Monday, October 22, 2007
Updated: April 15, 6:36 PM ET
The Nerd Herd
By John Gustafson
She will be beautiful, of that they are sure. They're on their way to her right now, wedged in "the Jag" as they cruise through Fresno. Robin Lopez, in the front passenger seat of what is actually a 1993 Accord, buries his shaggy head in an issue of Entertainment Weekly. From the back, twin brother Brook dubs him "the Kobe Bryant of shotgun" for not adequately contributing to the conversation.
To get her to come home with them, the brothers have persuaded David Lozano, a high school buddy and today's chauffeur, to donate the check he just got for coaching JV hoops at the crew's alma mater, San Joaquin Memorial. They've promised to pay him back with the scratch they'll get for being counselors at Amaré Stoudemire's and LeBron James' Nike camps. Still, Lozano knows his friends well enough to fret about the arrangement. "Why do I feel like I'm Screech," he asks, using a timeworn Saved by the Bell reference, "and you two are the blond guy and the jock guy?"
"I'm Slater!" Brook calls out in his surfer basso.
"All right, I'm Zack," says Robin.
"Wait, no," Brook says, realizing his mistake. "I want to be Zack. He's the one who dates Kelly."
On the far side of this mature give-and-take, she awaits. First, though, there is a check to cash. Further talk inside the car ping-pongs from comics (the twins have mocked up their own) to movies they'd like to make (a hoops film in which they avenge Lozano's death in a pirate fight) to video games (Brook's current favorite is Kingdom Hearts, which mixes Disney and Final Fantasy characters).
Eventually, the crew arrives at its destination: Target. At last, she is theirs. On the ride home, they show her off to covetous guys in other cars as they wait for the light to change and pass her from lap to lap to lap. "I'm going to get shot driving like this," Lozano says before proclaiming, "I say we name her Brenda." Brenda is Lozano's boss, who, technically, has made the moment possible. From this point forward, Brenda will also be the crew's brand-new PlayStation 3.
What about a last name? "Got to be something to do with technology," says Brook. "Bits, maybe?"
"Bytes?" counters Robin.
"How about Brenda Ram?" says Brook.
Many teenagers love their video consoles, but few are compelled to name them. Fewer still can rival the Lopezes' passion for all things make-believe, from Kingdom Hearts to Harry Potter to 101 Dalmations. The twins won't even try to argue against the accusation that their interests stretch the parameters of nerddom. "Our friends from high school know we're just dorks," Brook says.
Of course, they aren't "just" dorks. Since their senior year in high school, they've been seven feet and 240-plus pounds. They're used to the gawking, the whispers of "Oh my god, there's two of them!" Despite the attention, though, their secret remains safe. "We have the perfect disguise," says Brook. "Superman hiding Clark Kent."
These 19-year-old Supermen have not only NBA-size bodies but games to match. During their solid freshman season at Stanford, Brook recorded the first triple-double in school history (18 points, 11 rebounds, 12 blocks vs. USC) and looked like a lottery pick, while Robin blocked 73 shots as he started a pro trajectory of his own. But both are back for another run, in no hurry to find out what the real world holds in store. And not even the recent news that Brook will be academically ineligible for at least the first nine games of the season has them reconsidering the bigger question: Can a couple of proud-of-it geeks find happiness in the league?
THE FRESNO home of Deborah Ledford is awash in mementos of her sons' childhoods. Bookshelves straining with paperbacks line every wall. A brick fireplace in the den peeks out from behind dozens of trophies. Size 20 shoes and XL gear wrestle for floor space, snaking from the front door down the hall.
The twins' bedroom bursts with all things fantastical. Nearly 400 figurines represent virtually every Disney animated movie: Robin Hood, Snow White—you name it, they've got it. Atop one shelf, a foot-tall blue genie from Aladdin looms over a crystal-ball-encased Mickey Mouse that in turn abuts a plastic Dalmatian sporting ceramic mouse ears. Brook sleeps on a Superman pillowcase, and stacked at the foot of his bed are hundreds of comic books encased in plastic sleeves. The boys estimate that they own 2,000.
The twins were born on April Fools' Day 1988, Brook one minute before Robin, and they quickly played their first prank, confusing the doctors who tried to determine if they were, in fact, identical. All signs point to yes. Save for hairstyle, differences show up only in personality. Brook has always been more outgoing; while he was teaching himself how to dribble at 2 and shoot a 10-footer at 4, Robin was busy drawing.
It was just a matter of time, though, before "Kid," as Brook calls him, began to team up with his brother on the court. Athletic prowess, like height, runs in the family. When she was 16, the boys' six-foot mom swam the world's then-second-fastest time in the 400-meter individual medley. Her two elder sons, Alex (6'10") and Chris (6'7"), both played basketball in high school. Alex went on to play for Washington and Santa Clara.
Like their older siblings, the twins gravitated toward hoops. Ledford recalls trying in vain to keep Brook and Robin on her lap during Alex's high school games. "Inevitably, one would break free and run onto the court, and I'd have to swoop down to pick him up," she says. After the games, the twins would collect discarded score sheets as mementos.
Once they were old enough to belong on the court, they didn't disappoint. As seniors at San Joaquin Memorial, they lost in the state semifinals, and both were Best in the West first-teamers. But it was their abilities off the floor that most impressed high school teammate Quincy Pondexter. "In class, their real side comes out," says the Washington Huskies swingman. "If you gave the wrong answer, they were on you quick. Meanwhile, in their book bags they'd carry a stack of comic books." Pondexter, who also played AAU ball with the Lopezes for Fresno's nationally acclaimed EBO team, says the twins didn't slow down once school was over. "The summer after our junior year, one of the Harry Potter books came out, and these guys read the whole thing in 24 hours," he says. "While we were in the middle of a tournament."
Books—as much as basketball—helped the twins decide where they'd go next. In second grade, Brook told his mom he planned on playing for her alma mater, Stanford. Relocation to Fresno from Whidbey Island, Wash., when the boys were 8 (Ledford divorced Heriberto Lopez in 1994) gave them ample chances to visit the campus. Memories of the bookstore trump ones of Maples Pavilion. "Back then, Maples was just another gym," Brook says.
But what finally sold the boys on Palo Alto was knowing it was a place where they could be more than jocks. Stanford's rooming policy doesn't allow freshman athletes to live together. The twins ended up on opposite sides of campus and didn't mind. "Everyone here stands out," says Brook. "It's not so amazing to be a really good basketball player." Adds Robin, "Some kids have their own Internet sites or businesses. Michelle Wie came here just to be a student. She's not even going to play golf."
Fitting in at Stanford has been cake. Brook plans to major in creative writing, Robin in art history with a minor in film. Both hope to find time to branch out into theater. In high school, Brook played Lt. Schrank in West Side Story and sang in a production of Footloose (his audition number was Britney's "Lucky"). Robin performed in Gaieties 2006: From Cal With Love, the musical spoof that each year precedes the Stanford-Cal football game.
If you get the feeling the hardwood isn't exactly home away from home for the twins, you aren't wrong. "The toughest thing is that sometimes their interests force them out of the basketball comfort zone," says Cardinal coach Trent Johnson. "But I'm all for it as long as when practice starts, they're concentrating on practice." One school of thought holds that GMs will view the twins' extracurriculars as a plus. "Having a breadth of interests hasn't hurt LeBron James," says Renaissance man and TV analyst Bill Walton. "A player with a dream for life beyond basketball is a tremendous asset to a team."
For the most part, delivering hasn't been a problem for the Lopezes. When the perimeter-oriented Brook sat for the first five games last season after back surgery, low-block grinder Robin picked up the slack. "He was exceptional," says Johnson, referring to Robin's 11.4-ppg, 2.6-bpg showing. (Johnson will be looking for a similar contribution while Brook sits this fall.) When Brook returned, it didn't take long to see what they could do together. In an 89-75 loss at Arizona on Dec. 30, they scored 20 of the Cardinal's 32 second-half points. Days later, they put up 27 to hand Virginia its only home loss.
Brook's Pac-10 all-freshman campaign didn't go unnoticed in NBA front offices. Yet almost immediately after Stanford lost to Louisville in the first round of the NCAAs, he issued a release to announce he was staying in school. The twins would like to make the jump together—in an ideal world, becoming the first pair of brothers drafted in the first round. (Another pair of Stanford twins, Jason and Jarron Collins, were drafted in the same year, but Jarron went in Round 2.) When that might be is unclear. "I can't really see myself in the NBA," Brook says. "I feel like I'm going to play there. I just can't see it now."
The view won't be any better during his academic TO. Then again, the expectations of both brothers for their NBA careers have always been a little blurry. How many players view the league as a stepping-stone to a dream job? The Lopezes, whose hero is Walt Disney, think as much about starting a company to produce comics, cartoons and films as they do about winning an NBA title. They are constantly conceptualizing story ideas for future projects. Robin is the artist, Brook the writer, and the elder usually defers to the younger. "It's like that Family Guy episode," Brook says. "Matt Damon is working on Good Will Hunting. He's just finished the script, and Ben Affleck, who is lying on the couch, says, 'Hey, can you put my name on that too?'"
Given their ambitions, it's not hard to understand how an NBA contract or two would come in handy. But ensconced in their world of fantasies, Brook and Robin aren't ready to break into the real world—or to break apart. "I know some people don't want to hear this," Robin says, "but the idea of playing basketball so much, working out all the time, doesn't seem too appealing. At least not now. Not yet."
And not because he's worried about leaving Brenda behind.