LeBron James' Lakers debut won't come on opening night or at Staples Center
NBA fans eager to watch LeBron James play his first game as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers will have to wait a little bit.
The league announced Tuesday that it would officially reveal the national TV lineup for the opening week of games, as well as the five-game Christmas Day schedule and the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day slate, at 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday. It didn’t take long for the leaks to spring, though. The entire Christmas lineup came out on Tuesday night, and Wednesday morning brought with it the TNT opening night slate, courtesy of Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports:
After you took a moment to consider your relative level of excitement about getting to set up in front of the TV on a Tuesday night to watch a bevy of All-Stars get to work in a playoff rematch and a square-off that’s featured plenty of bad blood over the past two years, you might have come to a realization:
“Hey, if the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder are playing on opening night, then the Lakers aren’t. And if they’re not, then LeBron’s not. Really? LeBron’s not playing on opening night?”
Evidently not, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:
No LeBron and the Lakers on opening night!
So not only will LeBron not be in action on opening night, but his first game as a Laker will be on the road, rather than in the friendly confines of Staples Center? That’s sort of surprising!
Surprising, but not unprecedented. The last time LeBron left the Cleveland Cavaliers for greener pastures, he also kicked off his career in a new uniform on the road, as the vaunted Big Three Miami Heat began its tenure together not at AmericanAirlines Arena, but rather on the parquet court of the TD Garden against the Boston Celtics on Oct. 26, 2010. Things didn’t work out so hot for the King that night; the host C’s scratched out an 88-80 win, limiting the Heat to just nine first-quarter points and 36.5 percent shooting as a team, with All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combining to shoot 7-for-27 from the field. (James, naturally, poured in 31 points, but did notch eight turnovers against just three assists.)
And, the last time James changed teams, moving from Miami back to Cleveland in 2014, he also didn’t kick off the season on its first night. The new-look Cavs started things off two nights after the season’s opening games, losing to the New York Knicks at home at Quicken Loans Arena. James’ new supporters in L.A. will hope for a better outcome when he heads up to Portland to take on a Blazers squad that hasn’t lost to the Lakers in any setting since March 3, 2014, a string of 15 straight L.A. losses.
Countless factors go into the NBA’s scheduling processes, including arena availability, travel considerations, attempting to maximize national interest, and more. Whatever the thought process behind this particular scenario, one outcome is the NBA perhaps getting more bang for its buck by delaying one specific bit of fan service.
As it’s laid out, the NBA still opens the season with teams from three of the league’s top 10 media markets (Philadelphia, San Francisco/Oakland, Boston) and a small-market Thunder team with a national profile by virtue of a long run of success and the presence of former MVP Russell Westbrook and All-Star forward Paul George, and with two matchups packed with All-Stars, exciting young players and storylines galore to draw in both diehards eager for the start of the new season and more casual viewers checking in for the opening-night novelty. Then, by holding LeBron’s Laker debut for two more nights, they all but ensure a maximum audience for the second half of TNT’s weekly Thursday night double-header. Getting LeBron and the Lakers up front might have made for the biggest starting number, but maybe this winds up driving more eyeballs to the opening-week festivities on the whole.
Whatever the case may be, it sounds like LeBron will get to chill out and watch the opening night games like the rest of us for the first time in a decade, and that Lakers fans will have to be a bit more patient than they’d anticipated to get to open their brand new toy. Given just how big a gift it is, it’d be tough to blame them for getting antsy; given just how big a gift it is, you’d figure they’ll consider it well worth the wait.
UPDATE: A previous version of this post incorrectly said that LeBron James has played on the NBA’s opening night every year since 2007. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ first game in the 2014 season came on Oct. 30, 2014, two nights after the season began. We regret the error.
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