The action-packed pilot episode of LeBron's Lakers
ABS-CBN Sports on Oct 20, 2018 10:22 PM
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James dunks against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
By Favian Pua
"Let me shut up."
At the 9:25 mark of the first quarter between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers, TNT analyst Chris Webber found himself caught in mid-sentence. Webber was passionately defending JaVale McGee’s legitimacy as an NBA player when LeBron James intercepted a pass intended for Al-Farouq Aminu and saw a wide-open runway.
Understanding the historical gravity of what was about to take place, Webber immediately uttered those four words and gave color commentator Marv Albert the floor as James accelerated towards the basket.
“James off the steal... James with the stuff!”
And with that sequence, so began the circus.
It only seemed fitting that Webber called the game in Moda Center for James’ regular season debut with the Lakers. Nearly 15 years ago, he was also a spectator, or rather a witness, when James made his ballyhooed NBA debut against Webber’s Sacramento Kings. That spectacle was the first paragraph of James’ ever-growing narrative.
As a historian of the game, James fully understands the implications of his move to Los Angeles. Win, and he will see himself elevated among the greatest to ever wear purple and gold. Lose, and no blockbuster Hollywood film can compensate for his shortcomings, leaving the door open for critics to question yet again whether his championship resume was padded by an inferior Eastern Conference. To reach his goal of playing for another ring, he will need to rely on his youthful teammates and trust the front office to shoulder the massive burden and expectations.
“Anytime you fall, stay down. Your brother (is) gonna come pick you up,” James told his teammates in a brief huddle during a deadball situation. That mindset is what a team in flux needs. Having each other’s back is high on the priority list because building trust is as important as racking up wins.
The opening night loss to the Blazers serves as a heavy dose of reality check for the Lakers. They are not yet close to unseating the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers have emerging talent, but they do not boast of a Big Three, such as what James was flanked with during his previous stops with the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers. Brandon Ingram is the team’s de facto second option, but he is not yet in the same stratosphere as Dwyane Wade or Kyrie Irving. Kyle Kuzma is tantalizing, but asking him to fill the shoes of Chris Bosh or Kevin Love this season is a Herculean task.
James arrived in Los Angeles as the elder statesman, but he might discover the fountain of youth with his new comrades. Since he came into the league, none of James’ teams finished higher than 12th in terms of pace over the course of a season. These Lakers, with an average age of 24.7, are much younger than any of the squads James has been on. They can play with unbridled energy that can reinvigorate James, and make him feel like a 16-year-old rather than someone playing in his 16th season as a pro.
The 82-game grind will serve as test of endurance for the Baby Lakers. The beauty of the regular season is that this squad will undergo several iterations as they search for their most optimal rotations. One thing is for sure: the three-man unit of Lonzo Ball, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley should not be on the court at the same time again under any circumstance.
What exactly do you root for when you root for the Lakers? Is it the legacies and winning tradition established by the legends who came before? Is it the current roster and this collection of misfit toys? Is it the idealized #FutureLaker, the one who could alter the trajectory of this franchise and deliver it to greater heights?
Or is it the simple fact that they employ the greatest player of this generation?
One thing is certain: throughout the course of the season, LeBron and the new-look Los Angeles Lakers will be putting their own spin on, perhaps even reclaiming Joakim Noah's “Hollywood as Hell” utterance.
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