The most exciting moment of the NBA All-Star Game Sunday night just might be the first moment.
Two brothers, Chicago’s Pau Gasol and Memphis’ Marc Gasol, will square off for the opening jump ball. Marc says it was exciting when he heard they’d been named the two starting centers.
But the Gasols aren't the most surprising sibling story in the NBA.
At a Suns home game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb. 2, there was almost more family on the court than in the stands. Six of the players have brothers in the NBA. Five of them play for Phoenix.
Two Suns players have "Morris" on the back of their jerseys: Markieff and his brother Marcus. Thank goodness for jersey numbers because they’re identical twins, right down to their matching tattoos. Then there are the two guys with "Dragić" on their jerseys: Goran and Zoran.
The foursome makes the Suns the only NBA team with two pairs of brothers.
Similarities And Differences
Goran Dragić has darker hair, so you can tell he and Zoran apart. The age difference between them is three years. It's seven minutes for the Morrises. And the Dragić brothers grew up together in Slovenia like lots of big brothers and little brothers, playing all kinds of sports.
"We try baseball. I mean, when you’re in a neighborhood with your friends, we tried to play every sport that we can. But the main thing was soccer and basketball," Goran said.
But one day Goran got injured playing soccer and decided he just wanted to focus on basketball, and his little brother copied him.
"He go to basketball, and I just decided I’ll come to basketball, too," Zoran said, laughing. "Good choice!"
Zoran followed Goran into pro basketball in the Slovenian league. They were on different teams, but because they’re both point guards, they had to guard each other.
"That was not a good game for my parents because it’s tough to cheer," Goran said.
That competition between them didn't go away, even when they were on playing together on the Slovenian National Team. "If you’re winning, we were cool, but if you were losing, it was his fault. He was saying it was my fault. But I know that’s brothers’ love," Goran said.
The Dragić brothers have a funny way of showing their love, including trash talking in Slovenian.
"They be sayin' some stuff in — whatever. I don’t know what they be sayin', but you know it’s just not supposed to be said. They just compete against each other hard. They really do," Marcus Morris said. "That’s the difference between twins and brothers."
It doesn’t matter that Zoran’s a rookie riding the bench this year and Goran made the jump to the NBA six season ago: they know each other’s game so well that it’s always competitive between them.
More Than One Morris
The other set of Suns brothers — Markieff and Marcus Morris — know each other’s game even better because they’ve almost always been teammates. Growing up in Philadelphia — the City of Brotherly Love [insert groan here] — they were on the same high school team. They both played for Kansas in college.
"There is something when they play together. They got that kind of telepathy. ... All of a sudden one goes up for a shot and if he needs a bailout, he knows where his brother is."Jeff Hornacek, Suns coach
"It was amazing, man. It was just a gift. We was super-excited. We definitely vowed if we could get on the same team that it would be almost impossible to break us up again," Markieff said.
Since the brothers have both been wearing the Suns' purple and orange, Markieff’s game has taken off. His average points per game have nearly doubled. Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek says that's what the Suns were hoping for because they knew that the twin brothers feed off of each other.
"There is something when they play together. They got that kind of telepathy or whatever you want to call it. All of a sudden one goes up for a shot and if he needs a bailout, he knows where his brother is," Hornacek said.
Different Brothers, Different Dynamics
It helps that the Morris brothers play different positions even though they’re identical twins. That’s not the case with the Dragić brothers, who are both left-handed point guards and competing for playing time against each other.
"Goran and Zoran are probably more typically brothers, because they hit each other," Hornacek said laughing. "But the Morrises, they tend to let each other score and not guard and make each other look good. So they’re different in that way."
[sidebar title="Herren's Off-Court Comeback" width="630" align="right"]Chris Herren was a basketball phenom who made the NBA only to flame out because of his addiction to drugs. Today Herren gives talks about his experience.[/sidebar]Markieff’s a power forward, plays close to the basket. Marcus is more of an outside shooter and he’s a better dribbler. That created confusion for Suns rookie point guard Tyler Ennis whenever one of them grabbed a rebound with a chance for a fast break.
"When I first got here, I couldn’t tell them apart. One day I’d play with Marcus and he’d get it and be like, ‘When I catch it you can run.’ I’d play with Markieff the next day, he’s like, ‘Yo, when I catch it, you gotta come back and get it,’" Ennis said. "So, it’s a little different, but now that I can tell ‘em apart it’s blatantly obvious to me which is which."
Last month, the Morrises and the Dragićs made NBA history. For the first time, two sets of brothers were on the floor for the same team at the same time.
And for good measure, the Suns have one more NBA brother on their roster: center Miles Plumlee's brother, Mason, plays for the Brooklyn Nets.
Why So Many Brothers?
Seventy sets of brothers have played in the NBA. So what is it about having a brother in the league?
There are plenty of theories. Some argue genetics. Height and athleticism can run in families.
When one brother begins a selective training program or gets a look from a scout, the younger brother just might get a look, too.
It may have something to do with parenting styles. For instance, kids can be turned off to a sport when their parents compare them to older siblings, but individual encouragement can make a difference.
Or maybe it’s just sibling rivalry, which any brother can tell you about. From the NBA to just playing pickup in the driveway, a lot of brothers might see a little of themselves when the NBA All-Star Game tips off with Marc and Pau Gasol going up for the jump ball. Marc expects it to be a special moment between him and his older brother.
"We understand how hard it is not only to get here, but get here as brothers," Marc said. "It’s just a hard feeling to describe because of how much it means and how many different things are in there."
This segment aired on February 14, 2015.