He is—in relative terms in a land of giants—small in stature and raw, magnetic star power. But as days went by and Kyle Lowry appeared absent from the Toronto Raptors’ stay in Naples, Florida prior to their arrival in Orlando, it became increasingly clear who possesses the central gravitational force for the defending NBA champions.
It would be reasonable to wonder why entering the season, considering the 2019-20 campaign appeared a fitting time to begin a passing of the torch to the likes of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet from the 34-year-old. Lowry admitted as much on opening night, when Siakam and VanVleet combined for 68 points as Toronto raised an NBA championship banner to the rafters for the first time.
But while other stars are able to shine bright with supreme athleticism and highlight-reel moves that fade with time, Lowry’s supplements his steady numbers—19.7 points, 7.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals—with doing the little things so much better than anyone that it all adds up to the biggest thing: winning. Lowry’s cerebral power is a lasting one, a solar power-generated force that allows the lights to always stay on; it enables him do everything from buy his team an extra possession on either end via a 2-for-1 or a charge to go back-and-forth with officials over the most microscopic detail of a foul call to be purposefully bratty with the media.
“I think it’s clearly Kyle’s team,” head coach Nick Nurse said after practice Monday. “His care factor is way up there; his intelligence factor is way up. I mean, we’re in good hands with him being the leader of this team…
“When a guy plays the way he does, the leadership by example—that phrase is probably over-used, but it’s certainly the case. For basketball in general, the way you play is like the first kind of characteristic of being a great leader.”
Lowry’s playing style is infectious with his equal parts unselfish and uncompromising manner. Having been away from the court for the past three-plus months, though, he’s also had the opportunity to do the little things that matter off the court. This was the longest he was able to stay at his home in Philadelphia, spend time with family and friends—while being mindful of coronavirus precautions—and consistently be around his kids. He had the chance to put Karter and Kamron to bed nearly each and every night, help them with their schoolwork, and gain further appreciation for his wife, Ayahna, because of how much of a handful the kids can be.
"This time we needed to speak up and needed to do something. For me to be a part of that, that’s who I am. That’s how I am. That’s how I grew up. I grew up a Black man in America."
As the NBA looked to find a way to return, Lowry became an integral part of the process as a member of the competition committee crew with the player’s association. That entailed ensuring players could freely express their opinions not only with regard to their concerns over playing amidst a global pandemic, but also possibly distracting from the social justice movement that has transpired in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Considering the overwhelming majority’s desire to return, it appears the consensus was that the platform the NBA can provide to send messages over the course of the next few months as well as the money that can be earned to further the cause down the line trumped sitting out. Still, Lowry is well aware that there is plenty of work to be done outside of the league’s circle.
“We are in a time where we need to keep that conversation going. We need to be heard from. We need to speak loud and clear,” Lowry said via a Zoom conference call. “We need to understand that things need to be done for the situation to be changed, laws to be changed. Opportunities need to be given for things to be better. It wasn’t just about one person (George Floyd). One person kind of set it off, but a lot of other people have gone through this traumatization of getting killed by police. This time we needed to speak up and needed to do something. For me to be a part of that, that’s who I am. That’s how I am. That’s how I grew up. I grew up a Black man in America.
“It’s definitely a tough thing to grow up that way because you never know what could possibly happen to you. You never know if you’re going to make it out. For me to be able to talk to you guys is a blessing. So, for me to be able to do that, it’s my right, my duty, and my honour to represent the Black culture.”
Lowry worked incredibly hard to make it out and provide for his family and they in turn understand the sacrifice he’s making now to continue to provide the lifestyle they’re able to afford. Being away from them for the next couple months will be difficult, but Lowry also has the benefit of getting a taste for what this will be like when he went to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as part of Team USA Basketball, where the squad lived in a luxury cruise ship for approximately four weeks before coming back home with the gold medal.
“In Rio, it was a lot more strict and tighter because we were only on a boat,” Lowry said. “That experience was pretty awesome—being around those guys—but it kinda really prepared me for this type of living. To live on a boat and be in a smaller room and not have as many amenities, that time really kinda prepared me for this.
“Listen, I’m living good, I’m healthy, my family’s good, I get to play basketball. I can’t really complain. I get meals and I’m happy. I’m able to do my job and provide for my family and to get out there and entertain and try to give some enthusiasm back into the world with our basketball abilities.”
Lowry strongly believes in the NBA’s plan to return despite the rapid increase in Florida’s cases. As someone who has to consider whether or not the environment would be safe enough for his family to join him when player guests are allowed Aug. 30, Lowry has been very satisfied with the protocols in place and health and safety measures.
“I think this thing will work perfectly,” Lowry said. “I think the league, the player’s association has done a great job, a phenomenal job of making sure that we’re doing everything that we can possibly do to make sure that we’re healthy, we’re safe, and we’re in an environment where we can be successful and do our jobs at a high level.”
Looking in peak physical condition and performing like it before the league shutdown, Lowry is set to lead a Raptors team looking to continue proving its doubters wrong and re-establish their claim for the title. Whether it’s setting the table on or off the court, Lowry has proven he looks to lead through action that’s larger than his six-foot frame or status. No matter who’s listening or who’s bringing the white noise, Lowry remains at the forefront of why the Raptors’ bubble of success hasn’t been burst.