Looney’s in­spi­ra­tion: Friend who urged him to ‘do bet­ter’

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - SPORTING GREEN - By Con­nor Le­tourneau

Over the past two weeks, as he so­lid­i­fied his spot in the War­riors’ front­court ro­ta­tion, Kevon Looney was dogged by a sin­gu­lar thought: I wish Wati could see this.

Wati Ma­jeed — the best friend of Kevon’s older brother, Kevin — died Oct. 14, two days be­fore Golden State’s sea­son opener, from what Ma­jeed’s fam­ily be­lieves were com­pli­ca­tions from a seizure. He was 28.

In the decade-plus that they knew each other, Looney had come to view Ma­jeed as fam­ily. Sel­dom did Ma­jeed miss one of Looney’s bas­ket­ball games in mid­dle school or high school. While Kevon was grow­ing up, Ma­jeed al­ways vis­ited the Looneys’ house for Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas.

Looney cred­its Ma­jeed for help­ing in­still in him the dili­gence nec­es­sary to reach the NBA, which is why this sea­son has been bit­ter­sweet. Fi­nally, af­ter over­com­ing hip is­sues early in his ca­reer, Looney is a val­ued cog on the back-to-back cham­pi­ons. The only prob­lem is that one of his big­gest sup­port­ers isn’t around to en­joy it with him.

“He was some­one spe­cial to me,” Looney said of Ma­jeed. “Me and my brother al­ways

talk about keep­ing his name alive and al­ways talk­ing about him.”

Hours af­ter he re­ceived his cham­pi­onship ring on open­ing night, Looney posted a photo gallery to In­sta­gram with the cap­tion, “Ring night was amaz­ing wish my bro @mag­nif­i­cent­watt was here to see I know he was look­ing down #rip­wati.” Among the pic­tures was one from June of Ma­jeed, Looney and their friend Daniel Tucker pos­ing with the Larry O’Brien tro­phy in their home­town of Mil­wau­kee.

On Looney’s Adi­das sneak­ers, writ­ten in black marker, are “R.I.P. Wati” and “Long Live Wati.” Golden State’s sched­ule kept him from at­tend­ing Ma­jeed’s fu­neral in Mil­wau­kee, but Looney had a friend speak on his be­half at the cer­e­mony.

“It’s still kind of rough on me,” Looney said. “He was a big fan of NBA bas­ket­ball. He al­ways wanted me to be great and do bet­ter.”

When they first met, Looney was in fourth grade and Ma­jeed was a sopho­more with Kevin at Mil­wau­kee’s River­side Univer­sity High School. Kevin, who had just got­ten his driver’s li­cense, was in charge of tak­ing Kevon to club games, and Ma­jeed tagged along.

Even then, Ma­jeed could tell that Kevon had a shot at great­ness. Af­ter games, Ma­jeed of­ten stopped Looney on the court, giv­ing him im­pas­sioned speeches about reach­ing his po­ten­tial. The crux of his mes­sage — “You don’t do enough” — was the same re­gard­less of whether Looney scored five points or 35.

While Kevon was at Hamil­ton High School, Ma­jeed and Kevin put him through rig­or­some Kevon Looney about his child­hood friend, Wati Ma­jeed ous sum­mer work­outs at area parks. Ma­jeed — who was no taller than 5-foot-8 and didn’t play or­ga­nized bas­ket­ball be­yond mid­dle school — liked to re­mind the 6-9 Kevon — one of the most highly touted re­cruits to come out of Wis­con­sin — that “I could’ve de­stroyed you in my day.”

“He was a hi­lar­i­ous guy, and ev­ery­body loved be­ing around him,” Looney said. “He could al­ways find the funny in ev­eryjust thing. But at the same time, he was def­i­nitely some­body that mo­ti­vated me, pushed me.”

Two hip surg­eries lim­ited Looney’s rookie sea­son in 2015-16 to five games. At least twice a month, Ma­jeed called to check on him, light­en­ing the mood with cracks about cur­rent events or pop cul­ture. When he wasn’t work­ing for a truck com­pany or hand­ing out park­ing tick­ets, Ma­jeed was an as­pir­ing co­me­dian who did film and ra­dio work.

Over the past year, as Looney be­gan to earn a reg­u­lar spot in Golden State’s ro­ta­tion, Ma­jeed of­ten re­minded Looney how far he had come since those sum­mer work­outs in Mil­wau­kee. Though Ma­jeed had long stopped day­dream­ing about reach­ing the NBA, he took pride know­ing that he had served an im­por­tant role in Looney’s path to the league.

Around 6 a.m. on Oct. 15, Looney awoke to a call from Kevin. Ma­jeed, who had been deal­ing with seizures for about six months, died in his home and was found by his mother.

The night af­ter learn­ing of Ma­jeed’s death, Looney had 10 points, 10 re­bounds, two blocks and two steals in the War­riors’ sea­son-open­ing win over Ok­la­homa City. Now, as Golden State sits atop the Western Con­fer­ence stand­ings at 8-1, Looney is the team’s top backup at both cen­ter and power for­ward.

“I wouldn’t be here with­out peo­ple like him,” said Looney, who plans to visit Ma­jeed’s grave dur­ing the War­riors’ trip to Mil­wau­kee in early De­cem­ber. “When stuff like this hap­pens, it just makes you re­al­ize how lucky you are to be alive. … Me be­ing in this po­si­tion, I just try to ap­pre­ci­ate that.”

“It’s still kind of rough on me. He was a big fan of NBA bas­ket­ball. He al­ways wanted me to be great and do bet­ter.”

Cour­tesy Kevon Looney

Pho­tos by Car­los Avila Gon­za­lez / The Chron­i­cle

The War­riors’ Kevon Looney (left) goes up for a re­bound against Pel­i­cans Frank Jack­son and Tim Fra­zier dur­ing the first half of Golden State’s 131-121 win over New Or­leans on Wed­nes­day.

Car­los Avila Gon­za­lez / The Chron­i­cle

Looney warms up be­fore the game while wear­ing shoes with an in­scrip­tion in re­mem­brance of his friend, Wati Ma­jeed.

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