Robert Sacre of the LA Lakers.
Photograph by: Nick Laham, Getty Images
LOS ANGELES — Robert Sacre remembers the day like it was yesterday, a special Sunday afternoon when he and some friends got tickets to see the Los Angeles Lakers play his home-town Vancouver Grizzlies.
It was the 2000-01 season, the Grizzlies' last year in Vancouver, and Sacre was 11 years old.
The Grizzlies lost. They always lost, but it didn't matter. Sacre rooted hard for his team and after the game he and his buddies managed to score some autographs.
"I remember it was an early game and we went to Cardero's (restaurant) afterwards and a few of the Grizzlies' players walked in," he said. "I got Damon Jones' autograph, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's autograph and a couple of others. I still have my ticket to that game. It was one of the coolest things ever."
Almost as cool as actually wearing a Lakers' uniform, which is what Sacre is doing now.
The 23-year-old North Vancouver product, who helped lead the Handsworth Royals to the 2006 B.C. Boys' Basketball Championship at the Agrodome, has cracked the Lakers' 15-man roster. This after being the 60th and final player selected in this past summer's NBA draft.
"I was so fortunate to come to a great team," Sacre said Sunday after the Lakers' practice. "Some people get drafted last and they don't go to the most famous team in the NBA. I was fortunate enough to come to the best team, the most prestigious team, and I am honoured."
As he watched the draft on TV with his family, Sacre wasn't imagining he'd end up here. He had another destination in mind as names other than his own got called in succession.
"When no one is calling my name, I'm thinking China sounds cool," Sacre said with a laugh. "They pay their players. I texted my agent about the 50th pick. I said, 'well, China's cool.' But it really couldn't turn out any better for me. I feel so fortunate. I have Steve (Nash) here, I'm playing with some of the greatest players and the coaching staff have been so good with me. It's just been a perfect situation for me."
Sacre, who played his collegiate hoops at Gonzaga University in Spokane, was born in Louisiana but moved to North Vancouver as a youngster. His athleticism and size -- he's seven feet tall and weighs 260 pounds -- come naturally. His mom, Leslie Sacre, played collegiate basketball at Louisiana State University. His father, Greg LaFleur, is a former NFL tight end.
Sacre impressed the Lakers during the pre-season, when an injury to centre Dwight Howard gave him more playing time. Lakers coach Mike Brown said Sunday that Sacre has just done a lot of little things right.
"He has done a great job in practice battling Dwight," Brown said. "That's the first thing. He has just done little things, he has kind of stayed within his lane and tried to do small things that can help this team take steps forward instead of steps backward.
"He hasn't done anything flashy or anything that has caught anyone's eye, like oh my gosh, he scored 20 and hit five or six turnaround jump shots. He has just been really solid. He has used his size and strength the right way. He almost plays like he is a three- or four-year veteran as steady as he is."
Sacre credits his North Vancouver roots with helping him find success. His mom's side of the family still lives on the North Shore and Sacre returned for a visit just before the Lakers started their training camp.
"I did the Grouse Grind a couple of times, just enjoyed being home," he said. "It was amazing. I wouldn't trade the North Shore for anything."
His mom's work with challenged and disadvantaged youth had a profound effect on Sacre growing up and he has a solid circle of friends, including some of his former Handsworth teammates. A couple of them will be at the Lakers' second game of the season Wednesday night in Portland.
And now that Sacre knows he is starting the season with the Lakers, he can bring his one-year-old son, Quinton, and girlfriend, Vinessa, to Los Angeles.
"I call him the silverback," Sacre said proudly of his son. "The silverback destroys, he's massive. My girlfriend sends me videos of him. He just started walking last week."
Although he is on the 15-man roster, Sacre doesn't figure to play any regular-season games, at least not initially. His work will be done primarily in the gym during practices and that's fine with him.
Hard work is what helped get him here and Sacre said he knows that is what will help him grow into a NBA regular. He points to a tattoo on the inside of his left wrist that reads, "water the bamboo." It's a Japanese-inspired phrase that Sacre says has become a metaphor for basketball and his life.
"The Japanese plant their bamboo and you don't see progression through those first three years," he said. "You water it and water it and every day nothing happens. But in the fourth year, it will grow six feet in three months.
"So the metaphor is I'm going to come into these practices and I am going to feel like poop some days and I am not going to see any progression, I am going to feel like I am dropping, but I know in the future this will all pay off. I just keep saying it to myself, 'water the bamboo.'"
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