It wasn’t going to take much for Russell Westbrook’s replacement to be more liked than his predecessor. By the time he left Los Angeles, things had grown toxic once again both with the fans and around the team.
The Lakers, though, hit a PR home run in making his replacement D’Angelo Russell. One of the biggest fan favorites amongst the Baby Lakers, Russell’s return by itself may have produced enough goodwill to overcome acquiring Westbrook as is.
And it only took one home game for the love Lakers fans still have for D’Lo — and vice versa — to be evident. After the biggest shot of his impressive third quarter, D’Lo celebrated with the crowd and, in a moment captured and shared on Lakers social media, shouted out to the fans, “Like I never left.”
"Like I never left." pic.twitter.com/XvDEDtoVHb— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 16, 2023
Russell scored 10 of his 21 points in the third quarter, the last three of those coming on this shot, to help the Lakers to a needed victory. After the game, Russell was asked about the moment and the welcome he received from the fans.
“Just embracing all those emotions,” Russell said. “Not being nervous, not being anxious, not being any of that. Just kind of embracing that with my own persona. I love those moments. I play for the fans that are fans of me. I always appreciate them and when I have an opportunity to embrace them and go out of my way to do something like that, I always think of the fans when I’m doing that, for sure.”
The comparison of how Lakers fans responded to Westbrook’s play in his final game as a Laker little more than a week prior to how they reacted to D’Lo on Wednesday is a stark contrast. Ignoring basketball fits — an area which Russell is also significantly better than Westbrook — the vibes fit for D’Lo is dramatically better than Westbrook.
Save for a brief stretch of games early this season after he accepted and embraced his role off the bench, there were very, very few pleasant interactions between Westbrook and fans. For D’Lo to get this kind of reception in game one?
It’s a small thing and it doesn’t necessarily translate to on-court success, but it does translate to a more enjoyable basketball experience for the fans, players and everyone surrounding the organization.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.