For the first time since agreeing to continue his career in Los Angeles, LeBron James was going to walk through the door in front of reporters and cameras as a Laker.
The simple act — one man walking through a doorway — caused the room to fall almost entirely silent. Everyone reached for their phones to get that first shot.
About 5.3 miles north, the Clippers introduced their team to a quiet room too — there weren’t that many people there to make noise. Instead of a crowd of hundreds, it was dozens. The free food that normally gets snatched up by the hungry press corps started to go cold on a table in the back.
In El Segundo, James spoke about his movie projects, his championships, the plans to return the Lakers to championship glory. He made headlines even by stating the most obvious — that the Lakers are a “long way” from being on the same level as the Golden State Warriors.
“We can’t worry about what Golden State is doing,” he said with everyone watching.
In Playa Vista, a six-year veteran who shares the name Mike Scott with a former major league pitcher and a fictional regional manager of a mid-sized paper chain, talked about why he joined the Clippers after a year with the Washington Wizards.
“They wasn’t ...,” he said, colorfully saying that the Clippers were not punks.
This is probably how it’ll be this season, James talking “Space Jam” sequels and title expectations while the Clippers unleash a gritty style of basketball to make up for the lack of star power. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Monday’s media day turnouts confirmed what we knew: that James’ shadow will stretch across the region. The Lakers are big, but with James in town, it’s only magnified.
But the Clippers might benefit from a little more time out of the spotlight, their rebuild still a very unfinished project. Doc Rivers, their coach, said he felt that the organization was in as good a place as it has been since he became an employee in 2013.
“In a strange way in my opinion, this is the healthiest this franchise has been as far as now and in the future,” Rivers said. “From my vantage point, I love where we’re at right now. I look at the totality of what we’ve done.”
And with Rivers now back to just coaching, there are reasons to agree with him.
The front office is well-stocked. The team has salary cap flexibility. There’s optimism within the organization that they’re at the top of Kawhi Leonard’s list in the summer of 2019, when he and a host of other top free agents hit the market.
And while they might find themselves in a tough situation in a stacked Western Conference, their failures will hardly be front-page news. Hardcore fans might care, but everyone else will be distracted by that purple-and-gold glare.
The same, to a lesser extent, goes for Lonzo Ball, who is no longer the most famous Laker. When it was Ball’s turn to address reporters Monday, the crowds had already thinned to follow James’ every step around the facility.
There’s way less reason to talk about LaVar Ball when LeBron is around, and that can’t do anything but help his 20-year-old son, even if the second-year point guard thinks that all the attention didn’t bother him during a solid but unspectacular rookie season.
There was plenty of other news around the NBA, but one image stood out.
Everything else was eclipsed by the mere presence of the league’s biggest star wearing one of its most iconic jerseys in one of the country’s most important cities.
James walked through that door. He wore that Lakers jersey.