Robert Horry Discusses The NBA’s Global Growth And The Players He Loves Watching In The Finals

As a seven-time NBA champion, Robert Horry doesn’t need to come across bigger than he already is. But in an NBA House event this week in Brazil, Horry showed up (remotely, as you might imagine) to answer questions from fans on a screen that cast his face about three stories high.

NBA House, traditionally an in-person, interactive experience for fans that showcases players past and present as well as live entertainment, started in London in 2012 and has since held eight large-scale events in five countries. Horry, who says he’s been an extended part of the NBA family “since I stepped off the hardwood” has taken part in many NBA events abroad. This most recent iteration, which is being held virtually throughout the NBA Finals, was exciting for him because, initially, it meant he could get back to Brazil, a place he’d traveled to with the NBA in the past and enjoyed. And Brazil enjoys Horry, and basketball, too — the country, which has hosted three out of eight NBA House events, is second among all international markets for NBA League Pass subscriptions.

On a call with Dime, Horry was quick to laugh and spoke candidly about the Finals, his thoughts on the NBA’s growth globally, the changes to the game he and other league alumni talk about when they get together, team building, dynasties, who he loves to watch and what inspires him about the next generation of players, fashion included.

The NBA House Brazil event ended up feeling intimate even though it was remote for you and for the fans. Maybe because you were answering questions directly to the people who asked, and who were watching from their homes. We’ve obviously lost a lot of opportunities for in-person interaction with the pandemic, but we’ve gained some, too. How do you think the rise of virtual events and online community has helped to grown the NBA’s market in Brazil, and globally?

I think has been tremendous because there’s so many times that there are individuals within the NBA organization, past players, that don’t like to travel. So this is the opportunity for them still to tell their story, be a part of the ongoing mission of the NBA to expand abroad and be a part of it. I know I’ve played with a couple of guys who don’t like to travel abroad because they don’t like to fly anymore. You fly so much during your career as a player, you don’t want to fly when you’re out, and it’s quicker. Think about it. You can be in seven countries in one day and never leave your couch, your dining room table or your office. So it’s great for the NBA. And it’s great for the fans because it’s really and truly opened up a whole new marketability for the players, and for the ex players to talk to people like them, get to know them, so they can really get the inside scoop. So to say, own these guys and own these players and not just players, but GMs owners, anybody who’s involved with NBA.

You’ve done a lot of these NBA House events, do you notice if questions change country-to-country? If questions are really wildly different or if all fans share this same, almost global experience, with what they want to know and what they want to ask you?

You have a lot of questions that are the same. For me, there’s always a question about the Hall of Famers that I played with — you know, Clyde, Dream, Kobe, Shaq, Tim, Manu, it’s always those questions. And it always falls back on my mindset, what am I thinking about when I make all those big shots and things of that nature. So it’s usually those questions and they always want to ask, you know, what do I do on my downtime.

The questions are pretty much similar, but every now and then you get a question that makes you think. Because a lot of these questions are asked so many times that you kind of program, and you know what to say, and you’re always appreciative of those that you don’t have to always answer. Like if someone came over and said, “What was your favorite moment in high school?” Then, well, wow, you know, they know the NBA but they want to go deep, dig deep into your past and how you became who you are and your journey to the NBA. So those are the questions that I find really heartwarming and touching, because they put some thought into it.

Well I hope I can touch on something like that.

[Laughs] No pressure, no pressure!

In the media, and I’m sure you’re familiar with this, we talk a lot about the NBA’s evolution — shifts in how the game is played, or the rise of super teams. And something I’ve always been curious about is how alumni like yourself, who have played through several distinct eras, see these shifts. What do you view as an actual change, and what’s more cyclical, kind of like how fashion trends always come back. Since you left the game, what do you view to be real and significant changes, and what do you view as things that look a little familiar, or have made a comeback?

The game is always changing. And I think for the most part, the game has sped up. The game has really sped up compared to when I played. And I think they’re taking maybe 70 to 80 shots a game, where we took like maybe 50 to 60 shots a game. And in that sense it’s a totally, totally, totally different type of game. But overall it’s still the same. The guys are big, tall, athletic. They shoot more threes now. It’s really that each generation, almost every decade, learns from the previous decade and they add something to it. And that’s the thing about the game, it’s always evolving. It’s always reinventing itself. I mean, I should say the players are always reinventing themselves and learning from their mistakes and expanding on their greatness.

That’s what I like best about what’s going on in the NBA, and to be honest with you, there’s nothing that’s harmful in the NBA. The only thing that did come out of the pandemic, that I think should help the NBA and I wish they would go do it, is more of a baseball schedule. Where you go into a city and you play a team twice before you head out, that way you can take some of the stress off of flying with guys. I know fans might not want to see a team back to back, but it’s easier on the players. So who wants to see, you know, a Damian Lillard, two nights in a row because that’s the night you have free. So that’s the great part that I think that came out of the pandemic, and I hope the NBA continues to do that.

I’m curious, in your conversations with other league alumni, what are you guys noticing and what conversations are you having about the league these playoffs?

We just talk about the speed of the game and how we wish we could, or were allowed to do, some of the things they’re allowed to do with the basketball. That’s about it. Because there’s so many things that go into the handling of the rock that we’re like, man, I wish we could have done that [laughs]. The gather step, some people are like, “The gather step? What’s a gather step?” You know, you get an extra step. So it’s the little things that we old heads sit around, like, man, if I could have done that, I could have averaged 10 more points. We always sit around telling a bunch of lies because we probably wouldn’t have been able to average ten more points in our careers anyway, but it’s fun to talk about. Because when the older heads get together, we talk about how we’ve been able to deal with the social media aspect of it. Because you think about it, these guys, from their phones, they can make a million dollars and not even leave their couch. They have such a huge power. We didn’t have that.

And to go back to what you said about fashion. You take guys like Westbrook, just doing what he wants to do. And if we did that back in our day, you’d get joked out of the room. But now, these guys are so headstrong they’re like, you know what? I’m going to make something fashion just because I am an icon.

Are there any looks that you’ve seen on guys that you wish you could steal?

Nah. I couldn’t. I couldn’t rock the shorts like these guys, my legs were too skinny. I couldn’t rock the loud colors because I just didn’t feel comfortable doing it. I’ve been very basic, like I was when I played, you know, just a suit and maybe a tie and keep it moving.

Keep it classic.

Just a classic man [laughs].

Nothing wrong with that. So, you were obviously a crucial part of some fordable dynasties, and you experienced Jordan’s era with the Bulls as a competitor. I’m curious where you stand on dynasties — do you think they’re good for the league, or is league parity better for competition and growth?

There’s nothing wrong with teams that build a dynasty, like the Lakers with Showtime, like the Boston Celtics, like what the Bulls did. But when these guys, you know, say oh we’re friends, let’s play together. And when guys say I want to go play with this team, trade me there. And then all of a sudden, you become a dynasty? I don’t really count that. Cause you gotta get trades, and all this kind of stuff. I don’t think there’s really ever going to be another dynasty, you know, because there’s so much player movement. Think about it. If everybody would have put— if they had a chance to bet a million bucks — bet a million bucks on the New Jersey Nets, I should say the Brooklyn Nets, winning this year but because of injuries, fell apart.

Only a Suns fan and a Bucks fan would have those two playing in the Finals right now. It’s hard for dynasties to step up this day and age, because of the injuries and the player movement, and the things of that nature. I don’t think there will ever be another dynasty because guys want to get paid, guys wanna play close to home, guys want to play with friends. So it’d be hard for that to ever happen. There’s only really been two dynasties in my eyes, that’s the Lakers and the Celtics, the Bulls pulling in a close third.

A lot of stock is put into the NBA Draft as a change-maker for teams, but we’ve seen where things don’t always work out, or where a team decides to draft for fit and uses development like the G League. There’s also trades, which you touched on with players now moving around quite a bit. What are your thoughts on team building?

It’s hard. It’s so hard. Just look at last year, who won, the Lakers won it and then the next thing you know, they got a whole new team the next year. It’s hard to keep players, it’s just extremely difficult. And then you go through the Draft. And for me, I don’t ever say anything bad about the NBA, because everything’s good, but I think the one bad thing about the NBA is that they allow kids to come straight out of high school and go to the G League. I think kids need to spend at least two years in college so they can develop mentally and physically. I know a lot of these guys don’t get to college until they’re 18 and 19, so they’re just a couple of years away from being physically ready.

Because there’s a lot going on, and it’s not just about the physical aspect, but about the mental aspect. There’s so much that goes on with being a professional athlete. I think they need to at least learn a couple of skillsets that you get in college: getting up, going to class, going to practice, having a schedule, a regimen like that. Because once you get in the NBA, you only have one thing to do, let’s go to practice. And then you’re free the rest of the day. You can do whatever you want. If I was the commish — and I don’t care what anybody says, this is my opinion — and I know a lot people will say you’re taking food out of the mouths of kids, but now, with the new rule in college where kids can make money off their name, if you’re that good, you’ll make money off your name in college. Stay two years.

More personally, who do you love to watch?

I’m a big DeMar DeRozan fan. Because this game has become a three ball game so much that guys jack up threes, and to me, that’s street ball. But you watch DeMar DeRozan, and he shoots threes now because everybody has been on him to do it, and I’m like, dude, you average almost 30 points just doing it your way. Who’s to say they’re right? You’re right. Do what you do. I just like the way he plays. He just has a skillset like no other.

And I’m falling in love little by little with [Mikal] Bridges from the Suns. I think because I gravitate towards people who remind me of myself and I watch him play, he can guard anybody on the court, he can shoot some threes, they run no plays for him, he’s just out there balling and doing whatever the team needs him to do. Him and Cam Johnson are the two guys, since I get to actually see them play now, I’m like, wow, I really like these young heads because they remind me of me. They just go out and play. They get no love and no glory from the media, but they just go out and play the game. They always make a difference somehow in some way on the court.