryant received during his farewell tour and more.
How often do you get recognized and stopped in public now that you’re with the Lakers?
Larry Nance Jr.: All the time. Whether it’s at a restaurant, at the movie theater, at the mall… it’s all the time.
Most people can’t relate to that – the possibility of being recognized and stopped anywhere at any time. How did you adjust to that and how do you deal with it?
LNJ: It takes a while to adjust, to learn how to enjoy it. It can be exhausting at times. But you just have to take a step back and realize that these are people who support you and it would mean a lot to them just to get a picture or an autograph. And it’s, what, five seconds out of my day? If you just realize what it actually is and don’t look at it as, “Ugh, this is annoying,” then it’s actually pretty cool. It’s pretty cool to think that we get to impact people the way that we do.
Do you have any crazy fan-interaction stories?
LNJ: After we’ve checked into a hotel, we’ve had people who somehow find out our room number, knock on your door and then ask, “Can I get a picture and an autograph?” My reaction to that is always, “Uh, I’m a little uncomfortable that you tracked me down and know exactly where I’m staying.”
That’s pretty scary.
LNJ: Yeah, that happens. There have been some crazy ones when I’m driving too. I used to drive a golf cart around all the time. It’s Southern L.A. and the weather is always beautiful, so I got a golf cart from a local business and would drive it everywhere. One guy recognized me, pulled up next to me at a stoplight, waved and then he started tailing me. I drove to a really public spot, and then he finally pulls up next to me and said, “I just want a picture!” That kind of startled me. He could’ve followed me to my house and I feel really weird about that.
I think most people would be startled if a complete stranger followed them. You’re humble and approachable, so I think a lot of people feel like they know you and can talk to you. Do you remember the first time that you were stopped for a picture or an autograph?
LNJ: The first time it happened was my sophomore year in college and I was out to eat at a Chili’s in town. A little kid, who was always at the Wyoming games, came up with his parents. They said their son is a huge fan and asked for a picture. I was like, “What?! You want a picture with me?!” That was the first time it happened.
The first time it happened to me as a Laker was the first day I was in L.A. when we had our press conference. We got done with the press conference and I was walking back to my hotel with Anthony Brown. Well, outside the gate, there are a bunch of people who always wait for autographs and we happened to walk right by them. Right away, they were like, ‘LAAARRRRRYYY! ANNTTTHHONNNYYY!’ I remember thinking, “This is crazy! Aren’t you waiting for D’Angelo [Russell]?!” But they were yelling for Anthony and I. We were like, ‘You know who we are? What?!” It was very surreal.
I know that Lakers Nation is really active on Twitter. How much did your Twitter following grow when you joined the Lakers?
LNJ: In college, I had a race with my assistant coach and we were seeing who would be the first to get to 3,000 followers. I barely beat him during my senior year at Wyoming. Then, I get drafted by the Lakers and about a week later, I’m up to 65,000 – all Lakers people. It was ridiculous. [Nance Jr. currently has over 98,000 followers.]
I was talking to my fiancée about this article and she wondered how your girlfriend has adjusted to you becoming famous. I’m sure it was cool at first, but then it’s probably frustrating for her at times too. How does she react to you getting stopped and all that?
LNJ: Exactly how you said it. At first, it was, “This is awesome! Everyone wants to talk to you and I’ve got you!” But now, she gets more irritated with it than I ever do. With our schedules, the time that I do get to be home and spend with her, I need to spend it with her. So if we go out to dinner and someone comes up, she’s shooting them dirty looks and stuff and I’m like, “It’s okay. We have plenty of time. Calm down.” … I get it, though, because I hated it when I was younger and people would come up and want to talk with my dad [three-time All-Star Larry Nance] when I was with him. I would think, “Hey, that’s my dad and this is our time together.” So I do understand where Hailey, my girlfriend, is coming from when she says that. But now I see it from my dad’s perspective, which was always, “You always have me. I live with you, you get to see me all the time. You know how much it meant to that person to get that picture? You know how many people they’re going to share that picture or story with?” Now, that’s how I see it too. I think it’s cool being able to make someone’s day and give them that story.
People obviously love your dunks. How often do fans ask you to compete in the dunk contest?
LNJ: They’re on me all the time to do it. They always leave comments on my posts like, “Dunk contest 2018?” I get tweets like that every single day. And when I decided not to do it this year, they were furious.
You obviously saw Kobe’s farewell tour up close. I’m sure fans were going nuts and autograph seekers were everywhere. What was that like to witness and what did Kobe have to deal with throughout the tour?
LNJ: Oh man… We would get into our hotel around 3 am sometimes and there would just be hundreds of people waiting and they’d all be wearing Kobe’s Laker jersey or his Lower Merion jersey or holding Kobe memorabilia to get signed. It was unbelievable. We’d get to the hotel at 3 am and there are kids out there like, “KOOOOBBBBBEEE!” It just showed me that Kobe means the world to some people. It was awesome to see that. I’ve seen grown men break down in tears the moment they saw Kobe in person.
It seems like these days, fans want selfies more than autographs. What do people usually want most when they stop you?
LNJ: People ask me for selfies all the time. Before I got to the league, I was, like, selfie-phobic. I will never take a selfie of my own. I’m just not about selfies. But yeah, selfies are the big request and then autographs. Recently, people have been asking me to sign their phone cases, which is a new one. I’ve had kids ask if I’ll sign their actual phone. That’s where I’ll say, “No, I’m not ruining your phone with this ugly autograph.”
Have you signed body parts? I have to ask.
LNJ: I’ve signed a couple heads. In college, I signed a forehead. Nothing outrageous, though.
If you’re in a different city for a road game and aren’t wearing any Lakers gear, how often do you get recognized?
LNJ: Still all the time. People are always looking because of my height (6-foot-9). Then, they’ll either recognize me or say something like, “Oh, you have to play basketball.” My go-to answer is, “Yeah, I used to,” or, “I wish!”
Oh, I have one crazy road story. After my dunk against Brooklyn, we were in Charlotte and me, [Timofey] Mozgov and [Ivica] Zubac went to the mall. We had some Christmas shopping to do and we tried to go to the mall, but it was chaos. I mean, people were following us, yelling “congrats, Champ!” to Mozgov, holding up their cameras to take pictures and video. After that dunk, everybody was trying to get video and then asking me stuff like, “What do you have to say to Brook Lopez?!” And I’m like, “Nope.” You’re not going to catch me with that.
Now that you’ve experienced what it’s like to be a Laker, could you see yourself remaining in Los Angeles long-term?
LNJ: Absolutely. If they’ll have me, I’d really like to be here. I love living in L.A. It’s super nice and the weather is beautiful. I have zero complaints. We’re on the up-and-up as a team and we’ve got a bright future. And would I love to be a part of that future? Man, I’d love nothing more than that.