NBA lottery prospect Lonnie Walker IV isn’t your typical incoming rookie. The 6-foot-4 guard out of the University of Miami is not only one of the most athletic players in this 2018 draft class but a martial arts enthusiast. In fact, he told ESPN that his alter ego on the court is fighting legend Bruce Lee.
Walker is so enamored with Lee that he once used Bruce Lee as his social media handles before being talked into changing it to his real name when he declared for the draft following his freshman campaign.
Chris Haynes: What is your Bruce Lee fascination?
Lonnie Walker: Bruce Lee is just one of those old, famous karate guys that I used to hear around my house every day because my parents, my mom, my father — basically my whole family — watched it. So I really started to think he was one of the coldest dudes. So yeah, just watching him and how my dad used to, whenever he would say a quote, my dad would always pause the movie and explain it. There was always just something deep about it, and ever since then, I was like, this guy is, he’s unstoppable.
More unstoppable than Jordan, huh? Bruce Lee was the icon?
It’s kind of like my alter ego when I played on the court, the more enhanced me. When people see me, it would be like, ‘Oh, that’s Bruce Lee on the court.’ So I started to just use it as a Twitter name for a little bit.
Who would you say if you had to pick the top basketball player of all time?
LeBron, obviously. But I feel like Wilt Chamberlain deserves to be amongst the most athletic people in the game of basketball. If you talk about ability to move and how strong he was, he was really dominating so easily.
People view your natural position probably as a 2-guard. How do you feel you stack up at that position in this draft class?
I think I’m one of the best, in my opinion. You know, I’ve worked really hard to get here, but just the style of play, how much stronger, how much better of a player I am compared to just a few months ago, it’s pretty high up. So my confidence and my mentality make me feel like I rank with the best.
Whom would you say you’ve patterned your game after the most?
There’s really not precisely one person that I resemble my game after. But I watch a lot of Klay Thompson, his footwork and his ability to score off the ball. But also CJ McCollum’s ability to attack and come off of screen and rolls and watch what his man’s doing compared to what the big is doing and being able to get to his spot.
What do you feel like you’ve improved since declaring for the draft?
Everything. I’ve become stronger. I’m more able to dribble and not worry about losing the ball. My ballhandling has increased a lot and, you know, just going left and things of that nature.
What has the draft process been like for you?
I’ve been using the word thrill a lot because it’s definitely one of the words that, like, I can honestly say about this entire month. You know, just flying around playing, working out in front of an abundant amount of teams and talking to them — it’s like a dream come true. It’s pretty surreal.
What has been your biggest takeaway from meeting with all the teams, talking to the different general managers and coaches?
Just all the blood, sweat and tears has finally gotten to this point. But, you know, in order to be better and over-accomplish and continue to get better and better, there’s only one way up. So just to continue to work, and as I continue to work hard, the outcome will be pretty good.
Is there an NBA player that you’ve reached out to for guidance?
De’Aaron Fox. He’s just giving me an ideal visual of how hard it is — the mental game, how much that involves, his perspective. So having De’Aaron around has definitely helped me out since I’m going through what he just went through last year.
LeBron said something during the Finals about how it’s important for players to have a high basketball IQ. When talking about IQ, your name pops up a lot from this rookie class. Where did that come from?
I honestly think it’s from my father, being around him. After every game, having him talk to me for about two to three hours about what I could have done better, play by play. And just from doing that over and over again, knowing what I could have done better.
There’s a few times where I would have a great game, and after the game, you know, he’d be like, you could have had the extra nine more points if you made your free throws and this and that. So he always humbled me after every single game. He showed me and criticized me on how to become a better player, physically and mentally.
I heard you might have some aspirations to get into politics after your playing career. Where does that come from?
It’s just from my father again. You know, it’s just, it’s more than just basketball. And I feel like my starting career at Reading, Pennsylvania, I gathered a community up and tried to make a difference with the youth. I wanted to show the kids where, you know, you can’t let this place where you’re from be an excuse as to why you can’t become something in life. And my dad has always made it something bigger than what it is, and a lot deeper. So I have a huge bent of just, changing the world, I guess you could say.
Will you feel pressure to live up to a certain stature to make sure that your community sees that somebody can come out of where you came from and do something positive?
I don’t really believe in the word pressure, you know, it’s never in my dictionary. I just believe in myself through hard work and dedication that, you know, if I got to this point, why do I have to stop now? It’s always a level of improvement. If you’re not 100 percent from the free throw line or the 3-point line, then you still have things to work on on the court. So I just want to continue to play my game, and I understand that my community, even if it’s bad or good, they’re still going to have my back.
Could you see yourself being a politician down the road?
Not really a politician, like going for mayor or something like that, but just making a change, whether it’s fixing schools or better hospitals or whatever it shall be, just building stuff of that nature, making a difference.
How important is basketball in your life?
It’s beyond important. You know, we just talk about life and how it has helped me. When times were going rough, it helped me out. When times were going even better, it still helped me out, and I was always surrounded by the game. So I’m a bit obsessed, honestly.
Is there a preferred NBA landing spot for you?
Anywhere. I’m coachable in any aspect, any way. And whatever my team needs, in my opinion, I feel like I can do, whether it’s on D or bringing the ball up, rebounding. Whatever it shall be, I feel like I can play a significant role with the team. So you know, I don’t mind getting picked by anyone.
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