With verbal jabbing through the wins and losses, Lakers rookies are building bonds of brotherhood


The Lakers beat the San Antonio Spurs in overtime last week, but they could have had that win in regulation if Josh Hart made a layup, albeit a tough one, as the clock expired.

In the locker room after the game Hart was asked about the play. Before he could even answer, a voice piped up from a few lockers away.

“Closed his eyes and got scared,” Kyle Kuzma said, before his head popped up above the media scrum, wearing a pleased expression.


Hart’s retort didn’t take long.

“If I would have tried to dunk it and miss it I would’ve been you,” he said.

Kuzma looked stoic for a moment. Then he smiled and nodded, accepting defeat in this round. There would be plenty more, that’s for sure.

“They’re like that all the time,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said.

This is how the Lakers’ rookies treat each other — like brothers who won’t miss any opportunity for a joke at the other’s expense. They are part of a league that is less about fun and camaraderie than it is about business, but they are too early in their careers for that to have jaded them. The effervescence with which Kuzma, Hart and Lonzo Ball interact ripples throughout the locker room. Through all the Lakers’ challenges this season, it’s created a fun atmosphere, and one that could help it survive difficult days.

“It’s part of what makes playing on a team sport so incredible, those bonds and those brotherhoods you form with your teammates,” Walton said. “That’s part of it. Jabbing each other, but also being there when one of your teammates needs you. I think that’s what this group, as we continue to move forward, that bond gets built because of struggle. Because of losing nine in a row and figuring out the way to win and guys getting hurt and other guys stepping up and buying into the same general goal that we have as a team. You can’t help but build those types of bonds.”

These interactions didn’t hit social media until the season started, but they date to Summer League, almost as soon as they began spending time together. Hart, Kuzma and Ball were all part of that team, as was Brandon Ingram, who gets involved at times.

“Definitely a feel-out process kind of to see the personality of everybody,” Hart said. “You see little signs where you’re like, me and Kuz are messing around and Ju [Julius Randle] will just chime in a little bit and keep walking.”

Randle, who is in his fourth season, but only a year older than Kuzma, insisted they know not to mess with him.

Kuzma had a different recollection. He said they call Randle “Terry Crews.” Randle spent the summer shredding his body fat to create the kind of chiseled physique for which Crews, an actor and former football player, is famous.

“That’s like the more immature side of the locker room,” said Randle, looking over to the corner in which Ball, Hart and Kuzma all sit. “They’re still little kids.”

In January one of the group’s gags involved a poster of an upcoming movie called “Slender Man,” a horror film about “a tall, thin, horrifying figure with unnaturally long arms,” according to Ball posted a video in which he said Ingram was getting to star in his own movie.

They make fun of each other’s outfits, most notably Kuzma’s camel-colored coat with a faux fur trim and hot pink silk lining.

“Boi got on a fake chinchilla (with pink silk on the inside) that’s bound to jump off his back at any moment, along wit (sic) a turtleneck, BI’s slenderman jeans and some 9-5 boots,” Ball wrote on an Instagram post.

Hart and Kuzma are fresh off four years playing on a college team, and this type of interaction was common for them then. Hart says his team was “really, truly a family” at Villanova. Kuzma said his college teammates at Utah went after each other “way more righteously than we do here.”

Kuzma acknowledged, too, that their youth might have something to do with those interactions. They have seen friends and teammates get traded, but they are still together, at least for now. They haven’t been hardened by the business of basketball.

Still, they don’t talk about the prospect of potentially spending several years of their career together.

“I think we all kind of know that can happen [with] the success we’ve had this year,” Kuzma said. “Growing and being a young core. I know we probably think about it individually, but I don’t think we think about it as a group.”

Even in their young careers, they have seen their friends leave because of trades as the Lakers pursue their greater goals. This summer might bring more of the same.

For now, they’ll just keep up the banter at every opportunity they get.



When: 3 p.m., Sunday

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Update: In a tight Western Conference race, the Utah Jazz still haven’t clinched a playoff spot, but could rise to as high as fourth place depending on how they play combined with other results.

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli