As Anthony Davis soaks up spotlight as Lakers' new star, all of Los Angeles nervously awaits his next move
A.D. has embraced playing for the Lakers, but will he commit to being the long-term face of Los Angeles sports next summer?
LOS ANGELES -- The music was thumping Kanye and Jay-Z as blue shadows kissed the concrete floors of a loading-dock-turned-venue-turned-club and Anthony Davis, man of the moment, approached.
The vibe, exactly one mile from Staples Center and its LeBron-and-Davis-led Lakers renaissance, was quintessential L.A.: Ahi tuna in cucumbers. Mini sliders. Mac and cheese balls. Rose in stemless glasses. Dark pants and white sneakers. Beautiful people, some trying just a little too hard, all gathered for the Brow to bless them with his presence.
But, then, it wasn't just here at an event promoting a new potato chip created by the man himself -- lime and jalapeno, shockingly tasty -- that the need for Davis held sway.
The question, need and weight of Davis' place and future in L.A. is very real all across Southern California.
In at least one Los Angeles neighborhood, it's hard to get the mail delivered without a conversation breaking out between the mailman and the neighbor about Davis' long-term plans and what they mean. Social conversations and NBA gossip alike in the City of Angels tend to turn around Davis' plans and anticipated long-term impact. LeBron James is King, yes, but 17 years into his storied career, it's hard to imagine his reign lasting long enough to satiate Lakers fans who need more than one great season to get what they expect is their basketball birthright.
Enter Anthony Davis: 26, superstar, upcoming unrestricted free agent and key to the Lakers' continued success. Despite team officials expressing confidence he'll stick around, Davis did say these words a few months ago about playing next season in his hometown of Chicago: "Honestly, it's nothing like playing at home. I don't know. ... I mean, I am a free agent next year, but we'll see. It's a possibility."
It's a possibility.
Easy, sure, to scoff at those words -- and the Bulls -- and say Davis is as good as a maxed-out Laker once this summer's free agency goes official. But the league is littered and shaped in ways big and small by players who teams and fans once believed would never leave. Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio. LaMarcus Aldridge in Portland. LeBron in Cleveland, twice.
So Davis' presence in L.A. has a particularly charged effect. As it did at the event downtown, where an MC announced Davis' name, the loading dock doors flew open, a Ruffles truck pulled up, A.D. jumped out and a ripple went through the crowd. This wasn't just an L.A. sports star. This was its future.
There's much to ask Davis about: His history of injuries, including the most recent that's kept him out of his past four games, and whether or not he's inclined to change his game accordingly. How the Lakers have jelled so quickly. Life with LeBron. How real that path to an NBA championship looks in the here and now at the halfway mark of this NBA season. Load management. The Clippers rivalry. How he's feeling. And so forth.
But one question matters above all the others: Will Anthony Davis, traded to the Lakers from New Orleans last June for a bevy of players and picks, choose to stay this summer when the choice is solely his?
That will shape so many things. The judgment on Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and her stewardship of this team. The view of Rob Pelinka and his success as an NBA general manager. The emotional well-being of Lakers fans who shudder at a return to irrelevance. LeBron's final years. The basketball power balance in the game's most important and riveting city.
A.D., of course, offers little in the way of answers, and why would he? The NBA playbook here is a polite version of "time will tell," which is exactly what he offered me after unveiling bowls of those new chips. "I'm just excited to share the floor with [LeBron] and have the opportunity to do something special this year, and after that we'll see where it goes."
Still, you can usually tell when a player is going through the motions. Toward the end of LeBron's final season in Miami, for example, there was a sense of detachment, a feeling that whatever hidden connective tissues can bind a star to a team were no longer present.
With A.D., at least on this night, it felt like the opposite. He clearly loves playing in this town, for this team, with this coach, alongside LeBron.
A few outtakes:
On this Lakers team: "I think everyone's playing with a chip on their shoulder, has something to prove," Davis said. "Kuz [Kyle Kuzma] talked about that recently. Everyone on the team has something to prove. This is a great year to prove all the doubters wrong."
On who gets the credit for the Lakers tremendous defense: "Frank Vogel. Frank Vogel. He's a defensive-minded coach, and from Day 1 he said we're not going to win games if we don't defend. All year we want to try to make sure we're top No. 5 in defense, and be No. 1 each night. We're a great transition team and we know it all starts with stops."
On why he and LeBron clicked so quickly and successfully on the court: "We're two selfless players and we just want to win. We don't care about points, we don't care about shots, we'll do whatever it takes to win. We don't care who shines. We just want to win."
On whether being a Laker feels different than previous basketball stops: "The very first time putting on that uniform, knowing the players that played for the Lakers, the way the franchise holds itself and what they pride themselves on -- it definitely was meaningful the first time. But now it's like, alright, now we're playing basketball."
Are there clues here to A.D.'s future? Or is this just the athlete-speak of a star pushing a partnership with a potato chip while deflecting on the things most folks care about?
This question is even more weighted than it might have been. It matters for this town as much as this team, because Davis has arrived in L.A. at an interesting time. There is no long-term face of Los Angeles sports shaping and defining Southern California today the way Kobe Bryant did for a generation. LeBron rules the roost for now, but at 35, his greatness, though still starkly on display, is unlikely to last five more years, let alone 10.
Los Angeles is a baseball town, but the Dodgers' championship drought has stymied any notion Clayton Kershaw or a Cody Bellinger could fill that void. The Angels, with respect to that team and its star Mike Trout, will always be second-class citizens. Same for a Clippers team with a clear shot at an NBA championship this season. They could win the next three, and it would still be no more a Clippers town then New York City is poised to be run by the Nets.
The NFL? Nope. Jared Goff isn't exactly L.A.'s next Kobe, and the Chargers aren't even in the picture.
That spot -- as the face of Los Angeles sports -- could be Davis' to claim.
"Obviously it's something I've thought about," Davis said. "It's something that's intriguing."
Yet the most insightful, and maybe honest, moment came when I asked him the most surprising thing about living in Los Angeles.
"What's surprised me the most?" He looked down and thought for a moment. "Not too many people come up to me for pictures and autographs and stuff. It's like -- it surprised me a lot. Most people don't even say, like, 'Hey.' They just keep it moving.
"I was like, 'Oh wow.'"
So you can have a normal life here?
"Somewhat." He laughed. "I don't want to say normal. But you can have a little bit of a life outside of basketball."
A life outside of basketball. Part of what brought LeBron here. Part of what athletes will tell you they like most about L.A.: The reality, or even illusion, of a little breathing room out in the real world.
And there's the irony: At a party where every eye was looking for him, maybe the most important thing A.D. said about his future is that in a sports town craving a long-term sports savior maybe it's that hint of normalcy that'll keep him around.
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