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Brook Lopez proves that loyalty in sports isn't extinct

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Instead of being on pins and needles at the trade deadline, Brook Lopez was on a podium yesterday, representing the players at the opening of the HSS Training Center, a reward, finally, for his loyalty. Anthony Puccio looks at the rarity, the loyal star.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

There's something different about Brook Lopez when compared to other players around the league. Lopez is a nonchalant fellow who enjoys comic books and superhero movies, Michael Jackson's music and making instagram accounts for his cat Poupin.

He's different.

The different quality that most sets him apart from most is his loyalty.

He's played with the Nets in three different stadiums, two different practice facilities in two different states under eight different coaches. He's the longest tenured Net with and a half seasons and a record of 237-375 (.387 winning percentage) with only three winning seasons and one playoff series win (during which he was hurt and didn't play). Yet, he's still content with where he's at and who he is, which is a Brooklyn Net.

Brook is the only player remaining from the 2012-2013 Nets team that opened up Brooklyn. The two-headed monster of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson once called "Brooklyn's backcourt" are no longer with the team. Brook was always seen as the third guy to those two, which is fine, but both wanted out when times were tough. Not Brook.

"The Nets are the only place I want to be," said Lopez in an interview back in 2012. "I want to be a Net for my entire career."

How many guys would say that after missing out on the playoffs in four straight seasons, not to mention, one of the seasons in which the Nets finished with a 12-70 record. How many guys would say that about playing for the NETS in general?!

You won't find many, if any at all.

Lopez's name has floated in rumors and actual trade discussions throughout the years, often the centerpiece in  trades that never happened. He was involved in every single Dwight Howard rumor and there were a lot of them. The number cannot be counted on one hand.

Last season, he was minutes away from being trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Reggie Jackson. Sources close to the situation said that Lopez had a travel bag  packed just in case the trade was made official. At one point, he was told to get off the team bus, then asked to return.

But OKC balked and went after Enes Kanter instead. Lopez had a monstrous second half and averaged 20 points and nine rebounds after the trade deadline, almost single-handedly getting the Nets into the playoffs. Despite packing his bags and being nearly traded yet again, Lopez re-signed with the Nets in the off-season despite having other offers on the table.

"No, no, no. I'm happy to be here," Lopez said back in early January.

Now, Lopez is one of the East's top big men averaging 20 points and eight rebounds per game. Of course, Lopez plays on a losing team and he should be excelling the way he is, but after undergoing a THIRD surgery on his right foot, it's safe to say that Brook is certainly a top big man threat in the NBA.

It looks like Lopez will stay a Net past this year's NBA Trade Deadline, maybe the first time we can say that throughout his entire career.

By now it's obvious that Lopez isn't a number one option for any contending franchise. He's shown that he can't carry teams on his own (other than at the end of last season) and seems to struggle late in games. It's accepted at this point that with help, like in the 2012-2013 team, Lopez can find his niche as a second or third option on a playoff team.

That being said, he hasn't been put in that situation with the Nets aside from that one season. The Nets just so happen to win 49 games that season.

But let's say the big fella was granted some fortune of playing with a dominant point guard or surrounding cast that helped generate wins and some relevancy around the league. All hypothetically speaking, obviously.

Wouldn't the league and its fans embrace a player like Brook Lopez?

After all, the responsibility of an NBA player is to be better than the average ballplayer €”on and off the court.

He's never been in the headlines for doing anything untoward; He always treats fans and members of the media with respect; He never fights or hardly - if ever -- uses profane language directed at referees, opposing players or fans. He was bed-ridden for months after his latest foot surgery, a reconstruction that has finally let him play pain-free.

But more importantly, he wants to stay with the team that drafted him for the rest of his career and maybe, just maybe, be a part of something special here in Brooklyn. The same way Derek Jeter did with the Yankees. The same way Tim Duncan is going to with the Spurs.

We're not saying that Lopez is anywhere close to these guys in terms of "legacy" or level of play in their respective sports, but it's the same strong character that's frequently overshadowed by the losses Lopez has suffered rather than the wins that would highlight the good in players like him.

"Time and time again I've said I wanted to see something built here, Lopez said. "I see a special opportunity, a great situation to be in."

NBA players on average spend 2.21 seasons with one team. This statistic alone speaks for what loyalty means in basketball and sports in general, and how hard character guys like Lopez are to come by.

Of course, the NBA is a business and you gotta do what's best for your business. Mikhail Prokhorov is a businessman... or a business, man. He could've easily dumped a guy like Brook and rebuild, the way most pundits are suggesting, but instead, it appears Prokhorov and the Russians plan on sticking with arguably the most loyal Net in history.

Nothing is ever certain on the day of the trade deadline. Once the phone rings, anything is possible. However, at the very least of it all, Brook Lopez's long tenure with the Nets appears safer than ever.

That's more than he's ever been able to say.