As LeBron James barreled toward the basket in transition, two Denver Nuggets players trailed him, two more waited for him past half court and the sold-out Staples Center crowd began to rise to its feet. When James entered the paint and slammed the ball through the net, the fans began to jump and shout, finally given the thing they’ve been waiting, for years, to see again.
A superstar Laker delivering a highlight-reel play.
The Lakers’ second preseason game of the year Tuesday night was their first at Staples Center. That meant the start of James’ home pregame routine and a series of firsts for James and the historic franchise he joined.
His first walk from the loading dock to the Lakers’ home locker room, about three hours before the game began.
His first pregame sitting at his own locker.
His first home introduction at Staples Center.
His first basket as a Laker in front of his new home fans.
His first run in transition with the ball, followed by the first time one of his overpowering dunks lifted a sold-out crowd at Staples to their feet in delirium.
“The turnout was great,” James said of the crowd of nearly 19,000. “Definitely appreciated by all of us here that they came out for a preseason game. We just tried to give them a good show, which we did.”
James played 14 minutes and 39 seconds. He made five of six field goals and scored 13 points with three rebounds, three assists, two steals and four turnovers. The Lakers looked slightly crisper than they did in their first outing Sunday, but still fell prey to occasional overpassing.
The Lakers lost to the Nuggets 113-111 after they had a chance at tying or winning the game in the final seconds but made one too many passes and couldn’t get a shot off as time expired.
“There were times with both groups I thought they were messing with me, they passed so many times,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said.
Regardless, James’ passing ability is beginning to permeate the roster. At one point in the second quarter, James dished a no-look pass to Brandon Ingram, who followed with one of his own. The play finished with a dunk from JaVale McGee.
“Yeah we were a little too unselfish, but that’s good for us,” James said. “Now as we continue to learn one another we want to make the extra passes, give up a good shot for a great shot. Some of them we felt like we gave up the ball too much, but it’s going to be good for us in the long run.”
James arrived at the arena earlier than many of his teammates. He remained out of sight of reporters for most of the Lakers’ open locker room, but emerged about five minutes before it ended. He sat at his locker and watched his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, play the Boston Celtics. Rajon Rondo, who won a championship with the Celtics in 2008, watched from his locker too.
During the summer the Lakers renovated their locker room, modernizing the lockers and replacing the carpet that had a purple and gold Lakers logo with a grayscale version. The wall opposite the room’s main entrance had four spaces for the last several years. Kobe Bryant occupied the one on the far left until three years ago, with the locker next to him acting as a closet for his suits. Brandon Ingram has occupied that corner for the last two years.
This year, that has all changed.
Four lockers became three against that back wall.