You hear about it all the time. The Los Angeles Lakers and their fans suffer from exceptionalism. Things are just different when you play for that team. While Kyle Kuzma prepares for All-Star Weekend (during which he’ll be participating in the Rising Stars Challenge and Skills Competition), he voiced this very opinion.
Folks in Orlando won’t like this (via Sirius XM/Ballislife):
“Well, obviously the national media loves the Lakers. Everybody talks about it and when you add LeBron James to the mix, one of the greatest players, you’re going to have even more. But for me, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I want people talking about me, good or bad, because if you’re not, you’re not doing something right. I’d rather be talked about bad in L.A. than play in Orlando and not get talked about.”
(Quick note: The funniest thing to happen now is for Kuzma to be traded to the Orlando Magic, just to watch his attempts at trying to walk back this statement)
To Kuzma’s point, he’d likely still be in the Rising Stars Challenge no matter which team he played for. He’s had a very promising first season and a half, and his scoring ability is the kind of thing that really sticks out and gets players into this kind of exhibition.
The skills competition, however, is probably a different story — even if the game is in Charlotte and the league struggles to find guys who want to go there in their time off.
As fun as it is for the Lakers and their fans to laugh at comments like this from Kuzma, the NBA does have a bit of a problem in this respect. It’s not great that most casual NBA fans are pretty apathetic to Anthony Davis being held out. He’s a legitimate top-five talent who might not play for upwards of two months because his team is more interested in his trade value than they are in fielding a competitive squad.
Could you imagine if, say, Todd Gurley was healthy and paid well enough to play but just didn’t for half the season? Baseball isn’t a great example because Manny Machado and Bryce Harper remain unsigned, but you never want to have anything in common with the MLB.
Somehow, the response to Davis not playing would probably be a little more vitriolic than it currently is had he not spent his entire career playing for a team that rarely appears on national television.
Now, the NBA has always operated this way. Stars and markets drive the league. Sure, there are organizations like the San Antonio Spurs who have succeeded despite being in a smaller market, but they don’t move the needle at all. Like those ugly grey jerseys they wear, they’re thoroughly and purposefully boring.
For teams that are vying for attention (the Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks, for example), however, the NBA has to do a better job of showcasing them so more casual fans are aware of them before they have to try to learn as much as they can about them before their upcoming playoff runs.
The NBA has to find a balance between exposure for those smaller markets, and the ratings boost teams like the Lakers and New York Knicks offer. Those multi-billion-dollar TV deals have to be lived up to, and if small markets don’t move the needle enough, the league might find themselves in an awkward situation with their corporate partners.
There are two sides to that coin though, and as we’ve learned this season, failing in Los Angeles is also just a little louder than not living up to expectations elsewhere. Players and teams can’t just be “fine” in this or other large markets. You’re either “Da GOAT” or a bust with very little patience for anything in-between.
All that matters for Kuzma is that his performance for the Lakers has netted him these opportunities. Should he rise to the occasion, all the more people will get to focus on that, but he’s also right in that there is added scrutiny that comes with the territory.
Either way, just about anything beats apathy, or playing for the Orlando Magic.