LeBron James’ commitment is the latest undeserved break for the Lakers
The Lakers are not a great organization. They are the luckiest franchise in professional sports.
They are everything Phoenix is not.
Their best assets have nothing to do with basketball. They are fortified by great weather, close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, easy access to Hollywood and movie stars that occupy courtside seats. They are benefactors of a celebrity culture that consumes and dooms us all.
Once, I walked out of the media room at halftime of a Suns playoff game and found myself face-to-face with Heather Locklear. She was radiant and in her prime. I was dimwitted and delusional.
I said, ‘hello’ with all the charisma I could summon. Her look of disgust was comical, searing my silly brain. No other team reminds us that life can be viciously unfair.
Nobody feels the burn like basketball fans in Phoenix.
The Lakers now employ LeBron James, the second greatest player in NBA history. He is only the latest superstar to find L.A. irresistible, which has allowed the Lakers to hang 16 championship banners. They’ve commissioned six statues outside the Staples Center. They lead the Suns 22-0 in the analytics of immortality.
They don’t deserve this embarrassment of riches.
The Lakers aren’t even an original franchise. They relocated after surveying the success of the Brooklyn Dodgers. They moved from Minneapolis, becoming the NBA’s first West Coast franchise. They have one of most ill-fitted nicknames in sports. They are to lakes what Utah is to Jazz.
But somehow, they keep getting all the breaks. Kareem-Abdul Jabbar forced his way to the Lakers because he was too big for Milwaukee. That would’ve never happened if the Suns hadn’t lost a coin flip for his services in 1968.
The Lakers traded an aging Gail Goodrich for a draft pick that became Magic Johnson. They executed a lopsided trade for a pick that became James Worthy. They stole Shaquille O’Neal from the Magic. They traded for Chris Paul in a one-sided deal so absurd that then-commissioner David Stern stepped in and vetoed the transaction.
Their good fortune is in explicable. It’s why Valley basketball fans believe in conspiracy theories, spawning a serious persecution complex. From a sporting context, Los Angeles is our obnoxious big brother: unthreatened by our presence, ruthless in its arrogance, proof that location means everything. They are the place we’ll never be.
Maybe it’s a consolation prize that James will not be joined by Paul George. Or maybe George became the odd-man out after Kawhi Leonard closed the book on San Antonio. Either way, James is just the latest superstar to land in Los Angeles — and the first NBA superstar to voluntarily relocate three times in the prime of his career.
His Lakers replica jersey will fly off shelves, destined to become one of the hottest pieces of sports apparel in history. He will end his decorated career in our way, another obstacle in our path.
That’s why the Suns need to hit the accelerator. The acquisition of Trevor Ariza was a small victory, even if the one-year commitment isn’t ideal. Devin Booker’s contract extension will help local morale. But this team better find some more help and less teenagers as soon as possible.
That’s because James and the Lakers have stolen our offseason. They have awakened all their bandwagon fans in the Valley. You will be shocked at how many have been living amongst us in silence, in the shadows, waiting for a moment like this.
James is a game-changer, obviously. He’s also the latest gift for a city that speaks to the megastars, providing the Lakers with an unparalleled competitive advantage. Beat L.A.?
Not in this game.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.