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From mascot tamer to Bulls enforcer, Robin Lopez is an enigma

Center Robin Lopez wasn’t the type of locker neighbor Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic was expecting, especially when he first set eyes on him in training camp.

‘‘He looked crazy,’’ Mirotic said with a laugh. ‘‘The flip-flops, the hat, the crazy hair. I was like, ‘Oh, Niko, this is going to be interesting.’ ’’

It has been. And Mirotic wouldn’t change a thing.

‘‘If you don’t know him, he looks crazy,’’ Mirotic said. ‘‘But when you know him deeply, he’s such a good person. He’s very quiet, very intelligent. He’s always reading and drawing, so a very smart guy. Just a little different.

‘‘But if people could meet him closely, they would be surprised at how good a guy he is.’’

Lopez’s fight with Raptors forward Serge Ibaka in the Bulls’ loss Tuesday in Toronto was a bit out of character, but it wasn’t totally unexpected. Nice guys have tempers, too. Lopez was suspended for bumping an official in 2012 and had to sit a game for the Ibaka incident.

‘‘[Lopez] plays with emotion,’’ Mirotic said. ‘‘Once that clock starts, the nice guy goes away.’’

Lopez and twin brother Brook, who plays for the Nets, always have walked to their own beat, so no one is surprised that Robin has a hobby of beating up opposing mascots. He never has given a real explanation for that, but he jokingly has said mascots never gave him the proper attention when he was growing up.

The Bulls acquired Lopez from the Knicks in the Derrick Rose trade and have control over him at a great price. He is making $13.2 million this season and will make $13.7 million next season and $14.3 million in the last year of his deal.

Not bad for a player who averages 10.3 points and 6.5 rebounds while doing the dirty work and playing enforcer.

Even more impressive, Lopez has played in all 82 games three times in his career and never complains about his role, whether he’s pulled late in games or gets shortened minutes.

‘‘That’s always been my mentality,’’ Lopez said. ‘‘Why complain? In high school, I played with my brother and [NBA player] Quincy Pondexter, so I was always trying to pull my share, do what I could to just help the squad.

‘‘When the whole team succeeds, everybody profits. You always see those players that are going to get that next contract based off of a playoff run. That’s what winning does; that’s what team ball does.’’

That’s why he takes so much pride in his defense. The Bulls ranked 16th last season in points allowed. With 10 games left this season, they rank seventh.

‘‘I just try and keep it simple,’’ Lopez said. ‘‘Help my teammates any way I can and try and make us a better defensive team.’’

But his impact is bigger than that. Just ask Mirotic.

‘‘He is one of best people that I ever met, and everyone in this locker room would tell you the same thing,’’ Mirotic said. ‘‘He’s the guy that comes in the locker room and says hello to everyone, good morning to everyone, very polite.

‘‘We all can learn something from him. He’s the most consistent guy on this team. Every game he’s doing the same thing, doing what he’s supposed to do.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com