In 2018 when Juan Toscano-Anderson went to an open tryout for the Santa Cruz Warriors, he noticed Damion Lee right away.
“He was a two-way guy, so I just attacked him,” Toscano-Anderson said. “I picked him up full court, and I think I gained his respect then and there.”
Lee remembers “the local kid” who tagged him.
“Literally every time I got the ball, he was in my jersey,” Lee said.
Lee is the type of player who Googles his teammates. He saw the Sea Dubs roster with a new name on it and started his investigation of Juan: Oakland raised. Played at Marquette. Some injuries, a college career that didn’t work out the way he hoped.
“I always try to look up my teammates, where they come from, do we have anything in common,” Lee explained. “I'm really big on understanding who people are first, before what they do.”
Toscano-Anderson knows he annoyed Lee with the full-court defense, but they both understood an NBA dream doesn’t favor the timid.
A mutual respect was born between two players fighting for a foothold in the league.
They grew as teammates and friends, discovering how much they had in common. They’re only about six months apart in age. They were both raised by single mothers. And they both made the most of their time in the G League to earn full contracts with the Warriors.
To Lee, parts of their stories look like mirrors.
“Juan told me I remind him of one of his best friends growing up, and he reminds me of one of my best friends growing up," Lee said. "So we come from different walks of life, from different sides of the country but there are so many similarities, from basketball, to how we were raised by our moms and surrounding family, and the likeness we see in each other that we see in our best friends.”
Lee and Toscano-Anderson call themselves “Evil Twins.” Lee came up with the name, inspired by the song “Twin Nem” from rappers King Von and Lil Dirk.
“It’s just a little running joke, me and Juan...it's like, both light-skinned, both red undertone, I got the long hair, he has the short hair. I got some tattoos, he has a lot of tattoos, we’re both similar age, similar weight,” Lee said.
“That's my brother,” Toscano-Anderson added. “If I need someone to bounce ideas off, if I need to decompress, he's always there for me.”
Their time together off the court makes the bond stronger. The two friends vacationed in Cabo last year, bringing their significant others along for a couples trip. They celebrated Lee’s 29th birthday last week at a surprise postgame dinner. Toscano-Anderson gave Lee a nice bottle of tequila.
Toscano-Anderson said their friendship helped him survive in the NBA, a place he “thought I knew” but discovered was far different. He trusts Lee with his deepest thoughts.
“You need that. You need that in life, you know, as men we don't express ourselves when we don't find people we can just be vulnerable with. Not only as men, but as Black men. We tend to just kind of mask that stuff.”
Toscano-Anderson continued, pouring out how much he cares about Lee.
“He's been like a breath of fresh air, a beacon of light for me at work. I'm lucky to have someone I'm super cool with on the court as a teammate, but also that'll be my lifelong friend, you know? He'll probably be at my wedding.”
“I just got chills,” Lee said, absorbing the compliments. “I’m just glad that I can call him brother.”
Lee also calls Toscano-Anderson “Juanito.” He’s of the few people in Juan’s life who gets to use the affectionate diminutive.
Toscano-Anderson nicknamed Lee “Bonnet Boy,” laughing as he tells the story.
“He has dreads so he always has them wrapped up. I walk around randomly and say he loses superpowers if you rip his bonnet off!”
Toscano-Anderson pauses. “He probably hates that joke.”
“He’s been calling me that for a little over a year,” Lee said. “There’s one time he texted me and said, ‘Hey Bonnet Boy’ and I’m like hold on, hold on. You can say it in person but don’t put it on paper.”
Lee said it’s nice to have a brother as he gets ready for fatherhood. Lee’s son is due in November. Toscano-Anderson has already given himself honorary uncle status.
“For sure, I'm gonna be the favorite,” Juan states.
Even with Steph Curry as his competition?
“The child gets to decide. Like I said, I will be the favorite.”