- Scott Engel, ESPN Fantasy Games
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Comedian George Lopez has become a versatile superstar, well-known for his highly successful ABC sitcom and his edgy and nationally renowned stand-up comedy. Lopez's comedy albums have been nominated for Grammy Awards. He is also an avid fan of the NBA, and was a first-time participant in a fantasy basketball league this past season.
"I go to a lot of the games so I knew it would just make it even more enjoyable for me," Lopez said of his first season in the NBA Cares Celebrity League. "It was a lot of fun. I became a stat fanatic!"
Lopez, a Los Angeles native and Lakers fan who also follows the Clippers, said playing fantasy basketball changed how he viewed the NBA. "Before I could only tell you Kobe Bryant's numbers, but now I can tell you about the whole league," Lopez said. "The rookies, the ball boys, everybody. I'll tell you how many Gatorades they passed out. I'll tell you what they ate for breakfast!"
Lopez's first-ever fantasy team finished with a 7-15 record, but scored the most points of any squad not to make the playoffs. Injuries hurt Lopez's team early, but he finished well, winning four games down the stretch, and also won a game in the consolation bracket. "Trying to find that combination of guys that can be consistent for you night in, night out, is tough," Lopez said. "[Peja Stojakovic] gave me one good game. He probably bought a motorcycle and fell off it for all I know and kept it quiet. Any guy whose last name can't be spelled shouldn't be on your fantasy team."
Lopez was satisfied with the production of Tracy McGrady, though, even though drafting him seemed to be a gamble at first. "McGrady was the guy that nobody wanted to touch because they thought he'd never make it through the season," Lopez said. "My worst draft choice was Marvin Williams. My best sleeper pick was Rajon Rondo." Lopez also added Al Jefferson as a free agent and said he was "like a baby Kevin Garnett out there."
The real Garnett anchored Lopez's team and helped him achieve one of his finest moments of the season, when he beat eventual league champion Meat Loaf, who is also a veteran fantasy player in many sports.
"That's right, I beat the champion and I'll do it again," Lopez said. "I gave him a whipping and I'll tell him to his face. Beating Will Ferrell was fun, too, because he had the best record in my division. And any time I can beat Samuel L. Jackson, whether it's fantasy basketball, golf, Sunday night bingo or whatever, I take great pleasure in doing so."
Lopez said he enjoyed the trash talking just as much as the fantasy games themselves, which were weekly head-to-head matchups. "I remember Will Ferrell tried to trade me two of his players, whose names I can't even remember, that's how bad they were, for my best player, Kevin Garnett," Lopez said. "I told him, 'If I wanted two clowns I'll go to the circus.'"
Lopez said the trash talking started right away. He received an early phone call from Jackson before the season started. I'm real tight with Sam Jackson, so we talked about the league," Lopez said. "On draft day he left a message on my cell phone that said 'Hey George, this is Sam, stop taking all the brothers in the draft. Aren't there any Mexican players you can take?' He cracked me up with that one."
Lopez said playing fantasy basketball for the first time changed his focus when he attended games in person as well. "Every time one of my player's blocked a shot or got a steal, I'd scream 'that's worth five points!' I couldn't help it," he said. "I'd be at the Staples Center, screaming that out with people sitting behind me thinking I'm crazy. I had a fan tell me, 'Oh my God, a block isn't worth anything.'"
Lopez said despite his busy schedule, he always made time to keep up with his fantasy team. "I watched a lot of 'SportsCenter,'" he said. "I drove my wife crazy. By the end of the season I was talking in my sleep. 'Give me a block! I need another steal, watch out! That's five points for me, hello!'"
Lopez's highly successful TV show has been on the air since 2002, and recently moved into syndication. "People can connect to the show. It's well-written and fun to do as well as watch," Lopez said. "A lot of people who have my same background can really relate to the stories that our show puts out there. You learn a little something in every show."
Lopez's most recent HBO Special, "America's Mexican," premiered in February and is another project that was born from his personal experiences. "I'm a Mexican-American or 'America's Mexican,'" he said. "People never hear our side of how we feel about things in this country. People enjoy it because they see themselves in the material."
Lopez has released four albums heavily based on his personal experiences, including his most recent CD, "El Mas Chingon," which became available in late 2006. Lopez's autobiography, "Why You Crying," is a very personal read that Lopez chose to share with his fans back in 2004. It focuses on his struggles growing up, much as his comedy does.
"It was a once in a lifetime opportunity," Lopez said. "I used to be ashamed of my childhood, but now I am not, so I wanted to share the story with others."
Lopez said he grew up dreaming about being a pitcher for the Dodgers or the quarterback of the Raiders. Lopez said after his first experience playing fantasy basketball, he would be willing to try fantasy baseball, especially if he can represent a charity like owners do in the NBA Cares League. Lopez, who received a transplanted kidney from his wife Ann in 2005, chose to represent the Kidney Foundation. "I have to be nice to them," he said. "I may need another one of these someday!"
Lopez, who is a spokesman for the Kidney Foundation, said he hopes he is invited back for a second season in the NBA Cares league, and he learned a lot of lessons that will help him succeed in 2007-08.
"I learned as the season went on how to play, how to set the lineups each week, and how to let go of guys that I really liked but weren't playing as well as they should have been," Lopez said. "Next season, I hope to make it to the playoffs and see what happens from there."