Lakers forward LeBron James admitted to having some nerves before Saturday night’s exhibition opener against the Golden State Warriors.
“I had some jitters tonight,” James said. “I had some butterflies in my stomach, and also just straight-up excitement. And also a little bit of nervousness, too, because I got hurt in the Bay when I was at full strength. So it’s great to get back out there and have a lot fun. I didn’t even think about it being a preseason game. I thought about it being a game, and how we can get better.”
Last season, James’ only appearance in the Bay Area was a Christmas Day game during which he strained his groin, and that caused him to miss five weeks of the season. James left Saturday’s game fully healthy, and with one game — albeit an exhibition — under his belt as a starting point guard.
James had 15 points, eight assists and three rebounds in the Lakers’ 123-101 win over the Warriors. He and Rajon Rondo shared point guard duties, with James starting in that position.
“We got a little bit of a taste of it tonight and just seeing what our length looks like on the defensive end and on the glass, what two elite quarterbacks in Rajon Rondo and LeBron James look like with shooters around them, and just a beast of a scorer in AD,” coach Frank Vogel said of his veterans, including All-Star power forward Anthony Davis. “Those guys setting him up and him being able to deliver and also impact the game on the other end.”
While James started at point guard, the other starters were Avery Bradley at shooting guard, Danny Green at small forward, Davis at power forward and JaVale McGee at center.
The Lakers are scheduled to fly from Los Angeles to Shanghai on Monday morning, arriving in China on Tuesday afternoon. They’ll play two games against the Brooklyn Nets, one in Shanghai and one in Shenzhen, which is near Hong Kong.
The NBA has made an effort to capitalize on the Chinese market, and several Lakers have done so personally. The Lakers will play the Nets on Thursday in Shanghai and Saturday in Shenzhen as part of the league’s initiative to grow their brand in China.
“Chinese fans? Ten times more excited than American fans,” McGee said. “It’s sometimes overwhelming, but I totally understand. They get one chance a year to see us. Which is now, or if one player goes over there for the summer. So I can understand the excitement.”
Kyle Kuzma, who is expected to make the trip despite not being cleared to play, has traveled to China for marketing purposes as has James.
“Just the level of respect they have for us as basketball players, and how much they open up their culture and their arms to us,” James said. “I’ve been there so many times, and just the level of excitement they have for the game of basketball and for us is very overwhelming and it’s special, so I think for some of the guys that haven’t been there, I think they should be taking it full swing.”
Their visit as a team comes amid some controversy.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey posted a message on Twitter this past weekend in support of protesters in Hong Kong, whose demonstrations began in opposition to extradition to the mainland China. Hong Kong is a Chinese territory that was a British territory from the 1800s until 1997. Its government has had some legal autonomy since then.
Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, who is a native of Taiwan, posted a statement on Facebook disagreeing with Morey’s perspective. Tsai is a co-founder of Alibaba, a Chinese company comparable to Amazon, and called the situation in Hong Kong a “separatist movement” that is a “third-rail issue.”
The NBA distanced itself from Morey’s comments, saying they recognized that his comments “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China.”