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Brook and Robin Lopez Enter the Manga World

The twin brothers and avid comic book readers launched their first manga called ‘Transition Game.’

Robin and Brook Lopez are two distinct figures in NBA history, recognized nearly as well for their playful interests off the court as everything they’ve accomplished over a combined 26 seasons on it.

The Lopez twins are Disney fanatics and avid comic book readers; long before they entered the league and throughout their time in it, they’ve also been storytellers—crafting, sketching, writing original tales in notebooks they hoped to unearth at some point.

Last week, one of their ideas became a reality. It’s called Transition Game, a manga about a 15-year-old basketball prodigy who lives in Japan and is trying to assimilate into a different culture. It’s a personal narrative for Brook and Robin, who helped create it with their older brother Chris and an illustrator named TATSUZ. The first chapter was released on Aug. 2.

On a recent video call, Sports Illustrated had a wide-spanning conversation with the twins about their creative process, different art forms they still want to dabble in, why they love Japanese culture, Brook’s memories from the night Milwaukee won it all, why Robin didn’t watch the biggest game of his brother’s career, whether Robin has resolved his differences with Stuff the Magic Dragon, who the least enjoyable player is to stop at the rim and so much more.

This interview is edited for length and clarity.

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Sports Illustrated: How have you felt releasing such a personal story into the world for the first time? Nervous, anxious, excited?

Robin Lopez: I think a combination of the three. It’s always a little nerve-racking to put your work out there and see what people actually think about it. But that said, I think it’s really a dream come true for all of us. We've grown up on comics, on manga, and to actually be putting out our first issue, it's something that we’ve thought about for such a long time.

SI: What was the genesis of the idea for Transition Game and how long did it take from then until its release?

RL: We've had the germ of this idea in the back of our heads for quite some time. I’d say quite a few years, honestly. But I think we started working on it earnestly within the past three years, I’d say.

SI: And why did you want to tell this particular story in this specific format, as a manga?

RL: There’s a certain energy that you get from a manga that you don't necessarily get from other styles of comics. I think we have a lot of action in this. A lot of slightly exaggerated action on the basketball court and off the basketball court, but also dealing with those emotions: doubt, fear, there’s a little bit of romance. I think it lends itself perfectly to the manga format.

SI: Brook, did you want to jump in?

BL: I think it marries a lot of what we love, too, as fans. We’re obviously huge basketball guys. Huge comic book, huge manga guys. And then if you look at the basis overall, a boy playing basketball in Germany and then moving into this new setting in Japan, where he feels like a fish out of water, he has to get his bearings. It's something that means a lot to us. We didn’t grow up out of the country. We grew up in America, but we definitely traveled a lot. We moved towns, switched schools, switched teams and all that jazz.

Our mom also always had us try new things. She had us traveling in the offseason, when school was out over summer vacation. We’ve been to a ton of countries. It was special to us, so we kind of just tied it all together. Everything kind of just fell into place as we started creating this really cool story.

SI: When did you both first get into manga?

BL: Man, it’s kind of been a lifelong thing. It isn’t as long as traditional American comics, like superhero comics, because that’s what we discovered first. But then from that gateway, this whole world opened and we discovered manga shortly after that. The first manga I probably picked up was just the Star Wars adaptations they made in the mid-’90s. But then from there we found stuff like Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, all sorts of stuff like that.

RL: I think a huge influence for us was Slam Dunk. Back in the ’90s with the Chicago Bulls, the marriage of basketball and comics, that was pretty irresistible to us.

SI: I'm unfamiliar with Slam Dunk. Can you tell me a little bit more about it?

RL: It's the seminal basketball manga. It's done by [Takehiko Inoue]. It’s a high school basketball story. You see some parallels to some of the characters and some of the Jordan Bulls. You’ve really gotta check it out.

SI: I will. To be honest, I didn’t even know what a manga was before I started doing research for this interview. I started reading yours, then dipped into a few others. They’re pretty cool.

BL: They are. What’s great about manga is it’s really diverse. There’s literally something for everyone. They can be about anything.

SI: You two are listed as producers on this project. But both of you love to draw and write a little bit in your spare time. Did you contribute directly with sketches at all and input in the dialogue? Or was it more of a hands-off role?

RL: We definitely contributed mostly with the story, just pitching ideas back and forth. We didn’t necessarily put things down on paper like our brother [Chris] did. But talking about characters, certain story lines. We were very active in the development of those. We're hoping down the line, I think something that would be really intriguing is having a series of backup features in each issue because I know there are a lot of players in the NBA who love manga. And there’s a handful who actually want to develop their own projects. And I think it’d be cool if we could get a backup series going at some point using the talents of different NBA players.

SI: Who are some players around the league who have maybe approached you or you've discussed this with already, who you know have interest?

RL: The first person that comes to mind about making a manga is Daniel Gafford, who I got to know better playing with the Wizards last year. I know he has a couple of really cool ideas that he wants to get down on paper at some point.

BL: Yeah, I’ve experienced the same thing. Two of my teammates, Jordan Nwora and Giannis’s brother Thanasis [Antetokounmpo], are huge into manga. Giannis enjoys it, too, but Thanasis is … my goodness. He might be the biggest manga/anime fan I’ve met in the NBA. On plane rides he’s always watching different animes. He always comes to games with different hoodies or tees with manga characters on them. So he loves it. He’d be all about contributing.

SI: Did you run this project by him and let him know it was coming out when you were working on it? Did Thanasis get a sneak preview?

BL: Yeah, I absolutely did. I let him know when I found out, and so we showed him little screenshots, work-in-progress stuff and things like that.

SI: If you didn’t write a manga about basketball, what would it be about?

RL: That’s a good question because I love superhero comics. And I have some superhero ideas, but two of the formats closest to my heart are kind of the funny animal, like Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson. Walt Kelly stories from like the ’40s, ’50s and early ’60s. And then a lot of European comics. I love Tintin. Tintin is my favorite European comic. Maybe something like that. So maybe some kind of adventure story would be up my alley.

BL: It’s tough because, like I said earlier, mangas have so many different themes and subjects. I feel like a lot of the really great ones have pretty crazy concepts when you look at them. Like, they’re pretty out there and insane. And so we’d definitely have to come up with something that’s wild, big, like, just gigantic. This huge idea that was just so out there, because they’re all like that. You look at One Piece, there’s crazy stuff going on in there.

SI: When you talk or think about what you’ll do after your NBA careers, is this the sort of thing you can see yourself devoting energy to on a full-time basis?

RL: Certainly. I like to think we’d be doing something creative. If that’s in books, television, movies, but particularly comic books are such an early love for us. I think that would be a dream come true, almost just as much as being in the NBA.

SI: You hit on my next question. Is there a novel or a TV show or any other type of project that you both have even conceptually started to discuss amongst each other?

BL: Yeah, there’s all those, honestly. Everything you mentioned we’ve talked about before, and, so it’s really just, I think, getting that focus down on one of those things. Because when you’re brainstorming, you throw out an idea and we might immediately latch onto that idea and go somewhere completely different, away from a basketball manga and just talk about another story. So we’ve been really focused on getting this manga off the ground and getting it going. But there’s always another idea, whether it’s another comic, another manga, a movie or a TV show, or whatever it is, you know, we’re always talking about next ideas.

SI: And it doesn’t have to be about basketball, right?

BL: This is really unique for us, honestly. A lot of our stuff isn’t really basketball-related. I’d say there’s maybe two projects that have … this is mainly basketball and the other one has basketball involved peripherally. But other than that, all the other ones aren’t basketball-related.

RL: It’s funny because we love basketball. And we loved doing Transition Game. It’s a story we’ve wanted to tell for so long, combining our loves of basketball and comics, like we’ve said. But it’s difficult sometimes because people like hearing about other interests [held by] basketball players. But at the same time, they want to hear about basketball from basketball players. So we feel like this is a good starting point for us.

SI: Over the years, I would imagine there are a ton of rough drafts or sketches or foundational ideas that still exist somewhere. Am I right?

BL: Yeah, you are. I don’t want to say there are boxes like in an attic somewhere. But there’s boxes full, some filing cabinets, because we like to keep all that stuff. Like even little scraps we doodle on. I can probably say now that I was in [the NBA’s rookie transition program], in one of the back rows doing a lot of writing in the margins. So I wasn’t really doodling, but I was just writing ideas, writing stories in the margins of the little notebook they gave us. And so we hang on to all this stuff like that. There’s boxes full in our house of just ideas, things we’ve done, things we’ve worked on through all the years. From elementary school to now.

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RL: What’s nice about things like that is you’ll have a little doodle, a little sketch, a little notation from a decade ago. It seemed like a good idea that night. The next morning it seems like a terrible idea. But 10 years down the road, you’re like, that’s not such a bad idea! And you’re looking at it from a fresh perspective, and it blooms into something completely new. We love this story. And we’re so glad we’re finally able to tell it because we’re hoping it’s the start of something for us.

SI: What attracts you both to Japanese culture?

RL: I think the first time going to Japan for us, it was great. That was my first time going to a country where the characters weren’t Latin characters. And I think that was the first part that was so, it was like, wow, we’re really half a world over! Obviously, there’s so much we love about the culture and you hear about manga and anime, but the history, the people, the food. I mean, we really love so much about what they’ve developed in their little world on that little island for so long.

BL: The food, entertainment, pop culture. The people are just super welcoming, incredibly nice and great to talk to. And just the locations. Obviously, the locales are beautiful, outside Tokyo, Okinawa. They actually went to Okinawa, my older brother Chris and Robin, without me. Which is not super cool.

RL: We did it for research for the manga.

BL: That’s an excuse. They were “researching the manga” on this beautiful island, having an incredible time. Yeah, that’s it.

SI: I traveled to Japan with my wife a couple of years ago and think about it pretty much every day. We went to Tokyo, Kyoto and Hakone. It’s such an amazing place.

BL: It’s super beautiful. You know, coming out of college being big Disney fans, when we first went to Japan we were like we gotta go to Tokyo Disney. And so that’s the reason we went. We had a great time at Tokyo Disney. It's a great resort. Tokyo Disney is top-two best theme park in the world. But then we started traveling outside that sphere and really getting into Tokyo and going further into Japan. Kyoto, Okinawa, and it’s just the most amazing country. It really is.

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SI: Brook, I know it was a few weeks ago, but what do you remember most about the night you won the Finals?

BL: So much of it was just super surreal. Everything was happening in front of me, but it felt like it was slightly slow motion at times or going quick at other times. It was really just kind of a blur, but I’ll never forget it. I remember as the clock was winding down I went to find Vin Baker immediately. Vin Baker is my guy. We do a lot of work together. And I know he hadn’t been to the Finals before, so it was a super special moment for him, too. We embraced each other, just talking about how we couldn’t believe it and were so happy that we did this. So proud of one another.

And then I guess going from there I think of being in the locker room next. I was literally just sitting in the very back of the locker room, leaning back in my chair. I was having the cigar and the champagne. I told my mom this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing; I’ll break my lifetime rule for this moment to have a cigar. And then our team masseuse brings me … I have a little Rex out on the table before every game that I kind of rub and I sprinkle the chalk dust on right before jump ball. And so there’s a big Rex in the back. A big stuffed Rex. I’m laying there and our masseuse Liz, we love Rex. That’s our guy. And so she brings Rex to me. I’m sitting there with the cigar, champagne and a huge Rex from Toy Story. And I’m sitting there with those three things. I'm like, wow, this is incredible. This is the most amazing moment, right now, sitting here like this. Like it was just phenomenal. And then my family got to be there, obviously. I was just trying to sit back and watch everything the whole night.

RL: That’s like a deleted scene from Big. I can see Tom Hanks from Big doing that in a deleted scene.

BL: Tom was Woody, so you’ve got something there. I guess.

SI: Robin, were you in Milwaukee when they won the title?

RL: I was watching the Paddington movies that night.

SI: How were they? I have not seen any of them.

RL: They’re both excellent. I mean, you watch the first one, you’re like, that’s pretty good. It captures the spirit of the books. It kinda takes them and even shepherds them into their own form. And then you watch the second one and it gets even better. I mean, they're really impressive pieces of film. They genuinely are. It sounds like I’m speaking in jest, but they’re really well-done movies.

SI: I believe they’re well reviewed. I just haven’t seen them.

BL: [Paddington] 1 is good. [Paddington] 2 is incredible. [Paddington] 2 is really special.

RL: Sally Hawkins is excellent in them.

SI: Did you two speak the night the Bucks won the championship?

RL: About Paddington?

BL: I had to tell him that I was on the Paddington train years before he was. I don’t know when he saw the movies first, but I was there, in my year in L.A. [with the Lakers] when Paddington 2 came out. I saw Paddington 2 in theaters.

RL: I saw Paddington 2 in theaters!

BL: But I saw it like three or four times.

RL: Sorry.

SI: Robin, the immediate connection some made when news broke that you had signed with the Magic was your love for Disney World. How much did that factor into your decision?

RL: I mean, I’m excited to be working with a couple of guys I know. I played with Moe [Wagner] in Washington. I’ve played with [Michael Carter-Williams] before. They needed a vet to come in. I’m hoping I can be one to impart some kind of wisdom I might have lounging somewhere in my brain.

BL: Stop, Robin. Now, are you going to be working with the GM in signing any Disney characters to the Orlando Magic? Who are you gonna sign?

RL: I don’t know if that’s gonna be possible because they’re out in L.A. I’m not sure how that would work.

BL: You couldn’t convince any to come over for that Steph contract he just signed, four years, $200-whatever million?

RL: I’m working on the pinstripe jerseys.

SI: Robin, have you communicated at all with Stuff the Magic Dragon? I know there have been run-ins in the past. Have you smoothed things out?

RL: I have, through an intermediary, a kind of “peace broker.” And it’s gonna be baby steps. But I think at the beginning of the season, I’m hoping we’ll get to the point where things can be somewhat amicable between the two of us.

SI: Speaking as two rim protectors, who’s the one player you least enjoy having to meet at the rim when you see them get downhill with a full head of steam?

BL: I know mine. It’s our guy Russ. Russell [Westbrook] with a full head of Russell steam? Oh, my God, he’s flying. And then he comes in there, arms up, elbows out, rams into you and then somehow throws something up and finishes, too. It’s painful and he scores. That’s the one that immediately popped to mind for me.

RL: I think for me it’d be Eric Bledsoe, and then [Anthony] Edwards in Minnesota.

SI: Really? A rookie, wow.

RL: He’s really strong, but he’s also athletic and he just hangs in the air, so you have to time your jump correctly.

SI: Is there anything I didn't ask either of you that you wish I did or anything else you just want to say?

RL: I’d just say check out TransitionGame.com. We’re gonna have a lot of cool stuff up on there in a little bit. I know that we’re doing a raffle where we’re having people sign some stuff. All you have to do is register at the site, buy the first issue, and you’re entered. So stick with us. We got some cool stuff coming up.

BL: And I hope StudioCanal makes Paddington 3 even better than [Paddington] 2."

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