The NBA: where changed perception happens.
Back in April 2015, I was living in Atlanta and had the opportunity to buy tickets for a Hawks game when they played the Charlotte Hornets. As an avid, but broke fan of the league, it felt great to have the money to splurge on three lower-level tickets at the time (long story short, I should’ve never bought the other two) and was more than happy with what transpired.
Fast forward to Dec. 20, 2016. Despite moving to Kinston, North Carolina — a city of 21,000 — I covered my fourth NBA game due to a player with local ties. Two games were focused on Detroit Pistons swingman Reggie Bullock, one on then-Toronto Raptors assistant coach Jerry Stackhouse and the most recent one on Lakers rookie Brandon Ingram. Every trip to Charlotte had a significant meaning, but none was bigger than this one due to nearly 700 people from Kinston coming to visit and a prestigious franchise making its way to the Spectrum Center.
I was expecting things to be a lot more congested due to the Lakers coming into town — while the record may not be great, this is the franchise with the second-most NBA titles and the media scene is powerful there. To be honest, it was far from the case. In fact, here are a few points I wanted to make.
The Lakers aren’t a stuffy organization
I’ve been in the Pistons locker room twice and the Raptors once. Both times, they seemed dead — and both squads made the playoffs last season with Toronto advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Lakers though? Completely different story. It was a lively environment prior to and even though Los Angeles blew a 19-point fourth-quarter lead in a loss to the Hornets, spirits were still pretty high. The Lakers have a solid young core, along with strong veterans to keep things intact.
Swaggy P is really that funny in person
His monologue on how he hoped Tariq Black wasn’t his Secret Santa sold me completely. Nick Young’s confidence is on 100,000 and even in defeat, he never let it waver. While part of the postgame swagger might have occurred because he had a big game, you can definitely use one of those irrational confidence guys (J.R. Smith, Jason Terry, Vernon Maxwell) to flourish.
Metta World Peace is a consummate professional
Several players I wanted to talk to, wouldn’t do pregame interviews, namely Young, D’Angelo Russell and Luol Deng. None of them were jerks about it — I still chopped it up a bit with Swaggy P and Russell, and I actually forgot to get back up with Deng after the game, and he told me he was looking for me. Hey, I’m still learning time management out here.
While I was there mainly for Brandon Ingram, the first person I actually tried talking to (and succeeded with) was the player formerly known as Ron Artest. I didn’t know what to expect when I approached World Peace, but he gave me some great insight on both the development of Brandon Ingram and his thoughts about the team. While he said he wasn’t taking a mentoring role with Ingram, he did pull Brandon to the side late in the game with the Lakers down two. Ingram was down about not being in there during the final moments, and later told me World Peace said he has to shake it off and be ready for the next opportunity. Yes, World Peace will be known more for his role during the Malice at The Palace, but he’s actually a very good guy.
Brandon Ingram will be great, don’t worry
I know, the stats don’t scream “future superstar.” Still, I like how the Lakers are bringing Ingram along, having Luol Deng start at small forward early and weaning him into the role. Los Angeles is still a couple years away, so why waste your new investment? Besides, Ingram got plenty of time with Deng throughout the contest with the Hornets and Lakers head coach Luke Walton said he can play four positions: point guard, shooting guard, small forward and power forward. Like the 76ers say: trust the process.