Last season, months after he had dinner with Kobe Bryant, Kyle Kuzma set his sights on another superstar.
He wanted to ask LeBron James how James’ body has lasted so long in the NBA. So he asked his manager, Vin Sparacio, to help him.
“He can reach the president probably,” Kuzma said.
Having received the message, James passed along his number. Kuzma then texted James for some advice and James responded later that day. It was a short but meaningful interaction and they didn’t speak again until July, but Kuzma kept that number just in case he ever needed it again.
He did a few months later.
This season, Kuzma can ask James any question he wants any time he wants. The two have developed a rapport that translates to the court. James has come to love playing with Kuzma, and they complement each other in ways others don’t.
“I mean I kind of always knew that [we’d play well together] just because of the simple fact that I’m not an on-ball player,” Kuzma said. “I’m more off ball, catch and go, spot-ups, cutting. He’s primarily an on-ball dominant player. He has the ball, he sees the floor. It’s really just my job to be open.”
In this young Lakers season, the duo of Kuzma and James has seen more playing time together than any other pair. They’ve been on the court together for 275 minutes. Second on that list is Kuzma and Lonzo Ball (260 minutes) and third JaVale McGee and James (244 minutes).
Most of James’ assists have gone to Kuzma, too.
The starting lineup the Lakers are using now is unorthodox, but it allows James and Kuzma to play together, while keeping the versatile Brandon Ingram on the court. It’s a lineup that includes Kuzma at the power forward spot.
“I think he naturally finds openings more from the ‘4’ but he also, going back to last season, he found a lot of success at the ‘3’ spot,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “So he’s figured some of that out as far as ball-handling and being able to attack from a wing spot but for most of his career I think he naturally finds scoring from that ‘4’ spot.”
Kuzma still asks James for advice -- that’s something he’s never shied away from.
And James likes to be a mentor to younger players – if they ask for it.
“I have an open-door policy as far as young guys want to think the game better, play the game better, how they can do this, do that,” James said.
Having been alerted that Kuzma was planning to call, James welcomed it.
“I can’t give you exactly what we talked about,” James said. “I won’t talk about that. But I’ve always had the open-door policy.”
James and Bryant are the only two veterans Kuzma sought advice from as he tried to learn how to be an NBA player.
That both were so willing speaks as much to their esteem for Kuzma as anything else.
It’s natural for Kuzma to have gravitated toward them. Those were the players he mimicked as a little boy playing basketball. He’d lower the hoop to dunk like LeBron. He’d end pickup games with Bryant-like fadeaways.
“LeBron and Kobe,” Kuzma said, chuckling recently. “I don’t think there’s nobody else I need to reach out to. Those are the best two people.”
When James agreed to become a Laker this summer, that phone number Kuzma saved came in handy. James was on his way to Europe and his phone buzzed with a FaceTime call. It was Kuzma – the first of any of his new teammates to contact him.