The stench of urine and feces was unbearable.

Lance Stephenson had to block out the smell and keep his head on a swivel.

The Pacers swingman — often scared — ran the 15 flights of dark, dreary stairs in the Coney Island, N.Y. apartment building he lived in during the early part of his life to get in shape for basketball. Drug dealers and homeless people often frequented the stairwell for shelter.

Stephenson ran those steps every morning at 6 a.m. with his father, Lance Stephenson Sr., there to make sure nobody messed with his son.

“It was very rough,” Stephenson said. “I’d see bullet shots through the window in the lobby, drugs, there would be crackheads around. I used to be scared, but then I got tough and knew I had to be aware while I was running.”

It was on those stairs, at the beach a couple hundred yards away where he regularly ran 2.5 miles, and the basketball court 20 yards from where he lived, that Stephenson learned to be tough.

Coney Island is a place where people line the block waiting to get inside food kitchens. Bars are on the windows of most businesses and owners pull gates down at the end of the day to protect their establishments. It’s where outsiders draw the attention of the natives because they know you’re not from the neighborhood.

“Toughness is what you think of when talking about Lance,” said Gary Charles, one of Stephenson’s AAU coaches. “He was the kid who wanted to be the next Stephon (Marbury), the next Sebastian (Telfair) out of Coney Island. Sometimes kids don’t want to embrace it. He embraced it and wanted to enhance it. You have to be tough to get out of there.”

But Stephenson wasn’t a first-round pick like Marbury and Telfair. That toughness also manifested itself as an attitude that turned some NBA teams off when he was coming out of the University of Cincinnati and it had Pacers’ teammates wanting to fight him during his rookie season.

That toughness that got Stephenson to the NBA? It almost ended his career.

“I’m not going to lie, when Lance first got here, he was a (expletive), put that in the paper,” center Roy Hibbert said. “He’s way better now. He’s a lot more receptive. He’s light years where he was before.”