The Los Angeles Clippers were one of the NBA’s biggest surprises a year ago, becoming a scrappy, tight-knit group that embraced its underdog status en route to 48 wins and pushing the Warriors to six games in the opening round. Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell were part of the core group that overachieved rather dramatically to the expectations, and this past summer, they got some major reinforcements in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.
The result was a shift from being underdogs to being the favorites, and at 37-18 at the All-Star break — good for third in the West — they’ve acquitted themselves nicely to a new role even without having their full squad together all that often. Figuring out their identity and rotations has taken some time and that continues with the trade deadline addition of Marcus Morris, but even among all that change, there’s a sense of calm with this Clippers team thanks to the general understanding they all seem to have about their roles.
Harrell is among those thriving this season, averaging 18.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game (both career highs). He’s extremely comfortable in his role as a bench closer — he comes off the bench with Williams but, like the multi-time Sixth Man winner, often is part of L.A.’s closing lineup. It’s not a role everyone can embrace, but Harrell credits Williams with showing him how to take it on as his own and flourish in it.
The results have been pretty spectacular and just prior to the All-Star break, Harrell spoke with Dime on behalf of Reebok, with whom he recently shot a new commercial for their Zig Kinetica sneaker, to talk about the Clippers sudden status as favorites, the importance of fit to success, lessons learned from Lou and Beverley, his constant changing of sneakers on the court, and more.
You’ve long had the underdog mentality and last year’s team really fed off of that and thrived. This year y’all are among the favorites. What’s been the adjustment or maybe more appropriately, what’s been the challenge in making sure you keep that same edge as a team with new pieces and expectations?
Honestly I just think it goes with the guys we have in the locker room, our core guys from that whole overall ordeal from last year. And I just think we added a lot of great pieces to it and have great leadership. Guys in the locker room are guys that have been in that aspect of getting all the way to the Finals and winning it all, from our coach to players. So, it’s really not something that’s hard to do when you have all that in the locker room at once.
You are in the midst of your most productive season of your career. You were always the high energy, bouncy guy at Louisville but the questions about your size and fit as a center pushed you down boards. What have you learned about the importance of the right fit in the NBA and being with a coaching staff and organization that embraces what you do and who you are, because it seems like you’ve really come into your own in L.A.?
I think it is [important], and just having the opportunity and that trust from the head coach all the way down to the staff. You know, guys know what I bring to the floor when my name is called, and I think it’s a testament to how hard I work and putting the time to improve my game. I really don’t tie myself up with a lot of things people focus on and say I can’t do. I know how much I put into my game in the summer. I know how much I want to build my game up and how much I want to keep going as a player, so it really just ties hand in hand. But it definitely goes a lot to the coaching staff and front office for giving me that opportunity to show what I can do.
I know you’re close with Pat and Lou, who are two guys that have embraced a non-starring role about as well as anyone in the league. What have you learned from them about finding your place on a team and doing what you do well as best as you can?
I mean, really they taught me how to be a pro, and doing what you do best for your team. I think the person that really taught me the most about that is Lou. He’s a guy that for numerous years you’ve seen put up numbers after numbers and won multiple Sixth Man of the Year awards, when he could easily go to almost any given team in the league and start, night in and night out. This is what he does, he knows how to score the basketball, but he came into what the teams place him as and that was that position as coming off the bench and being that sixth man player. And he embraced that when he could’ve been one of those people that got mad or looked at it as a sign of disrespect, but no he took it as his own and flourished in it.
And to go with that, with Pat in particular, you were a guy coming into the league where the edge you played with made some folks worry, for lack of a better term. Pat obviously has that edge, what have you learned not just from him but just in your time in the league about channeling that competitive energy making sure it is something positively affecting your play?
It’s just knowing when and what to exert your energy on. You know, we’ve got a lot of plays that happen in a basketball game, some plays good and some plays bad, but you’ve got to know when to exert your energy on the most. So, as long as you’re taking a positive energy, I’d say that’s going to come back around to you. You know, having that energy and playing the way we play the game, it definitely works out in our favor because, you know, it’s all about playing the game the correct way. I’m a big believer in if you play the game the right way it’s going to give back to you the way it’s supposed to. It’s about being able to go out there and put yourself on the floor but also getting lost in the moment of being able to play and being out there with the guys that you go to war with and practice with all the time.
I know a lot of guys have great sneaker collections, but you are one of the few that really brings that collection out to the court. Have you always been a guy that’ll play in anything and everything and likes to change it up?
Yeah, I have been. It definitely expanded once I got to the league. In college I was an adidas athlete playing at the University of Louisville, but at the same time I did it there by playing in all the different varieties of adidas there were at that point and time. So I’ve always kind of been in that mindset and that free feel of swapping shoes and it’s something that I’m passionate about and love doing. It’s just a feel thing, kinda how I’m feeling that night.
You’re partnered with Reebok now, and I know you wore the Iverson Questions earlier this year. How far back do you go with wearing Reeboks and what are some of your favorite Reebok hoop shoes over the years?
Definitely to the Shaqnosis and the Iverson’s. I’m a huge fan of Iverson’s, almost every number he came out with. I think like 1 through 15, if I’m not mistaken. I’m a huge fan of all of em, they were really cool and dope shoes to be able to pull on the court, and something he really put his passion into when they came to creating the shoe. The same way with Shaq. Those are guys that are big time athletes and for them to have their own shoe and go out and also take that passion they have for the game to be able to create their own shoe, it’s amazing. So, I’m definitely a huge fan of both.
What made Reebok a fit for you and a sneaker brand you wanted to partner with?
I think just the passion they have for the game and just surrounding it around not just basketball but the lifestyle and fashion and the culture of the game in general, and they tie it all hand in hand with their brand. I think that’s something that really stuck out to me.
You got to do a shoot for the Zig Kinetica’s today. What did you think of them from the look to feel?
I definitely enjoyed it. It was a fun shoot and definitely was one of those things people are going to be attracted to and enjoy watching it, just being out there with the kids and stuff like that. It’s definitely a comfortable shoe. Once you get it on it’s one of those you can fall in love with as far as the comfortability of the shoe and have it as an everyday walking around type of shoe.