They grew into team leaders on the court for the Toronto Raptors. They became great friends off it.
For the third consecutive year, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA all-star game — DeRozan as a starter, while Lowry was voted in as a reserve by the league's coaches Thursday night.
It's the latest accolade for the two, who led the Raptors to the conference final last season and then captured gold together for the United States at the Rio Olympics.
"He's one of my best friends ever," Lowry said Friday morning as the Raptors were preparing to host the Milwaukee Bucks that night. "So I just go out there and we can hang out, we can go to dinner, we can hang out with our families.
"My first year here, I didn't really talk to nobody, DeMar had his own thing going on. I was trying to figure my way out, and he had his thing going on. It just happened to grow, and we became leaders of the team, we took that upon ourselves on the basketball court, and we developed a great friendship off of it."
Lowry said he was preparing his kids for bed Thursday night — "Father duties first," he said — when he learned he'd be playing in the all-star game Feb. 19 in New Orleans.
"This one's different because the coaches voted me in (as a reserve)," Lowry said. "For the coaches to vote you in, it means that they respect your game and respect what you bring to your team."
He had his "little moment of joy," he said, but quickly refocused on facing Milwaukee, and trying to end Toronto's five-game losing streak.
Coach Dwane Casey spoke like a proud father of his two all-stars, who he called the "hub, the core of what we're doing and building here."
"I'm so excited that for the third year in a row we've got representation from our organization. We've got two. It says a lot — they're teammates — for allowing them to be who they are and play their game, and for us to have some success," Casey said. "It all goes back to winning. Winning breeds a lot of that, the kind of program they have developed and worked in the last few years. . . If we were still fighting for the bottom, they wouldn't be in that position."
The fact the two are friends, Casey said, carries over into their chemistry on the floor.
"They know that they need each other, they're good friends off the floor, they're right there at the top because they genuinely like each other," Casey said. "Our team genuinely likes each other, they compete on the plane in cards, they hang out and go to dinner, their families are close. It's kind of a family atmosphere, and I think it helps Kyle and DeMar and all the other players who are young parents to have those types of relationships."
Casey's comments about chemistry were timely considering the splintering of other teams around the league this week.
With the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers mired in a slump, LeBron James decided to vent publicly. James expressed his unhappiness with the construction of the team's roster and questioned Cleveland management's commitment to win a second championship.
In Chicago, Bulls guard Rajon Rondo criticized Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler in an Instagram rant Thursday for questioning the team's desire. Rondo fired back a day after Chicago's stars went off to reporters following a loss to Atlanta. Rondo posted a photo of himself with former Boston teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and referred to "my vets," saying they would "never go to the media."
"It's weird how things can happen," Lowry said on the NBA drama. "If it happened (in Toronto), we would handle it. Luckily we have a great group of guys, we go out there, we know what our jobs are, and we try to get it done."
Added Casey: "I'm happy to say we don't have that. Again, I think a lot of that should stay in the locker-room. We all have issues but I think our guys are good at keeping it in and keeping it to ourselves.
"And it's just like your family. Everybody's got issues in their family, but you don't go to your next-door neighbour and air out your dirty laundry. It's being professional and being tied together because at the end of the day, we've got to go out and compete together out on the floor."