The circus has finally come to town!
On Thursday evening, the Cleveland Cavaliers will play host to the Los Angeles Lakers in front of a national audience on TNT. We see two dissimilar teams — as the veteran Cavs are pining for another Finals’ appearance. The baby Lakers are still trying to find themselves amid the hyper-competitive NBA.
More than anything, this contest marks the highly-anticipated first match-up between LeBron James and Lonzo Ball.
Ball has long professed his love for LeBron’s game. In interviews, he consistently mentioned James as his favorite player. Much of Ball’s pass-first nature has been cultivated by watching LeBron play.
Even before Ball stepped foot on an NBA court, a rivalry between LeBron and Ball’s father — LaVar — has been brewing.
Last March — before Lonzo was drafted by the Lakers — LaVar made public comments about LeBron’s basketball-playing children. The general gist was that kids coming from more affluent upbringings have increased levels of pressure to succeed. LaVar tied this to the sons of elite NBA players not having the same sorts of success within the game when compared to their fathers:
“The monsters in the NBA, their dads wasn’t that good. They were OK, they was players, but the fact that the old [Dell] Curry wasn’t no All-Star, he wasn’t cold. He could shoot the ball, though. Kobe Bryant, his dad wasn’t all that, that’s why he’s such a monster.
“You got LeBron, it’s going to be hard for his kids because they are going to look at them like, ‘You got to be just like your dad.’ And after a while, that pressure starts sitting on you like, ‘Why do I got to be just like him? What can’t I just be me?’ And then they are going to be like, ‘Aw, you’re soft, you’re not that good.’ Because the expectation is very, very high.”
LeBron didn’t take kindly to these sentiments, and offered back this shot in response:
“Keep my kids’ name out of your mouth. Keep my family out of your mouth. This is dad to dad. It’s a problem now.”
As one can see, the proverbial fire was stoked in both direction. It further became irritated and inflamed when LeBron appeared to make fun of Lonzo’s unorthodox shot during the pregame portion of a Cavs’ game:
And then…we have the free agency rumors.
LeBron has made multiple forays into the entertainment world throughout the last few years. He recently purchased his second home in Los Angeles, and lives there during the offseason.
He cleverly sidesteps any question about his impending free agency. Duly, the Lakers’ front office brass of Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson have repeatedly vocalized the desire to have ample cap space for the summer in which LeBron becomes a free agent.
These rumors will only intensify as we creep closer to July. Many have even gone as far to say that LeBron has intently been watching the Lakers to get more of an idea as to how he’d fit with the young core of Lonzo, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma.
Alas, tonight represents the opportunity for Lonzo to compete against his childhood hero. It also allows for LeBron to let off some steam against the LaVar Ball empire in the process.
Image Source: Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports