Felipe Lopez: "This is just a bump in the road"
First of all, how's your knee? Is it OK?
Felipe Lopez: Yes, my knee is OK now. I'm going to play now for the Long Beach Jam and prove everybody that I can play again. I'm taking things day to day, but I think this will be a good opportunity for me to show NBA teams that I'm ready.
Did you expect the rehab process to be so long?
FL: The problem was that I had an injury on another injury, so that's why things got complicated. That's why I've taken a lot of time to rehab properly. But now I'm back and what's happening to me now is the best thing that could happen – just getting a chance to play and work on some things I have not been able to work on for the last two years. And hopefully, that will attract the attention of NBA teams.
Other than rehab, what have you been doing the last two years? I heard you did some TV.
FL: Yeah, I worked for Telemundo as a commentator for NBA games. I missed the game, so I wanted to somehow stay involved in it. Other than that, I've been lifting weights a lot. And I'm still doing it. Although I'm now ready to play, the rehab process is not over. I have to keep working hard to be in the best shape.
Did you enjoy the experience in TV?
FL: Yes, I enjoyed TV. But I was missing playing the game, so I choose not to do that for another year.
Now you are with the Long Beach Jam of the ABA. After getting used to play for NBA teams, how's being part of a team like that?
FL: It's just a bump in the road. It's something I need to do to get back in the NBA. I was in training camp with one team, but it was late in the preseason... So I came here to play, get in good physical shape and gain some exposure. It's a good situation for me, because I will get playing time, teams can see that I'm back... I'm just using my time in the most intelligent way. This will be a good experience for me.
You were with the Mavericks in training camp. Did you have any hope that you would stick with the team?
FL: Not really. It was an opportunity Nelson gave me so that I could show teams that I'm back. I'm very grateful to him for giving me that opportunity. I knew they already had a lot of guaranteed contracts, so there was no room for me. But, you know, at least it was a chance for teams to see me – and that's good.
Apparently there are several teams keeping an eye on you. Have you got any preference for any team or a conference in particular?
FL: No, just a team that needs me. One that needs help at my position and where I can fit in well.
What are your best memories of your time in the NBA?
FL: Playing in those big arenas in front of so many fans – in special the Latino fans. That was great, because everywhere I went, there were Latino fans supporting me. You know, at the time I entered the league there were no Latinos playing. Now you have Gasol, Ginobili and all those guys. But then, it was just me. And everywhere I went, people knew how I was and were rooting for me.
Are your best memories as a basketball player as an NBAer or as a star in high school and college?
FL: In the NBA. That's the biggest thing. Playing there you have the feeling that you are playing on the biggest stage. So definitely the NBA.
You were a superstar in high school and college. Wasn't all that a little bit crazy, when they were comparing you to Michael Jordan?
FL: Well, I think that was positive somehow. In some way, all the attention that was put on myself as a player helped people realize that Latinos were able play ball too. And that there was a market for Latinos. As for the comparisons with Jordan, the fact is that nobody has been anywhere near the level of Jordan. There has only been one genuine Michael Jordan. But just the fact that the comparisons were there helped us send the message that we could play. That was the positive. But yes, it was all a little bit crazy. Maybe there was too much pressure. People must realize that basketball is a team sport, it's not an individual sport. I couldn't do it all by myself in college. But I was happy to play in college anyway.
Did you ever think about the possibility of going to the NBA without playing in college?
Do you regret not having done the same after watching how well things have gone for them in the league?
FL: No. I think college was great for me as a person. It was a great experience that helped me both mentally, spiritually and physically. I'm happy with the way things went for me there.
Overall, are you pleased with the way your career has gone or are you disappointed that you didn't become a star in the NBA, like some people expected?
FL: I'm pleased with my career. Probably the thing that I take more pride in is that I helped open the way for other Latinos in the NBA. I was the only one back then, but you can find a lot of them now in the NBA. And I think I probably have something to do with that. I'm proud of that.
Ron Artest was your teammate for a year at St. John's. Have you seen the video of Friday's incidents?
FL: That was crazy. Ron Artest did wrong, but the fans were to blame. They just can't throw stuff on people. When something like that happens, you have to protect yourself at some point. He can't take all the blame for what happened.
You know some people think Ron Artest has serious mental issues. What can you say about that?
FL: People don't know him. Everybody knows that he is a great player on the court, but they don't know who he is off the court. That's a personal thing they should not talk about if they don't know him.
Jorge Sierra is the editor of HoopsHype.com.
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