Role-Playing LeBron: Inside the Strange World of NBA’s Superstar Stand-Ins

Role-Playing LeBron: Inside the Strange World of NBA’s Superstar Stand-Ins
Mark J. Terrill/Associated PressThere’s no way to replicate the experience of playing against LeBron James in the playoffs. But as the Houston Rockets prepare during their second-round series against James’ Los Angeles Lakers, they’ve found the next-best thing: an undrafted 5’9″ guard.Wait…huh?Meet Rockets rookie guard Chris Clemons, who has been given the prestigious assignment of play-acting…
Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James (23) reacts after bing called for a foul during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Houston Rockets Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Tag J. Terrill/Associated Press

There would possibly possibly be no methodology to replicate the expertise of playing against LeBron James within the playoffs. But as the Houston Rockets prepare in some unspecified time in the future of their second-round sequence against James’ Los Angeles Lakers, they’ve stumbled on the subsequent-most effective say: an undrafted 5’9″ guard.

Wait…huh?

Meet Rockets rookie guard Chris Clemons, who has been given the prestigious assignment of play-performing as James for the scout team, a sequence of stop-of-bench avid gamers who support the Rockets’ starters ride via the plays the Lakers will trail in some unspecified time in the future of the sequence. 

Clemons pretending to be the 6’9″ four-time league MVP, who most of the individuals capture into consideration the ideal basketball participant on this planet? Or no longer it’s no longer as wild because it sounds.

“LeBron in point of fact plays [point guard] more generally than no longer,” Clemons tells B/R. “He’s somewhat grand every thing on the courtroom. He plays a complete bunch of loads of positions. That is what makes him particular. So I’d definitely train being some extent guard helps, ability build-luminous, in attempting to replicate his sport.”

Most coaches exhaust some variation of this tactic in some unspecified time in the future of their playoff practices, and or no longer it’s surprisingly effective.

“In most cases a participant plays critically better when he thinks he’s someone else,” says Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni. “Or no longer it’s wonderful, when we gaze it we are announcing, ‘Why don’t you play admire that every particular person the time?’ We explain them, act admire you doubtless can doubtless be Kevin Durant or whoever. And they plod crazy. They open scoring the ball.

“These guys are extremely talented, although they’re on the scout team or irrespective of you would possibly possibly doubtless well like to name it.”

For most neatly-liked matchups, coaches are regularly reluctant to state how they’re sport-planning for opposing stars. Lakers coach Frank Vogel would possibly possibly doubtless well no longer train who’s standing in for James Harden and Russell Westbrook, however he did sleek that fourth-year guard Quinn Cook did a “somewhat darn licensed” Damian Lillard impersonation in some unspecified time in the future of the Lakers’ first-round sequence against the Portland Path Blazers. 

And Miami Warmth rookie forward KZ Okpala, who has performed 26 NBA minutes over five profession video games, was as soon as tasked with pretending to be reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in practices in some unspecified time in the future of the Warmth’s second-round sequence against the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Rockets' Chris Clemons

The Rockets' Chris ClemonsDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

“In case you doubtless can doubtless be on the scout team and likewise you doubtless can doubtless be a form of developmental avid gamers and likewise you doubtless can doubtless be asked to be one of the most celebrities on this league, those are their popular practices,” says Warmth coach Erik Spoelstra. “I’m no longer going to compare them—or no longer it’s no longer about that—however [Okpala] has some qualities which would possibly be a facsimile of Giannis, and or no longer it’s been ready to support us prepare.”

Clemons potentially would possibly possibly doubtless well no longer play grand, if the least bit, within the Lakers sequence. He regarded in correct one sport of Houston’s first-round sequence against the Oklahoma Metropolis Snarl, in rubbish time at the stop of the Rockets’ blowout capture in Recreation 5. He’s peaceable anticipated to be engaged within the movie room, and his scout-team assignment affords him something to focal point on.

“Or no longer it’s two loads of overview of movie,” says Clemons. “We clearly like our team movie session, where we plod via our sport notion and stuff admire that. But then I in point of fact must plod off on my hold and end a little bit bit of extra work to interrupt down some movie of the guy I’m playing as, to carry up their mannerisms and their inclinations as most effective as I will and strive to mimic it on the courtroom in some unspecified time in the future of these practices.”

Clemons’ assignment adjustments with every playoff matchup. For the interval of the Snarl sequence, he was as soon as D’Antoni’s stand-in for Chris Paul, who at 6’1″ is grand nearer to Clemons’ dimension than James is. Must the Rockets beat the Lakers and advance to the Western Conference Finals, there would possibly possibly be an equal probability he’ll be asked to remodel into excessive-scoring Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray or one of the most Los Angeles Clippers’ two lengthy celeb wings, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.

“[Playing as Paul] was as soon as somewhat easy for me because I will like up most of his stuff already,” says Clemons. “Or no longer it’s no longer about me playing for what I play for on the courtroom. Or no longer it’s more about me giving those guys an correct depiction of what they are going to observe. Or no longer it’s a little bit bit loads of because I’m attempting to focal point on playing admire someone else. But or no longer it’s my job.”

No longer all groups can prepare for playoff matchups on this methodology. With video games every loads of day within the Florida bubble, some groups do now not know their next opponent except 48 hours before the sequence starts. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, on the loads of hand, doesn’t place celeb counterparts to his benchwarmers because he’s jumpy this can plod to their heads.

“I form no longer ever desire someone pondering he’s as licensed as that guy,” Rivers says. “A long time within the past, playing for Pat Riley, we had been playing the Bulls and Pat determined he was as soon as going to employ Bo Outlaw as Michael Jordan. And Bo destroyed us in every apply, after which he started pondering he was as soon as Michael Jordan, which changed into a downside. So I particular support then, If I’m ever a coach, I’m no longer going to end that. We don’t prefer any of our guys pondering they’re Luka.”

[Ed. Note: Rivers and Outlaw were never teammates. Rivers played for Riley on the New York Knicks from 1992 to 1995; Outlaw was a member of the Clippers at the time. However, Rivers did coach Outlaw with the Orlando Magic from 1999 to 2002. He was likely talking about a different Knicks teammate, possibly Bo Kimble, playing the role of Jordan. It’s still a great story.]

Earlier than Spoelstra changed into the Warmth’s head coach in 2008, he spent 13 seasons with the organization as a video coordinator after which an assistant coach. Riley was as soon as hired rapidly after Spoelstra started in 1995, and he brought the apply of deploying a scout team with him from Recent York.

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra

Miami Warmth coach Erik SpoelstraAshley Landis/Associated Press

“When we had been preparing for the Magic, Tag Strickland performed Penny Hardaway in apply,” Spoelstra says. “He was as soon as impossible, with his taking pictures and playmaking and issues that he would possibly possibly doubtless well now not essentially end in his particular characteristic, however when he would ‘be’ this guy, he would possibly possibly doubtless well end it. Those are consistently fun practices for a younger guy as a contrivance to emulate a extensive name participant.”

Or no longer it’s no longer consistently as easy because it sounds. (As D’Antoni places it: “If we would simulate the Lakers in apply, then we would possibly possibly doubtless well be the Lakers.”) But characteristic-playing as the loads of team’s celeb in some unspecified time in the future of playoff practices can support to impact younger avid gamers who’re out of the rotation feel admire they’re contributing.

“Or no longer it’s no longer easy for a guy admire me to be LeBron,” Clemons says. “I correct strive to end my most effective. We’re attempting to apply what guys are going to observe accessible on the ground. For me, that is my impact on the game. I correct strive to end what I like to end for these guys to love an correct representation of LeBron James.

“Our diagram is to capture a championship, so excellent now I’m correct interested in any methodology I will support these guys end that, on or off the courtroom.”

       

View Also:  NFL Teams Who Lost the Most Talent on Cut Day

Sean Highkin covers the NBA for Bleacher File. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon and lives in Portland. His work has been honored by the Pro Basketball Writers’ Affiliation. Apply him on TwitterInstagram and within the B/R App.

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