On July 1, the first day of the NBA offseason, a single tweet set the sports world on fire: LeBron James was coming to the Los Angeles. With the days of Kobe Bryant behind them, the Lakers finally had hope of returning to their glory days.
The Lakers have an enormous fan base which has shown great enthusiasm in welcoming the superstar. Last season, superfan Jacob Emrani put up a billboard campaign across the city—with the hashtag #LABron—to try to recruit the King. The billboards took direct shots at other contenders, saying, ‘”Forget the process, we win banners!” and “Cleveland and Philly, you can’t compete with L.A.”
Stopping by a Lids store in Sherman Oaks, I found out first hand how sales have been since LeBron announced his decision. Johnny Ketchium, a sales clerk, was working in the store when the trade was announced.
“Literally moments after the deal was closed, we had people shouting ‘He’s here! He’s here!’," said Ketchium. "And immediately, Lakers’ shirts, hats, and jerseys are flying off the shelf. Pretty much everything LeBron is going out as quick as we get it.”
I also talked to some local players on the Shepherd Club youth basketball team who are looking forward to the Lakers turning things around. Luke Fernale, age fourteen, stated, “I’m hyped! We’re going to win a lot of games.” Coach Justin Flint speculated, “I think that he’s going to make a big impact on the organization. He’s going to be a great leader for the team, and he’s going to add some much needed experience that a lot of these young guys need.”
But why the Lakers? What swayed LeBron to sign with a team that has struggled through five losing seasons? For one thing, the Lakers have utilized their high draft picks over the past few years to fill their roster with young talent, such as Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart. The Lakers also had the cap space to make the move happen. With no major contracts limiting their spending, Los Angeles was able to sign LeBron on a massive, four-year, $154 million contract.
LeBron respects NBA history, and the Lakers’ legacy is impressive. They’ve had legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Magic Johnson mark up the record books wearing purple and gold. And more recently, the Lakers have won championships with the one-two punch of Kobe and Shaq.
So where does LeBron rank on that list of players? James Reber, a seventeen-year-old Boy Scout in Troop 139 shared his opinion. He commented, “You can’t rank him yet because he hasn’t played a single game for this team. The Lakers fans are very stingy about their respect, about who they consider to be the upper-echelon of Lakers greats. So LeBron is going to have to prove himself on the court, prove himself as a leader.”
People in Los Angeles are obviously excited about James’ big decision to come to L.A. But they know that superstar power won’t be enough to go all the way, especially in a Western Conference with stacked teams like the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors standing in the way. But James has been to the finals nine times, including eight consecutive years from 2011-2018. And having won three championship rings, he has tasted the pride of victory as well as the sting of defeat. James is clearly hungry for more.
Ketchium said, “I think LA is Laker town, so a lot of people are excited for the Lakers to potentially be where they were a few years ago. It’s honestly just phenomenal to see how much one person can affect an entire organization and city, and invigorate hope of a championship.”
It will take a lot to dethrone the Golden State Warriors, who have established themselves as a dominant legacy team. But if LeBron James has proven one thing, it’s that he should never be underestimated. He may have a Hollywood ending planned for this third act of his career.