SportsPulse: UT Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt and AJ Neuharth-Keusch discuss a pair of surprising teams, but for different reasons.
CLEVELAND — Lonzo Ball had never talked to his basketball idol LeBron James prior to Thursday’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers.
“He was my favorite player to watch,” said Ball, who wore James’ Cavs and Miami Heat jerseys as a kid.
Following the Cavs’ 121-112 victory against the Lakers — a game in which James recorded his 59th career triple-double with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists — Ball and James shared a moment.
James did most of the talking, pulling his jersey over his mouth to prevent lip-readers from trying to figure out what he said to Ball, who had 13 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and six turnovers.
But it’s clear James has an appreciation of what Ball is experiencing as a rookie with a target on his back. “I know everything he’s going through. So, of course I can relate,” James said.
He also appreciates the way Ball plays. “It’s always team,” James said. “He passes the ball. Pushes the ball up the floor. Someone you want to play with. This is a team game. Everyone gets so caught up in this whole individual thing and it’s — the whole team game gets overlooked, but then, I’m not going to go there.”
Asked if he was mentoring Ball, James answered, “None of y’all’s business,” and Ball declined to reveal what was said.
But James has said in the past that he’s open to helping anyone who is interested in learning from him, and it will be on Ball to take the initiative.
The Lakers-Cavs game and the James-Ball dynamic can’t be viewed in a vacuum — not with James’ impending free agency after this season and the idea that James could leave Cleveland for the Lakers, who have salary cap space for a player such as James and possibly another star.
It’s all speculation, and ESPN on Thursday tempered that idea, saying James signing with the Lakers is a long-shot. But still, people try to connect dots.
James’ agent, Rich Paul, sat with Lakers co-owner and president Jeanie Buss at a game earlier this season, and another Paul client, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, plays for the Lakers.
But Paul, who represents Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, was also at a recent 76ers-Cavaliers game. Maverick Carter, James’ business associate, attended a recent Lakers-Houston Rockets game.
There must be some meaning behind of all this.
Oh, by the way, the Cavaliers have now won 16 of their last 17 games and are just 2½ games behind the Boston Celtics. With its veterans (who James enjoys having as teammates) and dominance in the East, Cleveland remains an attractive team for James, too.
But then, James also has a house in the Los Angeles area, and just bought another Brentwood mansion. James and his wife also visited a private high school in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and he has entertainment business endeavors involving Hollywood.
James downplayed the L.A. connection on Thursday.
“I see all the stupid noise that happens,” he said. “You know I can’t buy a home in L.A. I can’t live in L.A. It’s funny noise. But I don’t get involved in it. When I post things, I don’t look at comments because I’m so far removed from the white noise and the noise doesn’t matter to me.”
That’s good for James, because the noise is out there and getting louder as the season progresses.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
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