Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris can probably count on one hand each the number of times they both really wanted the same thing and their brother stood as the impediment to getting it. Usually, those matters are settled by plopping on the couch, pulling out the joysticks and going at it on either Madden NFL or NBA 2K.
They've used video games to determine who would buy their mother a car or nice piece of jewelry, and Markieff claimed the biggest prize three years ago when Marcus got traded to Phoenix and Markieff claimed the master bedroom at the home they shared after a best-of-seven Madden football battle.
"My room was still nice," Marcus Morris told The Vertical with a grin, "just not as nice as his."
Marcus isn't ashamed to admit that his older brother by seven minutes usually winds up the victor in these duels, but Markieff would never be one to rub it in anyway. The Morris twins don't engage in much trash talk (aside from in video games); don't disagree on much outside of football (Markieff is a Dallas Cowboys fan, Marcus pulls for their native Philadelphia Eagles); and growing up, the duo preferred playing two-on-one against an older brother in the schoolyard rather than compete against each other. Markieff estimates they probably haven't exchanged blows or scrapped since they were about 9 because "it was silly to be fighting your own brother."
"Growing up in north Philly, we always had to stand up for each other, so it wasn't a competition thing," Marcus Morris told The Vertical. "It's, 'Let's do it together, let's be great together and let's protect each other.' "
That sentiment remains the same for a duo that has matching tattoos around the collarbone and wears medallions and sometimes sweatshirts with the initials, FOE, as in, "Family Over Everything." But after some unexpected upheaval in which the Phoenix Suns sent Marcus to the Detroit Pistons last July and Markieff to the Washington Wizards last month, the brothers were placed on opposite sides in pursuit of the same goal of reaching the playoffs. Marcus' Pistons are a half-game behind the Chicago Bulls for eighth and Markieff's Wizards are one behind Detroit.
"Best team win. Of course, I would want to see myself [in the playoffs], but I'd rather see him in than Chicago," Markieff Morris told The Vertical. "I'm definitely rooting for my brother and the Pistons, but if we can get it in, I would rather us get in than them, for sure. Both of us want to go to the playoffs for our first time. Neither one of us has ever been. But if it's one, the other one [will] support."
The bond shared by the Morris twins is obvious to anyone who recognizes the deliberate steps the two have taken to make sure they are almost indistinguishable to a casual observer – from the identical body art to the unkempt beards. But when the Suns traded Marcus to the Pistons last July – only 10 months after the brothers gave what amounted to an extreme family discount in order to play together – the brothers were upset about being separated. But mostly, they felt betrayed.
Phoenix gave the Morris brothers $52 million to split between them in September 2014 – Markieff took $32 million over four years and Marcus accepted $20 million over four years. Once his brother, best friend and housemate were gone, however, Markieff wanted out as well, because he thought the tightest of tight-knit relationships was used to coerce him into signing the contract extension well below market value rather than seeking considerably more as a restricted free agent.
"It was more about the contract and how they went about it," Markieff Morris told The Vertical. "I would've never signed a four-for-32 contract if I would've known they were going to trade my brother."
Caught up in the emotion of being together – "We always want to be on the same team," Markieff Morris said – the Morris twins took a calculated risk because the NBA is a business and contracts always have the potential to be moved if situations change. They negotiated the deal with then-Suns president Lon Babby, who has since been moved to an advisory role so general manager Ryan McDonough could run the day-to-day operations.
McDonough used Marcus to help clear cap space in order to make an ill-fated run at LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency. The trade also was made just four months after the brothers were charged with two counts of felony aggravated assault in an alleged attack on a man outside a health club. The case is still pending.
Though the Suns made no promises the Morrises would always play together, the brothers felt the implied message of what they surrendered financially warranted being treated with slightly more respect. Instead, Marcus was forced to start all over somewhere else and Markieff was stuck counting the days until he was eventually granted his exile from the organization that drafted him 13th overall in 2011.
"Personally, I think he did a lot for Phoenix. He took a lot of sacrifices for Phoenix. For them to do such a thing, I feel like they backstabbed him," Marcus Morris told The Vertical. "I think if they had just reached out to him, reached out to both of us and said, 'Listen, this is our direction. We don't think this is going to work.' We would understand, that's what has to happen but by the fact that they didn't do that, it made it worse. … He just didn't want to be there. He didn't feel the vibe."
Markieff Morris publicly demanded a trade shortly after Marcus got traded and received a $10,000 fine from the NBA. And until a coaching change, Markieff had mostly sulked through a turbulent season that made him expendable. His production declined for the first time in his career. He lost his starting job in December. He received a two-game suspension for engaging in an argument and tossing a towel in the face of then-coach Jeff Hornacek. And he shoved teammate Archie Goodwin in the neck during a dispute on the bench a few weeks before the trade deadline.
"A lot of people think he's not a good guy, or he's not grateful, but it is what it is. People are going to say whatever, make their own perception, no matter what. You could be the nicest guy in the world, people are always going to say something," Marcus Morris told The Vertical. "He had a couple of incidents on the TV, and I think it's because of his passion for the game. But he's a great leader. He's a born leader. Both of us are."
Through their first four seasons in the NBA, Markieff had established himself as the better player, but Marcus has had the most success since the separation, settling into a starting role with the Pistons and averaging more points than his brother for the first time. "I could've thrived anywhere. I could've thrived in Phoenix. I just wasn't given the same opportunity," Marcus Morris said. "This league is all about opportunity. I come here, playing under [coach Stan] Van Gundy, I got a lot of opportunity. I'm happy in my situation and I love my coach, and he's a good basketball mind. I'm happy to be here."
Desperate to make a playoff run after reaching the second round in each of the past two seasons, the Wizards snagged a young, talented forward on a reasonable contract who wouldn't otherwise be available if not for a down year. The Wizards spoke to some of Markieff Morris' former coaches – including Hornacek – and teammates before dealing away a protected first-round pick, Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair. Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley, who both played with Markieff in Phoenix, also vouched for him.
"It's just guys that actually know me and not on the outside looking in," Markieff Morris told The Vertical. "Guys that I've played with and been in the locker room with. Things happened. It's in my past, so all I can do is move forward and learn from it. I'm happy to be here, and to get compliments from those guys means a lot. We're all good friends. We keep in touch and they just know me as a person."
With about 10 minutes remaining before the trade deadline, Markieff Morris admitted that the angst over where he might end up morphed into acceptance that he was going to remain in Phoenix. Practice was nearing conclusion when the phone call came down that Morris was being sent to the Wizards. Suns interim coach Earl Watson gathered the team and told Morris that it was a pleasure working with him and being around him. Morris grabbed some things from his locker-room stall, hopped on his hoverboard and rolled out of the arena, never to look back.
"I had a couple of great years in Phoenix and I really loved it," Markieff Morris told The Vertical. But "we done with Phoenix. Completely."
Farewells don't always go hand-in-hand with family reunions, but Markieff, who was ejected after a Flagrant 2 foul in Washington's win over Philadelphia on Thursday, is now in a place he considers "a second home." His mother, Angel, is from the area and resides about 45 minutes from Verizon Center in neighboring Prince George's County, Md., where her sons now own a place. The brothers weren't going to stop being close simply because they weren't teammates. They still speak to each other every day, no experiences left unshared. But those conversations don't include any taunting or bragging, though Markieff has more access to their mother's shrimp Alfredo and cornbread – and the Wizards have won both meetings between the brothers, including Monday's 43-point beat-down.
"Nah, nah, that's my guy," Markieff said of Marcus. "I'll let him live. Season will be over in a couple of months and we'll be back together like old times."
Until then, the Morris twins are focused on a chase that likely wouldn't have happened had they remained in Phoenix. The Suns brought them together in the NBA, only to split them up, but the moves have allowed them to have one of those rare, serious competitions. But fortunately for Marcus, no joysticks are involved.
"We both got one thing in mind, we're both fighting for that [playoff] spot," Marcus Morris told The Vertical. "We got to go up against each other, we're playing for something, but we're really hoping at least one of us make it, if not both. That's the type of thing we're on right now."
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