When LeBron James chose to join the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency, a lot of people speculated that his move wasn’t about basketball, with a common refrain of “he’s only going there to make movies” from those who don’t like — or straight up hate — the purple and gold.
But while James’ entertainment endeavors certainly can’t be dismissed as a factor in his decision-making, it’s also seemed increasingly clear that basketball is very much not falling by the wayside in terms of its importance for James.
James recently re-iterated that his goals for the Lakers beyond winning a title this year are to build “championship habits,” and a story Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told during “An Evening With The Lakers” on ESPN 710 made it sound like James is already making sure his teammates are ready to win at a high level:
“Now we have one of the most competitive players in the world, and I’ve seen it already in our scrimmages. Our five-on-five the other day he (LeBron) was in here and there was a fast break, and he had this pass where he took off at halfcourt and did like a 360 in the air, wrapped the ball around behind his back and found a guy under the hoop. But the player, it was such an unbelievable pass that the player fumbled the ball out of bounds.
”So as that player was running back and LeBron was running back to play defense, he’s like ‘Man, do you like your nose?’ And the player was like ‘Yeah, I like my nose.’ And he (LeBron) said ‘Well get your hands ready, or I’m gonna break your nose!’ ... That competition, it elevates all of us.”
So it would appear that James is not playing around or eager to babysit this year. He wants to make sure his teammates are ready to go for when the games start to count, and with a passer like LeBron, part of that readiness includes always keeping one’s hands up. Lesson (probably) learned.
But after I tweeted that quote, my mentions were filled with people trying to guess the target of James’ ire, with the most popular guess being Ivica Zubac. However, Zubac told Silver Screen and Roll — Does a tweet count as an exclusive? Asking for resume purposes — that he couldn’t have been the player receiving the warning because he’s not even in the country:
Definitely not since I’m with my national team and unfortunately LeBron is not Croatian ♂️— Ivica Zubac (@ivicazubac) September 8, 2018
“Unfortunately LeBron is not Croatian” nearly killed me when I saw it pop up on my phone at 2:00 in the morning, but that eliminates Zubac as a stone-handed suspect. And given Zubac’s soft hands as a target in pick and rolls, he never seemed like a super likely culprit anyway.
We’ll probably never know who actually was the target of LeBron’s warning, either, but this is just another parallel between himself and Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson.
Several members of the Showtime Lakers teams that Johnson led have told similar stories over the years of how when Johnson joined the team, a leather fastball to the face was ample warning to keep their hands up with a passer like him on the floor.
James, as Pelinka reminds, is on a similar level, able to see angles that other players can’t or don’t, and necessitating his teammates’ readiness to get the ball anywhere when James is looking to distribute.
Everyone on the Lakers is going to have to get used to that reality and keep their hands up, and if they can’t, they won’t see the floor much this year. Or LeBron is going to break their nose.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.