BOSTON – It turns out deflection is Brook Lopez’s thing, and not just around the rim.
If we left the man with his first, second, and third answers, the Milwaukee Bucks center would only deflect credit from himself to everyone else. For being one of the best 34-year-old and older players in the NBA. For returning from back surgery in the same season. For antigravity jumps.
Lopez starts and ends with, “We’ve got a strong team here, the way Coach budgets for rotations, he’s doing a great job of keeping the guys fresh…” and “My recovery this year is really a microcosm of how.” our coaching staff is good,” and of course that’s true.
But there’s no botox for this league, no shortcuts to stop time. If you’re aging well after 14+ years and 935 games, if you’re more than relevant and still dominating, there’s so much work behind it that it’s a disservice to believe otherwise.
And Lopez does all the work, every time; he avoids being on planes and “violating every FAA rule,” says assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer with a laugh; he dives between icebergs in a tub that could be a small pool; and he’s handing in a portion of his paycheck for a device, on the advice of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Lopez just wasn’t cut out to sit behind a desk: 7ft tall, 280lbs, he was built to dominate in this game.
It is to his credit that he still does this job.
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The back pain and problems are 16 years in the making. Prior to Lopez’s freshman year at Stanford, he had a partial discectomy, a surgical procedure to remove the damaged portion of a herniated disc in his spine.
“Obviously, when I was younger in the league, I was less proactive about it,” Lopez said. “The older I got, the more I had to deal with it. It didn’t keep me away from games, but it was sore.”
After winning the NBA title with the Bucks last July, Lopez returned for the September season, but on Oct. 21, the same injury recurred in the same spot. Lopez and the team tried everything to get him back without surgery but failed. He underwent surgery on December 1st.
Backs are tricky, but fixing the back of a 34-year-old man who has seen nothing but pounding and wear and tear for more than two decades would require more than one operation.
So this is Lopez’s new normal:
ICE CREAM: Cooling tubs take a bit of getting used to, but Lopez prefers the tried-and-true method (as opposed to cryotherapy) of submerging himself chest-deep in crackling ice for 10 minutes after every game and practice, and distracting himself with reading, gaming, or watching videos on his phone.
“Just doing everything I can to get through this because that’s the hardest part. It’s my least favorite. It hurts,” Lopez said.
CHAMBER: Bucks Director of Performance Troy Flanagan found Lopez a hyperbaric chamber big enough to fit two of him, and Lopez decided to make the investment. It came at the end of the regular season.
“I got it on Giannis’ advice; he said he really enjoyed it,” Lopez said. “Apparently he got it from Kyle Korver, I think. I’ve been using it for the past few weeks and – maybe it’s a placebo effect, I don’t know – but if it feels like it, it makes a difference.”
STAND: That was a little unexpected, but it makes sense: Lopez doesn’t sit around much.
“On the plane, I try to either stand or lie down,” he said. “I try to sit as little as possible because sitting is the worst position for my back. So sitting at a 90-degree angle puts the most stress on either lying down or standing up, that’s the least pressure, and that makes a big difference.”
Instead, he sleeps and sleeps a lot and watches a lot of movies and TV.
FOOD: Lopez also uses the Bucks’ in-house nutritionist, Susie Parker-Simmons. She creates snack bags for each player, helpful on the go. She collects urine samples to check water balance and creates different fuel schedules for everyone.
“I’m sure you see her at games, handing out water, Pedialyte, all the different concoctions for each person,” Lopez said. “She is so knowledgeable it’s unbelievable. She addresses your deficiencies, where your body is doing well, creates a nutrition game plan and it’s really good.”
The rest – massage, leg circulation, core training with exercises like dead bugs – is all pretty standard for maintaining a hard-working back. But Lopez is dedicated to all of this and remains diligent in his diligence.
In the 2018–19 season, Lopez was missing a game from his fourth full 82-game season. (He was rested before the playoffs because the Bucks had the best record in the league). This year was unusual: only 13 regular season games. But he came back at a critical time.
In the five-game streak with Chicago, Lopez shot 50%, had eight blocks and averaged 13.2 points in 28.8 minutes.
Lopez played brilliantly in Sunday’s Eastern Conference semifinals win in Game 1 in Boston, whether filling in for Antetokounmpo in the unique one-center, four-guard formation or pirouetting around the dunker on perimeter defense. Lopez made an immediate impact, pulling back on defense to block a shot in Jayson Tatum’s transition.
“He’s so active,” said Antetokounmpo. “When guys drive the ball he’s always there to cover everyone and bounce the ball off for us.”
Boston’s team defense is so good that the Celtics blocked Lopez en route to a driving layup, and Lopez fell heavily. But he immediately jumped up again without flinching or grimacing.
“He doesn’t have to go through all the grind of 82 games this season, I think there’s a mental and physical freshness for Brook,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. “If there can be a silver lining to a significant injury, we are confident there is a silver lining. We rely on him. He’s incredibly important to us and playing well is a big part of who we are.”
StatMuse.com has a category: Who Are the Best NBA Players Age 34+? And Lopez is No. 2, right behind Golden State’s Stephen Curry.
It’s a fun statistic, but it doesn’t matter. Lopez has another number in mind for his career. He’s far from close, he said. Whether it’s 40 or more or less doesn’t seem to matter as it seems a far cry from what this past year may be.
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