As a player, Luke Walton was one of the more universally beloved figures around the Los Angeles Lakers organization, a reality that has mostly continued for him in his time as head coach of the team over the last two seasons.
Walton was by all accounts a great teammate, seemingly friends with just about everyone on the roster, and nearly all of his former teammates seem to have a favorite “Luke story.”
Even former Lakers forward Ronny Turiaf, albeit with a few he was reluctant to admit it in his recent appearance on the “Locked on Lakers” podcast, laughing “Nah, hell no man I’m going down to the grave” when asked for his favorite story about Walton, before opening up a bit.
”On the basketball court playing with him was like so easy as a big guy, but my favorite memory of Luke is not just him. It’s him, Jordan Farmar, Vladimir Radmonovic, Brian Cook and Lamar Odom,” Turiaf said, referencing his tight-nit group of buddies from the three years he spent in the purple and gold.
Turiaf described how that group would have movie nights on the road, taking turns using each other’s rooms on the road and racking up room service bills while having a great time together.
“That’s probably one of my most cherished times in my 10-year career. The level of bond that we had on that team was second-to-none, and those are the memories that I cherish and that sometimes I reminisce about. The closeness that we had off of the basketball court,” Turiaf said.
The current crop of Lakers currently appear to be building a similar bond to Turiaf and Walton’s group, a group that wasn’t instantly good enough to head to the 2008 NBA Finals and later win two titles after he departed in free agency.
Turiaf said that kind of bonding was crucial for his Lakers group in progressing as a team, and he thinks the young Lakers will need to make those same connections if they’re going to bring the franchise back to that level.
”That’s what it takes. It takes the level of closeness on the court and also an understanding of who you are as a human being off of the basketball court as well,” Turiaf said. “I think that’s part of growth, that’ part of friendship, and that’s part of when the line is drawn in the sand, who is going to be willing to protect this teammate like he was protecting his own member of his family.
“I think that’s what makes a championship. It makes a big difference.”
And while Turiaf was open about having to take the four-year, $17 million offer from the Golden State Warriors instead of the qualifying offer from the Lakers because of the way it’s allowed him to take care of his family and fulfill his post-career goal of doing charitable endeavors in every country around the globe, he still wishes he could’ve stayed with that group as they climbed the championship mountaintop.
“After we lost to the Boston Celtics, I wish I was with those guys to win a championship the following two years to win championships with those guys,” Turiaf said. “It was a story that we started, like building a house together. I just didn’t get a chance to do the housewarming party. But it was beautiful to be a part of that.”
If this current group of young players live up to the promise they’ve shown and are allowed to stay together as L.A. moves forward, then maybe they’ll be able to speak just as fondly of their memories together as Turiaf does of his time with Walton and the rest of his young crop of Lakers.