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For Brook Lopez, double success at NBA mountain top

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Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets - Game Seven Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Near the end of the 2016-17 season, Brook Lopez sat down with Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, to talk about his career with the Nets. He had just become the all-time leading scorer with the franchise, surpassing Buck Williams. Despite all the injuries, all the surgical “procedures,” all the losses and disappointment, Lopez was still proud of his tenure in New Jersey and Brooklyn. He was also realistic. He had been on and off the bus at trade deadlines, literally as well as figuratively.

Near the end of the interview, Mannix asked about how he wanted to viewed when he finally hung up those huge sneakers. The seven-footer from Fresno was still hopeful he’d be able to play out his career with one franchise.

“Whenever that happens, I hope it’s as a Brooklyn Net. I want people when they hear the name ‘Brook Lopez’, I want them to think of one of the guys who helped build something special in Brooklyn. create a winning franchise where people want to play, want to come, want to be part of something successful.”

And now four years after being traded for D’Angelo Russell, Lopez can say he succeeded twice. He did help build something special in Brooklyn, did build a franchise where people wanted to play, wanted to come, he will be remembered for his nine year, 562-game career in New Jersey and Brooklyn. And now he has a championship ring if not with Brooklyn with a team that appreciates him.

His tenure with the Nets represented a tough time for the franchise, transitioning from East Rutherford to Newark to Brooklyn. As we noted at the time of the big trade, he had nine coaches, three GM’s, two owners, 109 teammates. He played in two states, three cities, three arenas and two practice facilities, all as Employee #11. He was an All-Star once and underwent three or four foot surgeries, depending on your definition of “procedure.” He once bent the screw inserted in his foot!

For a generation of fans, the Nets had been always Brook, forever Brook. In the midst of turmoil, moves, coach firings and hirings, he was there, at the ready. It was a long, if bumpy ride. As Will Hanley, a long time Nets fan, tweeted after last night’s title game, “When we had nothing, we had you.”

Indeed, Nets won only 264 games in his nine years with the organization, fewer than 30 per season, but there was so much fun so many highlights. There were the “Big Disney” jokes; goofing around with his twin brother, Robin; a steady stream of “you know’s” in interviews; exasperation with jug handles; even trick-or-treating in a New Jersey suburb with Ryan Anderson — “My name is Brook and I want MORE candy.” And yes, in 2015, he single-handedly led the Nets to the playoffs with a string of never-say-die games. Three times, he averaged 20 points a game. Four times, he averaged 7.5 rebounds. The final “moment” of his Nets career came on April 10, 2017 when in his very last game as a Net, he became the career leader in points, 10,444, beating Buck by two points. How appropriate was that?!?

His start with the Nets was also appropriate ... for the time. Here’s how he described it, in typical Brook speak.

“My agent at the time, Bob Meyers, was like ‘Okay, Brook, B.J. just told me M.J. just called, they’re taking you!’“, Lopez told Mannix. “I went, ‘alright good, okay, I’m good. Charlotte, we can make that work, that’s great!’

“So they start, ‘with the ninth pick in the draft,’ I start buttoning it, standing up, and it’s ‘D.J. Augustin.’ And I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ At that point, i was pretty messed up. I was like ‘Wow, this is crazy’ but the Nets situation has worked out pretty well for me, all in all, you know.”

Famously, he was caught on camera asking, “who’s their coach?” It was a question he would have to ask over and over again.

There were all the times when the Nets tried to get rid of him, trade him here or there for everyone from Dwight Howard to Reggie Jackson. At the trade deadline in February 2016, he was told to get off the team bus that was headed to the airport. He called a friend back in New York, told him to go to his apartment and pack some things. He was headed to Oklahoma City. Then, he was told get back on the bus. Trade was off.

No matter how many times he was included in trade rumors, he remained loyal and in a unexplained gesture after the Bucks beat the Nets in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, he bent down and touched the Brooklyn logo. Was it a slap or love tap? Didn’t much matter. It was perfect punctuation.

After the Bucks won and Lopez had finally climbed the mountain top, there was a steady stream of tweets directed at Lopez from Nets fans around the world. “We didn’t get there this year but you did and that’s great,” was the sentiment. That, too, was perfect. Enjoy it all, Brook, you deserve it.