Commentary: LeBron James, Gustavo Dudamel, L.A.’s world-famous hometown heroes

Left, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James. Right, Conductor Gustavo Dudamel.
(Wally Skalij; Gina Ferazzi /Los Angeles Times)
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On the day that conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who opened a pathway to classical music for so many who had been alienated by it, announced he was leaving the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Lakers’ LeBron James became the highest scorer in NBA history, cementing his legacy in basketball and in Los Angeles.

It was a bittersweet Tuesday. Both of these extraordinary, world-renowned performers have infused Los Angeles with a sense of pride. And now one of them is leaving for — ugh — New York.

Los Angeles is a city full of film and TV stars who live and occasionally work here. But Dudamel and James shine beyond the Hollywood constellation as hometown heroes, embedding themselves in our current Angeleno story line.


Dudamel, a rock star in classical music, makes people want to brave L.A. traffic to climb into Disney Hall or trek to the Hollywood Bowl to see him in action (and we do mean action) leading his orchestra. A Venezuela native, he has become the most famous Latin American conductor and beckoned multi-ethnic crowds to Disney Hall to break up the traditional sea of white faces. A mentor and guiding light of the L.A. Phil’s spectacular Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, Dudamel has invested in young musicians here, particularly in underserved communities in the city.

James has broken a 39-year-old scoring record that some thought would never fall — and he did it while wearing an L.A. Lakers jersey. It was practically a feast of L.A. greatness to watch former Laker Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the record scorer until Tuesday night, embrace James, the new record holder, on the court. Outside Arena is a statue of Kareem, and everyone assumes one of James is on the way.

The management of the Lakers does not bode well for James to ever approach Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record of 1,074 regular season wins.

Feb. 7, 2023

They arrived here at different points in their careers. Dudamel was still a rising 28-year-old conductor when he became music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009. In the years since, he has built it into the most important orchestra in the country and transformed himself into one of the most famous conductors in the world.

James came to the Lakers in 2018 a star and a master of the free-agent system, having played earlier for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Miami Heat and Cleveland again. True, most of the 38,390 points he has scored were earned in Cleveland, but his ascent toward the record happened in Los Angeles on a team whose historic rosters include Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, some of the greatest players of the sport.

Dudamel says moving to the New York Philharmonic will make it easier to fly to Paris where he is musical director of the Paris Opera, and Madrid where he has a second home. Is that what this is about? Flight times? But, no, he says he’s really leaving for the challenge of running the orchestra in New York. It’s an even deeper blow to lose a cultural icon to a city that thinks it’s always got it all going on.

As for James, no one expects he will stay here forever. He hopes one day to play on a team with his son Bronny, a high school senior who is one of the top-ranked high school basketball players in the country. The Lakers should just draft him. But every team in the NBA will have the same idea.

For the moment, Dudamel and James are both still here, dazzling Los Angeles. (Dudamel doesn’t leave until 2026.) We should revel in that.