Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson sat in the far stall of the visiting Verizon Center locker room (aka, the Washington Mystics locker room), picking through a styrofoam container holding his pre-game meal before facing the Washington Wizards. I approached the former North Carolina All-American and sheepishly asked for his availability to talk. Different players respond in different ways to pre-game media requests, and the process can sometimes be awkward. Lawson’s furrowed his brow, cheeks full of chicken tenders, and sternly responded, “Can’t you see that I am eating?” An uncomfortable rush shot through my body, the last thing you want to do is bother a professional athlete before he takes the court… routines, even those including chicken tenders, can be sacred. But Lawson immediately broke in it to a huge grin instead, “I am just playing, fire away with your questions.”
The diminutive playmaker is a local product from Clinton, MD and honed his skills in the basketball breeding grounds of Prince George’s (P.G.) County. Lawson is breaking out in his third NBA season, his first as a full time starter, averaging 15.7 points (47-percent FGs), 6.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals. More importantly, he’s led Denver to a 14-6 record, which is second best in the Western Conference. On this particular January 20th Friday night, Lawson’s Nuggets would triumph over the Wizards 108-104. He played a key role with 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists, beforehand admitting that he enjoyed being back home and predicting that his local friends and family would be vocal in the game.
“I went home and saw my mom. It just feels good to be back at home. This is where I grew up so I love it … I got [friends and family] too many ticket requests. They will be in the stands. They will make it known that they are here.”
During the NBA Lockout, Lawson chose to play in Lithuania for one of the top clubs in the Euroleague, B.C. Zalgriris Kaunas. About his experience, Lawson said:
“I went overseas and tried to get me some Euroball … It was fun. What 22- or 23-year old can say they were traveling the world at age 23? So it was just fun. I learned a lot of things … different culture, different basketball culture. They like to play more physical over there, pick-and-roll, team game.”
Lawson said his time with Zalgris Kaunas benefited his conditioning:
“It definitely helped me. I lost like 10-15 lbs and was in the best shape of my life.”
He halted the interview session to scold a teammate for stealing his biggest chicken tender and apologized to media scrum for the brief interruption before continuing to describe his favorite places to visit during his Euroball experience:
“Moscow, I went to Borat’s country, Kazakhstan … Germany, I just traveled.”
Lawson was unable to check out Germany’s famous high-speed road system, however:
“I wanted to do the autobahns but that was against my NBA contract, so I didn’t get a chance to go.”
He conveyed a sense of pride from his European travels:
“I feel like I am a little more cultured now. See, I got the Lithuanian flag up there (pointing to the name plate on his locker), I am part Lithuanian now.”
The flags of D.C., Lithuania, and Mexico were taped to his temporary road locker stall (pictured above) and his name was replaced by a moniker, “Chico.” Why? From Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post:
Lawson says he has an alter ego: Chico. That’s the nickname they gave him in Lithuania during the NBA lockout last year. Ty is the guy who just goes with the flow. Chico is the guy who creates the flow for the Nuggets, the guy who could be an All-Star this season.
“He is the tortoise and the hare,” Nuggets assistant coach Chad Iske said of Lawson. “It seems like off the floor, you have to drag him along. He’s so fast on the court all the time that he has to offset it by being so slow off the court. He offsets it by chillin’, I guess.”
“Chico” also relayed a story to Hochman about finding a Zalgris teammate smoking cigarettes in the showers. Not all was smooth sailing overseas for Lawson, as he caused an international basketball stir via social media when some of his Tweets were critical of his Lithuanian club. The misunderstanding could be an example of Lawson’s prankster side coming out, which is revealed in this annectdote from his college days via Hochman’s story:
“Go check your cars.” North Carolina players Tyler Hansbrough, Frasor and a couple of others didn’t know what was going on. Was this some Duke stunt? “Our cars were covered with ketchup, mustard, food,” Frasor said.
One can imagine Lawson the next day, his demeanor so innocent, no one would ever consider him being guilty.
“For two years we didn’t know who did it,” said Frasor, now a video coordinator for North Carolina. “But last year during the all-star break, Ty was in town and finally fessed up.”
Nuggets assistant coach Melvin Hunt calls Lawson the “silent assassin,” lounging but lurking.
“He’ll sneak attack at times, whether it’s your shoes or something may be a little too tight on you,” Hunt said. “Did he just say that? Ty will have you laughing. He brings a group together with his subtle humor.”
Lawson also played with and against John Wall in last summer’s lockout basketball action:
“After the summer, you can see that he can score … I think that he is a pass first point guard right now … He will be able to do both more like Steve Nash, he can score and pass it. I feel like he will definitely come into his own after a couple more years, maybe next year and he will be one of the top players in the league.”
The following video highlights Lawson’s conversation… and do NOT forget about his Mexican side.