To get to the Lakers’ practice courts at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, you have to pass through a small anteroom. That was hard to do Wednesday morning. It was clogged with a knot of local and national media. There were so many journalists at the facility that they spilled down the hallway toward the entrance. The fire marshal would not have been pleased.
It was hard to estimate how many reporters were in attendance. My ballpark figure puts it at more than 50, less than 80. There was a brief debate among our number about whether the media mass was closer to a "plethora" or a "crap ton." Either way, the general consensus was that it was the biggest turnout for a Lakers predraft workout in a long while — bigger than those for Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, or Jahlil Okafor. It was certainly the most dramatic workout I’ve witnessed since Sixers security chased reporters off their lawn and across the street when they secreted Andrew Wiggins into Philly a few years ago.
As I was surveying the crowd, I heard a voice down the hallway marvel at the scene. "Man," he said, "all y’all here to see Lonzo?" It was Lamar Odom. He was clad in Lakers workout gear. He looked good. On any other day, that might have been the story. But Wednesday, Odom was just like everyone else — trying to get a glimpse of Lonzo Ball and maybe talk to him for a while.
Who could blame him? This event was a long time in the making. After the world’s longest social media flirtation, the Lakers and Lonzo finally canoodled IRL. Even better: The media got to sit at their table and ask whether the date was living up to both sides’ profile promises. The courtship officially began Tuesday evening when some of the Lakers hierarchy took Lonzo to Scopa in Venice. (The doughnuts are to die for.) This being L.A., it didn’t take long for creepy amateur paparazzi pictures to surface. Magic Johnson was at the dinner. So were Rob Pelinka and Luke Walton. LaVar Ball did not attend, though Walton told Jim Rome he wouldn’t have objected to breaking bread with Papa Ball. (Maybe Lonzo brought him back some donuts.) LaVar also wasn’t at Wednesday’s closed workout. That was either the best or worst possible development, depending on your opinion of LaVar and the Ball brand saturation.
When the door to the practice facility finally opened and everyone crushed in around Lonzo for the scrum, he was typically economical with his words. That’s at least one spot where the apple apparently fell a little far from the promotional tree. The whole thing lasted seven minutes, 47 seconds before the team pulled the plug and bundled him off to lunch with Jeanie, Joey, and Jesse Buss. (The Lakers brass did not address the media.) Ball — who, notably, wore James Harden’s signature shoes and not his own for the workout — offered lots of clipped answers, from what he thought of the drills (he tried to stay focused), to what kind of shooting they put him through (typical stuff), to what it was like to meet Magic and the Lakers decision-makers for the first time (it was a lot of fun), to whether this is the place he wants to play (of course, he wants to stay home). He said nice things about Magic and called him the best point guard ever. Twice. And naturally he addressed whether dear ol’ dad will be "a huge distraction" in Los Angeles if he plays here.
"People said that about me in high school. People said that about me in college," Lonzo replied. "I don’t think it affected me." He didn’t bother shrugging. He conceded that all the attention around him might make him a target for fans, but he said he’s used to it by now. Maybe, but there’s a difference between being used to the attention when you’re in college and acclimating to it when you’re a member of the Lakers — or even Lakers adjacent.
That brings us to the best part of the interview, which might also serve as a point of instruction for Ball — or, failing that, a preview of what’s to come for him and the rest of us. Unprompted, Ball offered that the Lakers "have a lot of good players," but he just thinks "they need a leader at point guard. I feel I can bring that to the team." Maybe Ball forgot that the Lakers drafted D’Angelo Russell two years ago — but Lakers fans didn’t. When NBC L.A. Lakers reporter Shahan Ahmed tweeted the quote, his mentions got awfully fun, awfully fast. Some people even made sure to add @Dloading to the conversation for good measure. (This reply was my favorite.)
Ball might have gotten away with the remarks if he hadn’t reiterated them a few moments later. Asked why the Lakers should draft him, he repeated himself: "They need a leader. They need a point guard." More than one media member raised an eyebrow. I was one of them. Maybe he didn’t mean it as a shot at his might-be teammate, but Lonzo has been a Ball for long enough to know that what he meant and how people interpret or discuss what he said are often very different things. The only certainty when it comes to conversations about the Balls is that there will definitely be one, and it will be loud, many people will join it, and the discussion will be never-ending.
When you think about it, that’s part of the point here — and perhaps a large part of the appeal. They’re the Lakers, and they want to win. It’s possible Lonzo Ball will help them do that if they draft him. But they’re the Lakers, and they also want to dominate the conversation, something they haven’t done in a while — probably too long, by their standards. More than any other organization in the NBA, the Lakers have always been attuned to the entertainment element of the league and the massive value it represents. There might be questions about Lonzo’s game (his shot and defense among them), but the Ball name would be a guaranteed boost in ratings for the Lake Show. It’s not so much real recognize real as brand recognize brand.