Petey Reyna had a good reason to leave work early on Tuesday. He was taking his 12-year-old daughter, Evelyn, to meet LeBron James. The two were heading to Blaze Pizza, a restaurant chain partially owned by LABron. Blaze announced last week it was celebrating the Lakers signing LeBron by giving away free personal pizzas at all of its Southern California locations during a three-hour window on Tuesday afternoon. The day before the giveaway, James hinted that he might appear at the Culver City location in western L.A.
Haven’t been to a pizza party in a minute Culver City? https://t.co/1QxgALyekK— LeBron James (@KingJames) July 9, 2018
That doesn’t exactly sound like a solid commitment, but considering it was James’s second tweet since the regular season ended—and his first since announcing he’d join the Lakers—and that it came hours after he officially signed his Lakers contract, the tweet had extra gravity.
The Reynas arrived at the Culver City Blaze Pizza at noon, a full two hours before James was expected to show up. They waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. Then they gave up.
“After six hours, I think it’s time to call it quits. I mean, what the fuck?” Petey said, gesturing to the people waiting in line behind him, holding a Sharpie and a Spalding basketball still in its store packaging. “What’s going on, man? Look at all these people [LeBron] let down!”
Evelyn said she had one question she wished she could ask James.
“Why didn’t you come?”
After thousands of people in Los Angeles allowed a single LeBron tweet to hijack the better part of their Tuesday afternoons, Evelyn is not the only one asking that question.
There was a precedent: LeBron pulled a similar stunt in 2016, when he went “undercover” and worked behind the counter at Blaze’s Pasadena store. In response to James’s tweet on Monday, which was promoted by local radio stations, fans descended on Blaze’s Culver City location armed with things to be signed, cramming one corner of Sepulveda and Washington in hopes of catching a glimpse of their new king. Some fans arrived more than seven hours before they thought LeBron would show, and by 2 p.m. roughly 2,000 people were waiting in a line that nearly enveloped an entire square block.
How many people are standing in line to see if LeBron James shows up at a Blaze Pizza in Culver City? pic.twitter.com/5MxwtdILla— Alec Lewis (@alec_lewis) July 10, 2018
The only issue is that LeBron never came. The King may have a 10 percent stake in Blaze, but this was not part of some grand corporate marketing plan.
“I found out [about LeBron’s tweet] just like every other person that sees his Twitter messages,” said Tom Cook, the franchise owner of the Culver City location. “None of us knew.”
Not only was Blaze Pizza unaware of his tweet in advance, but nobody from the chain could get in contact with him to confirm whether or not he would actually show up.
“We don’t know if [LeBron’s visit] is happening or if it’s not,” Blaze chief marketing officer Shivram Vaideeswaran told media members at around 3 p.m. PT. The only thing Vaideeswaran knew about LeBron’s schedule that day was the workout video James posted to Instagram earlier that morning.
With every passing minute, the unpleasant possibility rooted deeper in people’s minds. What if LeBron isn’t late? What if he’s not coming?
When a luxury car pulled into the parking lot, dozens ran out of the line to swarm the vehicle, thinking LeBron was inside. He wasn’t, but the incident allowed people at the back of the line to easily cut to the front, and thus the fragile social contract separating this pizza party from pizza anarchy burst open at the seams. The front of the line was replaced by an amorphous, shape-shifting zombie hoard that engulfed the door James was supposedly going to enter. To maintain order, the staff created two lines: one to meet LeBron, and one for pizza. Eventually, everyone realized they should pick pizza.
Stanley Potts, a 32-year-old from South Central L.A., was in disbelief that LeBron didn’t even stop by for five minutes and wave to the crowd.
“How do you post a tweet that is so misleading to really make people think that he’s going to show up?” Potts said. “If anyone read [the tweet] and can read between the lines, you’d really assume that he’s coming.”
Potts noted that Lakers preseason tickets have doubled in price since LeBron agreed to sign with Los Angeles, while the cheapest tickets to the Lakers’ regular-season opener are nearly $400. Potts said that public appearances by LeBron are crucial for those who can’t afford to see him at Staples Center.
“This is one of those opportunities for someone who may not have those kind of funds … to have an up-close-and-personal meet and greet,” Potts said. “That’s what a lot of the fans are looking forward to. … [Gentrification] is making it very difficult for the natives of L.A. to really come out and support and enjoy what’s happening here.”
Potts arrived early enough to be one of the first 40 people in line, and he created a special sign for James to autograph. Potts stood in the heat all day, not wanting to leave the line for food, water, shade, or to sit out of fear of losing his spot.
“I guess I’m the stupid one that’s here just still waiting, trying to keep hope alive,” Potts said at 7 p.m. “‘Maybe he’ll show up. Maybe it was just too many people.’ But then I see a [post] from his wife where he’s in a donut in the pool. …
“… You’re at your luxurious home in your bathing suit, your pool, enjoying the weather and just chilling while we’re over here in this blazing heat trying to get a free blazing pizza that I still never got.”
The Blaze Pizza fiasco is merely a bite-size example of King James’s power in 2018. After one offhand tweet that was posed as a question, thousands of fans waited in line for hours in the L.A. sun at the tail end of a heat wave. Fans can’t cede responsibility for gathering like sheep on the basis of one vague tweet. On the other hand, LeBron has to know what might happen when he sends a tweet implying he’ll be at an event near L.A. one day after he officially signs a contract to play for the Lakers. For someone clearly aware of the impact and reach of his social media, this was an easily avoidable incident that put a sour taste in the mouth of his newest subjects.
Despite waiting for six hours, Petey Reyna was upbeat as he left the Blaze parking lot.
“I had a good time,” Reyna said. “Showed my daughter how you can still come out here and have a good time. [LeBron’s] a human being. He has stuff to do, take care of. But we’ll see him in the game. Because he’s part of L.A. now.”
I asked him what he’ll do with the ball now that LeBron didn’t sign it.
“I still have the receipt.”