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Newsletter: Lakers newsletter: Lakers are doing the right thing despite what Ted Cruz says

LeBron James
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning everyone, it’s Dan Woike and this is the weekly Lakers’ newsletter, and I kinda need to get a little something off my chest — so indulge me.

A quick shot

Monday afternoon, I spoke with an NBA executive about Bradley Beal and Beal’s vaccine comments during a news conference I virtually attended. The executive and I were stunned that Beal was asking questions that could easily be answered by Wizards and NBA doctors — teams of people who have been tasked with educating NBA players about COVID-19 prevention since the earliest days of the pandemic.

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A day later at the Lakers facility for media day, I was relieved to hear that the team was nearing 100% full vaccination — happy that the players and their families would have the best protection for their health (and mine) available. And, selfishly, I was happy because 100% vaccination meant that I could maybe take a break about writing about it.

The protocols for vaccinated players were as close to “normal” as things could be in 2021, save for some mask-wearing on the bench during games. For unvaccinated players, they’d be stuck in the NBA’s rules from a year ago, constantly testing, limited mobility and, in some cases, unable to play home games.

LeBron James’ answers about the vaccination weren’t perfect. He, like many athletes, have equated vaccination to medication — saying it’s a private decision. Vaccinations, while protecting individuals, also exist to reduce infections in public. It’s inherently a public decision because your choice to get it or not either protects people in the community around you or increases the harm that could be in their way.

But hey, at least he took the shot. Story over. This was off my plate.

Then, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tweeted about it and now we’re here.

Cruz, always nimbly ready to politicize any issue that can benefit him, decided to join the team of the NBA’s vaccine skeptic All-Stars. Cruz can take all the shots on that team that Andrew Wiggins and Jonathan Isaac are passing up.

In a Twitter thread posted Wednesday morning just before the Lakers’ first practice, Cruz said he was about do something he had “never” done before — agree with LeBron James. (Keep in mind, by admitting that he’s never agreed with James, he’s saying he disagreed with even his most benign societal causes like building a school).

If this wasn’t all superficial enough, Cruz went on to say that James should further speak up and boycott playing in games in arenas where nonvaccinated players can’t play.

“With his box-office power” Cruz tweeted, “he could be even more courageous — he could SOLVE the problem — by saying: ‘I stand w/ my fellow players. And I won’t play in any arena that bans another NBA player because they make a personal healthcare choice.’”

As long as Cruz writes the script, I guess “shutup and dribble” no longer applies. After years of begging athletes to stick to sports, now, they’re not courageous enough — provided they agree with you.

After Beal’s news conference, the NBA executive and I spoke about the undeniable upside in the league being a place where its players are comfortable tackling whatever is on their mind. It’s part of what has made their stars some of the most three-dimensional in all of sports.

Complexity exists among people, among athletes. Sometimes they get it right; sometimes they get it wrong. We all do. We all aren’t, though, held up as two-dimensional props for political points.

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Back to ball

Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis
(Associated Press)

OK, thanks for that. I feel better. Now back to basketball, because, guess what? The Lakers are back to basketball, holding a two Wednesday (the second being a no-contact, albeit full-speed, playbook instillation).

I was at the team’s facility Wednesday and spoke with Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and Frank Vogel (masked and distanced, of course) after their morning session. My biggest takeaway, at least for now, is how this team can attack the offseason in a way they couldn’t last season.

I mentioned in my practice story how Davis and Westbrook joked about the long practice the team had to start its season, with Davis quipping that everyone knows this team is old so maybe they should take it easy.

At media day, James admitted last season came too early. During an offseason conversation with Markieff Morris, the former Lakers reserve admitted that the team was on fumes for most of the year.

It was all a product of that short offseason and the pressures of defending a title. Though the Lakers got bounced early in the playoffs, they will still undoubtedly have the targets on their back in the West — one of the healthiest (at least for now) and most talented teams in the conference.

But, they’re energized.

“It’s not just me. All of us feel great,” Davis said. “We feel good, flying up and down the floor where we kind of took it slow last year because we had that short offseason. But me personally, I feel great. Body feels great. Ready to go.”

We heard that before. This time, though, it feels like we might actually get to see it.

Coming up

The Lakers are home for training camp, rejecting my pleas for a return to Hawaii. They’ll host Brooklyn (who is training in San Diego) early on Sunday for their preseason opener.

My guess is the big names will mostly sit, but Vogel did say to expect to see the real Lakers at some points this preseason.

“Our main guys are not going to play all the games. I don’t want to put a number on how many they’re going to play. But it would be nice to probably get at least two games where the core is playing significant minutes together, if not the whole game,” Vogel said. “But it’s just a matter of striking a balance. The six games gives us the luxury to play some of the guys towards the end of the bench, too and get a better look at them.”

Song of the week

Spirit “Like a Rolling Stone”

Defense is probably the thing I’m most interested in this preseason (which is ironic because it was always the thing I was least interested in when I played an eternity ago) so since we’re going to be talking about coverage, how about a cover song?

I’ve usually argued that “Summer Breeze” by the Isley Brothers is the best cover song ever (send me your favorites), but I’ve got a handful of new ones that I absolutely love. Lucy Dacus’ “Dancing in the Dark” comes to mind and has been showing up on a lot of playlists. But as I was writing this newsletter, Spirit’s “Like a Rolling Stone” came on and I’m compelled to share. It’s not new (1975) but maybe it’s new to you? Enjoy and we’ll talk next week.

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!


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