LeBron in LA: Superstar begins next chapter
When LeBron James chose the Los Angeles Lakers, the burgeoning entertainment mogul realised many people would think he joined a mediocre team with a fiveyear play-off drought because he wanted to be in Hollywood.
James simply scoffs at the notion he’s thinking about anything but his day job as he begins the next chapter in one of the greatest careers in NBA history.
“My decision was based solely on my family and the Lakers,” James explained before his first full practice in purple and gold. “I’m a basketball player. I play ball. That’s what I do. When I do it at the level I do, everything else will take care of itself. As far as my business, those things have been taking care of themselves way before I even came out here.”
After winning three championship rings while leading — and sometimes carrying — his last eight consecutive teams in Miami and Cleveland to the NBA Finals, the 33-year-old James’ new business is restoring a fraction of the Lakers’ traditional glory following the longest postseason absence in franchise history.
Two years after Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour mercifully ended, the Lakers are relevant again. The courtside celebrities and worldwide fans whose interested waned during this dour half-decade are back in force to see what LeBron can do in this unusual, intriguing situation.
The f our-time l eague MVP brought along a contingent of NBA veterans: Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley. They’re joining a young Lakers core with undeniable talent — Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and rookie Moe Wagner — but zero NBA success.
James’ teammates and coaches say he has arrived with the gravity of a champion, but with none of the imperious attitude that could accompany a player of his accomplishments. He accepts his role as a leader, but he’s focused on making sure the Lakers feel like a team, not a bunch of players in orbit around him.
James also realises this particular Hollywood project is even bigger than him: The Lakers have made no secret of their plan to entice a second superstar, likely younger than James, to join them in free agency or by other means. The upcoming season is a showcase of this team’s l ong-term potential with the right addition next summer.
“Winning makes it more fun, but we haven’t won anything yet,” coach Luke Walton said. “We come into practice and it isn’t looseygoosey because we’re expecting to win games. We’re coming into practice knowing that if we want to win games, we have to do things a certain way. Hopefully when we get to games, that leads to us winning, and that would be fun. But we’re not there yet.”
After the Lakers open the season in Portland on Oct 18, James will make his Lakers home debut against the mighty Rockets on Oct 20. Staples Center courtside tickets are going for five-figure mark-ups on secondary reselling sites, and no seat in the building is available for under US$200. The Lakers’ vast popularity in LA waned only slightly during their recent struggles, and the Lakers are once again the hottest sports ticket in LA, even with the Dodgers in the play-offs and the NFL’s Rams rolling through a perfect start to the season.
The Lakers’ LeBron James reacts during a pre-season game.