When it comes to popularity and profile in the NBA, Brook Lopez is hardly in the same league as the likes of LeBron James, Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving.
- US national team player Brook Lopez has played 11 seasons in the NBA, with stints at Brooklyn, the LA Lakers and now Milwaukee
- He is one of the experienced, lower-profile players in the US’ World Cup squad, after the withdrawals of most of the big stars
- For some reason, the entire crowd in US’ game against Canada in Sydney were chanting his name in the final quarter
But the veteran American basketballer has become the surprise crowd hero in Sydney for the last game of the pre-FIBA World Cup exhibition series, with 15,000 fans chanting his name and demanding he get onto court.
Overwhelmed by all the local love, Lopez now wants the NBA to take advantage of the numbers and enthusiasm for basketball in Australia by bringing matches to this country.
The Milwaukee Bucks big man saw little game time through the first three quarters on Monday in the makeshift US team’s 84-68 win over Canada.
The crowd tried to change matters with their chants during the fourth quarter, before coach Gregg Popovich put him into the game in the closing minutes, to a huge roar of approval.
“He was trying to fight it a bit but he finally acquiesced,” Lopez quipped.
Popovich admitted as much, though like Lopez, he couldn’t work out why the crowd showed such passionate support for the Bucks centre.
“What the hell was that all about?” Popovich said.
“We screwed with it for a while, we were trying to keep our focus, because we don’t want to make anything silly.
“But, it got so ridiculous, that we finally succumbed to the crowd.”
Over the past week, 103,000 fans attended the two games at Melbourne’s Docklands, where the US and Australia each notched a win and a loss.
NBL clubs are about to play NBA sides in America for a third straight year, but Lopez suggested it was time to consider moving matches in the opposite direction.
“It’s so important to keep that momentum going, that’s the one thing we were talking about in the locker room after this game,” Lopez said.
“We were just like, ‘Wow, you know, basketball has got a chance to be a really big thing here.
“It’s grown a lot in the last decade or so. You’ve had a lot of great, talented players.
“I think it is time for the NBA to come out, play games here, pre-season, regular season, whatever it is, and keep building and growing the game out here. It’s something special.”
So, who is Brook Lopez?
Lopez, a 31-year-old centre formerly with the Brooklyn Nets, then with the Los Angeles Lakers and now with the Bucks, is an unlikely hero for Aussie crowds.
The 2.13m (or 7 feet) tall player has transformed his game in the last few years.
From a big man who had dropped only one three-pointer in seven years in the NBA, Lopez changed things up and last season he hit a huge 187 shots from beyond the arc.
Lopez has a pretty quirky personality, with a well-publicised love of Disney — he’s on the record naming 101 Dalmatians, Sleeping Beauty and Jungle Book as his favourite three movies of theirs — who says his dream is to work with the company when he retires.
His twin brother, Robin, who has joined him in Milwaukee in the offseason, has become known for his ongoing vendetta against the mascots of the NBA — including on and off-court wrestling-style takedowns on mascots from the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs among others.
During last season’s NBA playoffs, Brook joined the club, bodyslamming the Toronto Raptors’ mascot prior to game three of their Eastern Conference finals series in Canada.
Now Lopez has had his moment in the sun in front of Australian crowds — we’ll see what the reaction will be if and when he takes the court in the United States’ first World Cup game against the Czech Republic in Shanghai on September 1.