Lakers' fan gets in the billboard game to recruit LeBron James

First there were three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, in the Oscar-winning movie.

Then there were three in Cleveland, planted by an interloper hoping to lure LeBron James to Philadelphia. They showed what a 76ers lineup including James would include. They referenced the 76ers' mantra of "Trust the Process." The final billboard said #PHILLYWANTSLEBRON.


Then a billboard in Cleveland, said, "HEY PHILLY" and showed an oversized image of a crown shaped a bit like a hand making obscene gesture with the hashtag #LANDOFTHEKING."

It all got Jacob Emrani, a local attorney and Laker fan, thinking.

"The whole thing came about after I saw what Philly did, what Cleveland did," Emrani said. "I was thinking to myself you got these little puny towns that are doing this and we're L,A where we keep talking about these max contracts … LeBron loves the attention, loves the recruitment. I said let's put the money behind the passion and recruit him."

Emrani bought four billboards in the L.A. area with James and the Cavaliers set to play the Clippers on Thursday and the Lakers on Sunday, both games at Staples Center. One showed Lakers retired jerseys, declaring James' to be the next. Another said "forget the process, we win banners," a dig at the 76ers' motto, along with the hashtag #LABron. One said "Philly and Cleveland you can't compete with L.A."

Asked about the billboards after shootaround on Wednesday, Lakers coach Luke Walton declined to offer his perspective, citing the $550,000 in tampering fines the Lakers have already received from the NBA.

All of the billboards include a stamp at the bottom that says "Paid for by Super Fan:"

The billboards are mostly a bit east of where James might typically find himself during a trip to Los Angeles. He owns a home in Brentwood and most teams practice on the west side of the city when granted an extended stay in the area.

One, though, is near UCLA, where the Cavaliers are scheduled to practice during their stay.

Speaking Wednesday morning, Emrani said he wasn't sure how much the whole project was costing him, but that billboards typically range from $7,500 to $25,000.

Double agent

As a younger man, Alex Caruso thinks this might have been more difficult for him.

He doesn't know from day to day whether he'll be playing for the development league South Bay Lakers or the Los Angeles Lakers. He found out Tuesday that he'd be back on the NBA level Wednesday.

"I haven't changed as far as taking it a day at a time and being present, so that's really just kind of where I stand with it," Caruso said. "I don't think I would have been able to do this as well when I was 18, 19, 20. … I think it helps just being mature and being a little older."

Caruso's two-way contract is a new feature in the NBA this year. He can be at the NBA level for 45 days. Wednesday was his 42nd.


The Lakers try to have their two units run similar systems so the South Bay Lakers can closely resemble a farm system. They won't sign Caruso to a contract that would allow him to be with the team for the rest of the year, because if they did, they'd lose the ability to use him as a two-way player.

Instead, they plan to keep him until his days run out. Once they do, Caruso will have to re-join the South Bay Lakers until the G-League playoffs finish, at which time he'll be allowed back on the NBA level.

"It's been interesting just to see the different paths and different ways that teams are using them," Caruso said. "As far as mine, I can't be mad or upset about how it's going. I've spent just about every single day I could. … Just kind of got to be ready for what's next."

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli