Scroll through Troy Daniels’ Instagram page and you’ll find the familiar beats expressed by anyone in quarantine right now: honesty, courage, confusion, moments of positivity and doubt, and a sense of humor that says, “yeah I’m coping, but who isn’t right now?” The only difference between Daniels’ feed and any other typical basketball fan’s is in his sense of style, which hasn’t fallen off even in the slightest the past six weeks. Sure, there are still sweatpants or shorts days, but Daniels is trying to build himself up from the outside in, and that starts and ends with dressing.
“It gives me something to do,” Daniels says on the phone from his apartment in Los Angeles. “There’s really nothing to do during the day other than read, meditate or go for a run. It gives me something else to do during the day and helps me build my self esteem and confidence back up. Just to know I can put clothes on, look nice, and take pictures. That’s a fun aspect of my day.”
Daniels is living proof that athletes take the phrase “control what you can control” seriously. At All-Star Weekend in Chicago, he enjoys some quiet at a small reception inside the Neiman Marcus on Michigan Ave. Designers and reps mingle with Daniels, Bulls wing Max Strus, and influencers as they browse everything from custom Dolce and Gabbana shoes to limited Off-White collections. With a glass of wine in hand, Daniels seems adept at riding the wave, a skill that isn’t exactly quantifiable but has served him well since leaving VCU in 2013. Embracing his role at every stage, from the Rio Grande Vipers (the Rockets G League affiliate) and Charlotte (where he owns a home) to two years in Phoenix after being traded from Memphis and then joining the Lakers last summer during the run of signings that followed the Anthony Davis trade.
“Over the course of my whole career I never try to get too high and never try to get too low,” Daniels says. “I understand the business of the game. Once you understand how things work and continue to keep working, the best is yet to come for you. It sounds so cliché, but at the end of the day, that’s all you really have you to do. Some things you really can’t control. Some things you can. So, I try to focus on the things I can control and continue to focus my mindset on something totally different than whether I’m going to get traded or cut or move to another team. I never focus my energy on that. I’m really just happy at the moment because I understand there’s 450 jobs in the NBA out of how many people who want to play in the NBA, and I’m lucky to have one of those jobs.”
Sprawled out on a couch in Chicago, Daniels allows himself a relieved sigh. Even when everything is uprooted around him, he embraces the challenge and stays in the moment. If that means coming off the bench after a string of DNPs to provide a spark, he’s ready. If that includes keeping his spirits high following a release, searching for a new team, onboarding with a playoff contender in Denver, and then seeing it all shelved in the midst of a global pandemic that has him stuck thousands of miles from his North Carolina house at an apartment with his wardrobe and his game consoles, so be it.
Looking to the past won’t get him anywhere, and it isn’t the mark of an experienced player who, as Davis (and many other stars he’s played with agree) puts it, is “my guy.” Being a beloved teammate, even if he’s not in a place for particularly long, is something Daniels cherishes, and he’s willing to put in the work away from the court to make sure those bonds are formed.
“I look at it a little differently than other players,” Daniels says. “I think it’s very important to take advantage of this platform because it doesn’t last forever. We’re not going to be NBA players forever, and nobody knows how long your career’s going to be.
“I’ve always been that guy looking at other guys saying, ‘Wow, they got this, they got that. How did they get that?’ And I was always grinding, and so I feel like if I grind in the league and also I grind off the court, something good’s going to happen either way, you know what I mean?” Daniels continues. “And you also meet good people that way. My mindset totally has been focused, on obviously I have my own experience in being a journeyman, being the ultimate professional, but off the court stuff, my focus is more on social media. Just simple as when you’re out of practice sitting on the couch, having content to post, or engaging with your fans, stuff like that. If your teammate invites you to a popup or a movie premiere, just go. I’ve learned over the course of my years to take advantage of that. But you also have to make sure to get your work in and don’t get lost in the sauce. That’s part of being a professional.”
Daniels, by his very nature, isn’t someone who takes anything for granted. There’s a certain DNA strain that exists in players who often earn the backhanded compliment of “journeymen.” More recently, the phrase has evolved into “team vet,” an honorary title that goes to guys who ideally are “set it and forget it” when they’re in the game — they aren’t earning rotational minutes on a regular basis unless injuries pop up but help keep the peace, stay level, and enhance that all-important chemistry formula that every contending team looks to replicate.
The Lakers built the end of their bench with those guys in the offseason, from Daniels to Quinn Cook to Jared Dudley, and the opportunity to learn from business moguls like Davis and LeBron and get in meetings in the entertainment capital of the world – even in just a few months – is something Daniels treasured.
“I think what’s meant to be will be,” Daniels says, “but I also think you putting in the effort towards being better, or you put in the effort towards expanding your brand, it can help a lot. You know what I mean? So I think I was destined for this type of lifestyle. I never take it for granted, I know where I came from, but I also live my life with a certain type of confidence too because I know who I am and I know who I want to be. And me personally, I don’t want to be looked at as just a basketball player. And I think LeBron embodies what I want to be, is like everybody knows he’s a basketball player, but I can also do off-the-court things too. I can also sit at a table with billionaires and have a billion-dollar idea. I can also make a movie. I can also be in a movie. I can also be an entrepreneur, a serial entrepreneur.”
For now, it’s important for Daniels to hold onto that confidence and to treat this stretch during quarantine like a run of DNPs. Eventually, there will be some normalcy, even if it’s not exactly the same as what we took for granted in the past. If staying ready is an attribute, it’s one Daniels can continue to practice as he meditates with his electronics off and he allows himself to sit, to really sit and take in the energy around him.
That allows him to let others in a bit more, whether it’s through his new Twitch streams, his dressed up pics, going live on IG, or otherwise. The ultimate vet stays grounded, even in times of crisis, and there’s a calming quality to the posts Daniels puts out into the world, lacking the sheer boredom or thinly-veiled panicked energy that other players exude from their social media presence.
“The ultimate professional is always ready,” Daniels says. “And the way you can stay ready is in the things that you can control. That’s your mind, and that’s what I control. I try to control my mind and go in and do whatever I can to help the team win. And then whatever the case might be, that’s my job, to stay ready at all times. It’s hard to do, man, but I try to find a way.”