SAN FRANCISCO — The day before Kevon Looney produced the best game of his professional career, he sat in the hallway of the Chase Center in San Francisco, thinking about how his role has changed since drafting him from the Golden State in 2015.
This was the team known for the smaller lineup. That’s how they won the championship that year. Despite a wingspan of 6 feet 9 inches, Rooney was considered short.
Rooney grinned at the thought and thought a little more.
Looney said of the way people sometimes talk about the Golden State, “Sometimes it feels like a slap in the face when you say ‘They don’t have a size’.” “When I was in third grade, I could say that I wasn’t big. I am not tall. But these days, it’s the center of an average build, so you don’t feel like you’re small. No longer a big man.”
Looney isn’t usually the most talked about member of Warriors. He was drafted less than two weeks after Golden State won their first championship alongside manager Steve Kerr and was part of a team that made four appearances in a row in the NBA Finals and two championships. After overcoming an initial injury problem, he became an integral part of the Golden State roster, becoming one of only five players to appear in all 82 regular-season games in the league this year.
In this year’s playoffs, Golden State could count on him. He didn’t start in Game 1-5 of the Western Conference semi-final series against Memphis Grizzlies, and then grabbed 22 rebounds starting in the series-confirming Game 6 win.
In Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals Series against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night, Rooney went back 126-117, averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds. It’s his first time scoring more than 20 points in one game since his only season at UCLA. It’s also the first time the Warriors Center has scored more than 20 points and more than 10 rebounds in a playoff since 1977.
“We are seeing the effort he is putting into making it a reality,” said Golden State guard Stephen Curry. “Now it’s just a matter of taking the next step in the playoffs. He brings a lot of joy to what we do in the locker room. I would call him the muse of the locker room. He has a great attitude towards him. He is the bridge between the veterinarian and the young. It’s great to see him adapt to the role.”
Kerr called Looney “everyone’s favorite.”
Forward Draymond Green called him a master of professionalism.
“He’s the same pro he is today, and that’s when he came into the league,” Green said.
Looney may have projected professionalism and coolness on Green, but in fact he was a big-eyed 19-year-old when Looney was drafted.
This team has been running high in the rankings since the championship and his job was to adapt, not stand out. Since he’s the only rookie, there was no one to talk to with whom he had common experiences and what he was supposed to do.
“It was definitely a threat,” Rooney said.
In July of that year, he was in Las Vegas after playing in the NBA’s Summer League tournament. Here, the team has registered a roster of young players and NBA wishlists. The veterans of his team were in Las Vegas for the Players Guild Awards ceremony, and one night Andre Iguodala texted him to bring him some donuts.
“It’s like 1:00 in the morning.” Rooney said with a laugh. “I didn’t even know it was serious. The first day is already scary. I don’t want to mess up my first day.”
He said that he attended the awards ceremony, but when the team went on stage together, he was too shy to be with them. That shyness continued at the beginning of the season as the team went 24-0 with an NBA record 73 wins.
“They used to joke that I didn’t speak for the first six months,” Looney said.
In addition to calling for donut delivery at 1am, Iguodala took Looney under his wings to help him adapt. Green will invite Looney to spend time together to make him feel more comfortable in this new environment.
That was helpful in the locker room, but Looney will have other difficulties. He underwent hip surgery before the start of his rookie season. Then he suffered another hip injury in his second season.
Looney never missed a game in college or high school, and said the injury was “disastrous”.
“We didn’t know what we had.” It was noted that the team did not pick up a contract option for a fourth season because Looney didn’t play much. He went on to say: “And he’s having a great year in his third year. Uh, we might lose this guy.”
Looney was well aware of the questions the organization had about her, but she took comfort in the support of her teammates.
“I’ve always been respected by my teammates, and that’s kept me going, I feel good about myself and I know I’m doing the right thing,” Looney said. “The fans – you’re not playing well, the fans can say you’re not good enough, someone can say you’re not good enough. It doesn’t matter what the stat line is. I want to go out with Loon.’ It is an honor to speak.”
Looney was inactive throughout the playoffs during his first two seasons. However, in his third season he started playing an important role for the Warriors and contributed to the 2017-18 season championship. He often defended the best players.
Now 26, he is a veteran of a team that incorporates young players experiencing their first playoffs. Looney knows what it feels like and tries to guide them through the process.
And if Golden State wins another title this year, it will feel a little more special considering his contribution.
“It will mean a lot to me to make an impact, start a lot of matches, start playoff games, be there for the team and play an important role in the playoff moments,” Looney said. “Closing it and winning and being able to be there for our team would be like a cherry on top.”