Felipe Lopez RumorsAll NBA Players
Height: 6-5 / 1.96
Weight:195 lbs. / 88.5 kg.
Height: 6-5 / 1.96
Weight:195 lbs. / 88.5 kg.
Lopez was eventually the one lying on the ground. It was October 2002, and the Timberwolves took on the Boston Celtics in a preseason game at an obscure arena in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Lopez charged into swingman Paul Pierce and twisted awkwardly. He tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee, and writhed on the floor, fearing the worst. It was over. Lopez, who was entering his fifth season, rehabilitated, but never played another regular-season game in the NBA. Living in Miami, he transitioned to television, working for Telemundo as an analyst, but wanted back on court after a while. He had a daughter named Anuhea Alexa, and left the States to play in Europe, suiting up for a team in Oldenburg, Germany. The new country piqued his interest, and he drove for hours on off days, stopping at the Berlin Wall, touring Munich and drinking in Oktoberfest. He was enchanted by the journey. “They walk 10 miles to the woods and suddenly there’s a castle,” Lopez says. “When you get there they just have beer after beer after beer.” He followed the bouncing ball to Spain, back stateside and through South America. International competition always thrilled him, but sometimes the unexpected clipped Lopez.
Maybe it was the American M-16 assault rifle Lopez saw a man pull from a duffel bag and used to shoot bullets into an open crowd on Brook Ave. in 1989. Maybe it was the lines of cocaine addicts he saw stretch around an abandoned building on his block, as if waiting for a government handout. It’s hard to figure what left the greatest impact on his young mind, Lopez says with a sigh. For some reason, he felt at home in the forgotten, forbidding borough, building an immigrant’s dream from a nightmare setting. “If I was in the Olympics I would have broke a record running from gunshots,” Lopez says. Born in Santiago, the Dominican Republic’s second-largest city, surrounded by mountains in the country’s northern region, Lopez learned basketball in a baseball nation.
“I try to make sure the kids know they’re young,” Lopez says. “They grow so fast because they have to create a wall of protection. If you’re weak, you get bullied so you have to act. You have to understand there is another way.” Blades and bullets are regularly seen in the church’s neighborhood. Homeless people pushing carts line the sidewalk by the wrought iron fence, waiting their turn to collect fruits and vegetables from the food pantry. A child in a Spider-Man hat urinates on the sidewalk. A security guard chides him; the boy and his parents smile back. An adult in a black coat threatens another with a knife. Lopez’s acolytes, meanwhile, assemble inside for six hours every Saturday, wearing yellow hats he hands out as a display of solidarity. They carry Bibles in book bags and leave their report cards for Lopez to review. He issues math assignments for them to complete by the next session and his girlfriend, Marija Kero, to teach upstairs. He scolds the boys who hand in reports on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that are incomplete.
Lopez, 39, can be difficult to place in New York, the city he once soared above. He likes to keep basketball on the “low burner,” living modestly with his girlfriend across from Riverdale’s Van Cortlandt Park, and running through its back hills. Hailed as the best player in the country 20 years ago at Rice High, Lopez inspired “Felipe Mania,” sending fans into raptures. The cheers and camera crews trailed him to St. John’s, but lost interest as time went on, and Lopez, despite scoring at a prodigious pace, could not resurrect the Johnnies. Thereafter, he reached unimaginable heights as a Dominican immigrant, sitting on the same stage as President Clinton during a forum on race, and experienced unexpected lows, punching a teammate in the face during his last professional game on American soil in the CBA. Ten years after his NBA career ended with a torn ACL, Lopez has returned to the South Bronx, volunteering at his mother’s church as he attempts to break a cycle of lost prospects in his old neighborhood. “To this day, the No. 1 question I get, no matter where I am, is, ‘Where’s Felipe?’ ” says Zendon Hamilton, Lopez’s teammate at St. John’s. “It’s almost like he’s a folk hero. His legend grew by word of mouth: ‘This kid in the Bronx from the Dominican Republic has a 60-inch vertical, can dunk with his left hand, threw down over somebody. He’d do some salsa after a play.’ All true. If you didn’t watch him, you might lose him.”
Relationships remain Lopez’s greatest currency and inspiration. In his apartment, there is a poster of former Knicks guard John Starks’ famous lefthanded dunk over Jordan and Horace Grant in the 1993 playoffs. Lopez sees Starks at community events for the Knicks. There is also a photo of Drazen Petrovic, the Croatian scorer, because his girlfriend, Kero, is Croatian. Lopez loved Petrovic’s spirit as a player, and tries to channel it on and off the court. He keeps a photo of himself with David Stern, the former NBA commissioner, on a table in his living room. It is not from draft night; rather it is from a community center with children. “I blew through a lot of money, but, for me, I knew money was never going to bring happiness,” Lopez says. “I spent on me and my family. At the end of the day, they are who is around me. I’m back where I started with more than when I began.”