Their time apart lasted an NBA season and a half in their nearly 24 years of life. But even that short chapter seemed like an eternity for identical twins Markieff and Marcus Morris. Now reunited with the Phoenix Suns, they are on a united mission to remain teammates the rest of their NBA careers.
"We vowed that we work so hard that it will never happen again," Markieff Morris said. "You never know how it will happen or how it's going to go. We are cherishing this time."
The Morris twins were born in Philadelphia on Sept. 2, 1989. Their bond grew tight from the start as their mother impressed on them to always stay united. After their family home burned down in high school, they slept in two twin beds pushed together in their grandparents' basement.
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Today, the twins have the same tattoos and facial hair. The only distinct difference in their appearance is that the 6-foot-10, 245-pound Markieff is 10 pounds heavier and an inch taller. They live in the same Phoenix home with Markieff earning rights to the master bedroom after beating Marcus in "Madden 2013." Markieff used the Dallas Cowboys. Marcus used his hometown Philadelphia Eagles.
"When something happens good or bad, everyone knows who I am going to first [to talk] and who he is going to first," Marcus said. "It's not even a question. I'm going to be right there. He's going to be right there."
The twins landed scholarships to Kansas after stellar high school careers. Marcus averaged 17.2 points as a junior while Markieff averaged 13.6 points. After declaring for the 2011 NBA draft following their junior years, Markieff was selected 13th overall by the Suns and Marcus was taken No. 14 by the Houston Rockets.
Suns president Lon Babby unsuccessfully tried to acquire the Rockets' pick to select Marcus.
"We thought their synergy was extraordinary having both together," Babby said. "We had a chance to trade for Marcus on draft night, but the price tag was too high."
Marcus said reality hit the day after the draft that he and Markieff would be split for the first time.
"You've been with a guy your entire life and then you realize this could lead to separation for a long time," Marcus said. "We were happy for each other, but there was the thought in the back of our minds that we wouldn't be together."
The twins opened their NBA careers with different success in different uniforms. Markieff averaged 7.4 points and 4.3 rebounds the 2011-12 season with Phoenix. Marcus barely played, averaging 2.4 points with the Rockets. Marcus said his brother's early success made it easier for him to cope with his slow start.
Meanwhile, Markieff stayed in Babby's ear about acquiring his brother.
"He told me every single day to get his brother," Babby said. "They were desperate to play together."
The Suns listened, eventually acquiring Marcus for a second-round pick on Feb. 21. The NBA has had other twins in recent years – Brook and Robin Lopez and Jason and Jarron Collins – but the only previous twins teammates in NBA history were Dick and Tom Van Arsdale with the Suns during the 1976-77 season.
Marcus first heard news of the trade then quickly called his brother.
"It was unbelievable. I couldn't believe it till he got here. I was happy, psyched," Markieff said.
The reunion helped both brothers. Markieff improved his scoring average the final 27 games of last season by nearly three points per game while also increasing his rebounding. Marcus also showed promise, starting in six of his 23 games in Phoenix last season.
Markieff said his brother has pushed him "like another coach" and told him to be more inside-minded offensively. They also prod each other with honesty.
"Imagine a guy playing with you every single game you played your whole life," Markieff said. "You have that connection with each other. It's like a team inside of a team. He's the one guy I know for sure who is not going to sugar coat anything good or bad. I always look to him for confirmation."
Shortly before the start of this season, the Suns exercised the $2.9 million contract options of both brothers for next season. Prior to the decision, Babby, new Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and new Suns coach Jeff Hornacek met with the twins to remind them about the uniqueness of their situation and what they expected from each.
"We told them, 'This is what you guys asked for. This is a one-time opportunity,' " Babby said.
Babby has been yearning for more consistency from Markieff. Marcus pushed his brother to get in the best shape of his career during the offseason. The hard work paid off; Markieff was named the Western Conference Player from Nov. 4-10 after averaging 22.8 points and eight rebounds while leading the Suns to a 3-1 mark that week. Markieff is averaging career highs of 13.1 points and 5.7 rebounds this season. Marcus is averaging career highs of 9.6 points and six rebounds.
Hornacek said the Morris twins have improved their defense and are playing smart together after playing "brother ball" at times.
"Separate, our play is high, but, together, it is amazing," Marcus said.
The Suns still have problems telling them apart. Babby often addresses them individually as "Morris." In uniform, Markieff wears No. 11 while Marcus wears No. 15. But when the brothers aren't wearing their jerseys, media have often mistaken them when asking questions.
"I forgot which game one of them got hurt, Markieff or Marcus, but the other one ran to him," Hornacek said. "Luckily he grabbed the ball on his way over to him for a delay-of-game call. If that happens early in the game, that's OK. But if that happens late in the game, he has to leave his brother and go back on defense."
The Morris twins are appreciating every day they get to play together – knowing the reality of the business could force them apart at any time.
"We enjoy every moment," Marcus said, "but at the same time we try to be as successful as possible to make it last long."