THERE ARE a few areas in which you challenge Brook and Robin Lopez—the twin 7-foot sophomores who anchor ninth-ranked Stanford—at your peril. Take trivia about their hero, Walt Disney. You will not stump them. Where did Walt grow up? "Born in Illinois, moved to Marceline, Missouri," says Brook, as he sits on steps inside Maples Pavilion. Donald Duck's first cartoon? "The Wise Little Hen." When did Steamboat Willie come out? "November 18, 1928," he says, shooting you a withering who-doesn't-know-that? look.
A few days later Robin stands on the court before practice. When did Pirates of the Caribbean open at Disneyland? "1967," he says. Space Mountain? "1977." What was the name of Disney's first animation partner? "Ub Iwerks," says Robin. You might as well have asked him how many dwarves hung out with Snow White.
The Lopezes, whose fascinations extend to comic books, Greek mythology and Michael Jackson, are equally comfortable handling all comers in another precinct: the paint. Brook, who was piling up a team-high 19.1 points and 7.9 rebounds a game, along with 2.1 blocks, is a likely NBA lottery pick whenever he chooses to turn pro. Robin, who was averaging 9.4 points, 5.9 boards and a team-leading 2.2 blocks, is projected as a second-round choice. Would-be scorers, however, are hard-pressed to distinguish between them. Last year the brothers rejected more shots (118) than seven Pac-10 teams; at week's end they were helping to hold opponents to just 38.2% shooting and 57.8 points a game, propelling the Cardinal (21--4) into the Top 10 for the first time in coach Trent Johnson's four-year tenure.
"They're just big!" says Oregon coach Ernie Kent, whose Ducks were crushed 72--43 at Maples on Feb. 7. "They seem more like 7'6" because their arms are so long. The more basketball they play, the better they seem to get."
When the twins square off one-on-one or face each other in practice, they can be so fiercely competitive that "we have to keep an eye on them and change matchups," says assistant coach Doug Oliver. "They start pushing and shoving, and they won't call fouls on each other." But when they are on the same team, they are just as rabid in their support of each other. When Brook made a decisive block near the end of a 67--66 win over Arizona last Saturday, Robin leaped off the bench and roared louder than anyone. Yet Brook is quick to say, "Robin is the best shot blocker I've ever seen."
Their mutual inspiration is Disney, a man they became enchanted with while living in Southern California for their first seven years. They don't just know facts about Walt's work, they have opinions. As they sprawl on a couch in Maples before practice one day, wearing matching flip-flops, they explain why they believe traditional animation is superior to the computer-generated form. "It's really hard to create expressive humans that you can relate to with computer animation," says Robin, an incurable doodler and prospective studio art major who is taking a class in traditional animation. "They haven't been able to get it right yet, so a lot of movies have really stylized humans and cartoonish animals."
"That's why they've done toys and fish and stuff like that," adds Brook, who plans to be a creative-writing major. Together the brothers dream of one day starting an entertainment enterprise a la Walt. Says Brook, "Our strengths complement each other."
TESTS PERFORMED on the day they were born (April 1, 1988) were inconclusive, so the twins don't know if they are identical or fraternal. While they both have angular features and basso profundo voices and are nearly matched in weight—Brook is 260 pounds, Robin 255—they aren't hard to tell apart. Since elementary school Brook has kept his hair short and Robin has worn his, well, bigger. If you see a floating cinnamon cloud, that's Robin underneath.
Brook is the more extroverted brother off the court and the more easily frustrated one on it. ("I'm the angrier twin," he says, laughing.) Though he has the unmistakable dimensions of an NBA power forward, he can play with guardlike finesse, which is not surprising since he grew up emulating the game of Arthur Lee, who was an AAU teammate of the twins' oldest brother, Alex, before becoming an All-America point guard at Stanford in 1999. (Brook even wears Lee's number 11.) "Brook can do anything he wants," says teammate Kenny Brown. "He has a great touch. He's not going to blow past you, but he will fake you and move, and he always finishes."
The game seems to come easily to Brook, which may explain why he sometimes takes plays off in practice. His coasting got him in trouble last spring when he stopped going to class and stopped turning in papers, resulting in subpar grades and lost eligibility for the fall quarter. As a consequence he had to sit out the first nine games of the season. (Stanford went 8--1 but lost to Siena on Nov. 17.) "I was just being lazy," says Brook. "I had to get back to doing what I was doing before and be accountable."
Robin, a true center who admired the play of Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Tim Duncan while growing up, is consistently diligent in practice—his nickname is Beast—and more comfortable on the defensive end, where he prides himself on "not letting anyone score when I'm around the basket" and being physical. "Robin is the [twin] who is more likely to dunk because he's so ferocious and tenacious," Brown says. "He's particularly impressive in making blocks from the help side." On offense, adds Johnson, "Robin's not polished or as confident as Brook, but he is very capable. Quite frankly, I'd like him to be more selfish."
"They're both better athletically than you'd expect people that big to be," says Arizona interim coach Kevin O'Neill. "They catch the ball well; they're not afraid of contact; they can run. They have a whole package of qualities that's hard to find in a big guy."
Even before Brook became the first twin to start developing those qualities—he taught himself to dribble at age two and made his first 10-foot shot at four—the twins got their first mention in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. A 1990 article on high school basketball mentioned Alex, who was a 6'9" eighth-grader at Porter Junior High in Granada Hills, Calif., at the time, and his then 21-month-old brothers, who were already attracting the attention of recruiters because they were projected to reach 7 feet.
Extraordinary height and athleticism is nearly a given in this family. The twins' mom, Deborah Ledford, who was an elite swimmer in her teens—at 16 she swam the second-fastest time in the world in the 400 individual medley—is 6'3/4", and her three brothers are between 6'8" and 6'10 1/2". Her 6'7" father, Bob Ledford, was once a pro basketball prospect. (In 1949 he turned down a tryout with the NBA because he could make more money teaching school.) The twins' 6'5" father, Heriberto Lopez, whom Ledford divorced in 1994, played baseball in his native Cuba, and his late 6'3" cousin Marcelino Lopez pitched on five major league teams between 1963 and '72. Alex, now 31 and 6'10", played four years of Division I hoops, and their 6'7" brother, Christopher, now 26, played through high school.
After Robin eventually followed Brook out to the driveway to learn the game, the four boys would often split into teams: Brook with Alex, and Christopher with Robin. (The latter two were named for A.A. Milne's hero of the Winnie the Pooh stories, which, as either twin could tell you, became a Disney franchise in 1961.) "Those games were fierce," says their mother. "Their older brothers showed no mercy. They made the twins work."
Alex and Chris were not the twins' only hoops tutors. Another was Ade Kido, a family friend and former high school and AAU coach who lives in Southern California. Kido worked out the twins whenever Ledford could find the time to load the boys into the family van and drive the four hours from Fresno to Brea—about five times a year. Kido emphasized fundamentals like dribbling, passing, jumping and blocking shots—"using the wrist, not swatting with the whole arm," he says. Whenever one of the twins blocked one of Kido's shots correctly, Kido rewarded him with a comic book from a list of titles the boys had helpfully provided.
Afterward they would go to Disneyland, although not as often as the boys would have liked. Following the divorce, Ledford raised the four boys alone on a schoolteacher's salary, moving her family from Southern California to Oak Harbor, Wash., near the University of Washington, where Alex played for two years, and then, when Alex transferred to Santa Clara for his final two years, to her hometown of Fresno, where she still teaches German and math at West Clovis High.
When Brook announced in second grade that he intended to play at Stanford and then the NBA, Ledford, who had earned her degree in German from Stanford in '71, was delighted. She fostered that goal by supporting the boys' interest in sports—both Brook and Robin would star in volleyball and earn McDonald's All-American honors in basketball at Fresno's San Joaquin Memorial High—and encouraging them to develop a wide range of other interests. Brook played the saxophone and Robin the drums, and through middle school and in high school Brook had roles in four plays, including Lieutenant Schrank in West Side Story. (Both twins played marauding Cal students in last fall's Gaieties, Stanford's annual pre--Big Game theatrical spoof.) Literature was another big interest: Even as little kids the twins would cart around weighty tomes like The Odyssey, The Iliad, a German dictionary and an encyclopedia of Greek mythology. "I remember them carrying that encyclopedia around when they were 11," says Chris. "I said, 'You haven't read that, have you?' They had read it from cover to cover."
The twins also have every song Michael Jackson recorded, going back to the Jackson Five era; Brook listens to the King of Pop's 1987 hit Speed Demon before every game. ("They are probably [Jackson's] biggest fans," says teammate Landry Fields, stating what could be both the literal and figurative truth.) They continue to devour video games, animated Disney films and the aforementioned comic books. You could call it research: Along with a few friends, they have created five main cartoon characters they would have star in comic books, animated films and other media that they hope to create and produce. "We've already made up about 25 stories for them," says Robin.
THEIR IMMEDIATE concern is fleshing out a story line that includes challenging for the Pac-10 title and taking Stanford further than its last set of twin towers—Jarron and Jason Collins—did in 2000, when the Cardinal lost in the second round. The Lopezes could use some perimeter help from junior sharpshooter Lawrence Hill, who recently found his groove after a prolonged shooting slump. "We don't really see ourselves as a top 10 team," says Robin. "We think we still have a lot to prove and a lot to improve."
If the Lopezes can help the once unranked Cardinal go deep into March, the story of their season could rival that of one of their favorite Disney features—released on Valentine's Day 1950, nominated for three Academy Awards and traditionally animated (of course)—Cinderella.
As little kids the twins would cart around The Odyssey, The Iliad, a German dictionary and an ENCYCLOPEDIA OF GREEK MYTHOLOGY.
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Photograph by John Biever
DOUBLE DOUBLE TROUBLE Brook (11) and Robin account for roughly a third of Stanford's points as well as its boards.
[See caption above]
KINGS OF POP Brook (left) will be the writer and Robin the artist in their creative pursuits, and Jackson the inspiration.