Since he was a little kid, LeBron James always loved playing basketball with his best friends. That camaraderie showed on and off the court and the friends he grew up with still are among his best friends.
That experience informs the way he’s approached his leadership style with this year’s Lakers team.
“Some teams are closer than others, but if you can find the great personalities and the right mix of personalities to fit, it’s my job to try to get them to mesh as much as possible,” James said.
Monday night at his 35th birthday party, he found another opportunity to bring teammates together. James wasn’t sure he was going to have a party, but he decided to go for it, with the help of his wife, Savannah.
“Got an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, and not only make it my birthday party but have the feel of a New Year’s party as well,” James said. “For obvious reasons we won’t be able to celebrate tonight how we would if we didn’t have to play tomorrow. …
“Get my teammates there, coaching staff, my family, my friends, people that’s been around for quite a while and we had a heck of a time, so it was another opportunity for us to bond, which we did. And if it brings us closer, then fantastic. That’s what it’s all about for me, bringing us closer to family as possible.”
Most of James’ teammates and coaches attended, dressed in stylish suits. James wore a bow-tie and took a photo standing in the middle of the group puffing on a cigar.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel at first played coy about whether or not he attended.
“Just kind of make an appearance,” Vogel said. “Say hello. Then get out of there quick. Show support. I let him choose practice time. That was my birthday present to him, I let him choose practice time today.”
That’s why the Lakers had a late practice Tuesday, which started around 1 p.m., and gave the Lakers a chance to both sleep in and prepare for Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns.
At 26-7, they came out of the first part of the season with the best record in the Western Conference, but also a belief that they haven’t reached their potential.
“The last game was a microcosm of that,” Vogel said of Sunday’s win over Dallas. “Take the No. 1 team in the league offensively, hold them to 95 points, and watch the tape and realize we could have been a lot better on the defensive end. It’s just reason for optimism that we still have a long way to go and a lot of room for improvement. It’s exciting what we can be.”
Vogel knows the Lakers are about to enter a part of the season in which the monotony of an NBA schedule can set in. So far, though, they have shown their ability to not fall into the traps that derail many teams. They are undefeated on back-to-back nights, for example, and have yet to lose to a team with a losing record.
“It’s just having a respect for the game,” guard Alex Caruso said. “You get into this point in the season now — think we’re a little over a third of the way, almost halfway — and you start to get to that point where the games add up. You start looking at All-Star [break] almost. It’s good to have a focus, a present mindset and just take each day one day at a time.”
Being present is a lesson James has learned throughout his career. It’s something he talks about often now in his 17th NBA season.
The past decade was one of great change and success for James. He switched teams three times, first to Miami in the summer of 2010, then back to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, and then to Los Angeles in the summer of 2018. He also won three championships — two in Miami and one in Cleveland.
“I was 25 [at the start of the decade], and I would hope when you turn 35, you’ve made a lot of change,” James said when asked to reflect on the past decade. “I’ve learned a lot not only about myself, who I wanted to become along that way, but what I wanted to stand for the last 10 years.”
When: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday
On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330
Update: The Suns are 13-20 and lost eight in a row before winning their last two games, against Sacramento and Portland.