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This past weekend, Kyle Lowry appeared in his first All-Star game and did something he hadn't done since 2008: he dunked in a game:
Afterwards, Lowry was very excited about the moment when he spoke to reporters, and overall, it seemed like a great weekend for the Raptors point guard to soak in the fact that he now belongs with the superstars of this league.
Of course, things have not always been smooth sailing for Lowry. Early in his career, he was stuck in an awkward timeshare in Memphis with Mike Conley. After being traded to Houston, he earned more minutes and played well, but clashed with head coach Kevin McHale. His tenacious approach to the game was always there, but not always fine tuned in a way that allowed him to blend in and settle into a leadership role. Still, the Raptors traded a first round pick to acquire him, but it took Lowry sometime here to win over both the fans and his coach.
Last year's surprising success made the city fall in love with Lowry, and he reciprocated that support by re-signing with Toronto in the off-season for four years. This season, Lowry has led the Raptors to a 36-17 record at the All-Star Break, good for second place in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors aren't a championship contender yet, but the franchise is inching closer to that goal than they've been in years.
In a terrific profile from Jonathan Abrams of Grantland last year, Lowry spoke at length about how Chauncey Billups was a huge influence in his maturity:
Billups was at All-Star Weekend in New York and I had a chance to catch up with him.
"I'm extremely proud of him," Billups said. "I've spent a lot of time with him, not just training on the court but off the floor. I mentored him on a lot of different things. He's played well and done a fantastic job. He's the leader of [the Raptors]. So much of what he does is not only a reflection of myself, but all the other people who have spent a lot of time with him."
Billups also pointed out some of the advice he passed on to Lowry.
"To just take ownership when you don't play well," he said. "To take ownership of the rest of the team, to keep his body in shape. I've put a lot of time and effort into him because I love him. He's like a little brother to me."
It may have taken several years in the league, but Lowry has finally turned that tenacity into a trait that defines him for the better, as he aims to take the Raptors further into the playoffs than they've ever been this season.