Lakers News: LeBron James Was Pacers’ Tyrese Haliburton’s Favorite Player Growing Up
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers are facing off on Saturday night at 5:30 p.m. PT in the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament Finals. Both teams have put up undefeated records to get into this position, with the Lakers led by 21-year superstar LeBron James and the Pacers led by a rising star in Tyrese Haliburton.

Haliburton has been the engine that has turned the entire Pacers franchise around. Less than two years ago, the Pacers were having discussions of whether or not to enter a rebuild and trade away their best players. Instead, Haliburton’s ascension after being acquired from the Sacramento Kings has put them in postseason contention and with a chance to win the inaugural In-Season Tournament.

And in the Finals, Haliburton has a chance to face off against a player he grew up idolizing in James. Haliburton was born in February of 2000, meaning he got to witness the entirety of James’ career before finding himself in the league as well. Now, after fighting through a gauntlet of Eastern Conference juggernauts to get to the In-Season Tournament Finals, he faces that same idol.

“You’re saying he’s like the final boss? The first part of your question, like any kid born in 2000, LeBron was my favorite player growing up, and it’s hard for him not to be for a lot of us,” Haliburton said. “Growing up, I was a Cavs fan, then a Heat fan, then a Cavs fan again, then a Lakers fan before I got drafted. It’s just how it went.

“To be able to compete against him in a championship is kind of like a storybook a little bit, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. But that’s the great part about being in the NBA is getting to compete against your idols on a nightly basis. I really look forward to that.

“Then as far as the second part of your question, I just think for us, we’re not supposed to be here and nobody expected us to be here. We’ve been probably looked at to lose the majority of our tournament games. The Philly game, we weren’t supposed to win. Boston game we definitely weren’t supposed to win. Milwaukee, we definitely weren’t supposed to win. That’s just been part of the storybook of this, and it’s been a lot of fun. But it’s not done yet. We’ve got to be prepared to go tomorrow and approach that game the right way.”

Facing James in a championship game of any kind is a huge deal for a majority of the league’s younger stars. Haliburton is getting to live out that dream earlier than expected thanks to his own incredible work during the In-Season Tournament.

Darvin Ham: ‘no recipe’ to stop Haliburton

Lakers head coach Darvin Ham is not sure that a plan exists to stop Haliburton from heavily impacting the Finals on Saturday night.

“No thoughts. Definitely no recipe,” Ham said when asked how to stop Haliburton and the Pacers. “I would just say it’s refreshing to see a young player of his magnitude. He’s had a hell of a year, past 12 months, being named an All-Star, being selected to the USA team. He’s just out there hooping. I watched a little bit of that game today. We’ll dig into it more overnight and tomorrow, and as we go into our meeting tomorrow.”

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