Robert Sacre’s “fleur de lis” tattoo adorning both his left arm and bicep hold a little more significance than than rest of his ink. Fleur de lis, in French, means “sacred flower.” Ironically, Sacre’s father’s last name is LaFleur (Flower), but he kept his mother’s maiden name Sacre (Sacred). It’s the stuff of legend, really.
A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the 7-foot, 270-pound center spent the first seven years of his life in the Bayou State experiencing the region’s vast culture as a child. Even when he and his family moved to Vancouver, Canada at a young age, Sacre was adamant about eventually returning to his roots.
“There were many arguments when we moved,” Sacre told Ridiculous Upside. “Just for the fact that when I moved to Vancouver, Canada, even though I loved Vancouver so much, I always wanted to move back to Louisiana. My mom and I would always argue ‘why didn’t we move back?’ I love it here and it’s just a great atmosphere. My family’s all here. Half of my side of family is all here. The food and culture in general … it’s just a great vibe.”
Sacre notes his grandmother’s fried chicken as one of his favorite southern delicacies. Family is among the most important aspects of Sacre’s life. It also played a major role in Sacre deciding to play for the Pelicans.
A week before Sacre received a call from New Orleans management about joining the team in the offseason, he was visiting the city for his grandfather’s funeral. Sacre had plans to scour the NBA landscape as a free agent, but settling down in New Orleans simply made sense.
“It was kind of like ‘Maybe this is what I need to do,’” Sacre said. “I ended up here. It was kind of out of nowhere. After I was down here and for the funeral my family and wife and kids were down here. My wife was like ‘I love it here.’ I get a call a week later saying they’d like me to come down so it was a no-brainer.”
Sacre’s familiarity with the team’s history is a rarity among players joining a new organization. Growing up, Sacre was a devoted New Orleans Hornets fan, idolizing the Baron Davis and Jamaal Magloire-led teams of the early 21st century. He especially had an emotional attachment to Magloire, a fellow Canadian who played center for the Hornets.
Sacre’s not only excited to be a part of this iteration of New Orleans basketball, he has high expectations for the Pelicans this season.
“I think we’re a young team,” Sacre said. “We’re under the radar, which makes us a little bit more deadly. People are definitely not expecting us to be front-runners. We can play offense and we’re a defensive team. The sky is the limit for us. We’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
The Pelicans surprised in a negative sense last season when they failed to build off of their 2014-15 season success and a host of injuries led to a 30-52 record. Finishing last in the Southwest Division highlighted the lack of direction the team was heading in, notwithstanding the injury-DNPs of many players, but the lack of success provided a caveat.
Buddy Hield, the Oklahoma University shooting guard and No. 6 overall pick, immediately gives the Pelicans a potent three-point shooter and an outlet for Sacre to turn to on offense. Sacre acknowledged the early issues Hield might face as a marksman, but noted the rookie’s veteran-like work ethic.
“It’s a little further out than in college so he has to make that adjustment,” Sacre said. “He’s doing that and he’s in the gym early. I tip my hat out to him. He’s working hard and working to get better. I think he’s going to be a tremendous player in this league.”
Hield isn’t the only young, budding member of the Pelicans that Sacre is excited to play with. The center will get to share the frontcourt this season with phenom Anthony Davis.
Davis has developed into a power forward whose tools are extensive on both ends of the floor. He can step out and knock down a three with relative efficiency (32.4 percent last season), attack his man off the dribble and switch onto defenders out on the perimeter.
It allows head coach Alvin Gentry the ability to slot Davis next to any center he chooses. Sacre is a definite option if Davis plays extended minutes in games. So far, Davis has left an early impression on Sacre, who enthusiastically described the All-Star’s positive traits.
“He’s an M.V.P. caliber player,” Sacre said. “He has great hands and great touch around the basket. It’s been a pleasure to work with him and he’s also a great guy. I can’t say anything negative about him. He’s a great personality and a great attitude towards the game, all the time.”
Sacre’s elaborate history with sharing the court alongside stars could be unmatched among players entering their fifth year in the league. As the 60th pick in 2012 NBA draft, Sacre joined the Lakers organization as a determined rookie looking to “fight for playing time and a contract.”
Cutting his teeth with the Lakers, who featured possibly the second greatest shooting guard of all time in Kobe Bryant, Sacre’s DNPs were initially consistent. As his Laker career progressed, he developed into a role player who played important minutes. He embraced Bryant’s mentorship and soaked in the moments he shared with the future first ballot Hall-of-Famer.
Kobe also left an imprint on Sacre’s approach to the game.
“The best thing I learned from him is that you put time and energy into a shot and eventually it will pay off,” Sacre said. “It will pay off, all the work you put in. He just wants to win. You just have to realize that when you come into a gym with him. I’m just blessed to say that I was a teammate of Kobe’s for four years and I learned a lot from him.”
Even in the midst of sharing the same locker room with one of the all-time greats, there were disheartening, arduous hardships for Sacre on the Lakers. Throughout his four-year career in Tinseltown, and the 218 losses (54.5 per year on average) took a toll on Sacre’s patience.
Sacre hates losing. At Gonzaga University, one NCAA’s historic mid-major powerhouses, it was embedded in him that losing “was not okay.” Every season he played in Spokane, the Bulldogs went to the NCAA tournament, cruising through the WCC (West Coast Conference) without a consistent adversary.
Sacre coveted a fresh, new start for the 2016-17 campaign. In New Orleans, Sacre is doing “whatever it takes” to win, whether that’s continuing to be a source of positivity on the sidelines or being a key component in the Pelicans frontcourt.
Signing a one-year, $1.1 million deal in the offseason, New Orleans is betting on Sacre bringing a similar skill set to what he showcased in Los Angeles. In L.A., assistant coach and former player Mark Madsen played an instrumental role in Sacre’s progression.
Madsen acknowledged the center’s intangibles, which stood out for the former three-time NBA champion.
“He’s the type of person you want in the locker room,” Madsen said, sharing the same sentiment as Sacre’s former teammate Steve Nash. “He’s the type of influence you want on young players. Robert’s a guy who defends bigger players [and] a guy you can throw out there to guard some of the league’s most dominant big men.”
Madsen raves about Sacre’s physicality against elite centers. His physicality stands out, trying to disrupt his man with continuous tight defense. Off the bench for New Orleans, Sacre could be expected to stoutly protect the rim and control the paint.
Madsen also highlighted Sacre’s pick-and-roll defense, an area that gets overlooked but has become increasingly popular within NBA offenses.
“One thing Robert is unbelievable at is stripping the basketball from opposing teams’ guards,” Madsen said. “Let’s say another team’s guard is running the pick-and-roll and Robert goes up there to guard the pick-and-roll; he can take the ball away from the other team’s point guard.”
While Sacre pesters guards out on the perimeter, he’s making sure his offensive ability in the P&R stands out as well. The center has been working overtime on making the right reads in the pick-and-roll and playing within the formation as well. Along with being an offensive “role” man in the pick-and-roll, Sacre said that the main thing he worked on this summer was making sure he could routinely knock down the 15 to 17-footers.
Last season, Sacre connected on 62.5 percent of his shots from 10 to 15 feet. Sacre’s mid-range proficiency could be implemented to New Orleans’ playbook, via coach Gentry. Averaging 3.5 PPG in just 12.8 MPG last season, Sacre’s role offensively could be heightened on a team looking for a competent scorer outside of Davis in the frontcourt.
He’s a unique talent among a predominately defensive driven group of bigs. While Sacre can provide versatility handling guards on the perimeter or making post-ups difficult for opposing centers, he has obvious value offensively. Sacre’s in a fortuitous position.
This “sacred flower” has the chance to bloom on the Pelicans and compete for minutes on a team he idolized growing up and now will play for.