LOS ANGELES — During the Lakers’ team flight from Los Angeles to Orlando, the first stop of four in a weeklong road trip, Max Christie approached LeBron James for his advice.
Closer in age to James’ three children than the vet whose career began just a couple of months after Max was born, Christie asked the teammate who’s lived more NBA life than almost anyone ever for some on- and off-court advice. In response, LeBron gave Christie his learned perspective on how to watch film in preparation for opponents as well as how to take care of his mindset away from the game.
As a member of a contending team led by a pair of all-time greats flanked by vets looking to re-edify their stock in the NBA, so many things are beyond the control of a 20-year-old sophomore in the league. Now, though, with an opportunity to step into a consistent playing role following a slew of injuries to the Lakers’ early-season rotation guys, Christie is in the process of figuring out how to manage more professional basketball than ever before.
Throughout our interview, arranged by Activision’s public relations team in promotion of the November 9 release of Modern Warfare III, Christie repeatedly returned to the idea of controlling the controllable to cut through the intermittent chaos of life in the league.
In particular, Christie explained what LeBron looks for when he watches film, his funniest rookie duty story from last season, D’Angelo Russell’s specific Call of Duty play-style, whether the Lakers ever practiced their three-big lineup before deploying it in a game, how he was able to set the season’s high water mark for deflections in a single game — in his first extended run, no less — and more.
(Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity).
What was your first Call of Duty experience?
My first Call of Duty was Black Ops II, and it is also my favorite. I got it obviously when I was a kid. I played a lot of zombies for sure, a lot of multiplayer as well. That was my first Call of Duty and I played basically every single one since it came out.
How long have you been gaming?
I played a lot of Nintendo when I was really young. My dad got me into that. Once I got a little bit older my parents allowed me to play Call of Duty. Then I started with Black Ops II, and I’ve been playing it ever since.
What’s your mode of choice?
I’ve been playing a lot of Warzone recently for sure. I played the MWIII beta. I’m on a road trip now but I’m gonna start that campaign when I get back and then obviously play a lot of multiplayer too. I’m looking forward to zombies as well. I’m a big zombies guy – I played a lot of Black Ops II Zombies, Black Ops III Zombies, Infinite Warfare, the list goes on.
Who do you mostly play with nowadays?
A lot of teammates and a lot of people within the Lakers staff. Our equipment managers play a lot. D’Lo likes to play Call of Duty, we play with him a lot. AD plays a little bit too. We’ve got a nice little core of guys that Call of Duty around the squad.
Any modes in particular you like to play with those guys?
We play a lot of Resurgence for sure. A lot of Resurgence. We haven’t played a lot of Ranked, but we play Resurgence, like Vondel and Ashika Island and that stuff.
Does anybody have a particular role they like to play?
D’Lo likes to snipe a lot. I’m just your traditional AR/SMG. That’s what everybody else is too. D’Lo likes to play on top of buildings and snipe, but uh [laughing] I usually go with an MP5 with the Lachman as my secondary and then my primary is usually the TAQ-56. I like to use that.
Who’s the best among you guys?
The best player for sure is me, I’ll be honest. I have some film – I had a 16-kill clutch yesterday or two days ago. I was the last guy alive for a long time. My whole squad was dead and then I clutched up at the end. We’ve got some good guys on the squad; we’ve got some good players.
In the past, LeBron’s been described as a “big kid.” Would you say that’s a fair description of your experience with him, and what’s your relationship with him like?
That’s very accurate. He does a good job of doing both. He’s serious at times when he needs to be serious, but he’s also a kid when he wants to be a kid. Even instances like this morning or on the plane on the way here to Orlando, there’s instances where he’s a kid, but I remember I asked him some questions about on-the-court stuff, preparing for games, stuff like that, and he got straight into explaining mode, serious mode, trying to help me out. There’s a balance of both, but his kid side is definitely entertaining.
Before you got some good minutes in last game, Darvin Ham called you one of the “young jewels” of the roster, and I know there are a lot of fans who have been excited watching you in Summer League, preseason, and in flashes last year. How have you been able to balance the demands of your day-to-day basketball workload and personal life while also being patient in waiting for your on-court opportunity to emerge.
Yeah, I’m a big believer in controlling what you can control. Now I’m in an opportunity where I’m able to play. We’ve got Gabe out for the next two weeks I think, so that’s an opportunity for me. But like you said, leading up to it I was sort of just watching if you will. To me, that was something that was out of my control. That’s not my decision to make, so all I can do is show up every day and work as hard as I can. Like I said, control what I can control, be the best version of myself both on and off the floor with recovery and then on the court, obviously, with my skill work. Really just staying ready and like an opportunity like last game came up, where I was able to play, then there’s gonna be an opportunity in the next multiple games as well for me to play. I think just the culmination of me just trying to control what I can control while I was sorta waiting is gonna allow me to play well in the next couple of games when the opportunity does come.
Is there anybody among your teammates, coaches, or family who has been in your ear about that kind of mentality, controlling the controllable?
A lot with my family, I was sort of raised that way. But I have a lot of support from all of my teammates to be honest. Austin’s been a really good support guy for me because I’m in the same position he was in last year, so he’s been supporting me throughout. And D’Lo, D’Angelo has been supporting me as well. LeBron has had a few talks with me as well, just making sure I’m staying ready, staying focused. So I have the full support of all my teammates, so it feels good to have that confidence as well as with my inner circle, my mom, dad, brother, those guys too.
You mentioned taking care of your skill work as one of those controllable elements. What in particular is a point of emphasis in your work these days?
I think the fundamentals are always important, but I’d say the most important skill, in this game at least, is the ability to shoot the ball. I’ve always been a good shooter all my life, and so I want to make sure I’m keeping that tool sharp, for sure, getting my shots up every day. This morning I went and got my shots up, still want to make sure I’m keeping that tool sharp because if I can make shots, then, you know, I’ll need to be on the floor. That’s always an important tool to have in my bag, in any player’s bag. Being able to shoot is super important.
In 21 minutes against the Clippers, you had nine deflections, the most by any player in any NBA game this season, regardless of minutes total. How were you able to do that in your first extended run of the season?
To me, defense is all about energy and effort, and like — I’ve said it earlier, controlling what you can control. Going as small as into games, controlling your energy and effort. That’s something you can control all the time. Things that you can’t control, maybe you can’t control if you make your shots, how many shots you’re going to make all the time, or you can’t control your teammates, but things you can control are your energy and effort, and that plays very well into the defensive end of the floor.
And so, to me, that’s all it was. I just played with a lot of energy and a lot of effort and a lot of adrenaline since I hadn’t played in a while and it was my first game, so I think that sort of played into it a little bit, just me being out there, playing as hard as I can, letting me get some deflections, some steals, impacting the game in that sense. Like I said, my shot wasn’t really falling that game, but I was able to impact the game in other ways, and that was my defense. So always finding ways to impact the game, even if it isn’t offensively because obviously, we have LeBron, AD, and D’Lo. Offense isn’t an issue for us. Defensively is where some guys might take plays off and that’s my opportunity to sort of fit myself into the mold.
We also got a little bit of a look during that game at a lineup I wasn’t expecting, which was that three-big lineup. Is that something that you guys have been throwing around in practice? What’d that look like to you?
That was unique for sure. We didn’t really go to that a lot. Zubac, their big, is obviously a force on the offensive glass just because he’s just so big, so we wanted to make sure we were getting some big rebounds down the stretch, but that was unique. We definitely have not tried that in practice. I think that’s also a unique part about the NBA, stuff changes and happens so fast and you have to have an ability to adapt on the fly. Obviously, it worked, because we got the win, but it was unique for sure.
Has gaining muscle continued to be a part of your in-season routine, and is that something you’re just annoyed at getting asked about at this point?
That’s something I’ve been getting asked about since high school for sure. I think in-season is more so maintaining – that’s the bottom line. If you gain muscle, hey, that’s a great positive. But it’s certainly hard. You play in 82 games and all this stuff, the travel we’ve been doing, it’s sort of hard to put on weight. As long as you can maintain it during the season, that’s the goal. The offseason is really where you wanna start putting on that weight. I’ve been able to do that since my rookie year, I came in at 189 and now I’m at a solid 205, so that’s 16 pounds I think, or something around there. The goal is 210, 215, maybe. I feel pretty comfortable with 205, so for now we’re just looking to maintain it throughout the season and maybe this offseason we can look to put five more on or something like that.
As an NBA sophomore, have you been able to pass along anything you’ve learned to your rookies?
I think I had a really good opportunity to be that sort of mentor and leader for them in Summer League when it was just us on the team and I on that team had the most NBA experience, even though it was only one year, really. So it sort of felt good to be in that leadership role because I think naturally, I think I’m a pretty good leader, and so especially for the guys who were gonna be on our roster in Jalen and Max, and Colin, D’Moi, and Alex and those guys. So I was able to sort of take them under my wing and teach them what it means to be a pro, and as we’ve gotten to know each other a little bit more and now we’re in the season a little bit, I’ve sort of been able to pass on a lot of tricks as a rookie you need to know.
One of the big things rookies have to deal with is rookie duties for their vets, so I’ve been able to pass that on a little bit, sort of lighten the load for them, but it definitely does feel good to have some knowledge compared to last year, and be able to not only implement it myself but implement it for the younger guys. I’ve got a pretty good relationship with all of them.
You mentioned you had a chance to go back over the game with LeBron on the flight over. What did you talk about with him?
The question I asked LeBron was, I said, “When you’re preparing for games, in terms of film, what do you look for?” Because I’m a film guy, but I don’t think I watch it nearly as much as some of these other guys, it just isn’t a thing for me. I was always wondering, what are you looking for? And he was talking about for him, how teams guard their best player. Obviously, he’s one of our best players, he’s going to get treated differently than say, me, for example.
So, he’s watching that, he’s watching ball-screen coverages: when the big is guarding the ball-screen, what opportunities will you have? What do teams when he’s posting up? A lot of teams like to double him, [so he’ll look at] what they are doing on that backside so he knows when he goes into the game where his outlets are gonna be. And so on. He’s just detailing a lot of the specific things that he’s looking for.
I think the most important question I asked him though was probably, I said, “What do you do – how do you get away from basketball?” His biggest thing, he loves to play video games, he plays Madden a lot, he doesn’t play any Call of Duty. He said Call of Duty moves too fast for him. He’s a big Madden guy, so he was just telling me I’ve got to find outlets and ways to get away from basketball. Video games is definitely one of them.
Another one is golf. I like to golf a lot. I’ve been getting into video games a lot more. I took a break from it a little bit, but Call of Duty is obviously a staple for me.
Do you golf with Austin or D’Lo at all?
Yeah, I’ve golfed with both of them. A couple times actually.
How do you compare to their golf skills?
Austin’s really good, I’m not as good as Austin. My handicap is probably like a 10-15. I don’t think I’ve played enough or tracked it enough to know accurately. But I think – I went earlier today, I shot six-over through nine, so I think that’s like a 12, you know, for 18. D’Lo is probably around that 12-15 range, so we are kind of similar, but Austin is damn near scratch. He’s really good.
The team’s offense looks more decisive this season. Can you speak to that at all?
A big stat for us as a team – we like to break down – so it’s a 24-second shot clock. We like to break it down into three levels. The first eight, the middle eight, and the last eight. Our points per possession are at its highest in the first eight. So, when we’re playing fast and quick, like you said, decisive, and making quick decisions, we’re always at our best.
I definitely think a part of that is film. When you’re coming down, you’re preparing for teams, how they defend us in the early clock, and some of the actions we run, knowing what’s already going to happen is important. I definitely think film plays a little bit of a role in that for sure. I also think simply playing fast, with force, your energy on the offensive end.
So, if you’re walking up and slow, slow energy, obviously you’re going to burn into that clock. I think playing with energy, coupled with watching film and knowing how teams are going to defend certain actions that we run in the early seconds of the clock are important and that allows us to make quicker decisions. And obviously, when we make quicker decisions, we’re better as a team.