Lonzo Ball wears Nikes, has best game, Twitter fashion police (and LeBron) take notice.
USA TODAY Sports
LAS VEGAS — The NBA summer league isn’t known for its memorable moments.
There are notable performances, to be sure, with the league’s top prospects showcased on the next level for the first time and fans rushing to snap judgments after every outing. And even with all the growth of this exhibition season event in recent years — and the fact that approximately 500 media members were credentialed says it all — the irrelevant stakes make it mostly forgettable in the big picture.
But when Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball picked the perfect time to be his best self on Wednesday night, turning in a 36-point outing, with 11 assists, eight rebounds and five steals in a win against the Philadelphia 76ers while LeBron James sat courtside at the Thomas & Mack Center, it was the kind of scene we may still be talking about years from now.
If, that is, James winds up shocking the basketball world and signing with the Lakers in free agency next summer.
The timing of James’ visit couldn’t have been more perfect, with Ball getting his first chance at this informal job interview just as Dan Gilbert was failing so miserably at his. The Cleveland Cavaliers owner has been up to his old tricks of late, casting general manager David Griffin aside despite his ability to surround James with complementary talent and failing to land Chauncey Billups when he was clearly pegged as his replacement.
Add in the fact that Griffin and the Cavaliers parted ways only three days before the draft, with Griffin engaged in ongoing talks with the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls about possibly landing stars such as like Paul George and Jimmy Butler, and it’s safe to say that Gilbert is giving James every reason to let his eyes wander these days. The familiar dysfunction is enough to breathe life into all the possibilities that surround James elsewhere, chief among them the notion that he might take his talents to Manhattan Beach to play for the purple and gold next July.
But Ball has to be special for that prospect to seem more real, much like the Cavs’ Kyrie Irving was in those early years that caught James’ attention and eventually led him back to his home state. He could be the rising star of a James-led Lakers squad, with other prospective free agents such as George or Russell Westbrook or DeMarcus Cousins joining them along the way. And while summer league domination does not a superstar make, the silky-smooth Ball did all he could to ensure that James came walked away with a good impression.
As if Ball’s play wasn’t enough, or all those Lakers fans in attendance who spent the night screaming for James to come their way next summer or the fun fact that James himself was wearing a purple tie-dyed shirt, there was the sneaker subplot that made it even more compelling. As has been well-chronicled, Ball and his outspoken father, LaVar, are trying to buck the basketball shoe system by way of their Big Baller Brand. Rather than sign with the titans of industry, such as James’ Nike brand or Adidas or Under Armour, they have been going their own way by making their own shoes and apparel with the hopes of landing a massive payday down the line.
But Lonzo Ball didn’t wear his own shoes against the Sixers, instead donning a pair of purple Nikes that only a fool could believe were worn by accident. Of all nights to put on those Nikes, he happened to pick the game where James (who signed a deal with Nike last year that could be worth more than a billion dollars) and Lynn Merritt (Nike’s vice-president of global basketball sports marketing and a James confidante) were in attendance.
Not long after the game was over, James, who has been in town training and visiting with the Cavs’ summer league team since Tuesday and who skipped the ESPY awards show on Wednesday night to see Ball play, posted a video on Instagram of Ball wearing those Nikes with the caption, “Just. Do. It.” Only he knows if it was all about the shoes, or maybe the Showtime Lakers redux they might create while sharing the famous swoosh.
But give Ball credit for this much: With the greatest player in the game watching closely, and with the Lakers daring to dream about the day when LeBron might come their way, he didn’t disappoint.
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