Scoop Jackson has followed Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson's career closely. He sat down with Stephenson the day before the 2010 NBA Draft camp and again before the biggest game of the 2013-14 regular season.
Stevenson was heralded as a superstar before he entered high school. In ninth grade, some publications had him ranked as the No. 1 prospect in both New York and the country. By the time he was 16, he already had a nationally known nickname. In 2008, Stephenson was arrested for misdemeanor sexual assault, and pleaded to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Then he was suspended from school his senior year for involvement in a fight. He was also cut from the U.S. national Under-18 team and the reality show that bore his nickname, "Born Ready," was canceled in light of the assault charge. So he faced a lot of questions from the media and potential teams going into the draft.
Pacers president Larry Bird took a chance on him. After scarcely playing when he was new to the league, and being seen as something of a lost soul in the NBA, this season Stephenson has started every game for the team with the East's best record, while meriting All-Star consideration. Let's take a look back at what he was like before becoming an NBA player and how he adjusted to being a starter, now chasing his first ring.
May 19, 2010
Scoop: Hold on, here's my question: How have those ups and downs changed -- OK, not changed, but I'll say "developed" you?
Lance: Man, it just showed me that like when you are down people will move away from you.
Scoop: 19 years old is really early to figure that out.
Lance: Yeah. When you "up," everybody is there, trying to be your friend, and I just seen how it disappeared once I was going "down." A lot of people disappeared. But now that I'm on my p's and q's again, everybody is there supporting me and kinda hoping the best for me. Now, I like being the underdog, not always on the top. I been ranked No. 1 since ninth grade, so now that I'm the underdog I'm going after people. I'm used to everybody going after me, now I'm going after people.
Scoop: You think you're gonna hold that against people? Them disappearing when things got kinda bad? Or are you going to be able to chalk it up as, you know, "OK, I know now?"
Lance: As "I know now."
Scoop: How old do you feel? I know how old you are but after going through everything that has been your life over the last seven to eight years.
Lance: I've matured too much, man. I don't even feel like a kid no more. It happened so fast.
Scoop: Like you missed your childhood? Or part of it?
Lance: Uh, yeah. Like, I missed out on my friends, hanging out with my friends. I can't be with my normal friends, I can't do what my normal friends do. You know? I just gotta stay focused.
Scoop: Is it worth it?
Lance: Oh, of course.
Scoop: So the game means that much to you?
Lance: Yeah, yeah.
Scoop: What makes you feel that way? Why do you love playing ball that much?
Lance: I don't know. man, when my Dad put that ball in my hands -- I just love basketball. Love it. Love the competition. Look, I like playing against people that, uh, pretending that somebody is better than me. It's like, people say to me, "I wanna see you against Kobe."
I wanna see that too!
Or they're like, "I wanna see you against LeBron."
I wanna see that too! That's what drives me.
Scoop: Are you that way as a person or just with basketball?
Lance: With everything. We could be playing video games, it doesn't matter. I wanna win everything.
Scoop: And you wanna go through the best to get there.
Lance: I want to show everybody that I'm different than what they think about me. They say I got a poor attitude, that I'm not coachable. I gotta prove everybody different. Because I don't think I'm that way. I just think I'm very competitive and I don't like to lose. Sometimes I show a lot of emotions, but people don't understand how I am about winning.
Scoop: But there's gotta be a part of you that's like, "For all those people that doubted me. ..."
Lance: I'm a shock everybody.
March 26, 2014
Scoop: You told me four years ago that you were going to shock everybody. Has that happened yet?
Lance: Definitely. I feel like everybody believes in me, they can see what I can do on the floor. And, I just try to bring it every night. Bring something to the table. Rebounding, assists, making something happen in the offense. I've just been working hard, watching the people in front of me when I was on the bench. Sitting there.
Scoop: Yeah, that's what I was going to get at! How much did you learn just by watching? By the years of not playing? It's like you got a chance to look at this.
Lance: I got a chance to watch everybody! I wasn't just sitting there hoping to play, I was watching! And I learned the game. I watched people from the season, and how they transformed for the playoffs. I saw what it takes. And, um, I feel like I'm ready.
Scoop: When you see Larry Bird what do you see? I mean, everyone else sees him different than you. He's the one that took the chance on you, believed in you.
Lance: I see confidence. I mean, he's a great leader, a champion, he knows what it takes. He showed me and gave me the ropes. He showed me what it takes to be a player, a champion, bringing it every night. Some nights, before a game, he'll give me quotes like, "Go at 'em," or "Watch your back tonight," or "Be aggressive."
Um, he just helped me out. I mean, when he sees me he tells me jokes, tells me about the things he had to go through and tries to compare them to what I'm going through now. I mean, having him have your back, having him on your side, I mean, it's a blessing.
Scoop: Yeah. That's some "I'm gonna tell my grandkids" type of s---.
Lance: When I was behind the bench, I mean, when I was in a suit and they didn't even have a seat for me to sit with the team, I'd be sitting there and (Bird) would come up to me and say, "You gonna be the one. Just stay with it. Keep working everyday."
And I'd always look at him like (he twists his face), "Maaan ... you just talkin' man." But he really believed in me and now you see I'm on the court, shining, and I'm doing it with my teammates.
Scoop: Has he told you "I told you so" yet or it hasn't gotten to that point?
Lance: I think once we get this ring, that's when he's going to tell me, "I told you." But first we gotta get this ring. Prove everyone wrong.
Scoop: How much have you learned about yourself in the last four years? Since the day you came into this league how much have you learned?
Lance: I learned defense.
Scoop: Naw man, I'm talking about life! From the business side of this game to what this is really all about.
Lance: I learned a lot. Everything. Its tough, you gotta be built for this. The NBA, play 82 games and be efficient at all times -- I'm just learning how to do that as I go.
Scoop: Harder than you expected?
Lance: I mean it's easy to come out every night and play hard. But to be consistent and get your numbers every night that you want, it's hard, hard to do that every night. You have to really be engaged to the game.
Scoop: But basketball-wise.
Lance: I learned how to attack the gaps, when to go and when not to go. And on defense, I really didn't know anything about being in my gaps and helping my teammates while I'm in my gaps, and how to get back (on defense), you know, all of the tricks that I've learned on the defensive end. It took me a while to get that. And coach told me that I wasn't going to get on the floor until I learned that.
Scoop: To me, this whole thing was set up for you to fail. In my mind, the way we (the media) held you up and put that light on you so early, since what ninth or eighth grade, it's like with your whole basketball career we set you up to fail. We gave you so much, so young. The fact that you are here, standing and not defeated, is really a great success story. Like, you still came through it. Do you look at it that way?
Lance: Definitely. Because when I was young I felt like I was already in the NBA. I had cameras all around me at all times and I was just cocky, you know. When you have that at a young age, you take stuff for granted. And when I got to college I did a'ight. I don't feel like I did great, but I did alright, enough to get here and I feel that when I got here I had to learn the game. The vets put me in check, to make me learn the game. That definitely humbled me. Because when I got here man, I had this attitude like, "Man, I'm the man!" You can't have that attitude in the League because everybody's good. So I definitely had to be put in check.
Scoop: But don't you need some type of arrogance to survive? My mother always told me that a black man in this world without arrogance ain't s----, you know?
Scoop: But there's a line that you can't cross, you know what I mean? Did you learn that you can't cross that line?
Lance: Yeah, like I said, I was disrespectful to the guys when I came in. I just didn't listen. I felt like I was already bigger than them. That's why I feel like being young and having the cameras around you, that can come and haunt you. Like I said, that humbled me, made me a better man. Once I learned that -- you just can't be that way, not to your teammates.
Scoop: You ever go through an angry period, like you were playing angry because you were angry at the world?
Lance: Of course. I mean, sitting on the bench, watching. Coming where I came from, always having the ball my hands, always playing, always being that guy when the ball is in his hands, I mean, yeah, I definitely played angry. Like, "I wanna have the ball, gimme the ball, I can do this!" I had to learn that it's not about that. That it's about making smart plays and making plays with your teammates. It ain't about just you. It's about the team and us playing together and we all shine together.
Scoop: You mentioned getting that ring. I know that's the challenge, but outside of that.
Lance: My challenge? Um.
Scoop: Here: Are you where you want to be right now in your life? At least basketball-wise?
Lance: No. Naw. I'm working hard every day to try to get better at this game. Trying to get better and better as the season goes. I can't get comfortable. You always have to feel like you have to work on something in order to get better. I feel like I can go two steps higher than where I am right now.
Scoop: What about your life's challenge?
Lance: To stay humble. Not let the lights get to me like before. Sometimes you know people, once you sign a big contract, they try to get to you. I just have to stay level-headed and focused and with the people that were there when I was under the bench. That's my life challenge.
Scoop: See it's good that you went through all of the stuff you went through because now when it comes back at you, you know what it looks like.
Lance: I already know how to move.
For Sessions, a new regular feature, ESPN.com's Scoop Jackson sits down with the big names in sports for an in-depth interview about life beyond just the game.