Newsletter: Lakers! Is it OK for opponents to be close friends?
Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the L.A. Times, here with your weekly newsletter.
The Lakers and I departed Wednesday for a week-long, four-city road trip that begins with a game in Houston tonight.
The Rockets might have been an opponent with some intrigue under different circumstances. But neither Brandon Ingram nor Rajon Rondo — the two Lakers who were suspended after fighting with Chris Paul (who was also suspended) during the teams’ last meeting — are making the trip. Ingram is still sidelined with a left ankle injury, and Rondo is set to see a specialist this weekend to evaluate his broken hand.
What happened the last time these two teams met was a little bit unusual in the NBA today. Players don’t get into real fights anymore, and if punches are thrown they most often don’t land. Many people have theories about why that is, one of which centers on the collegial nature of the game today. Many of the game’s best players are close friends with each other, whether or not they’ve ever been teammates.
Case in point: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. We’ll start there.
Is it OK for competitors to be friends?
By the time James and Wade teamed up in 2010, they were already close friends.
Their friendship started at the pre-draft combine that year and grew from there. Wade was a little bit older than James, he was already a father, and he’d already spent three years and played in college for two seasons. James was the teenage phenomenon whose high school games were on national television.
They stayed friends in the early part of their careers, despite being opponents. Then, when the free agency period of 2010 commenced, James and Chris Bosh joined Wade in Miami, placing the first, fourth and fifth picks in that year’s draft on the same team. For James, it was a transformative time.
“You guys got to think about it, I spent 25 years of my life in Akron, Ohio,” James said. “… For me to move down to a place that was foreign to me and my family and for him to open up that franchise, him to open up that city for me and my family, and make it so seamless, he’s been there. He’s the staple. It’s Wade County. … It just shows the type of guy he is.”
They won two championships and went to the finals in all four of their seasons together. And in some ways they made it OK for opponents to be friends, and for free agency movement like that.
“Going out to eat, going to movies, etc., and then go out and play each other the next night — people didn’t understand that at first,” Wade said. “But we shifted the culture of how we could still compete, still be great and push each other. But it’s not for everybody. You got the “Mamba Mentality.” It’s not for Giannis, maybe he has the Mamba Mentality. It’s not for everybody. It’s just something that worked for us. We pushed each other, helped each other’s careers go up another notch.”
The Mamba Mentality of course is Kobe Bryant’s self-described motto. Bryant was not the type of person who had friends around the league.
And Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo told the Athletic that he turned down an invitation this summer from elite players like LeBron James, James Harden and Kevin Durant to play pickup in New York because he hated the idea of being “buddy-buddy” with opponents.
In my view, this isn’t an irreversible trend, it’s just what happened with this particular set of players. The group includes others like Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. They are called the Banana Boat Crew because in 2015 they all went on vacation together and three of them rode a banana boat; it was captured in a photo.
Sure, there are other NBA players who have friends who aren’t teammates, but we haven’t seen this same kind of elite, tight-knit subgroup form. Who knows if we ever will again.
Since last we spoke…
-- Trade season is almost upon us. On Dec. 15, several of the league’s veterans will be eligible to be traded. My colleague Broderick Turner took a look at some of the Lakers’ situations. They have told teams they won’t part with any of their young core — Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma or Josh Hart — unless a superstar is involved in the deal. That’s really always been the Lakers’ position on those players. The Suns asked for one of them in a potential Trevor Ariza deal, which was a nonstarter.
-- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is also potentially on the move, with the Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers having emerged as potential trade destinations. Caldwell-Pope’s agent is doing a lot of the legwork on trying to find a good landing spot for him.
-- Phil Jackson stopped by practice!
-- The final NBA matchup between James and Wade (unless Wade changes his mind about retiring) had a storybook-type finish.
-- Our columnist Helene Elliott took a look at Wade’s career. This story includes a nugget from Wade about how his final game against Bryant was also here, and what that meant to him. He said he lost a piece of himself when Bryant retired.
-- The Spurs took the season series 3-1 over the Lakers. James was frustrated with the officiating, but bit his tongue in post-game interviews.
-- The next night, the Lakers dominated a very good Grizzlies team and James gave his shoes to a woman who works for Memphis who has always been a fan of his. She cried.
That’s all for now. We’ll see you next week.
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