Los Angeles — I first realized I was in trouble when I got to Luke Walton’s pregame media availability. Hand up, I was a little late — turns out parking is hard to find when LeBron James is making his home debut for the Lakers, even two hours before — but I couldn’t hear a word Walton was saying.
“mumble mumble mumble,” Walton said, as far as I could hear, although it turns out that he too was noticing the extra mob of media.
Luke Walton was asked what was different about this home opener compared to the last one: “This is a little different,” he said, gesturing to the 50 or so media members crowded around him in the back tunnel of Staples Center.— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) October 21, 2018
The media attention on the Lakers has obviously ramped up since James joined the team, and practices have been more intensely populated over the weeks leading up to his debut, but Saturday was their peak.
This is the crowd for Luke before game one pic.twitter.com/cTydPenYzN— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 21, 2018
This is madness. This is a Los Angeles traffic jam in human form. This is the fishbowl LeBron James lives in, every day, in which a throng of eager media is always trying to capture every moment of James, even when he’s not actually sitting at his locker or expected to speak.
The pregame locker room is just media waiting to get a shot of LeBron walking in to get ready. He's not expected to speak. pic.twitter.com/lx7iLVMYNj— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 21, 2018
In the 24-7, social-media crazed coverage environment of 2018, in which even brief glimpses of LeBron are valuable currency to trade rabid Lakers fans in exchange for likes and retweets, this is the new reality in Los Angeles.
The NBA announced Saturday morning that LeBron’s debut would be seen by fans in 179 countries and territories. In anticipation of this interest, the Lakers issued more than 250 credentials to media from 15 countries and territories to record, tweet and breathlessly update their Instagram stories about every single move James made, on and off the court.
After the game, in which multiple players were ejected for fighting, things got even crazier, with seemingly all 250 credentialed media trying to get James’ opinion on the fracas, forming a rabble that only got larger once the rest of his teammates were done speaking before James had even left the locker room to go and meet a gaggle of his closest friends out in the hallway.
The crowd has somehow gotten larger pic.twitter.com/pqZUaR8yAI— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 21, 2018
Yes, that’s a photographer on a ladder, waiting to get postgame photos of James.
To get in there and listen to LeBron requires a level of skill at boxing out and (sometimes) a willingness to throw elbows that I just didn’t possess on this evening. Practices have been slightly less intense, but still far more populated than they were over the last few seasons, and this is just what happens when the interest in the Lakers, the nation’s second-largest media market and the biggest star in basketball mix. Especially after a game with as much drama as the Lakers’ home-opener had.
More notably, this is just what life is like for James, who doesn’t even seem fazed by all the attention after having had the national spotlight on him since high school.
“We in LA, right?” James said when asked following the game if he “was surprised by the media contingent” waiting for him after the loss.
At least this horde was more understandable than the pregame one that formed at his locker, seemingly out of habit as much as anything else, though. At least James was speaking this time, but if you want to know what he said, you’d be better off watching from home, or waiting for someone to tweet about it.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.