Two hours before tip-off hundreds of purple and gold clad fans poured into the lower bowl of the Moda Center.
They crowded in the corner nearest to the visitor’s bench, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Los Angeles Lakers’ newest star. It had the anticipatory feel of a rock concert. Only instead of tour t-shirts the fans were adorned with No. 23 jerseys with a few No. 8s and No. 24s dotting the crowd, signifying fandom from a previous iteration.
On the edges of the court, media members waited, too. More than 90 minutes before the Portland Trail Blazers played host to the rival Lakers everyone in the arena was anticipating a pregame shooting routine, a sound check of sorts, for a rock star that never showed.
LeBron James didn’t go through an on-court shooting routine before the game. He did finally arrive, of course. But he waited to make his entrance with a couple emphatic dunks in the first quarter, and by that time the visiting fans were outnumbered 10 to 1 by the Blazers faithful.
There is a certain amount of mayhem that will inevitably follow James and his Lakers all season. Not just on the court, where their first performance of the year ended in a 128-119 defeat and showed some of their obvious deficiencies, but behind the scenes as well.
Before Damian Lillard (28 points), Nik Stauskas (24 points) and Zach Collins (six blocks) spoiled James' debut, there were Blazers employees scrambling behind the scenes to prepare for a uniquely chaotic night.
There were more than 120 credentialed media members in the arena on Thursday, nearly twice as many than an average regular season night when the team credentials between 60 and 70 people. For the first time since anyone working with the Blazers could recall, the team opened up an auxiliary media section at the very top of the arena, creating press seating above the 300 level. There was also an additional media workroom put together to accommodate the horde of reporters’ and photographers’ postgame needs.
It was a perfect confluence of events to be a memorably chaotic scene in every corner of the building.
It was a season opener, meaning every local media affiliate was there with a full crew. It was a nationally televised game, meaning TNT cameras and on-air talent arrived early to capture the scene. It was a game featuring the Lakers, a global brand that also happens to be an NBA basketball team. And it was LeBron James’ debut with the aforementioned brand, the sport’s brightest star donning his latest jersey for the first time.
The LeBron circus was magnified even more in the postgame press conference. Instead of the usual five cameras filming the postgame interviews, there were 16, not including TNT, lined up inside the Harry Glickman Media center. With such a massive crew, James’ postgame media session was moved out of Portland’s’ notoriously cramped visiting locker room into the media center where reporters and camera crews mobbed six and eight deep, standing on chairs and step ladders to crane for a sound bite from James.
As one cameraman walked away from the massive scrum, he sang “I haaaaaaated that.”
There won’t be many more nights like this inside the Moda Center this season. It was a one-off chaotic mess. But this could be close to the norm for James and Lakers on the road all year. Regardless of what happens on the court for the Lakers, their traveling show will include a behind the scenes media maelstrom at every stop. It’ll start with fans in Lakers jersey getting to arenas around the country hours before the games start and end with over-crowded interviews.