By Stephen D. Riley, Special to AFRO
There are certain teams in the NBA that would welcome any superstar with wide, welcoming arms and never look back. Washington comes to mind first. Memphis, Sacramento and Orlando come second. Cleveland? Absolutely. And then there are other cities and teams with too much ego and history that they would boo the average star mercilessly into submission even if he’s donning the same colors as the home fans. Boston, New York and the Los Angeles Lakers immediately flash to mind, but if it came down to those three teams and which city probably feels like: “hey, you need us more than we need you” it would definitely be L.A. If you ever asked yourself why every LeBron James mural in L.A. has been defaced to date, well there’s your answer.
In this June 8, 2018, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James watches during the first half of Game 4 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)
The Lakers’ history is richer than Egypt’s, historically filled with some of the best players to ever play the game of basketball. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal are names every basketball-fearing household knows and respects. Being a great Laker is one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. You could be a mason, an actor or even the president and you still wouldn’t be as well-regarded as being a Laker great. That’s a tough club to get into; and it’s one that James is now seeing that past accomplishments doesn’t get you an automatic invite. It’s not until you do something special for the city. LeBron could’ve went to any team and instantly been the best player that whatever franchise that signed him has ever had. Except for the Lakers.
You’ll never find a city or a team littered with more Hall of Fame names and games than the Lakers. It’s a privilege to play for the Purple and Gold no matter what the past few seasons suggest. The city’s still fresh off of Kobe’s retirement and Magic’s arrival as a general manager and they’re looking at James like “okay, so what?” James was big time in Cleveland and Miami but this is showtime. Throw a Laker jersey on and a 3-6 Finals record will get you banished and your mural defaced. And at 33-going-on-34-years old, James’ best days and best chances to earn his jersey are likely gone. Many of the historic Laker greats earned their stripes and the city’s respect through winning rings and endearing themselves to the city at an early age.
The Lakers landing James at 33 is like when the Wizards brought in Michael Jordan when he was 40 or when Babe Ruth finished his last year as a Boston Brave. You have these sports icons who became legends in other cities and exhausted much of their prime to other franchises. So, when they arrive on the last legs of their careers it just seems cheap and unsatisfying like a microwave quickee when you’re used to a fully cooked dinner. James will never truly be loved inside a city that’s not his and he’ll never truly be a Laker. We tend to forget about Jordan with the Wizards or Deion Sanders with the Baltimore Ravens or Brett Favre with the New York Jets. It might be time to forget about James as a Laker already.