Lakers have two Rising Stars, but no All-Stars for the first time in 21 years
There were silly questions and silly answers, tension in some parts, moments of gravity, moments of levity and even some basketball conversation.
It was a typical kickoff media session for NBA All-Star weekend, except for one thing.
Not one single Laker was in the room.
“First time in 20 years?” Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “Wow.”
Actually, it’s been 21 years since the Lakers were not represented in the All-Star game.
“Helps when you have Kobe Bryant,” said Thompson, whose father, Mychal, won two championships with the Lakers in the 1980s. “The Lakers have always been stocked with talent. That’s shocking, wow. It’s a great stat for the Lakers.”
All-Star weekend spotlights the Lakers’ current reality. At 19-39, their future is where hope and optimism lie. Lakers D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram played in Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge, which features first- and second-year NBA players — one team composed of American players, the other of international players.
Ingram and Russell participated in a practice with the USA team Friday morning, about an hour before the All-Stars assembled in the hotel ballroom to speak to reporters.
The skills competition players spoke first. Lakers guard Nick Young, who will compete in the three-point shooting contest Saturday night, was scheduled to attend the media session but missed a connecting flight on his way from Los Angeles.
And so the event went on without a Lakers presence.
Swarms of reporters surrounded feuding former teammates Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, positioned directly across from each other. Westbrook insisted he’d moved on from Durant’s departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency.
When asked if it would be awkward to play on the same All-Star team with four Warriors, including Durant, Westbrook changed the subject.
“What’s your favorite fashion brand, what you like?” he said, prompting a discussion of Yves Saint Laurent’s spring-summer collection.
Nearby, Warriors Coach Steve Kerr explained why he is so outspoken politically, and why he believes athletes should be.
“If you look at the history of athletes’ involvement in social issues, it’s been most prominent at the most prominent times of need,” Kerr said. “In the ’60s and ’70s, you look at Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Jim Brown, the civil rights movement, Vietnam. There were things happening that were powerful and chaotic, and times called for leadership. I think the same thing is happening now.”
Across the hall, Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins played rock-paper-scissors with a reporter, before saying the New York Knicks’ treatment of former star forward Charles Oakley was “disgusting.” Twenty feet away, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan lightly lamented that his teammates Chris Paul and Blake Griffin refused to offer guidance for his first All- Star game.
“Blake and CP gave me no advice,” Jordan said. “None. Nothing.”
Next came the Eastern Conference All- Stars. Los Angeles native DeMar DeRozan sat 20 feet from his Toronto Raptors teammate Kyle Lowry, leading to the two of them yelling to each other across the room when asked which of them would be the best choice to take the final shot in a game.
DeRozan, a three-time All-Star drafted in 2009 after one season at USC, still doesn’t take being here for granted.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “Something you dream about as a kid, growing up watching all your favorite players participate in it. Now when you look around and make it to All-Star, it means a lot.”
He spent his evening at the Rising Stars Challenge, sitting courtside watching a group of players who one day hope to be where he is. Ingram had four points in the game and Russell had 10, including two three-pointers. They both aim to be All-Stars soon.
How will that happen?
“Winning,” Russell said. “Winning and making noise in the playoffs. You win, everybody gets here.”
Bryant was a Lakers All-Star fixture during his 20-year career with 18 selections, second-most in NBA history. He played in his last All-Star game in Toronto a year ago before retiring. A bridge recently developed from that era to this one when Bryant sent Ingram a text message so the two could connect.
Simply having All-Star player again isn’t the Lakers’ main goal by any means. But it would be a signal that the second-winningest organization in NBA history is on its way back to prominence.
For now, the festivities go on without them as the Lakers’ wait continues.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli
All things Lakers, all the time.
Get all the Lakers news you need in Dan Woike's weekly newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.