CLEVELAND — Lance Stephenson was 13-years-old when he was playing in a tournament in Manhattan’s Rucker Park. He was doing his thing when the announcer, Bobbito Garcia, did for Stephenson what he does for all of his favorite schoolyard players: He gave him a nickname.
That’s right, Stephenson started out as “Ice Water,’’ which doesn’t seem right because there’s nothing cool, nothing chill about his herky-jerky, hyper-physical game.
“I heard that, I said “no,’’ Stephenson was saying the other day. “Nuh-uh.’’
Another time, Stephenson was back on the courts, doing his tricks, tearing up older opponents, when Garcia proclaimed he was “Born Ready.’’ And the New York City legend had a name, one that stuck.
“About a month or two after that, I got it stamped,’’ he said of the “Born Ready’’ tattoo that adorns his arm.
Of course, around Cleveland, he has a very different assortment of nicknames, none of which can be listed here without a parent’s warning. Suffice to say, he’s not a popular fellow in these parts. Not quite as unpopular as John Elway or Michael Jordan, who both broke Cleveland’s sporting hearts, but he hears boos every time he touches the basketball.
And yet, there’s at least one member of the Cavaliers who respects and actually likes Stephenson’s game.
“You know, I love Lance,’’ Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said earlier in the series. “He’s a throwback player. He reminds me of back when I played, when I first got in the league, guys were physical. He’s going to hit you, no easy layups. He’s going to be a physical player offensively and defensively. You love that physicality he brings and toughness. Sometimes they’re going to call it, sometimes they’re not.
“But we’ve got to do a good job just playing through the physicality, playing through all the whatever it is and just continue to keep playing. But I like his style. He comes in, he plays hard, he plays tough. Not going to back down from anyone and that’s what you need from your team. He just reminds me of an old school player, so I like it.’’
It’s hard to tell what LeBron James thinks of Stephenson; probably a mix of bemusement and mild annoyance. As everybody knows, these two have a bit of a history, and the pair have added some chapters to that history in this series, which continues Wednesday night with Game 5 at Quicken Loans Arena.
In Game 4, Stephenson glued himself to James’ side as the Cavs star walked toward the timeout huddle, and James had had enough. He mildly pushed Stephenson off to the side, like a beachgoer swatting a greenfly. Nothing excessive, but it sent Stephenson flying like he’d been hit by a minivan. The truth of the matter is, James and Stephenson are two of the biggest floppers in the modern-day NBA.
“I mean, I should never have gotten a tech in the first place,’’ James said after Game 4. “There’s a timeout called and this guy’s following to my bench. I gave him a little nudge and he falls to half court. Come on. But I should know better. I should know better.
“I’ve been dealing with this since elementary. It’s like I tell you a joke and then you laugh and you get caught. That’s what happened. Lance told me a joke, I laughed. Teacher caught me. Now, I’ve got to go see the principal.’’
Of course, no evening is fully complete without both Good Lance and Bad Lance making an appearance. Bad Lance showed up after he took an inbounds pass after a made basket and took three steps without taking a dribble. Traveling was called.
“I was trying to set up a play for Bogey (Bojan Bogdanovic) while he was taking the ball out,’’ Stephenson explained. “I just forgot a couple of steps.’’
Well, the steps weren’t the problem. The inexplicable failure to dribble the basketball was the problem.
When the entire Indiana team watched it on tape the next day, Stephenson became the subject of good-natured grief.
“Oh my goodness, oh my goodness,’’ Nate McMillan said with a smile. “As I told Lance, `Leave the play calling to me.’ ‘’
Lance being Lance.
He never fails to entertain.