Andy Nesbitt For The Win
Published 6:55 AM EDT Apr 10, 2019
LOS ANGELES — It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Not when LeBron James came on board last July.
But here they were, the 2018-2019 Los Angeles Lakers ending their season with a meaningless home game against the Portland Trail Blazers.
And there I was, sitting alone way up in section 307 with a $30 ticket I bought a few hours before the game just so I could go watch this brutal team close out a brutal season.
I’m not a Lakers fan, so what in the world was I doing there? Call it morbid curiosity. I just wanted to see how listless of a night it could be for a franchise that once prided itself on being a contender but hasn’t won a playoff game since 2012 against an Oklahoma City team that had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the starting five and a guy named James Harden coming off the bench.
Yup, it’s really been that long.
This was supposed to be the year LeBron James brought them back to greatness. Or so all these Lakers fans thought.
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So come with me to the Lakers final game of the season and allow me to show you just how classic/mind-boggling/beautiful of a night it was at Staples Center. A night that ended with a perfect heartbreaking 3-point buzzer-beater by the Blazers and a night in which Lakers fans seemed totally OK with how everything’s going with their franchise.
I bounded into the arena about 20 minutes before tip. After getting through the doors there were Lakers employees handing out Lakers license plate frames, because nothing eases the pain of an awful season like a new license plate frame. I politely decline their offer and head to the nosebleeds.
Once I caught my breath up there I see a souvenir shop covered in 23 jerseys, shirts, pennants, towels and whatever else they could get James’ name or number on. There’s only one jersey for sale of a retired player, a jersey you still see a lot of fans wearing at the games:
You can’t put a price on the past. Well, yes you can. That thing will run you a cool $225.
I head to my lonely seat in Section 307 and this is when it starts getting good. After the Lakers’ band (I didn’t know they had one and then quickly learned they were just one section over from me and they play a lot during the game) played a decent version of the national anthem, the first laugh-out-loud moment happened.
Before Lakers introductions, they drop these huge sheet-like screens from the scoreboard and play highlights on them while music blares and lights flash. The only problem with these highlights were that they only featured players who haven’t played in quite some time this season — James dunking, Lonzo Ball driving, Kyle Kuzma shooting, and Brandon Ingram scoring, Rajon Rondo passing. And then the intros start and the starting five is — Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jemmerio Jones, Mike Muscala, and JaVale McGee.
The crowd’s reaction to the introductions was as if they were watching two away teams.
The game starts slowly with few cheers, though the surprisingly large crowd does clap when someone in this inspiring lineup does something halfway decent. But the first good clap comes during a timeout when it’s announced that in honor of Fan Appreciation Night we’re all gonna get a coupon for two free tacos at Jack in the Box. Rejoice! Though we have to wait to the very end of the game. Ouch.
Speaking of Fan Appreciation Night, Kuzma comes on the Jumbotron, and with all the personality of a microwave pizza, thanks the fans for their support all year and how much it meant to them, and my lord I’ve never been further away from getting goosebumps.
Lakers fans get jacked up in the final seconds of first quarter only to see a wide open layup at the buzzer not go in. I couldn’t see who it was because I was so far from the court.
During another break in the action, they have two guys wearing Kobe Bryant jerseys come out and try to put together a Bloomin’ Onion puzzle in 45 seconds. If they get it done they get a lifetime of Bloomin’ Onions or something. But unlike Bryant, these guys are not clutch and fall way short of completing the puzzle and the boos rain down. But then the PA guy announces that everyone in Row 6 of Section 321 gets a $20 Outback Steakhouse gift certificate and they erupt.
I’ve lived in L.A. for 14 years and haven’t seen one Outback Steakhouse, but I’m still happy for them, I guess.
By the way, we’re late in the second quarter and I don’t think I’ve seen Luke Walton stand up all game. So I check Twitter and…
He must have been in a state of shock.
Finally with 3:29 left in the second quarter a fan yells “put LeBron in!” which Walton does listen to and which thankfully doesn’t get any laughs.
With 2:30 left, they find Ice Cube, who might have been the only celebrity in there, and put him on the Jumbotron. Cube looked utterly annoyed with the franchise, but hey, he was still there. Respect.
The game moves along at a quick pace and suddenly we’re at halftime. After the horn blows, they make a special announcement, telling us to stay in our seats for a very exciting laser light show. So I stay in my seat. And then the “laser light” show begins.
And the place went nuts! Not it didn’t. It was actually one of the saddest scenes of the night as the lights came back up and everyone just kind of sat there all emotionless and whatnot.
Then the band, a section to my left, all excitedly kicks in with the Rocky theme and suddenly I want to jump off the roof of the place.
I don’t, though.
The second-half of a five-point game starts, and holy cow, Walton is standing. He must have found out at halftime that Johnson wasn’t joking when he said he was quitting to tweet more.
A litte kid then comes out during a timeout and misses every layup and short jumper that he attempts in a 30-second span … and looks around for a 10-day contract.
Portland’s great point guard Damien Lillard, who’s wearing some neon green shoes, steps to the free throw line, and a fan a section over yells, “Your shoes are ugly! And we didn’t like your mixtape either!”
Finally, some heated passion!
Shortly after that, No. 19 for the Lakers throws down a monstrous dunk that gets the place going, and I celebrate by Googling “Lakers roster” because I have no idea who No. 19 is. Turns out to be Johnathan Williams, who’s on the Lakers G-League team, too. Sounds right.
By the way, if you’ve never been to Staples Center they have a Taylor Swift banner hanging from the rafters. For real. I remember this late in the third quarter when I randomly glance up at it and shake my head. It says “Taylor Swift Most Sold Out Performances.” (The Clippers don’t have any banners.)
Portland stretches its lead to 10 late in third quarter. I start getting bummed out a little because if the Lakers win they’ll likely drop confetti from rafters, and man, would it be funny to see them drop confetti in the final game of such a dreadful year.
Walton goes back to sitting, by the way.
The Lakers, powered by Caruso and No. 15 (who I later Google and find out it’s Moritz Wagner), go on a run to end the third quarter to take a one-point lead into the fourth and the place is acting like Bryan just threw a lob to Shaquille O’Neal in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals.
Confetti is back in play!
In between periods, a fan named Santos comes out to attempt a half-court shot for $45,000. I think he hit the side of the rim, too, but again I’m watching from basically the moon.
The Lakers now have a three-point lead in the fourth and Staples is still very much alive. By the way, are the Blazers even awake? I can’t see because I’m so high up but they are playing less-than-inspired basketball, which was basically my high school career.
My guy No. 19 throws down another dunk, and man, is he going to love to get traded in the offseason so the Lakers can free up cap space.
With 9:38 left in the game, I randomly realize they haven’t shown James at all inside the arena, even though he’s on the bench in street clothes. He hasn’t been seen celebrating on the Jumbotron or in one of those awkward fan appreciation videos. It just strikes me as weird that they wouldn’t somehow get the face of the franchise some attention. I don’t think L.A. has bought into James yet but that’s a different take for a different day.
A timeout is called. and they play that “I don’t care, I love it” song that easily gets stuck into your head and drives you to almost doing things you’ll surely regret. But the fans in Staples don’t care, they love it. Everyone is dancing and having fun like they don’t know their team has 37 wins and isn’t going to the playoffs for the sixth year in a row.
The two teams trade leads down the stretch and the fans are going bananas. For the record, I think it’s weird that they’re cheering so much and that there are so many people at the game. They should be sending a message to the franchise that they’re not going to put up with these terrible teams, but whatever, its L.A. and going to Lakers games is still considered to be a cool, especially if you post about it on Instagram.
During the next timeout they play a game of “Wish Air Band Cam,” which goes around showing fans in the crowd playing air guitar. This team has 37 wins and clear;y nobody gives a you know what! Also, nobody is close to correctly playing “Kick Start My Heart” by Motley Crue, either.
Then they go right in to a “Noise Meter” that gets all the way up to 10.8 (no idea what that means) before the screen pretends to malfunction because of all the noise. Zany!
Walton sits through two key possessions in the final minutes but the Lakers are still able to stay right in it, sitting coach be darned.
Confetti can almost be tasted. They could actually win this darn thing!
But now let’s just cut to the good part. The part where it gets sad. The final seconds. Because I can’t take any more of this game and dancing fans. The Trail Blazers bring the ball up in the final seconds of a tie game and suddenly my heart drops a bit. We’re going to see OT, I think. I can’t see OT. I just can’t take any more of this.
And then, the universe steps in and ends the Lakers season with a Maurice Harkless corner 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The crowd barely let out a collective groan. This group, despite the song from before, didn’t really seem to care. This 3-pointer just meant everyone could finally go home and call it a year.
James and the rest of the team quickly left the floor, putting this season behind them for good.
Sure, next year there could be another big-name free agent or two with James and other guys will be back and healthy.
For now, though, the Lakers are a mess.
But at least their fans have new license plate frames.
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