Kyle Lowry dishes his biggest assists off the court.
For the Toronto Raptors point guard, his role goes far beyond running the floor and facilitating the offense. Now in his ninth NBA season, Lowry’s job is just as much about setting his teammates up for success as it is setting them up for shots.
“He’s the overall leader, not just from a basketball standpoint,” DeMar DeRozan said. “It’s everything.”
To understand Lowry’s desire to help, you have to go back to 2006. Lowry had just entered the league after two years at Villanova University. He grew up in Philadelphia, went to college nearby and found himself in a new city as a rookie on the Memphis Grizzlies.
Lowry’s veteran teammates made him feel at home in an unfamiliar setting. Damon Stoudamire gave him clothes and suits. Mike Miller even shared the passcode to his house. Whatever he needed, they were willing to lend a hand.
As Lowry made his way through the NBA, he developed relationships with players on other teams. Fellow Villanova alum Alvin Williams invited him over for dinner while Chauncey Billups and Tyronn Lue, whom he worked out with in the offseason, also made an impact with their warm outreach.
“I had guys accept me for me and they embraced me. I felt I had to pass it along,” Lowry, 28, told Basketball Insiders. “The things that I’ve done, those guys did for me… I appreciate those guys because this fraternity is a very small brotherhood.”
For all the support Lowry received, he wanted to pay it forward as he grew in the league. It started with becoming a leader on the court.
The Grizzlies traded Lowry to the Houston Rockets during his third season in 2009. That was where Chuck Hayes met the budding point guard, who was a backup at the time. When Aaron Brooks got injured early into the 2010-11 season, Lowry earned the starting role. Hayes noticed a change taking place.
“He started to be a voice, he started to have a confidence and believe in himself,” said Hayes, who currently plays on the Raptors. “He had a stretch of games where he was outplaying some of the top point guards in the league. At the time, the coach in Houston (Rick Adelman) gave him the green light – ‘Don’t look over your shoulder, just go.’ Once that happened, everything else started to fall into place.”
Patrick Patterson was a rookie on the Rockets that season. When he entered the league, Lowry was quick to offer him the same hospitality he had received on the Grizzlies. The approach that Lowry took with his teammates was simple – what was his was theirs.
“He’s very reliable,” said Patterson, who is also now a member of the Raptors. “When I first met him my rookie year in Houston, anything I needed as far as a place to stay, to borrow a car, ideas on where to go to eat, what to do in the city itself, if I’m bored at my crib and want to go somewhere, he always had his door open. He’s a big brother type. He’s just a guy who will look out for you and pretty much put you before him.”
Lowry was traded from the Rockets to the Raptors in the summer of 2012. He came to his new team with six years of NBA experience under his belt, ready to jump in to help. Since then Lowry has been extending himself, his home and his family to the Raptors.
“He invites you into his personal life,” DeRozan said. “I think that plays a lot when it comes to being trustworthy and when it comes to basketball.”
“[His leadership] is on another level,” Patterson added. “He puts his team on his back. He’s the captain, he’s the leader. He’s that guy who will sacrifice himself for the better good of the team. … He brings his family around us so his family is like our family. His son is pretty much around us 24-7, same as his wife. He’s a big family-oriented guy and he’s not afraid to let people in.”
Lowry embraced the position as the Raptors’ social planner to help build chemistry. He organizes team events such as trips to the bowling alley and the movies. When the Raptors play against the 76ers in his hometown of Philadelphia, he invites the entire squad to his house the evening before the game. Forget about hotel room service, the Lowry family delivers five-star treatment.
“We have a nice big home-cooked dinner,” Terrence Ross said. “His wife and his mom cook for us. It’s good, too. He brings his barber in … He’s got pool tables, video games, we watch the games there. We’ll get to Philly around 6:00, get to his house around 9:00, won’t leave until 11:00. It’s fun being at his house.”
For as many group events as Lowry plans, he also develops one-on-one relationships with his teammates. Just as he formed bonds with veterans when he was a young player, he does the same with those starting their careers.
During Ross’ rookie season, which was also Lowry’s first in Toronto, the veteran point guard noticed him watching the TV show “The Boondocks” on the team plane. He would stop by Ross to crack a few jokes and they soon realized they shared similar interests beyond favorite television programs.
“The first person I opened up to and joked around with was Kyle,” Ross said. “Personally, Kyle is like my big brother. Since I got to Toronto, he’s taken me under his wing. I’ve always been close to Kyle, talking to Kyle, joking with Kyle. He’s an all-around cool guy. He’s really involved with everyone on the team to make sure we have our chemistry there, so Kyle is like the big brother of the team.”
Last season, Lowry helped propel the Raptors to their first postseason appearance since 2008. Over the summer, he inked a four-year contract worth $48 million to stay in Toronto.
This season, the team is proving their playoff berth was no fluke; they hold the best record in the Eastern Conference at 6-1. Lowry is at the helm, averaging 17.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists. Lowry, who arrives two hours early to practice, posted a triple-double (13 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) last week against the Washington Wizards.
“He’s very professional and mellow,” Greivis Vasquez said of Lowry. “I really look up to him. His preparation and his professionalism is off the hook. I think this guy deserves everything he has right now because he worked for it.”
Lowry, for the most part, has flown under the radar. There are plenty of other players with catchy commercials and flashy highlight reels who are given recognition ahead of him. To the Raptors, though, they couldn’t ask for more from their leader.
“He’s been the engine of this team,” Hayes said. “We ride his coattail. He’s the voice, he gets us going, we feed off of him. He’s the heart of this team.”
Lowry gives everything he has as a teammate without asking for anything in return. To him, it is simply part of being a leader, a value instilled upon him years ago as a young guard in Memphis.
“It’s just me being me,” Lowry said. “It’s not like I’m trying to do it to be fake. I’m just doing it because I really like my teammates and I really want them to be happy in life. I want to show them things that can make them happy and I want them to be part of my life because I’m with them every day.”
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