David Nwaba goes from lifelong fan to Lakers player against Hornets
Two hours before he realized a lifelong dream of suiting up for his favorite team, David Nwaba sat on the Lakers’ bench in an empty Staples Center on Tuesday night and shared a private moment with Coach Luke Walton.
“It’s just crazy, everything is shocking,” said Nwaba, a former Los Angeles University High and Cal Poly standout who signed a 10-day contract Tuesday. “I’m living it up, enjoying the experience. I’m trying to let it all sink in.”
The 6-foot-4 guard, who joined the Lakers from the Development League D-Fenders, had never played in an NBA game before donning a No. 10 jersey Tuesday night against the Charlotte Hornets.
Knowing Nwaba grew up in Southern California idolizing Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, Walton, who made his NBA debut with the Lakers in 2003, asked Nwaba what it was like sitting on that bench in a Lakers uniform.
“It’s obviously different for everybody, but I remember my first time — it was a pretty special night,” Walton said. “I remember how incredible it was that I was teammates with Kobe and Shaq [O’Neal] and getting coached by Phil [Jackson] and playing in a league I grew up watching every day.”
Then, Walton tried to bring Nwaba back to Earth.
“I told him, really enjoy it, embrace it, but once we start playing, put that all out of your mind,” Walton said. “It’s just about playing basketball, competing, doing what you do well and what got you here.”
Nwaba, 24, averaged 13.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks in 38 games for the D-Fenders. But what got Nwaba to Staples Center was his feisty defense, an area in which the Lakerscould use some help.
“I was talking to [D-Fenders Coach] Coby Karl, and he told me about this game where they were down by 18, they went small, and he asked [Nwaba] if he could guard the other team’s center,” Walton said. “He said, ‘I’ll guard anyone you put me on, Coach.’
“Coby said he got three or four stops in a row, they came back in the final five minutes and erased an 18-point deficit to win the game. So that type of attitude on the defensive end is what first caught my eye.”
Nwaba, who went undrafted out of college in 2016, hoped to channel his adrenaline into positive energy on the court.
“I think it’s gonna help me make the hustle plays on defense and fly around the gym the best I can,” he said. “I think it will be to my advantage.”
Nwaba played five minutes in the fourth quarter, missing his only shot from the field and getting one rebound.
Before the game, Walton said he doubted Nwaba would play much Tuesday, “but I’m gonna try to get him opportunities where I can.”
Reserve forward Thomas Robinson, who had nine points, eight rebounds and four steals against San Antonio on Sunday, in his first action in more than a month, was suffering from flu symptoms Tuesday and didn’t play against the Hornets.
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