As a long time Laker fan, I’ve grown accustomed to a few things over my last 1.5ish decades of fandom:
No matter how good or bad the Lakers are, for better or worse the media love talking about us; and
Any marquee upcoming or current free agent will always be rumored to be interested in joining the Lakers.
Yet, nothing so far could have prepared me for the supernova that is LeBron James.
Murals have been painted and vandalised. Fans over the world are going crazy trying to secure their chance to see King James . We’ve even got a new Space Jam . The Skip Bayless & Stephen A Smith ’s of the world seem to have him as a daily talking point, and despite rehashing the same topic day in an day out, manage to always get the talking heads worked up with cries of “THE UTTER NERVE, THE BLASPHEMY!”!
Perhaps it this new age of social media and push notification news feeds that are to blame, but attention that has been focused in on King James’ fourth (and likely final) story arc has felt uniquely pervasive. The internet went crazy over some shorts he was wearing at a summer league game
Yesterday’s preseason game was the world’s first glimpse of #LABron and as expected, social media went crazy, for a meaningless preseason game in early October.
A prime example courtesy of a friends group chat yesterday morning:
His actual performance vs the Nuggets was nothing spectacular ( 15/3/3 in 15 minutes ). LeBron has openly said he’s coasting through preseason (and to be honest, at this point in his career he’s earned that right). I am however, fascinated with the gravity he is bringing to the team. It’s something that hasn’t been seen since Michael Jordan’s peak, and I’d argue it’s even crazier than Jordan-mania .
NB I am not in any way making the claim that LeBron James is better than, or more impactful than Michael Jordan. However, irrespective of where you sit on that debate, the hurricane of media that has surrounded our generations best player is unprecedented.
The deluge of LAbron media hype is symbiotic with the age of social media, where sports journalism has been disrupted into push notifications, bite sized takes and who gets to be the first to tweet the latest scoop. Wherever James goes or whatever he does is analysed and dissected for mass consumption. He was already at the centre of the NBA storm in Cleveland, Ohio. Setting up shop in Hollywood has poured petrol on the flames.
One can only imagine the circus that would have surrounded MJ if he was around in today’s media age, but we can’t backdate comparisons. Nobody will ever truly know how Wilt Chamberlain would match up in today’s game. Los Angeles and the Hollywood spotlight also undoubtedly plays a part, even though Chicago is hardly a small market.
I’m under no illusion that the Lakers will contend for a championship this year. There’s a part of me that feels like I will eventually grow weary of the media spotlight that will hound my news feeds for at least the next 4 years. That’s to be expected when a generational talent joins a team with arguably the most rabid sports journalist presence.
Is this good for basketball? Time will tell, but early reports are definitely leaning towards an affirmative answer. Despite some feelings amongst long time NBA fans of passivity towards the upcoming season and the near-inevitable Warriors championship , merchandise sales are higher than ever, interest from fans and media is greater than ever and the buzz leading into the season is at some of the highest I can recall.
James himself feels it too. After his first game as a Laker, on his Instagram he wrote:
Kingjames Can’t even front, it’s just felt different! Goosebumps! #striveforgreatness #thekidfromakron
He’s right, this one does feel different. This perfect storm feels special. I’m grateful I get to experience it first hand, as I don’t think we’ll see anything like it again for another 20 years.