The size of the welcoming crowd was surprising, truly.
Kids had their gold jerseys signed. The elderly posed for pictures with their favorite basketball player. Fans lined up for quite a while just for a few seconds of face-to-face time.
Maybe they appreciated Kobe Bryant too, but Larry Nance Jr. was the big hit Tuesday, two hours before the Lakers played the Denver Nuggets.
The rookie out of Wyoming agreed to a meet-and-greet with hundreds of people who came to see him play. Denver is about two hours from the campus in Laramie, Wyo., a “pretty treacherous drive,” Nance conceded.
He signed basketballs, he signed a baseball for some reason and he even held a baby. It belonged to Wyoming sports publicist Amil Anderson.
“If I had the time, I would have sat there and taken pictures and signed [for] every single person that came out,” said Nance, drafted 27th overall by the Lakers last June.
He had a game to play and did just fine, scoring 10 points in 19 minutes, including two dunks and an alley-oop layup. He would have had more playing time but got in some foul trouble in his eighth game as a starter.
He’s still very raw and his outside shot needs work, despite a smooth 15-footer from the left side in the first quarter of the Lakers’ 111-107 victory.
One thing he has is a sense of humor. He was asked who had more fans at Pepsi Center — Bryant or him?
“Oh no, I had more fans,” he said before offering the split: “90-10, 90 my way.”
He was a little off, of course, and fans would chant Bryant’s name often in the fourth quarter, not his.
Bryant had 31 points, five assists and some praise for the rookie.
“He’s been playing great for us,” Bryant said. “He’s attacking the rim beautifully. Now I just want to make sure he stays confident in his shooting and not think about it. If he’s open, just pull the trigger.”
Nance also showed a serious side.
It was good for him to see the familiar faces that watched him play four years with the Cowboys.
A hustle player in college, he finished fifth in Wyoming history in blocked shots and steals despite sustaining a torn knee ligament as a junior and contracting mononucleosis as a senior. He was eventually cleared to play from the latter and was a main reason the Cowboys won the Mountain West tournament and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 13 years.
“It meant a lot to me that many people would come out and support me in the closest game they were going to get to see,” Nance said.
O’Neal’s place in history
No surprise, Shaquille O’Neal is a nominee for the Hall of Fame in his first eligible year. It will be surprising only if he isn’t inducted when the final vote is announced in April.
Where is he among the all-time greats at center? Lakers Coach Byron Scott would pick, in no order, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“After that, to me, it probably is Shaq,” he said.
Hmmmm. What about Hakeem Olajuwon? “Olajuwon is up there but I look at statistics and I also look at rings, and Shaq got more rings than Olajuwon,” Scott said.
Other first-time Hall of Fame nominees include Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson, Houston center Yao Ming, WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes and Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo.
VS. OKLAHOMA CITY
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: Staples Center.
On the air: TV: TWC SportsNet, TWC Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.
Records: Lakers 5-23, Thunder 19-9.
Record vs. Thunder: 0-1.
Update: It’s time for the rematch. The Thunder obliterated the Lakers last Saturday, 118-78, the Lakers’ worst loss ever to the Oklahoma City/Seattle franchise. Kevin Durant hit a 19-footer with 5.8 seconds left and then blocked Chris Paul’s shot to preserve a 100-99 Thunder victory Monday against the Clippers at Staples Center.