It’s All-Star Weekend, and San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge is shepherding giddy children who barely clear his kneecaps through layup lines at a Jr. NBA event in Downtown Los Angeles. He bends his 6’11” frame at a 45-degree angle and is instantly mobbed by dozens of tiny hands that leap for a high five. We’re in a massive room that fits more than a dozen large basketball courts, each separated by aluminum bleachers. For some reason, an Ed Sheeran song bounces off the walls at an unreasonably high volume. Aldridge wades through it all at his own pace. He smiles, claps his hands, mimes quick dribbling tutorials for the little ones who don’t know the thing they hold was made to bounce, then whispers words of encouragement as they uncoil their tiny bodies trying to heave a regulation-sized basketball 11 feet in the air. Mascots from the Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Los Angeles Clippers randomly slalom on and off the court while Aldridge poses as a very chill traffic cop, directing the kids through various activities as they skip from baseline to baseline. It’s chaos, but Aldridge is at ease. Wearing a navy blue Jr. NBA t-shirt that's long enough to someday be recycled as a shower curtain, gym shorts, and black and white Jordan XII's, he also looks relieved. Coming into the season five months ago, Aldridge faced the lowest expectations of his career. Last year his role on the Spurs was volatile, and by its end his clunky output resembled a bug-infested iOS update. He drifted in big spots and struggled to assert himself inside the very same ecosystem that successfully demanded sacrifice from some of the greatest players who ever lived. San Antonio was a better team when Aldridge sat, and his usage percentage dipped to its lowest point since 2010. But instead of sagging into irreversible decline, the 32-year-old might now be having his best season, taking up the mantle for a team overburdened with injuries to key players. Heading into the break, his 1,209 total points more than doubled the combined output from San Antonio’s second- and third-leading scorers. (The only other player in the league who can make a similar claim is LeBron James.) When we talk, most of Aldridge’s answers are rambling odysseys through a landscape of ideas and issues he has entertained over weeks, months, and, in some instances, years. He’s thoughtful and exhaustive, but not premeditated. He tries out a phrase, then refines it as if tacking a ship to something slightly closer to his truth.
Aldridge: 'I'm probably one of the most misunderstood people in the league'
Vice Sports | Mar 8