LOS ANGELES — Steve Blake’s bright red energy drink sat in his locker, half-finished.
The longest-standing current Los Angeles Laker aside from Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol had just been traded right out of his purple-and-gold warm-up gear about an hour before tipoff against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.
Just like that, Blake is on his seventh NBA franchise in his 11-year career. The Lakers traded Blake to the Golden State Warriors for two marginal prospects (Kent Bazemore, MarShon Brooks) who might not be Lakers beyond season’s end—and for obvious money-saving reasons.
Blake probably wasn’t going to be a Laker beyond the rest of the season either, but he and his wife, Kristen, had settled into a comfortable real life in Manhattan Beach. They hosted a Super Bowl party for other teammates living nearby with kids, including Steve Nash and his three children—plus rookie Ryan Kelly and his fiancee, who sort of qualified as kids.
Blake’s initial concern right after the trade went down was the tears that would be shed at home—a home they rent, not own, for reasons beyond his income level.
Kristen Blake, whose Twitter account (@kristenblake2) became a popular follow for Lakers fans, had already expressed her desire for her husband to re-sign with the Lakers this offseason on Twitter. She also shared some of her sadness on Twitter as the trade went down Wednesday night:
Telling your kids daddy can't live with us anymore until this summer is just as heartbreaking the third time around as it was the first two.— kristen blake (@kristenblake2) February 20, 2014
As tremendously exciting as the NBA’s trade deadline is for fans who get swept up in the action, there are real lives at stake here. And even if the players are viewed as just names and numbers with salaries attached, there are often families behind them, as is the case with the Blakes, who have three sons: Nicholas (7), Jamison (5) and Zachary (3).
Kristen and the boys will stay behind in L.A., while Steve begins his Warriors career in the Bay Area. It is a business opportunity for him, no question, to go to a playoff-bound team as he auditions for his next contract. Blake turns 34 on February 26.
Blake thought coming to the Lakers in 2010—with the team fresh off consecutive NBA titles—was a great way to get the pro title he wanted to go along with his college (Maryland) and high school (Oak Hill Academy) national championships.
It didn’t work out, though, with Blake initially being an ill fit in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense and beset by an array of injuries, including some strange ones. (Even now, Blake will be hard-pressed to shoot for Golden State at his usual rate with a bothersome right elbow.)
Blake did make it this far as a Laker after so many stops before, almost to the end of his four-year contract. But the Blakes were plenty worried along the way that it wouldn’t last.
After the lockout ended in 2011, there was awfully good reason to believe the Lakers were going to send Blake out as part of a Dwight Howard trade (especially if Chris Paul had become a Laker) after the Orlando Magic had just lost Gilbert Arenas. Even after that crisis passed, Blake delayed signing a lease on a rental property for his family in L.A. until after the Lakers’ trade exception from Sasha Vujacic’s deal the previous year expired.
There were still plenty of rumors through the years, and the Blakes kept a home in Portland, another of their stops that resonated with them. But amid all the Lakerland tumult, Blake stayed.
He never did achieve the sort of consistency he sought. His family drew some unwanted publicity in the 2012 playoffs when Blake missed a potential winning shot in Oklahoma City, and his wife revealed a Twitter threat toward her: “I hope your family gets murdered.”
Yet he had plenty of memorable moments also, which generated plenty of fun nicknames, such as “Blake Mamba,” “Steve Blaker" and Kobe “Vino” Bryant growing fond of referencing Blake with the Twitter hashtag #vinoblanco. Also, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni came to appreciate that the Lakers’ best ball was played with Blake on the court over the past two years.
And even though Dwight Howard came back to Staples Center for the first time on Wednesday night to face the Lakers and absolutely hammered them, 134-108, Blake was at the heart of both of the Lakers’ top highlights this season.
Blake sunk a buzzer-beating three-pointer off a double pick from Pau Gasol and Nash to beat Howard in Houston in the sixth game of the season. And he overcame several injuries to drill two dagger three-pointers in the Lakers’ victory at Cleveland two weeks ago, despite the team running out of eligible players.
As unimportant as he might seem to the casual fan, Blake became a key glue guy for this Lakers team that is falling apart for all to see. D’Antoni said late Wednesday night that a trade wasn’t a surprise, but he was “more disappointed it was him”—meaning Blake.
“Any team that wants to win,” D’Antoni said, “he’ll be a nice piece.”
The Warriors believe Blake can help them win, much in the same way the Milwaukee Bucks did when they traded for him in 2006—and the Denver Nuggets did in 2007, and the Los Angeles Clippers did in 2010. So he’s on the move again, while his family has to deal.
About a week ago, I talked to Kristen Blake about Bleacher Report doing a larger piece about her family and the real-life strain that trades create in the NBA. She thought it was a good idea but didn't have the time.