LOS ANGELES — Darrell Bailey sat at a table outside of King/Drew Magnet High School and took a deep breath. Then he took another. Make that three.
The Southern California sun was falling on this Sunday, and the news that had the gym buzzing hours before was finally sinking in.
“The Lakers just took over Los Angeles,” Bailey said, “again.”
Across the city of Los Angeles, Bailey is a well known Los Angeles Clippers fan. People call him “Clipper Darrell,” and the man who has gone to all but two home games in 18 years lives up to the nickname.
On Sunday, Bailey wore a custom-made LeBron James jersey to the Drew League — Los Angeles’ premiere pro-am basketball league. It turned out to be fitting in every way but one: LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It broke my heart, man,” Bailey said.
James agreed to a four-year, $154 million deal with the Lakers, according to a release sent out by James’ agency Klutch Sports, around 5:10 p.m Pacific time. Once the news became official, a friend of Drew League veteran announcer George Preciado ran over to share the news.
A Lakers fan since his birth 41 years ago, Preciado grabbed his microphone — during a game, by the way — and broke the story to the jam-packed crowd.
A number of fans then pulled out their phones, confirming the news themselves. And once they had, once they realized the world’s best basketball player was going to be making his home in the city they sat, some danced in the bleachers. Others screamed, channeling a joy hard to qualify.
“I was like, this is nothing but a dream come true,” Preciado said.
Boston Celtics guard and California native Jonathan Gibson was on the court playing as the gym began to buzz. He thought the reaction was about Kawhi Leonard, whom Gibson knew wanted to be traded to the Lakers.
Regardless, Gibson continued playing.
So, too, did Jayceon “The Game” Taylor, the famous rapper and another Los Angeles native who was playing on the opposing team. Taylor is a diehard Lakers fan, so the news was hard to play through, he said. But luckily, his team came away with the win.
“I can’t even not smile,” Taylor said after the game. “LeBron, we’re talking about the best basketball player alive. To have him here is a lifelong dream.”
Gibson was also quick to add his thoughts.
“Well, I think it’s a good move for him,” Gibson said. “They’ve got Magic [Johnson] over there, and they’ve got a good, young squad. It gives L.A. culture. L.A. has a winning dynasty as far as coaching wise and Magic and Kobe.
“So now, LeBron comes here just to uplift and bring the life back.”
The Lakers life will likely include another superstar. Leonard, who would have to be traded by the San Antonio Spurs (unless he waits until next summer’s free agency), is an option. DeMarcus Cousins, a free agent who is rehabbing after a torn achilles, is another.
Steps away from Bailey, who slumped in his chair, Preciado smiled. He said he hopes the Lakers can acquire another star, but that time will tell.
This day was about “The King” as so many call James. This day was about the rebirth of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We’re still in the honeymoon stage,” Preciado said.
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