GERMANTOWN — Steve Blake has heard the same line for more than a decade, as the NBA careers of three of his former Maryland teammates came to an end.
Now that Lonny Baxter, Juan Dixon and Chris Wilcox are all retired, many fans of a team that went to two straight Final Fours in 2001 and 2002 and won the only national title in the history of the Maryland men's basketball program are more than amazed that Blake is still playing in the NBA.
When the subject was broached last week with the 35-year-old point guard, Blake smiled.
"Should I be retired?" he asked during a lunch break at the summer camp he has run for several years. "I do take it year by year, but when I do look back, I definitely see how blessed I am to have taken the paths I've taken, having grown as a player and understand the NBA to where I can stick around and fit in.
"I've heard it before and it's understandable. Juan was amazing in college, and he had a successful NBA career. Maybe if he had different opportunities he would have played longer, but he had a nice long career. Of course, I would have thought he would have played a lot longer than me. Chris had a long career too, but I'm lucky enough to keep playing a long time too."
Blake will enter his 13th NBA season this fall as a member — at least for the time being — of the Detroit Pistons. Blake, whose career began in 2003 as a second-round draft pick of the Washington Wizards (38th overall), said that he has never used the comparison to his more celebrated Maryland teammates as motivation.
"It's never been that way for me, I've never used the fact that I've been called an underdog, people saying, 'You're not going to make it.' That's not me, that's just negativity," said Blake, who had 972 assists at Maryland, the school record and sixth in NCAA history. "I just love the game, I love playing hard. That's the only reason I keep playing."
Reasons for longevity
Rockville attorney Joel Bell, who has represented Blake for his entire career, said Blake has overcome the perception that he isn't an elite athlete.
"He's an underrated athlete, no one gives him credit for being so fast or quick," Bell said. "They thought he was a walk-it-up point guard who could pass. They don't remember he was the leading 3-point shooter in the ACC his senior year. He has always had the same work ethic that he had when he was trying to make it coming out of Maryland."
Former Maryland coach and Naismith Hall of Famer Gary Williams said even he is "a little surprised" that Blake is still playing because most his age are no longer in the NBA. How many players do who average 6.7 points — finishing in double figures in only one season (11.0 in 2008-09 with Portland) — and 4 assists in a little over 24 minutes a game?
Yet Williams believes there's a good reason why teams are still interested in employing Blake.
"He knew how to run an offense, not just a screen and roll," Williams said. "He was a little more advanced than most people. That's what coaches appreciate. You put Steve into the game and you know what you're going to get. Your team is going to function very well."
Williams believes that Blake's lack of ego has also helped him survive, particularly playing on teams with superstars such as Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson.
"All players in the NBA, you have to have ego, there's nothing wrong with that, but a lot of guys try to do things they can't do, Steve knows what he can do and what he can't," Williams said. "He knows how to play with great players. I read a quote that Kobe Bryant said that Steve Blake was one of his favorite teammates ever."
Kristen Blake, who has known her husband of 10 years since she was a freshman and he was a junior at Maryland, said the combination of humility and hard work has helped in his NBA longevity.
"He will do what's asked of him and that's really valued around the league. Coaches know that about him and they know what they can get out of him is 110 percent," Kristen Blake said. "You don't have to worry about him showing up on a team and having a fit about his role. He's played shooting guard, point guard, coming off the bench, starting, he always does what's asked of him. He never complains."
Blake said he is a different player than the one who came into the league and joined his former backcourtmate, Dixon, with the Wizards a dozen years ago.
"I'm definitely a more mature player," Blake said. "I guess throughout my NBA career, I learned the game a lot. I knew that if I wanted to play a long time I needed to shoot the 3, that was a given. But I've always been a pass-first point guard, that's kind of the way I've always played, understanding the NBA concept. I've always understood my role within the teams to do my job well so they would want to keep me around."
On the road again (and again)
After two years with the Wizards, Blake began the ultimate NBA road trip.
In 2005, Blake signed as a restricted free agent with the Portland Trail Blazers, the first of three separate stints in a city that has become the adopted hometown for Blake and his family, which now includes three sons, ages 5, 6 and 8.
Blake spent a year in Portland, split another between Milwaukee and Denver (playing with Iverson) and then nearly three more in Portland. He played the end of the 2010 season with the Los Angeles Clippers and then signed his biggest NBA contract — four years for a reported $16 million — with the Lakers.
Bryant was instrumental in bringing Blake to the Lakers after a regular season finale in which Blake recorded the first triple-double of his career in what was then a rare win for the Clippers over their Staples Center landlords.
"They'd just won two championships and I was thinking that I was going to be able to get a ring. I had other options as well. Nothing's given. I love my experience there, but we didn't win a championship," Blake said.
After finishing the 2013-14 season with the Golden State Warriors, Blake signed a two-year, $4.2 million with the Trail Blazers, hoping to close his career in a city where his parents and one of his sisters also now live.
It didn't happen.
On the day of this year's NBA draft, Blake was traded with draft choice Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to the Brooklyn Nets for Mason Plumlee and second-round draft pick Pat Connaughton, the Orioles' pitching prospect. On July 13, he was traded to Detroit for Quincy Miller.
"It's the first trade that's a shock to the system a little bit," Blake said. "When you're planning on staying somewhere or you want to stay somewhere and you really have no say in the matter and you find out you have to go somewhere else, it's tough for you professionally but mostly for the family. The second one I kind of knew it was coming so it wasn't a total surprise."
Blake said he would like to play at least two more years.
"I'm not worried about the next contract, that's not an issue for me at all," Blake said. "You think about that when you're younger, if your stats aren't right you get stressed about that. Now it doesn't matter what my stats are, it doesn't bother me, which is kind of nice."
Retirement hasn't entered his mind, though he knows he is moving closer to the inevitable.
"I never really thought about it," he said "This past year I've had more of an understanding that I'm down to a couple of years. I know it's coming, but it's not a thought that's continually in my head."
As for his post-NBA life, many — including his former college coach — believe that Blake would make a great coach. Given the success that other NBA role players have leading a team from the bench — Steve Kerr of the world champion Warriors is the latest example — Blake might be the perfect candidate.
"When you look around, point guards become coaches because they have to know where everybody belongs," said Williams, who was a point guard at Maryland. "I think he could be an outstanding coach, but he's had a long grind as a player and whether he wants to continue that type of thing, as his kids get older ... . The great thing for Steve is that he's put himself in a [financial] situation where he can do whatever he wants."
Said Blake, "I'm very interested in it. I think about it, but you never know if the opportunity will be there. Coaching is hard work, I totally understand how much work and travel it is. I'm not sure when I retire I'm going to jump right back into a hectic schedule."
Blake was one of the coaches at the NBA's top 100 camp for high school players in Portland a couple of summers ago and NBA general managers, in a poll by NBA.com before last season, voted Blake behind only Clippers star Chris Paul as the "most likely to become a coach" when their careers are over.
Kristen Blake doesn't know exactly what her husband will be doing when he retires, but knows that coaching is something that interests him.
"I know he would be an amazing coach, but I know he wants to spend a lot of time with his kids because he's missed almost every birthday, Christmas play, almost everything they've ever done in the past nine years," Kristen Blake said. "I know he's really looking forward to being around more. I think it's going to come down to what's a good fit for him. He's not going to be able to step away from the game. He's such a gym rat."
Blake's ultimate road trip
Washington Wizards (2003-05). Drafted in the second round, 38th overall. Made 15 starts in 119 games, averaged a little over 5 points in about 17 minutes a game. Came off the bench with former Maryland teammate Juan Dixon.
Portland Trailblazers (2005-06, 2007-2010, 2014-15). Had the most success of his career in second stint, becoming a full-time starter in 2007-08 and averaging a career-high 11 points and shooting nearly 43 percent on 3-pointers in 2008-09.
Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets (2006-07). After averaging just 3.6 points and 2.5 assists while playing 33 games for the Bucks, Blake started 40 of 49 games with the Nuggets alongside Allen Iverson, averaging 8.3 points and 6.6 assists.
Los Angeles Clippers (2010). Finished the 2009-10 season with the then-lowly Clips after being traded by Portland as free agency approached. Played in 29 games, but saved his best for last, with first triple-double in win over Lakers.
Los Angeles Lakers (2010-14). Signed the biggest contract, a four-year deal for a reported $16 million. Played mostly behind Derek Fisher early on, but had his most productive stretch when Fisher retired and Kobe Bryant was hurt in 2013-14. Blake started all 27 games he played, averaging 9.5 points and 7.6 assists in 33 minutes a game.
Golden State Warriors (2014). Finished the last 29 games of the season playing a limited role behind Stephen Curry. Was not re-signed after Warriors signed Shaun Livingston to be Curry's backup last season.
Detroit Pistons (2015). Acquired by the Brooklyn Nets in June, Blake was traded to Detroit in July.