The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Detroit Pistons on Sunday to improve to 5-0 and reach the semifinals of the Las Vegas Summer League. But their journey toward repeating as champions was upstaged by LeBron James making his first public appearance since signing with the Lakers.
That wasn’t James’ goal or intention. He didn’t emerge from a tunnel at the Thomas and Mack Center until a few seconds before the game tipped off. But as has been the case since James was in high school, his presence drew plenty of attention.
Fans rose to their feet and the Laker faithful in attendance gave him a warm welcome. So too did multiple players, including Josh Hart.
He met James for a quick embrace near the baseline, then it was time for Hart to go to work. He scored 12 points in the first quarter and finished with 18 in the Lakers’ 101-78 blowout victory.
Although it might be easy to draw a conclusion that Hart was inspired by James being in attendance, he actually gave that little attention, per Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times:
“Nothing extra,” said Hart. “At the end of the day, I play the game 94 by 50 feet. Obviously, that’s cool that [James] was there. Before the game and after the game it’s cool. But during the game, if it’s not those guys on the court, I don’t pay attention to it.”
Hart’s steady play in Las Vegas certainly supports that sentiment. He’s averaging 21.6 points per game and is the frontrunner to be named Las Vegas Summer League MVP.
As for James, he regularly cheered the Lakers, whether roster locks like Hart or those using Summer League to showcase themselves. Wearing yellow shorts with “Lakers” across the front, the 14-time MVP did not speak with reporters.
James has not made any public statements since agreeing to terms with the Lakers on a four-year, $153 million contract. He’s not expected to until July 30, when a school his foundation funded is scheduled to open in Akron, Ohio.
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