The LeBron James era in Los Angeles hasn’t gotten off to the smoothest of starts. Since the former Cavaliers star shook the NBA by agreeing to join the Lakers, his new team has made some head-scratching free agency moves, and more recently, a mural celebrating his arrival in Tinseltown was defaced at the possible behest of a disgruntled Lakers fan.
Muralist Jonas Never and graffiti artist Fernando Valdez had combined to create the piece, which showed James in a Lakers jersey and referred to his nickname in declaring him “The King of L.A.” It was finished Friday, five days after the announcement that James was switching teams, and is located outside of a barbecue restaurant in Venice, Calif.
Later that day, though, a Twitter user with the handle “Lakers Fanbase” offered $300 “to anyone who destroys this mural.” By coincidence or not, the restaurant’s security cameras caught people vandalizing the work (per Yahoo Sports) early Sunday morning, including scrawling the phrases, “LeFraud,” “We don’t want you,” “No King” and, in a reference to James’s record in the NBA Finals, “3-6.”
By Sunday afternoon, the mural was restored — with one small, but meaningful, exception. The “of” was removed, with Never describing it as an “offending” word.
“It was a last-minute thing,” the restaurant’s manager said of the “of” to Yahoo Sports. “I think they added it when they completed the mural on Friday, and it seemed to create a big controversy.”
The phrase, “The King of LA,” may well have annoyed some Lakers fans who revere Kobe Bryant as not only the greatest player in franchise history but a rival to Michael Jordan as the greatest NBA player, period. James, widely considered the closest contender to usurp Jordan’s all-time status, was publicly welcomed to the Lakers by Bryant, but the Twitter user who offered the $300 bounty — and has since taken down his account — reportedly declared that James should be featured in “no murals until he wins a title” in Los Angeles.
For his part, Bryant went 5-2 in the Finals, all with the Lakers, but it could be argued he was the team’s second-best player, with Shaquille O’Neal leading the way, for three of the championships. James has indisputably been the central performer for all nine of his Finals squads, five over two stints with the Cavs and four with the Heat, and it would be considered a major accomplishment if he can simply bring this season’s Lakers to another losing appearance in the championship round.
Los Angeles has intriguing young talent, notably forward Brandon Ingram, but the team hasn’t earned a playoff berth, or even won as many as 36 games, since 2013. While James should be able to lead the Lakers back to the postseason, the team’s moves after he committed to it, including adding Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee while letting go of Julius Randle, haven’t inspired confidence that a run to the franchise’s 17th NBA title is right around the corner.
In the immediate aftermath of his arrival, though, one might think Lakers fans would be nothing but excited about the fact that James is on board, if only to restore the team to relevance. However, it appears that he may have some work to do if he wants his “King” nickname fully acknowledged in a town where, for so many people, the four-letter moniker that begins with a K and refers to a Los Angeles icon can only be “Kobe.”
Read more from The Post: