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LeBron James needs to be better at connecting with Lakers fans

LeBron James needs to be better at connecting with Lakers fans
LeBron James (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

During the most recent episode of LeBron James’ HBO show “The Shop,” Lonzo Ball smiled as he talked about being teammates with James this season.

“Honestly, I didn’t get really comfortable with you until after All-Star [break],” Ball said. “I was kind of like, ‘I don’t know how to be around him.’ ”

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Lakers fans can relate.

They’re not in the locker room and on the court with James like Ball was, and one season into his Lakers career, the sight of James in purple and gold is still somewhat jarring for many fans.

Yes, he missed 27 games and the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, but his nonexistent relationship with many Lakers fans goes beyond his limited time on the court.

The last time Lakers fans heard from James was the day before he was shelved for the season on March 30. He walked past reporters and refused to answer questions following the last game of the season and didn’t address the media after exit interviews (he was in New York watching Dwyane Wade’s final game).

Saturday’s episode of “The Shop,” which was taped April 11, was the first time we got to hear from James since Magic Johnson abruptly held a news conference to resign as president of basketball operations before the last game of the season without telling anyone first. James acknowledges he was as blindsided as everyone else when he heard.

“It was just weird for him to just be like ‘I’m out of here’ and not even have no like, ‘Hey Bron, kiss my … . I’m out of here,’ ” James said on the show. “I would’ve been OK with that. ‘Hey Bron, it’s Magic. Kiss my … . I’m gone.’ Not even that.”

Johnson’s lack of communication on his way out obviously was disappointing to James, who felt he had a better relationship with Johnson. If James cares about having a better relationship with Lakers fans and his new city, he should learn from Johnson’s mistake.

Lakers fans wanted to hear from James after he was shut down for the season. They wanted to know what he thought after Johnson resigned. They wanted to see how he felt after the team parted ways with Luke Walton as coach.

They got to see and hear from every Lakers player after the season except for the face of the franchise. If Mike Muscala can give his state of the Lakers, why couldn’t James?

They wanted something, anything from him. They would have even settled for, “Hey fans, it’s LeBron. Kiss my … . I’m gone for the summer.” They didn’t even get that.

This isn’t about James’ relationship with the media. Sure, he signed with the Lakers in July and didn’t hold a news conference until the start of training camp almost three months later, but he always made himself available during the season when he was healthy. He even regularly spoke to reporters before games at shootaround, which many players don’t do.

He doesn’t owe the media anything more than the NBA requires him to do, but he needs to do a better job of connecting with Los Angeles and Lakers fans. The relationship got off to a rocky start when he failed to show up to a pizza party many fans thought he was having in Culver City after he signed. It continued when someone vandalized murals of him around town.

James still feels like an outsider in a city full of transplants who call L.A. home but don’t really represent the city. Maybe that doesn’t mean anything to him. Maybe he just views his time with the Lakers as nothing more than a pit stop and convenient place to play basketball and make movies.

If that’s the case, that’s fine. He can continue sipping red wine while talking to celebrity friends on his show. If he wants something more, however, he’s going to need to work harder. It won’t be easy but he can do it. Forget the media, maybe throw a pizza party, actually show up and answer questions from fans. That’s a start.

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Tyronn Lue isn’t officially the coach of the Lakers yet, but that didn’t stop friends from celebrating his 42nd birthday in Las Vegas over the weekend with a cake that included a big Lakers logo. The cake could have just been a joke or maybe there’s another story. Either way, it’s looking more and more likely that Lue will be the next Lakers coach.

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It makes sense to compare the start of the XFL next year to the ill-fated Alliance of American Football, which lasted less than two months, but it’s hard to see the league folding after it announced its TV deal Monday. Every XFL game will be nationally televised starting February 2020. The XFL will air weekly on ABC and Fox with games also on ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 and FS2. Say what you will about the league, but it’s probably going to be easier to watch an XFL game than a Dodgers game next year in L.A.

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I like that the Lakers and Dodgers set the high bar of Hall of Fame induction for jersey number retirements. I’m always amazed at the number of role players, glue guys and assorted fan favorites who have their numbers retired around the country.

That said, both storied franchises need to do a better job of honoring their great players who aren’t in the Hall. Both teams need to have their own Hall of Fames where they can honor the likes of Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Garvey, Don Newcombe, Michael Cooper, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and others.

Perhaps they can combine their efforts on opening a Hall of Fame where Lakers and Dodgers fans can stroll through memory lane. Spectrum, which is paying both teams billions to televise their games, would seem like a perfect financial backer on the deal with El Segundo, where Spectrum and the Lakers are based, being an ideal location.

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