October 21, 2018 – LeBron James makes his Hollywood debut, but it was overshadowed by a rumble- of sorts -when Rajon Rondo popped Chris Paul in the mouth for being Chris Paul. Both players were suspended, as was Lakers teammate Brandon Ingram, who, having observed Paul’s violent reaction to being sucker punched, inserted himself into the altercation to defend his teammate. A teammate he had known for all of one month.
That seems so long ago now.
Most people looked at the fight and the Lakers players involved, and chalked it up to dysfunction. The team had not won a game yet, having fallen to 0-2, and appeared to be coming apart at the seams. That is, of course, if you followed the popular narrative that was being spun at the time.
In reality, the fight was a sign that the group saw themselves as more than just a group of millionaire basketball players who shared the same jersey. This was in stark contrast to Lakers teams from prior years. Particularly, the 2013-14 season, when Alex Len of the Phoenix Suns practically Kevin McHale’d Lakers guard Nick Young. Everything about that play looks similar to when McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis back in 1984. Everything, except the reactions of the other Lakers.
In 1984, Kurt Rambis goes crashing to the floor, and immediately begins looking for McHale. James Worthy holds him back, but also is wary for any other Celtics players looking to harm his teammates. Another Lakers player comes off the bench to help, but is immediately met by McHale’s teammates, and is sent back to the sidelines. Other Lakers players gather to make sure no one else from their team is harmed.
Looking back at the scuffle in 2014, Nick Young is taking on the entire Suns team by himself. Not one teammate has his back, and the five Suns players force Young to retreat to the bench.
One could say this is more a reflection of Young as a teammate, and not necessarily a reflection of the teams collective camaraderie. But, shitty teammate or not, nobody on your team should get dumped on that bad without consequence. It was very clear no one on this team thought of one another as anything close to family.
I actually had a short exchange on Twitter with retired NBA player Scot Pollard about the Lakers-Rockets skirmish. Initially, the ex-NBAer downplayed the event, guessing “no significant punches landed”, which triggered a reaction from fans who actually watched it happen.
When he claimed there was “one significant punch (IMO) in an nba “fight”. Ever. Kermit Washington. Rudy T”, I personally reacted, and opened up a dialogue asking him his opinion on other punches that had taken place in NBA history, such as Dr. J teeing off on Larry Bird’s ugly mug, or then-Metta World Peace concussing James Harden. This prompted Pollard to change the topic, and simply question the purpose of fighting, since “none actually make your team better. Why fight?”
My response was:
I’m of course referencing a preseason game in which the Lakers played their hated rival from Sacramento, and Rick Fox infamously met Doug Christie in the visiting team’s tunnel after both were ejected for fighting.
Embarrassingly, the only Lakers player who appeared to have Fox’s back was Shaquille O’Neal (perhaps that’s all they needed?). But, as you can see, the entire Sacramento team left the court and their seats on the sideline to confront Fox and protect their teammate Doug Christie.
The one “like” I received from my tweet? That’s Scot Pollard. A virtual dap for the sound reasoning behind my logic (or maybe he just got bored going back and forth with some basketball nerd?).
Circling back to the events in October, this was an early sign that the Lakers were united as a team. They were like a family. You didn’t mess with one without messing with the other. And if one of them fell, their brother would come pick them up.
Today, the Lakers are a far cry away from the chemistry they had back in the early stages of the season. They were most recently blown out by 42 points, and one of their brothers apparently wouldn’t have minded if several of them weren’t on the team anymore. The team almost imperatively needed to deal for Pelicans big man Anthony Davis at this point, since all chemistry the team had gained was shot, in addition to the organization suffering from the worst case of blue balls in NBA history.
Now that we know that they didn’t trade for Davis? One can view the team and their recent demeanor, and come to the conclusion that any and all trust is lost between James and his Lakers teammates. But, I believe a lot of those feelings were mostly uncertainty. Why fight so hard for your teammate when you’re not even sure you’ll be sharing the same locker room with them in a week? I totally get why the team hasn’t been so excited about a LeBron James dunk the same way they were the first few games of the season. He might have soon become the enemy.
But, the trade deadline has passed, the dust has settled, and gone are only seldom used role players Svi Mykhailiuk, Ivica Zubac, and Michael Beasley. The Lakers players’ egos are no doubt affected, but, the uncertainty that was surely hanging over their heads in practice and during games has been removed. This is the Lakers team that will be competing for a championship this season. And the best thing they can do is play together, fight for one another, and even help each other up when they are down, in the hopes of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy high into the air.
Why? Because, if the Lakers do indeed win the championship this season, then why in the fuck would they need to trade for Anthony Davis?
It should be noted that this was posted while the Celtics hosted the Lakers at TD Garden in Boston. Unbeknownst to me, I had no idea that Rondo would hit the game-winning shot that would instantly alter the team’s morale seemingly back to where it was in October. This was written as the team still appeared to be doomed to self-implode. Their chemistry is apparently better than even I suspected, and I felt I was being unabashedly biased. Follow me on Twitter, for more of my shameless Lakers apologies, as well as a few of my takes on the NBA season.