Just when it seemed these banner ceremonies were getting old for a franchise that held them 16 times previously, it gets new.
The latest and certainly the strangest for the Lakers was done Tuesday without fans here in the Year of The Pandemic, and also without the visiting team, since the Clippers had the good sense to stay in the locker room and spare themselves any further embarrassing reminders of the 2019-20 season.
It was the first for LeBron James as a Laker, and the first for Anthony Davis as a pro, and also a first in terms of presentation: Family members, appearing on video, “awarded” their favorite Laker with his ring.
So the 17th celebration was a Laker Night, the entire night actually, because a seven-point loss didn’t exactly ruin the moment or the meaning or the massive expectations this season for a team favored to win back-to-back. All it did was give the Clippers a sense of satisfaction and the chance to symbolically raise an opening night victory banner.
Normally in these ceremonies, there are spotlight introductions, sustained applause, video tributes and in total a 25-minute pat on the back for the champs. Instead, the Lakers had Adam Silver, who of course was a welcome sight, but little else in terms of tradition besides the commissioner.
“Weird in all facets,” said LeBron. “Just a weird day. To do it without our family and friends and fans, just a weird day to say the least.”
Oh, and a few awkwardly amusing viral family twists: Lakers reserve Kostas Antetokounmpo was congratulated on film by two of his brothers, both members of the Bucks, one of whom happens to be the reigning two-time league MVP, and Giannis wisecracked: “Let’s get more rings, man.”The Lakers show off their championship rings.
Then, in the far corner of Staples Center, Marcus Morris of the Clippers videoed his twin brother Markieff; Marcus said it was a family accomplishment regardless of which brother got bling.
And just in case anyone forgot about the added motivation for “Leave A Legacy,” which was the theme of the 2019-20 Lakers, general manager Rob Pelinka accepted his ring and flashed two fingers on his right hand and four on his left, signifying the 24 worn by the late Kobe Bryant.
But this night arrived just 72 days after the Lakers actually and officially won those rings, a historically short offseason that the Lakers must learn to cope with. To prepare for the quick turnover, LeBron and Davis won’t see heavy minutes here in the early season. And that tone was set right from the start, when LeBron played just 28 minutes in a game that was competitive in the second half and in normal circumstances would see him burn minutes until the buzzer. An ankle sprain certainly played a role in LeBron getting an early night off — he expects to play on Christmas Day, so fear not — but the Lakers, understandably and wisely, aren’t taking any unnecessary risks.
Because of that, there’s a chance the Lakers won’t put a priority on grabbing best record and the top seed, but in a season where fans probably won’t be in arenas, at least not in abundance, does home court even matter in the post-season?
LeBron had 22 points and Davis 18, tame by their standards, but again, those two were guaranteed to be on the floor for long stretches only for the ring ceremony.
The short turnaround between seasons forced LeBron to completely change his prep schedule, and he’s still dizzy from all the alterations.
“I’ve always had a routine of how I prepare to go into a season,” he said. “It was just so much uncertainty (about) when we’re going to start the season, and how we would start the season. Just a lot. Too much to kind of grasp, but we’re in it now. Just a lot to process.”Paul George scored 33, including 26 in the second half.
He added: “It felt weird having a basketball game. Look, we’re happy we were able to get back on the floor, knowing what this season is going to entail, and it was a hell of a run for us. Now it’s on to ’20-21.”
The easy part was the ceremony; there was nothing to prepare for that except stand and smile, although even that was a bit hollow if not equally as satisfying as his others. About that pregame moment, given the death of Kobe, the three-month delay because of the virus and the three months in the Orlando bubble, LeBron said:
“It was just a culmination for what we been through, so many ups and downs, so many things that happened both good and bad for our franchise. We managed to bring it into all one moment and be able to celebrate that moment with my teammates and franchise. It was a cool moment, but to be without our family, they’ve been part of that sacrifice as well.”
The Lakers lost the regular season series to the Clippers in 2019-20 and now trail 0-1 this season because Paul George dropped 33 points and was especially dangerous in the second half, getting 26. It was a reversal of fortune for George compared to how he played in the playoffs against the Nuggets, when the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead and George was particularly dreadful in Game Seven, going scoreless in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers didn’t exactly seem worried after the first of 72 games. Davis said: “We’re still trying to get back into the swing of things. Still trying to figure each other out and things out, lineup and schemes and things like that.”
At least the Laker newcomers, the ones who didn’t get rings, announced their arrival rather loudly. Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell each had moments, with Schroder nearly getting a triple-double in just 28 minutes, while Harrell had 17 points and 10 rebounds against his former team.
“Those guys going to be big time players for us,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “Both of them are winning players and will be tremendous for us this year.”
With LeBron and Davis being fitted for a short leash, at least for the near future, the Lakers could use that help from the supporting cast. That doesn’t mean the goal or the motivation to achieve it will change. That’s something else the Lakers took from getting their rings.
“That thing is heavier than I thought,” Davis said. “It’s something you cherish forever. It holds so much value to me as a basketball player. It’s an accomplishment. Everyone doesn’t get to say they have one of these. It reminds me of what we’ve done, what I’ve done. And I want another one. It definitely makes you want to get another one.”
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