I promised my editor that my columns wouldn’t be about the Lakers, so I’ll keep this part short:
D’Angelo Russell turned 21 in February. I’m positive that every student at this school is either older than him or has a friend who is. Like, for example, my old roommate, Harley. I’ll get back to him in a second.
At 21, kids here are still switching majors. Jobs and classes and hobbies and crushes change so fast all the time for no reason — because they’re supposed to. We aren’t finished products by the time we can legally drink, and while the Lakers’ front office will make you believe D’lo is a punk or a know-it-all, or whatever, he has an immense level of talent, and is extraordinarily young. And the Lakers gave up on him.
Last school year, Harley turned 22. It was a big moment! He was kind of like a real adult all of a sudden. But, then my dude got arrested on some trumped-up charges the night of the election — had to do community service and everything! But the judge did prevent anything from getting onto his permanent legal record because he was so young. Harley was given leeway because of his youth, but Russell, whose career numbers resemble those of James Harden, Steph Curry and Larry Bird at his age, was not.
It’s nonsense and it’s a weight we regularly heap onto the shoulders of incoming rookies.
Every single summer, the NBA asks teenagers to dedicate their lives to a game. Those drafted cannot pick which team they will play for — which way their career’s early storyline will go. And, if those players are among the top of their class, it’s far more likely that they’ll end up on a very bad team.
The young players that annually spend their spring getting excruciatingly overanalyzed didn’t dig the hole that their new team is stranded in, yet get crucified for not being able to dig them out. The amount of pressure that squeezes impressive young talents such as Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and Russell not only isn’t fair, but doesn’t take into account the growth that guys who would be juniors in college still desperately need to experience.
And sure, this problem, like so many others (why did I remind myself of election night?) traces back to the octopus-arm-reach of modern capitalism. But we cannot continue to ignore the rigors that successful, young — and almost exclusively Black — men must continually endure.
Everyone around these players — the team that drafted and pays him, the agent that worked out his contract, and the endorsement company that creates his shoe in China — puts themselves first, but doesn’t allow the players to. And this trend transcends incoming rookies.
Kevin Durant going to the best regular season team ever is portrayed as a weak move, and his indescribable firework show of a Finals somewhat disregarded. Russell got continually slammed by the media for being “aloof,” “too cool for school,” or not having a workout regime that was as intense as Kobe’s, while being the best player on one of the proudest sports franchises on Earth. Even Dwight Howard got memed for leaving a woeful Lakers team for better opportunities — it’s his own fault that he squandered them.
No matter what these players do, they’ll get hated for it. They’re in a system of oppression that chastises them for acting out of the schema that those who sign their paychecks expect and want them to adhere to, oftentimes despite those players’ impressive performance on the court.
So fuck that.
I’m in full support of players taking every single right they have as by far the most important part of the NBA. This is a player’s league — and least it should be — and villainizing teenagers before, during, and after they’re on a drowning team should only inspire others to do whatever they want. Refuse workouts. Call out coaches. Tell people how you feel. I want to see players reclaim the league.
And hey, if that means Lonzo Ball, Paul George, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins are all liberated enough to force their way to LA? That’s just having your cupcake, and eating it too.
(Tricked you Justice, they’re all about the Lakers)