Lance Stephenson has been out of the NBA since the 2018-19 season after being teammates with LeBron James in Los Angeles. He spent the 2019-20 season in China with the Liaoning Flying Leopards and was in Shenyang when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Eventually, he returned to the States, worked on his game, and back in October, he was drafted 13th overall in the G League draft by the Grand Rapids Gold (Denver Nuggets affiliate).
In an interview with HoopsHype, Stephenson shares his goal to return to the NBA and fight for a championship, reminisces on the Indiana days battling the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, blowing in LeBron James’ ear and more.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Seven games into the G League season, how are you feeling about it?
Lance Stephenson: I’m feeling great. Just getting out there playing, getting my body right, getting my health right. Constantly learning, helping the young guys get better, winning games, having fun. I’m just happy that I’m out here playing and having fun.
What’s the goal you want to accomplish this year with the Grand Rapids Gold?
LS: Win as many games as possible. Teach these young guys how to be better basketball players on and off the court. And just win games.
What would Lance Stephenson bring to an NBA team right now?
LS: Definitely veteran experience. I can help a team out with hitting open shots, knowing where to be at on the defensive end, making smart plays, and just being that guy that can be a leader, and help guys.
Back in March of 2020, you were reportedly 99 percent set to sign with the Pacers. Do you still want to end your career in Indiana?
LS: Just being in the NBA is going to be great for me. It doesn’t matter what team I end my career with. But you know, Indiana is like home for me. It will always be great to go back there. My goal is to get on an NBA team, help them out, and get a ring.
What’s with the comfort level you have with the Pacers?
LS: It’s hard to answer that question. I’d say I’m more comfortable there. I feel like they put their players in the right position where they could just play their game. And when you learn your role, and you fulfill your role, it’s easier to play basketball. Also, it’s never really about a star player. It’s team basketball.
You played overseas in China during the 2019-20 season, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. What do you remember from the days the news broke in China?
LS: I thought it was fake. When you hear that everything is closing down, you’re like, ‘Yeah, right.’ And I was like… ‘Man, it’s really closing down, and people are getting sick.’ It was a crazy experience. It shut China down. Nobody could come outside. It was locked up, like a prison. You could not come out your door. It was worse than how we had it in the U.S. cause people were still coming outside [in the U.S.]. In China, if you went outside, you probably would’ve gotten locked up.
Since you played overseas in China, would you consider Europe an option as well?
LS: I love basketball. So, I’ll play anywhere. It doesn’t matter where I’m at, I’ll play basketball anywhere. So, of course, I would love to.
Have you had any offers from any EuroLeague teams in the past?
LS: Yeah, but I decided to go to the G League, and make my way back to the NBA.
Lance Stephenson at 31 vs. Lance Stephenson at 23-24. What differences do you see in their game?
LS: More mature. My attitude is definitely better than when I was a younger kid. The way I eat and how healthy I am, my body is way stronger than when I was younger. Also, the way I think on the court, I just know the game way better than I did as a younger guy. I know what I need to do to help a team. The 31-year old would give that young Lance a few problems.
Would the 31-year old beat the 23-year old in a one-on-one?
LS: In a one-on-one? No, but in a game situation, I think me right now knowing the game is way better than the one-on-one Lance. The 23-year old Lance would destroy me in a one-on-one game. Lights out.
Looking back at your career so far, how would you assess it?
LS: Looking back, I feel like I had a great career. I learned a lot, accomplished a lot, and did many things that helped teams out. And I’m in a better position to help my family in every aspect. I have done a great job with my career so far.
I want to take you back to your Indiana days. After getting picked 40th overall, did you expect you’d be battling in the Eastern Conference Finals against LeBron, while having a key role in the team?
LS: I didn’t have a role at all for the first two years of my career. I was sitting on the bench, learning the game. And every day, I was just like, ‘Man… one day I’ll be out there playing.’ In my third year, I had the chance to go out there, show my talent, the things I learned watching the game the first two years, and help the team win. It was a great experience cause it felt like the journey, and all the stuff I learned, was showing out. But those games against Miami were intense. It was fun to watch, and you didn’t know which team would win. I like games like that where you don’t know who’s going to win, and the outcome at the end is like, ‘man, I didn’t think it was going to happen like that.’
How would you describe those days now? Do you feel like you guys overachieved, because you certainly gave them a run for their money, or will you always think of that 'what if' scenario?
LS: I look back, and some of the plays I’m like, ‘Man, if I would’ve passed it right here, if we would’ve hit that shot instead of me turning the ball over, would we have one right there?’ There are always games where you look back at the film, and you’re like, ‘Damn, I shouldn’t have done that,’ or ‘Man, I wish I would’ve done something else.’ Those are the things you learn from, so when you have that opportunity again, you know how to move and don’t make that same mistake again.
The LeBron moment. Blowing in his ear during a game. Take me back. How did it all happen?
LS: I didn’t have it prepared. It was all in the flow of the game. Being out there, competing. Everybody in the league is competitive, and wants that one thing; to win the game. Sometimes you do whatever it takes to win the game. That guy is a tough guy to guard, so you got to bring your all, and that’s what I did.
Did you expect it to become that viral all around the world?
LS: I didn’t expect it to be shown. I didn’t think it was going to be captured. They caught that right in the act of it. That was crazy.
Talk a little bit about your battles with LeBron. What was it like guarding him, and being that physical with him?
LS: A lot of guys are scared of him. They don’t want to play him too hard, it’s like they don’t want to really compete with him. So, I always took it as a test, ‘Let me see what he can really do, is he really that good?’ You know how sometimes you see somebody and you’re like, ‘Man, if I put pressure on him, what is he going to do, if I push him what is he going to do?’ I was testing him and seeing how hard he can compete. If he would bow out or bow down. And guys like that, with that type of talent, never bow down. It was a learning experience, playing and competing against the best.
Years later you became teammates with the Lakers. Would you ever thought that from blowing in his ear in the ECF, you would be teammates in LA?
LS: No, I didn’t think that will happen. It was a great experience learning from all the veterans that were on that team. I feel like we had a lot of guys that helped me out and led me to the game that I know now.
Did you ever talk about the blowing in his ear moment with LeBron?
LS: No, we never talked about it.
Where does Lance Stephenson see himself in the next five years?
LS: That’s a hard question. Hopefully still ballin’. I think I got a good 5-6 years of playing basketball. So definitely ballin’, but also knowing my next step to what I want to do after basketball. I feel like it’s always hard for a lot of NBA guys, they don’t know what to do after basketball is done. So, hopefully, I know what I want to do, where I want to work, to continue my life, and help my family.