Last night, when I was watching the Los Angeles Lakers finish up their 128-99 drubbing of the Cleveland Cavaliers, a fan behind me waited for a quieter moment to deliver a message to LeBron James.
“LEBRON, you’re the f---ing GOAT,” the person yelled.
The sentiment was understandable — James had just dropped a team-high 31 points and 8 assists to lead the Lakers to their ninth win in a row and 33rd in 40 games — but it’s not an idea James agrees with. As Alex Caruso revealed to Marc Stein of the New York Times, there’s a different player James calls by that nickname:
Caruso’s penchant for memorable dunks has already earned him a few nicknames: “Bald Mamba,” “Bald Eagle” and “Carushow.” Yet LeBron has added another.
“Every time I see him and say, ‘Hey, Bron,’ he just calls me G.O.A.T.,” Caruso said with a laugh. “The first couple times it kind of threw me off. Now it’s just an everyday thing.
Now, James has captioned Caruso as the GOAT in his Instagram before, but this is the first express confirmation that we’ve gotten that this internet meme has now made it’s way into the real-life Lakers locker room. That’s honestly a testament to the power of Lakers fans, especially the lovable weirdos who populate Lakers Twitter. Well done, everyone. I’d say that’s a mission accomplished.
Now, Caruso’s viral popularity has upset other fanbases, who have turned him into a lightning rod for criticism because of the way some content machines have appropriated the Caruso jokes from Lakers fans to try and shamelessly turn them into retweets and other engagement. I personally would not go so far as to blame that for NBA ratings being down, but that’s because I don’t own a tin foil hat.
The thing that a lot of people don’t seem to get is that Caruso didn’t ask to become “the token meme guy.” He has always come off as bemused by the attention he gets, and if anything, he’s downplayed it as much as could reasonably be expected for a public figure. Something the fun police also miss is that Caruso has a genuinely cool story, one that has led Lakers fans to embrace him. An undrafted guy coming from two years of two-way contracts to solidify a key role on a contender with LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be a genuine story even if Caruso wasn’t in a huge market and didn’t constantly try to dunk on people, but both of those things are also true.
Add in the fact that Caruso has an appearance that can only be described as “the wispy-haired, swole Lakers backcourt savior who is capable of looking like both an early super-soldier program candidate and a cool stepdad at the same time,” and well, you have a recipe for a lot of attention just based on the uniqueness factor alone, especially in a large market like Los Angeles.
That attention has led not just to tons of social media posts about him, but also Caruso becoming one of the leading vote-getters for the 2020 All-Star Game. He’s seen the controversy over that, and spoke to Stein about it:
“But in reality, I never want to take any credit away from guys that are truly deserving of being All-Stars that have had great seasons. The fan vote part of it is just, I guess, a compliment to how hard I’ve worked to get here.”
It’s worth remembering that the fan vote is only 50 percent of the All-Star equation. Media and player votes count for 25 percent each, so there’s zero threat of Caruso actually claiming a spot in the All-Star Game.
It is a compliment, and it also should be fun. All of this should be fun. Lately, online, it’s seemed a little less so sometimes with all the feigned outrage and people searching for reasons to be upset.
But you know what’s a nice, fun palate cleanser to all that? LeBron James literally walks around the Lakers practice facility calling Alex Caruso “GOAT.” And that’s awesome.
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