Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Staples Center was abuzz with a playoff atmosphere as LeBron James made his Lakers‘ home debut.
L.A. Live and the downtown streets were packed, with a majority of the people seemingly wearing James’ No. 23 jersey. The media presence was closer to that of a Western Conference Finals game than to a typical night of October basketball.
After watching half a decade of mediocrity, Lakers fans were eager to see their team show more fight, and the team overdelivered.
Oh, they also lost their second game of the season, 124-115 to the Houston Rockets, but that’s not the story of the night.
Instead, it started with a slow fuse with 10 minutes left, sparked by what coach Luke Walton and Josh Hart called a “clothesline” from Houston forward James Ennis.
“I have no idea how that’s a flagrant 1,” Walton said. “[Ennis] picked [Hart] up off of his feet and slammed him on his back.”
That was just the hors d’oeuvre, a moment nearly forgotten in what was a close game for most of the night.
About five minutes later, tempers erupted in full with punches both thrown and landed. This wasn’t the typical NBA fight/not a fight, the kind where wild roundhouses hit nothing but air.
“He’s usually quiet, but if you poke a bear, you’re bound to get bit,” center JaVale McGee said.
Rondo was ejected. Paul was ejected. Ingram was ejected.
“People will probably be suspended,” McGee said in the understatement of the night.
Rumor had it that Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was also ejected, but the veracity of that claim remains unclear.
No word on how Kendall Jenner, Adam Levine and Jack Nicholson, all in attendance among the many celebrities to see James in action, fared through the melee.
Another name of note at Staples Center was Kiki Vandeweghe, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations—also known as the person in charge of doling out penalties.
If Vandeweghe goes with precedent, he’ll give out one- or two-game suspensions. Arron Afflalo was suspended two games in January for throwing a punch at Nemanja Bjelica. Afflalo didn’t actually connect. Would he have gotten more time if he did?
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Serge Ibaka and James Johnson are both ejected after throwing punches 😳 https://t.co/9AP8l2SiYQ
That Paul is the president of the players union might complicate matters.
Does the NBA want to risk damaging its relationship with the union by sending a no-tolerance message for fighting, giving out longer punishments?
If not, then two games each should be the maximum penalty.
That said, don’t be surprised if Ingram gets three games for confronting a referee, along with instigating and then escalating the melee.
“This was some heated stuff. I’m sure some spit was thrown, and when you cross the line, that happens,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “The NBA will sort it out, and they will do a good job of it.”
Side note: the Rockets insisted that Rondo spit on Paul, which inspired Paul to grab Rondo near his eyes.
“I feel like he never should have put his hand in Rondo’s face. If you hit somebody in the face, you know what’s going to happen after that,” Lance Stephenson said.
That would be a Rondo left hook.
Meanwhile, it didn’t necessarily look like Rondo was guilty of spitting on the replay, and Lakers players were surprised at the suggestion. Internet theorists suggest it was inadvertent crossfire from Paul’s teammate, Carmelo Anthony.
Perhaps the most surprising element of the night was Ingram’s ferocity in the heat of the moment. Ingram, who still carries the nickname “Tiny Dog” dating back to his rookie year and based on his slender frame, showed a true temper Saturday.
“There’s definitely a time and a place, but I’d rather see a guy with some fight in him,” Kyle Kuzma said.
James, who had his arm around his close friend Paul as the fracas died down, also expressed support for his teammate.
“I love B.I. in my small time with him so far,” James said. “I’m with him throughout whatever.”
Neither Rondo nor Ingram spoke with the media after the game.
As far as the actual basketball game, the Rockets outexecuted the Lakers in the final minutes.
James said he wasn’t disappointed, preaching patience as he and his teammates get to know each other.
“We have a long way to get to the Rockets, to get to a lot of the teams in the Western Conference,” James said. “They’ve just been together for so long, so we will learn from our mistakes and continue to get better.”
Despite the loss, James enjoyed his first official game with the Lakers at Staples Center.
“The atmosphere was great,” James said. “The fans were excited. We gave them everything that we could. I wish we could have given them more, gotten that win.”