Thirty-one years ago, Thomasine “Angel” Morris gave birth to twin boys: first Markieff, then seven minutes later, Marcus. They were identical then, and in so many ways, identical now and very close. Markieff says: “We’ve shared a room, shared a bed, shared the bathtub. Shared everything. It don’t get no closer than that.”
They also share this profession, of course. Now starting their 11th NBA season, the Morris twins are introspective, often funny, mostly engaging and respectful … until they lace ‘em up. At that point, they’re long known for being badass, for which they are unapologetic. They are both 6-foot-8 power forwards who’ve had flare-ups and fines but no fisticuffs — nobody’s foolish enough to cross that line with them. Truthfully, the Morris brothers rarely instigate anything, but always respond when provoked.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Jared Dudley, who was teammates with the twins in Phoenix during the 2012-13 season and knows them well, says: “There’s a certain standard of how you’re going to play them. Their approach is, ‘Hey, you can beat me, you can score on me, but you’re not going to bully me or be disrespectful in doing that.’ They understand hard fouls and trash talking is part of the game, and if you bring that to them, they’ll continue it and maybe take it to the next level.”
Much of this is from being raised poor in North Philadelphia by a single mother of six (the other siblings are boys, too: Donte, Blake and David). The neighborhood was unforgiving and kids in that environment either adapt or perish to the streets. The Morris twins learned to have each other’s back, for protection and survival — essentially, Brotherly Love. They embraced football initially, but this being Philly, soon became entrapped by the city game.
They played together in high school and then as a package deal at Kansas, and in 2011 were drafted in the first round, Markieff at No. 13 by Phoenix and Marcus at 14 by Houston. For 2 1/2 seasons they were reunited, as teammates with the Suns (2012-15), before going their separate ways again. The Morris brothers aren’t just enforcers. Marcus is a solid outside shooter, same for Markieff, and good rebounders and defenders as well. Dudley says: “They’re the type of players you want on your team. They’re good people and great teammates and that gets lost sometimes. They get along with everybody in the locker room.”
Now they share the same city, yet separate teams: Marcus with the LA Clippers and Markieff with the Lakers. There was a buzz the Clippers were interested in bringing the brothers together during free agency this fall but Markieff, after re-signing with the defending champs, wisecracked: “That was just talk, man. They were trying to scare the Laker fans.” Which means they’ll only share the Staples Center.
With the season approaching, “Mook” and “Keef” discuss childhood, reputations, their foundation, fatherhood, that takedown of Luka Doncic in the Orlando bubble … and playing in L.A. This is possibly the first Q & A (&A) in NBA.com history. We present the Morris twins, unrestrained.
* * *
Question: Both of you were free agents this offseason. How close did you come to being teammates with the Clippers?
Marcus Morris: (Pause) Well, it didn’t happen so he’s happy where he’s at.
Markieff Morris: This was just the best place for me. Just trying to win back to back. That’s what this is all about.
Marcus, what was your reaction to your brother winning the championship, with the Lakers, of all teams?
Marcus Morris: Him winning was mainly for our family. We’ve been through a lot in this league … it took us back to where we grew up. Coming from where we were, to where we are now, that was a big accomplishment for the Morris family.
Speaking of where you once were, while growing up in Philly, was anyone crazy enough to challenge one of you? Because that meant going through both of you, right?
Markieff Morris: We used to fight m—–f—–s all the time. I’ve been in situations where me and my brother would be fighting back to back, like an undercard and then the main event. You got to fight your way out of the ‘hood.
Marcus Morris: I remember we were in high school and he got into a fight. Everybody was expecting me to jump in. And I didn’t. I said ‘Naw, he can handle his business.’ And he did.
Markieff Morris: After a while they’d leave us alone. M—–f—–s in the league know this, too. This ain’t no gimmick. We’re not trying to make guys scared of fighting us. That’s who we are. Coming from Philly, that’s what you do.
Where did you get your toughness from?
Marcus Morris: Well, my mom raised us to be hard working, get our work done. One thing she don’t like is when we get technical fouls. That bothers her.
Your family home went up in flames when you were in high school. Your AAU team held a fundraiser to help replace your clothes. You moved in with your grandparents in a small row house with no central heat and slept in a basement kept warm by a small kerosene furnace. Do you think about that much?
Markieff Morris: The ceiling in the basement was about six feet from the floor so we couldn’t stand straight up. There were twin beds that we just pushed together to make one big bed. It’s what we had to do at that time. But it was easy for me to sleep in the bed with my brother. We been through worse. It was the sacrifice we had to make.
Marcus Morris: There was really no complaining from us. Just to have somewhere to go, and to have the grandparents I had, that was the best thing. One thing is we don’t feel sorry for ourselves. That’s how we were raised. When that happened, we were like, well, let’s take this basketball thing more seriously. And it all worked out in the end.
Your grandfather was a big influence, right?
Markieff Morris: Yes, he was old school. But it just wasn’t him. We were raised by an incredible mom and grandfather and grandmom. They kept us going the right way.
Have you always been by each other’s side? When was the first time you were apart from each other?
Markieff Morris: Before we went to Kansas, I spent one day of my life without him. It was a senior trip to Myrtle Beach and I didn’t go. That was the only time. Then later on he was going to all the basketball camps, the LeBron camp and a few others, and I wasn’t invited.
Marcus Morris: Man, I remember that day in high school. It was different. First time I didn’t see him. That day taught me not to take anything for granted.
Markieff Morris: When we were drafted by different teams, we went our separate ways. Then when we were both with the Suns, he got traded. But we had been building each other up not to be together all the time. It was going to happen eventually.
Let’s talk about your image in the NBA as players who won’t back down. Totally legit?
Markieff Morris: People don’t put it in perspective that this is our job. We play with passion. No matter how I may look, I’m not angry in real life. I’m angry out here. That’s how everybody should be. What you see on the basketball court with us is totally different than what we are as people.
Marcus Morris: I’m not shying away from it. That’s us. And that’s why people love us. Out of everyone on this (Clippers) team, I probably talk the least. But when we step between the lines I’m about action. I like it that way. You think you know me, but you don’t know me. On the court we’re bad m—–f—–s and off the court we handle our family business like gentlemen.
You’ve both been starters for much of your careers and dependable as well. That sometimes gets overshadowed, I imagine?
Marcus Morris: A lot of people forget that. They think we’re just out there to fight. Man, we don’t last as long as we have in this league unless we can play ball. I was top five in 3-point shooting and averaged 20 points (in New York) before I got here (with the Clippers), and I’ve been averaging over 14 points the last five years. It’s not about what the outside thinks, anyway. It’s about my family, my friends.
Markieff Morris: That other stuff they say about us is just social media talk. Don’t pay that any mind.
There were a few incidents in the first round of the playoffs with Luka Doncic, the Mavericks All-Star, where Marcus was accused of purposely stepping on his shoe and also fined for a rough foul that sent him to the floor. What exactly happened there?
Markieff Morris: Did you see what happened right before that? Luka is physical, too, and he talks a lot and whines to the refs. People see what they want to see.
Marcus Morris: People thought I wanted to fight him. I’m like, dude, trust me. I don’t want to fight this man. I’m happy for him. He’s a great player, a competitor, I have no hate in my heart for him. I wasn’t trying to hurt him. Maybe we might be on the same team one day. The media paints a certain picture and I’m used to it. But hey, I’m a competitor and I don’t regret anything that happens when put in that situation.
Markieff Morris: They want to see Luka do well, we understand.
Marcus Morris: I’m going to bring the same intensity every year, every game. But a dirty player I’m not. I hang my hat on coming to work every day. My teammates know what I’m going to bring, and for 48 minutes, the other team knows I’m going to give them a tough matchup and I’m happy about that.
What if this had happened during the 1980s NBA?
Marcus Morris: They would’ve been laughing. I was made for old school basketball.
What kind of fathers are you two?
Marcus Morris: We never had our dad growing up, so at a young age, we vowed we’d be good fathers and men that our children can look up to. I had my second child, another boy. I want to help him grow and show him the way.
Markieff Morris: I got a daughter now that I love, and if I get another one, I’ll lose all my toughness (laughs).
Your foundation is called Family Over Everything. Both of you are actively engaged in it, with camps for kids while your mom and Marcus’ wife, Amber, take the single mothers out for pampering — pedicures, massages, etc. This hits close to home, right?
Markieff Morris: God and family go hand in hand. That’s all we preach. Our foundation focuses on families in need, single parent families, everything we do is based off family.
Marcus Morris: My mom was always the neighborhood mom, she would always let my friends come over, and she got that from my grandmom. Well, this is what we try to do for others in return. I don’t take credit for doing that foundation. We got that from our grandparents. You want to give these kids hope.
OK, whenever it’s Clippers vs. Lakers that means Morris vs. Morris to an extent. Is that uncomfortable?
Markieff Morris: No. That’s my job, competing at the highest level. He knows that. We’re going to compete. Look, I want him to do fantastic. I want him to do un-freaking believable. But I want to win. If he can score 50, go score 50. And if I’m here on the bench, OK, as long as we win, that’s all that matters. We both want to win but I always want to see my brother do well.
It didn’t happen this summer, but would you both like to be teammates again? In a perfect world, shouldn’t that happen?
Marcus Morris: I would hope so. (But) he’s in a great spot in L.A. and I’m in a great spot in … L.A. (laughs). Well I guess it happened that we’re at least in the same city. It’s fun, man. It’s fun.
Markieff Morris: No matter how it turns out, we’re stuck at the hip.
* * *