The Lakers always attract a large crowd when they come east to play basketball. The tradition and championships of the storied franchise have earned them generations of fans. But it has been a while since they created a buzz.
Barclays Center was packed Tuesday night in Brooklyn, and there was plenty of media and various celebrities, including Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and actor Sterling K. Brown, to witness LeBron James’ first appearance here in a Lakers uniform.
It wasn’t quite like the Heat days when he teamed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a Big Three that would make four trips to the NBA Finals and win two titles, but his decision to leave Cleveland and sign with Los Angeles has made the Lakers relevant again.
Initially, James looked a bit odd in purple and gold as if he were part of a video game where you can mix and match uniforms with teams of your liking. But then he reminded everyone why he is who he is, scoring 36 points with 13 rebounds and eight assists, though the Lakers lost 115-110 to the Nets.
There only real negative for James was when he had a potential dunk blocked by Nets center Jarrett Allen 60 seconds into the game.
“He’s in his 20s and I’m in my 30s,” James said. “It takes me a little longer to get warmed up. It’s probably all over social media. But that’s cool.”
There may be questions about whether at age 33 James is still the best player in the league. Those favoring Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry might beg to differ. But while Golden State might be the league’s most popular team, James is still its most important player given his accomplishments and off-the-court impact on social issues.
His streak of eight straight appearances in the NBA Finals could be in jeopardy this year as the Lakers (18-13) need an upgrade in depth and talent to contend with the Warriors. But at least they’re no longer a team living off its legacy.
Think about it: When the Lakers played here a year ago, it was all about the Big Baller Brand and what kind of T-shirts and sneakers LaVar Ball would be wearing at courtside. BBB apparel isn’t in demand anymore and all the attention is back on the court thanks to James.
Among those enjoying it is Tyson Chandler, the former Knick who is now teammates with James.
“It’s been incredible coming to the Lakers,” Chandler said. “It’s an A-1 organization and it doesn’t hurt to have LeBron on your team.”
Guess what? Chandler thinks something similar could happen to the Knicks sometime soon. Since leaving before the 2014 season, he has kept tabs on the team he played on for four years and where he won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2012. He likes what he sees.
“It’s hard to judge because their best player [Kristaps Porzingis] is out,” Chandler said. “But I like the direction they’re going. I like [head coach David] Fizdale. I honestly think it’s just a matter of time.”
He also likes the Knicks’ chances of landing a big-time free agent, and suggested the impact could be as immediate as James coming to the Lakers. With Fizdale, the Knicks have a coach players will at least listen to, which is something that hasn’t happened in recent in years. It’s hard to attract a superstar when you can’t get his attention.
Among the free agents currently available is Anthony, who was released by the Rockets just 10 games into the season. Anthony was spotted having dinner with James and their wives Monday night in Manhattan, fueling speculation Anthony could be joining the Lakers.
“I’ve always wanted to play with Melo,” James said. “If the opportunity presents itself, we’ll see what happens.”
Everyone is watching to see what happens in LA now.
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