Lance Stephenson is out of the NBA after having been teammates with LeBron Jim Los Angeles. He was with the Liaoning Flying Leopards in China during the 2019-20 season.
He eventually returned to the States and worked on his game. In October, he was drafted by the Grand Rapids Gold (an affiliate of the Denver Nuggets) as the 13th overall draft pick in the G League.
Stephenson spoke with HoopsHype about his desire to fight for a championship in the NBA, and he reminisces about Indiana’s days fighting the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. He also talked about how he blew in LeBron James’ ear.
This interview was edited for clarity.
How do you feel about the G League season seven games in?
Lance Stephenson I feel great. I just want to get out there and play, and keep my body healthy. Learning, teaching, mentoring young men, winning games, and having fun. I just love that I can be out there playing and having fun.
What is your Grand Rapids Gold goal for this year?
LS Win as many of the games as you can. These young men need to learn how to play better basketball on and off the court. You don’t have to win every game.
What could Lance Stephenson do for an NBA team right now
LS Very veteran experience. I have the ability to help teams by hitting open shots, knowing where they are on defense, making smart plays and being a leader.
In March 2020, you were reported to be 99 percent ready to sign with Pacers. Are you interested in ending your career with Indiana?
LS It’s going to be wonderful for me just being part of the NBA. It doesn’t really matter which team I end up with. You know what? Indiana is my home. It will always be a great place to return. My goal is to be on an NBA team and help them win.
You are so comfortable with Pacers.
LS It is difficult to answer this question. There, I would say that I feel more at home. They put their players in a position that allows them to just play their game.
It’s much easier to play basketball if you know your role and fulfill it. It’s not about being a superstar player. It’s about team basketball.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, you were playing overseas in China during the 2019-20 Season. What are your memories of the time the news broke in China about the COVID-19 pandemic?
LS It was fake. You hear it all the time. It closed down China. It was impossible to leave. It was locked like a prison. It was impossible to get out of your door. It was worse than what we had in the U.S. because people still came outside [in the U.S.]. If you were to venture outside in China, you would probably be locked up.
You have played in China and would you consider Europe as an option?
LS I love to play basketball. I will play basketball wherever you are. It doesn’t really matter where I am, I will play basketball wherever I am. Of course, that’s what I would love.
Are you a past recipient of offers from EuroLeague teams?
LS Yes, but I decided that I would go to the G League and then make my way back towards the NBA.
Lance Stephenson at 31 and Lance Stephenson 23-24. Which differences do you see between their games?
LS more mature. My attitude is certainly better than it was when I was younger. My body is stronger now than it was when I was younger, thanks to the way I eat and how well I feel. The way I think on and off the court means that I know the game better than I did when I was younger. I know what I have to do to help my team. Lance, 31, would have some problems with that young man.
In a one-on-1 match, would the 31-year-old beat the 23 year-old?
LS In one-on-one? But in a game situation, no. I believe me right now, knowing that the game is better than the one-on-1 Lance. In a one-on-1 game, the 23-year-old Lance would defeat me. All lights out.
How would you rate your career thus far?
LS I look back and feel that I had a wonderful career. I gained a lot of knowledge, achieved a lot and helped many people. I am now better equipped to support my family in all aspects. My career has been a success.
Let me take you back to Indiana. Did you ever think that you would be fighting against LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals after being selected 40th?
LS In the first two years, I didn’t have any role. I learned the game by sitting at the bench. Every day, I felt like I would one day be playing the game. It was an amazing experience because it felt like I was showing off all that I had learned and the journey itself. However, those games against Miami were very intense. It was entertaining to see, and it was hard to predict which team would win. It’s fun to watch games like this where you don’t know who will win and the result at the end is like “Man, I didn’t think it would happen like that.”
What would you say about those days? Are you feeling like they were overachieving, as you gave them a run for the money? Or will you continue to think about that “what if” scenario?
LS When I look back on some of my plays, I think, “Man, if it would’ve been passed right here, if they would’ve hit that shot instead, would we have one right then?”
LeBron’s moment. Blowing in his ears during a game. Let me take you back. What happened?
LS It wasn’t prepared. It all happened in the spirit of the game. It was all about being out there and competing. Everyone in the league wants to win, and is competitive. Sometimes, you will do anything to win the game. This guy is hard to guard so you have to bring all your strength and effort. That’s exactly what I did.
It was a wild idea, but did you think it would become viral around the globe?
LS It was unexpected that it would be shown. It was not going to be caught. That was right there in the act. It was insane.
Talk about the battles you had with LeBron. How was guarding LeBron and being so physical with him like?
LS Many men are afraid of him. He is not a man they want to challenge. It was a test. I wanted to see how well he could compete. He would either bow out or bow down. With that kind of talent, guys like this never bow down. It was an amazing learning experience playing against the best.
You became teammates with the Lakers years later. You never would have thought that you would become teammates with the Lakers by simply blowing into his ears in the ECF.
LS I don’t believe that will happen. It was great to learn from the veterans on that team. It was a great experience with a lot of guys who helped me and led me to the game I now know.
Do you remember talking about LeBron’s blowing in his ears moment?
LS We have never discussed it.
In five years, where does Lance Stephenson see him?
LS This is a tough question. I hope you are still playing. I believe I played basketball for 5-6 years. It’s clear that I love to play basketball, but it is also important to know my next steps and what I want to do. It’s difficult for many NBA players to know what they want to do after their basketball career is over. So hopefully I now know what I want, where I want work, how I want my life to go, and how I can help my family.
Then, what about the short-term goal. How do we get back to the league?
LS: Oh, yeah. I want to be back in the league. My mental and physical abilities can be a great asset to a team. I have a lot of experience and can offer that veteran knowledge.