LOS ANGELES — The Lakers played a video tribute that showcased their clutch moments. The Lakers then unveiled a banner that bestowed their excellence.
Once the Lakers completed a ceremony to celebrate their first NBA Cup championship in league history, LeBron James showed with his body language and his actions how exactly he felt about the NBA’s In-Season tournament.
With his hands in his pockets, James walked directly toward the layup line for pre-game warmups. He didn’t even bother touching the NBA Cup trophy displayed at center court. James did that plenty enough after the Lakers actually won the In-Season tournament last Saturday against the Indiana Pacers in Las Vegas.
No need to do it again after touching the Larry O’Brien trophy four other times in his 21-year NBA career. As James walked toward the layup line, the rest of his teammates understood his message. They quickly followed suit.
“I think it’s awesome,” James said following the Lakers’ 114-109 loss to the New York Knicks on Monday at Crypto.com Arena. “To acknowledge wins throughout the course of a marathon, I think it’s pretty cool. It’s the first inauguration of it. We were able to win it. For our fans that didn’t get an opportunity to be in Vegas, they had an opportunity to share that celebration with us tonight and share that moment. That’s something that will live on forever.”
James spoke those words as if he were reading a public service announcement. His on-court behavior likely revealed his deeper thoughts.
So why would the Lakers hold a pre-game ceremony to celebrate the In-Season tournament if James and his teammates paid only partial attention to it?
Simple. The Lakers have tried to strike a balance with both validating the NBA’s In-Season tournament, while also putting it in its proper perspective.
The Lakers wanted to be a supportive league partner by reserving a banner just for their present and possibly future NBA Cup championships. With this becoming the first of possible NBA In-Season Tournaments, the Lakers gladly attached their franchise’s name to the league’s history. And, sure, it could provide a little momentum boost entering Tuesday’s game against the Knicks.
That didn’t exactly happen. Instead, the Lakers (15-12) lost their second consecutive game and third in fourth overall since winning the NBA Cup. Incidentally, the Pacers (13-12) have lost four of their last five since losing to the Lakers in the NBA Cup. Those developments have plenty to do with both teams returning to normalcy after competing for prize money between the winners ($500,000) and losers ($200,000). Both teams have also shown fatigue because of the logistically tight turnaround. Those issues are mere growing pains for a new tournament that otherwise will produce greater long-term benefits for both regular-season relevancy and relatively better television ratings.
No harm then in the Lakers displaying highlights of their 7-0 run in the IST. No harm then in the Lakers unveiling a small banner highlighting their NBA Cup win to the left of the 12 NBA titles the Lakers won in LA. No harm then in the Lakers placing that banner next to the other ones that commemorate the five NBA championships the Lakers won in Minneapolis.
“It’s a great shot in the arm, as I mentioned before, in terms of us rising to the occasion from a competitive standpoint,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “It furthermore creates and sustains a foundation that we’re trying to set in terms of getting through the regular season and ultimately into the playoffs.”
As the Lakers have tried to create momentum in past postseasons, however, they never celebrated any of their 32 Western Conference championships or their 24 Pacific Division titles. After advancing to the NBA Finals, the Lakers have always appeared subdued during the team’s trophy presentation. They never displayed any of those accomplishments at the Fabulous Forum, Staples Center and Crypto.com Arena. They saved the champagne baths and parade ceremonies only after winning one of their 17 NBA championships.
Technically, the Lakers celebrated with champagne and hoisted the NBA Cup after winning the inaugural IST. But they did so more out of wanting to be courteous than showing their actual feelings. The Lakers didn’t spray each other with champagne that long. The Lakers held the NBA Cup during a trophy presentation for only a few moments.
Before their first home since winning the NBA Cup, the Lakers’ pre-game ceremony looked subdued in other ways. Unlike during an NBA champions’ ring ceremony, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver did not attend to give each person any jewelry. Lakers controlling governor Jeanie Buss did not stand at center court and deliver any speech as she normally would on Ring Night. Neither James nor any other player spoke to the crowd about the accomplishment.
Therefore, the Lakers shouldn’t receive ridicule for displaying a banner honoring their NBA Cup. Instead, the NBA should feel grateful that the league’s most premier franchise validated it by taking the tournament seriously and recognizing it with a banner afterwards.