EL SEGUNDO – As Lonzo Ball sat down in his chair after being presented his brand new Los Angeles Lakers jersey, Magic Johnson asked the team’s first-round draft choice for one small favor.
“Just leave me one or two records, OK? That’s it,” said Johnson, president of basketball operations for the Lakers. “Don’t break all my records.”
With that, the Ball era officially arrived in Los Angeles.
The Lakers introduced Ball during a press conference at their practice facility on Friday after picking him No. 2 overall in Thursday’s NBA Draft.
“I’m happy to be home and I’m ready to get to work,” Ball said.
Cameras flashed and recording devices filmed as Ball smiled and held up his Lakers jersey, which donned the number 2, also his number at UCLA. Johnson and Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka sat on each side of Ball as he expressed how excited he felt that the Lakers chose him on draft night.
Ball said he “felt good” as he waited to hear NBA Commissioner Adam Silver call his name. When he received the call from Johnson confirming that the Lakers would pick him, he felt much better, he said.
“When they called my name, I was ready,” Ball said. “My family was there. It was just a great moment.”
As Johnson welcomed Ball, who he deemed “the new face of the Lakers,” he issued a challenge to the 6-foot-6 guard who led the nation in assists as a freshman at UCLA.
“You look to your right, there’s some jerseys hanging on that wall,” Johnson said to Ball, referencing the retired numbers of former Lakers greats. “We expect a Ball jersey hanging up there one day, alright?”
The moment was one that pointed to some pressure surrounding Ball, who was widely expected to be chosen second overall by the Lakers. Ball’s father, LaVar -who attended the press conference along with Ball brothers LaMelo and LiAngelo – claimed before the draft that his son would only work out for the Lakers and that he was destined to wear the purple and gold.
On Thursday, those predictions came to fruition. But Ball downplayed feeling any pressure when asked how he would handle high expectations.
“Playing the game of basketball, which I’ve played my whole life, is fun for me,” Ball said. “I know it’s gonna be fun here and I’m not worried about all that.”
Pelinka wasn’t worried either. From the moment he and Johnson scouted Ball, he knew that was the type of player he wanted.
“We feel like Lonzo is as transcendent talent,” said Pelinka, who compared Ball’s gift for passing with football players like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. “We knew on a basketball standpoint, there were no questions.”
That left Pelinka with just one more question: Who was Ball as a person? For the answer, Johnson and Pelinka recenty decided to visit Ball and his family at his home in Chino Hills, where they saw LaVar coaching his sons and over a dozen neighborhood kids, Pelinka said.
That scene, coupled with the family dymanic of the Balls that Johnson and Pelinka witnessed firsthand, cemented the organization’s decision to pick Ball.
“It was just a feeling where you left the experience and you said, ‘This is a family that is centered around treating people the right way and hard work and a high level of character,'” Pelinka said. “We see that in Lonzo. And we know that those leadership qualities are what’s gonna take the Lakers to our ultimate destination, which is winning an NBA championship.”
Johnson said his visit to Chino Hills “sealed the deal” for him picking Ball, and added that Ball’s future teammates will delight in sharing the court with him. Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr., center Ivica Zubac and guard David Nwaba watched Friday as Ball was introduced.
Nwaba said he was excited that the Lakers picked Ball because they both have the same style of play.
“That was my pick,” Nwaba said of Ball.
While Johnson said he understands the pressure Ball might feel by being a top draft pick, he’s confident that Ball will overcome it because he’s had high expecations throughout his life.
“He has greatness written all over him,” Johnson said. “Now he’s just gotta go out and push himself, and we will, too.”
Ball even accepts the challenge that his jersey will one day hang on the walls.
“I think it’s a good goal to set,” Ball said. “So I’ll definitely be chasing that.”