Mike Trudell | @LakersReporter
Easily the brightest surprise of what hasn't been the easiest of NBA seasons for the Lakers has been the emergence of Earl Clark.
The lanky, 6-10 forward with guard skills went suddenly from an apparent add-on in the Dwight Howard trade to Mike D'Antoni's starting power forward. Injuries to Jordan Hill, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in early January gave Clark his chance to show what he could do, and at San Antonio on Jan. 9, the 25-year-old exploded, amassing a 22-point, 13-board double-double.
He's heard his name announced next to those of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash over loudspeakers across the NBA ever since.
What he can do on the court has been apparent through his 8.0 points and 6.2 boards with nearly a block and a steal per game. We spent some time with Clark during the last road trip to offer a glimpse at what he's like off the court.
Below is a transcription of that conversation:
MT: So Earl, your nickname is Eazy. I assume it's spelled with a Z, right?
Clark: Yup, you got it.
MT: Figured. So, who gave it to you?
Clark: I got it when I was traded to the Magic, and Q Rich (Quentin Richardson) started calling me that, and then Jameer (Nelson) and Dwight (Howard) and everybody. Q Rich gave everybody nicknames; he never called anybody by their actual names. He called Jameer Meer Meer, and he'd call Dwight Debo from "Friday." Growing up, most of my friends called me E-5 because I used to wear that number growing up, and they still call me that back home.
MT: You were born on Jan. 18, 1988, in Patterson, New Jersey. Also born on that exact date: British DJ/rapper Ironik, and German tennis player Angelique Kerber (at least according to Wikipedia). Born the next day? JaVale McGee. Just thought you should know.
Clark: That's cool. I've never heard of that rapper, but I guess I'd better check him out, right? He must be good. And I've never really played tennis, but I think I should. I think it can help your defense the way you have to slide, so you can cut people off. It might be rough on your feet getting blisters and stuff, but I'll have to try it.
MT: Were you good at any other sports growing up?
Clark: I played football in middle school. I got a few MVP's for our team, the Plainfield Vikings, but I quit because we'd always have practice in the summer when I'd be playing basketball. All my friends and I ever did was play basketball, chase girls and play basketball. We'd play tag, ride our bikes, but mostly just play.
MT: Before you start your Ironik kick, what are you listening to these days?
Clark: I'm listening to the new Nas album, "Life is Good." I listen to a lot of Jay-Z, Jadakiss, Beanie Sigel and stuff like that. I like real music that's actually talking about something. I like the craft of rap – artists saying something clever instead of just looking for a hook. I like when guys are trying to kill something on a verse, when they're competing with other rappers.
MT: The real MC's. Can you rap? I can't.
Clark: Well you know, everybody raps – joking around with their friends and stuff to kick a freestyle, but I'm not really nice at it. I'm not that good at it.
MT: Very humble. Here are some other things that happened in 1988, Eazy: "Yo! MTV Raps" debuted; "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" was the top grossing movie; gas cost between $0.72 and $0.98 cents; the Lakers beat the Pistons to win the NBA title. Thoughts?
Clark: Man, "Yo!" MTV Raps was cool. That makes me think of my older sister and brother, since they used to have that on growing up. My brother is 29 and my sister is 30; they were always cool to me. My sister taught me a lot, like how to fight by beating me up, and told me never to be scared of anybody. My brother looked after me a little bit but both left the house in their early teens; but they taught me about responsibility and taking care of the people you love. And man, that gas thing is insane! I wish it could get back to that.
MT: OK, this is an important question. What would your call sign be if you were a Top Gun fighter pilot?
Clark: Man … I might have seen it once, but I don't really remember it.
MT: You don't remember the greatest movie of all time? It's OK, not your fault. The fighter pilots all had slick call signs, like Maverick, Iceman, Viper, Jester, Cougar and Wolfman.
Clark: I do like Iceman. My coaches and teammates are laughing at me sometimes, because I'll lay the ball up a lot with a finger roll when I have a dunk. That's what George Gervin used to do; the Iceman had the nicest finger roll.
MT: OK, let's move to 2013. Why do you think Bachelor Sean picked Lindsay and Katherine over Dez and AshLee?
Clark: Who's that?
MT: Ha, just playing... your answer is probably the best one. “The Bachelor" is that big dating show on ABC where the relationships almost never work out because it's all ridiculous.
Clark: Wait, like "Flavor of Love?" That was on when I was in college and I saw it a couple of times. It was funny, but man, people are going too far with the reality TV thing.
MT: Flava Flav! In related inconsequential news – what do you think the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, and Prince William should name their baby?
Clark: If it's a boy, they should name him Fresh Prince.
MT: I agree. Brilliant. Totally with you.
Clark: Now if it's a girl, they can go with Ke-Nya, which is my daughter's name, because she's my princess.
MT: That's very nice. OK. If you could eat one meal for the rest of your life, and one meal only, what would it be?
Clark: I'd have to go with a cheeseburger and fries. That's it.
MT: You might not live very long with that...
Clark: Yeah, but if you can only have one thing, at least it'll be good!
MT: Have you ever eaten anything super weird or gross? Like on that show "Fear Factor," when they have dudes and ladies eating full-sized nasty spiders or scorpions?
Clark: I mean, I'll try things. I've had goat before. But gross stuff … my grandfather made me eat pig feet. I don't know how that stuff gets cooked or prepared. I have no clue. He just brought it around and it looked disgusting. He was like, "Try this!" I was like, what's that? "It's pig feet." That's disgusting. He's from North Carolina, and they used to eat all kinds of stuff like that. I've also had chitlins*, which is some real Southern food; but man, I don't know how they eat that … it smells so bad.
*Chitlins are the intestines of a pig.
MT: Tell us the tale of your first dunk.
Clark: My first dunk was in a JV game my freshman year of high school – just a simple fastbreak dunk. I had some problems with my knees when I was younger because I grew so fast, but when I eventually dunked, it felt so good. I was always rimming out, and couldn't get a full one. Once I got that first one, it was on from there.
MT: Do you remember your first TV crush, like Kelly Kapowski on "Saved By The Bell."
Clark: There was this show called "One on One," and I liked the daughter. It was on UPN, and the dad was a sportscaster; his name was Flex Washington, and his daughter was real pretty. I think her name is Kyla Pratt*.
*IMDB agrees with Clark. Her name was Breanna on the show.
MT: Fair enough. OK, a few questions about your teammates: who's the best and worst dancer on the Lakers?
Clark: The best dancer I'd say is Dwight. He's really into it; he knows all the new dance moves, is watching the videos and knows what's up right when stuff comes out. The worst? Man, I'd have to say (Robert) Sacre. He looks like he can't dance, and has no rhythm. At this age, it's over … he can't really be helped unless you get a "Dancing with Stars" instructor. As for me, I have a lil' two-step, but I don't do too much. I'm too tall to do a lot. I'm always seeing 6-10 guys trying to do some new dance, but it looks crazy. I just keep it simple, pop it a bit, enjoy myself.
MT: The best rapper? It's Pau (Gasol), right?
Clark: Nah, man. Come on. I'd say it's probably (Devin) Ebanks, because he takes it the most serious. He'll go in the studio, and is practicing on the plane, writing raps. Metta (World Peace) is pretty good, too, but I think he just likes to do it here and there. Devin writes every day, and is only getting better. I like a few of his songs. Nobody else really raps.
MT: Isn't Kobe always reciting lyrics?
Clark: Yeah, yeah. Kobe is a big Jay-Z fan, and that's what he's been into the most lately. I haven't heard him rap anything other than Jay-Z this season.
MT: Jay-Z's book, “Decoded," is a great read, by the way.
Clark: Oh for sure, I read half of it. He's legit.
MT: What's the funniest locker room moment of the season?
Clark: Something happens every day, man, but I'd say Darius Morris is the most funny in the locker room. He's always debating something with somebody. Whose draft class is the best, who the ugliest guy on the team … Darius and Jordan Hill are always saying the other one is ugly. Metta and C-Du (Chris Duhon) and Antawn (Jamison) are always messing with Sacre, making him do rookie stuff. Like, "Go get me one blueberry," or "Go get me one strawberry," or they'll just knock the balls of the rack and make them pick them up. Or make sure their towel isn't wrinkled. Jodie's pretty quiet; he doesn't say too much. Dev be rapping. Pau keeps it pretty quiet.
MT: And Kobe?
Clark: Kobe is sometimes in the zone, but he will watch "Court TV" in the lounge area. Kobe and I were watching this recent trial, and it gets you locked in sometimes, you want to see what happens. You gotta check it out! Otherwise, Kobe is always stretching and getting work in, but other times he'll come talk, tell us old stories about winning championships and certain things like that. He'll give good advice, and let us know when to get serious. Then Steve Nash – he's funny, he makes people laugh when he says stuff. He's always got a good comeback if you try to say anything to him. He'll say stuff out nowhere sometimes to crack us up. He's cool, fun to be around, and he has good advice too, like Kobe.
MT: Finally, Earl, what's it been like going from being essentially buried on the bench to being the starting power forward for the Lakers?
Clark: Man, it feels great... I've been waiting for this moment my whole NBA career. I've put in a lot of work in my career. For people to notice that I can play, and to get my teammates' and coaches' trust and for (General Manager) Mitch Kupchak to (notice) … it's great. It's all I ever wanted, just a role on this team, which I got, and I think I'm doing a good job of providing energy, guarding the opponent's best player and rebounding. I'm just happy, man, to have the opportunity. People got hurt, that's the only reason I played, but that's how it happens sometimes. Since then, a lot of people call me now and text me, but those are mostly the people that I don't hit back, because they had doubts in the past. I have to eliminate that out of my life, and keep in contact with the people that have supported me all along. Just keep the positive vibes coming.