The two cameramen stood motionless and frustrated. They were in a bad spot. They had no shot.
Inside the Lakers’ brand-new training facility in El Segundo, California, Lonzo Ball was on set being interviewed by James Worthy and Mike Bresnahan of the team’s local broadcast. The zone around the set had been sectioned off. No one was allowed to enter or be near the network cameras.
“Should we go to the other side?” one asked the other.
“We might be able to shoot it from there. … No, he’s going to be blocked by Worthy,” the other responded.
Fifteen other Lakers players were roaming the facility at media day, all free to be filmed, free to be interviewed. But they weren’t Lonzo Ball. Even a bad shot of Lonzo was better than no shot of Lonzo.
If it wasn’t clear before, media day in Lakerland was a clear reminder: The Lakers are Lonzo’s team now.
“Join along for the ride. This is Lakers basketball in ESPN LA 710.”
As part of the tediousness of media day, Ball, his hair reaching heights previously unseen and his face unshaven, stood with a mic in his hand, stumbling through radio promos.
“Wait, is it ‘in’ or ‘on’ ESPN LA 710?” he asked the producer.
A few more times and he got it right.
Minutes later, Ball waited as the radio station was in commercial before coming back live. The hosts, Steve Mason and John Ireland, were pleading with their producer on the phone. “Tell him these ads can wait. He can dump out of these ads. Tell him we’ve got the Lonzo Ball here,” Mason half-joked.
The radio hosts weren’t the only ones clearing the way for the Lakers’ prized rookie. Everywhere he and his new ZO2 Prime Big Baller Brand shoes stepped, everyone else’s feet seemed to as well. When Ball made his way to the photo shoot area, even teammate Thomas Bryant quickly sauntered over with his iPhone ready to take a Snapchat.
“Work it Lonzo, work it,” Bryant called out. “Show those teeth!”
Even as teammates, coaches, and team president Magic Johnson attempted to deflect the focus and attention back to the team, it would always find its way back to Lonzo. If it wasn’t about Lonzo hype, it was about his shoes. If it wasn’t his shoes, it was his dad and his family. There were questions about his reality show and, believe it or not, questions about his basketball skills.
“We’ve even changed our style just a little bit,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said, “because the point guard we have likes to push the ball a lot.”
In his introductory press conference, GM Rob Pelinka stayed on brand and said they are trying to teach Ball about being a Laker through stories. From Magic to Kobe, Pelinka said the Lakers have plenty of stories to tell about what it takes to be not just good, but great.
“He doesn’t like to bring attention to himself,” Pelinka said. “Lonzo strikes me as a person that’s not really affected by some of the huge expectations.”
At UCLA, Ball never appeared burdened by pressure or expectations thrown at him. Monday was no different. Oratory bumps here and there during the promo reads were the only things he didn't do in a flawless, relaxing manner. With a hearty chuckle and unflinching candor, he stood in front of blinding floodlights and locked in eyes all day answering questions and posing for photos.
Ball, without ever having played a regular-season NBA game, easily filled the role as the face of one of sports’ most prominent franchises. A franchise that, judging by its Wi-Fi password—“champs16x”—will not be satisfied until banner no. 17 is raised.
“If I wasn’t a basketball player, I’d be a rapper. What kind of rapper? A good rapper.”
Even though he was comfortable throughout Monday’s media day, there was a clear demarcation between basketball-mode Lonzo and Lonzo, the personality. The basketball questions elicited cookie-cutter answers. When the questions deviated toward life beyond the court, the real Lonzo emerged.
“What am I scared of? I don’t know, bugs?”
“My game-day attire? I haven’t even thought about that yet, but it’ll probably be fresh.”
Everyone wanted to know everything about Lonzo. Between his reality show, the questions he will be flooded with after every game, and the TV interviews he’ll have to give, this is his new reality. Monday was only the beginning.
“Everyone’s following his every move,” forward Julius Randle said, “but honestly, Zo is just being Zo.”