SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Kevon Looney never missed a game before coming to Golden State. None.
He reckons it’s several thousand consecutive games, all the way to youth basketball as a boy in Milwaukee.
Looney’s time with the Warriors was far different, so it’s no wonder how much he wanted to play all 82 games this season to prove to himself and everyone else that he’s healthy again. He promised coach Steve Kerr that he would be honest if his body ever needed a break.
“Iron Man Loon,” as he is called, shone when he received the ball from the Warriors ’128-107 win in New Orleans on April 10, ending the regular season and the great quest to play a full 82. Only four other players in the NBA they have done so this season.
“It was just good for my psyche, good for my self-confidence,” said Looney, who gave the ball to his mother Victoria. “… I wanted to kill it in my head to put all the injury stuff in the past, to have made it to this point, to be able to play every game, to feel good and not have to play in fear.”
Looney’s appearance as a model of consistency was something these Warriors desperately needed with stars Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson who missed a significant amount of time – and veteran Andre Iguodal waiting for stocks with various injuries.
That stamina could become even more critical in the Warriors ’physical series with the Grizzlies. Golden State already is lost Gary Payton II, who suffered a broken left elbow early in Game 2 on Tuesday after a serious Dillon Brooks foul. The third game is Saturday (8:30 ET on ABC) in San Francisco, with a series of even one game each.
Looney’s inner defense and rebounds were key to Golden State’s final playoff series.
In five games in the first round, he was in play with current Kie MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. Looney realizes that his role is changing in this round with smaller lineups being used against the Grizzlies and leaves the bench, promising to “stay ready”.
So he always did that during that remarkable series of playing every game before he arrived in the NBA.
There have been approximately 1,015 AAU games over 10 years starting in second grade. Another 20 for Samuel Morse High School and another 100 for Alexander Hamilton High School. Then Looney played all 36 games during his lonely season at UCLA 2014-15, when he had 15 double pairs for the best NCAA freshman and helped the Bruins reach the Sweet Sixteen.
“He worked like crazy to find himself in this position and his endurance this year was certainly crucial for our regular season.”
– Steve Kerr about Kevon Looney
Initially as a professional, Looney endured his share of hard luck. He underwent surgery on both hips as a 2015-16 rookie and played only five games.
“Missing the first season was hard for him,” said Looney’s longtime youth coach, Shelby Parrish, who can’t recall a single missed training session – and also served on the high school staff.
Looney is back in his second professional season to play in 53 NBA games for Golden State.
An injured knee tendon later prevented him from training camp and the 2019-20 preseason, and then he returned only to be off the field again due to nerve problems. In May 2020, Looney operated on an injured core muscle.
Through it all, Looney longed to dismiss this label he thought he possessed as an injured guy. He did it.
“He entered the league at the age of 18, 19, he had hip surgery to start his career,” Kerr said. “He worked like crazy to find himself in this position and his endurance this year was certainly crucial for our regular season.”
Kerr, who still prides himself on playing all 82 games over four consecutive years of his career, was close to a Looney break in Toronto on Dec. 18, but the 6-foot-9 center pushed to play. Each time after that, Looney assured Kerr and Rick Celebrini, vice president of player health and performance, “I feel great.”
“I told them I wasn’t going to push and be stupid about it,” Looney said. “They gave me that trust and I appreciate it.”
Curry, who on several occasions came close to playing all 82, witnessed Looney’s determination day in and day out.
“Only he can probably tell you some of those games where he woke up in the morning and probably felt it more than others and had to really get to the level of availability he wanted,” Curry said, “but the fact that he achieved that goal it’s so impressive. “