SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Kevon Looney had never missed a game before he came to Golden State. Not one.
He figures that’s a couple of thousand consecutive games, all the way back to youth basketball as a boy in Milwaukee.
Looney’s time with the Warriors has been far different, so it’s no surprise how badly he wanted to play all 82 games this season to prove to himself and everyone else that he is healthy again. He promised coach Steve Kerr he would be honest if his body ever needed a break.
“Iron Man Loon,” as they call him, beamed when he received the game ball from the Warriors’ 128-107 victory at New Orleans on April 10 that wrapped up the regular season and the big man’s quest to play the full 82. Only four other players in the NBA did so this season.
“It was just good for my psyche, good for my confidence,” said Looney, who gifted the ball to mother Victoria. “… I wanted to put that in my head that I’m putting all the injury stuff in the past, that I made it to this point, that I can play every game, I feel good and I don’t have to be playing in fear.”
Looney’s emergence as a model of consistency was something these Warriors desperately needed with stars Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson all missing significant time — and veteran Andre Iguodala sitting out for stretches with various injuries.
That durability could become even more critical in the Warriors’ physical series with the Grizzlies. Golden State has already lost Gary Payton II, who suffered a broken left elbow early in Game 2 on Tuesday after a hard foul by Dillon Brooks. Game 3 is Saturday in San Francisco, with the series even at one game apiece.
Looney’s interior defense and rebounding have been keys to Golden State’s latest playoff run.
For five games in the first round, he muscled in the paint with reigning MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. Looney realizes his role changes this round with smaller lineups used against the Grizzlies and he is coming off the bench, vowing to “stay ready.”
That’s how he always did it during that remarkable run of playing every game before reaching the NBA.
There were approximately 1,015 AAU games over 10 years starting in second grade. Another 20 for Samuel Morse Middle School and 100 more at Alexander Hamilton High. Then, Looney played all 36 games during his lone season at UCLA in 2014-15, when he had an NCAA freshman-best 15 double-doubles and helped the Bruins reach the Sweet Sixteen.
Early on as a pro, Looney endured his share of hard luck. He underwent surgeries on both of his hips as a rookie in 2015-16 and played just five games.
“Missing that first season for him was tough,” said Looney’s longtime youth coach, Shelby Parrish, who can’t even recall a single missed practice — and he served on the high school staff, too.
Looney came back for his second professional season to appear in 53 NBA games for Golden State.
A hurt hamstring kept later him out of training camp and the preseason in 2019-20, then he returned only to be sidelined again with a nerve issue. In May 2020, Looney had surgery on an injured core muscle.
Through it all, Looney longed to shed this label he felt he owned as being the injured guy. He has done that.
“He came into the league at 18, 19, back-to-back hip surgeries to start his career,” Kerr said. “He’s worked like crazy to get himself in this position and his durability this year was a key to our regular season for sure.”
Kerr, who still takes great pride in playing all 82 games over four straight years in his career, came close to resting Looney at Toronto on Dec. 18, but the 6-foot-9 center pushed to play. Each time thereafter, Looney reassured Kerr and Rick Celebrini, vice president of player health and performance: “I feel great.”
“I told them I wouldn’t push it and be stupid about it,” Looney said. “They gave me that trust and I appreciate them for that.”
Curry, who has come close on a handful of occasions to playing all 82, witnessed Looney’s determination day after day.
“Only he can probably tell you some of those games he woke up in the morning and was probably feeling it more than others and had to really drag himself to the level of availability that he wanted,” Curry said, ”but the fact that he accomplished that goal is so impressive.“
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