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NBA: Charles Barkley claimed LA Lakers coverage is ‘a conspiracy’… so, do they warrant exposure? 

Speaking about the 2022 Los Angeles Lakers recently, Shaquille O’Neal remarked ‘almost ain’t good enough’.

While it may not be in the mind of one of the franchise’s greatest ever players, there are so many ways in which it is all that’s needed. 

The Lakers have once more been top of the NBA media pile since LeBron James set up base in Hollywood ahead of the 2018 season.

James, catnip for reporters since entering the league – particularly since the proliferation of sports talk and debate shows – and the Lakers organization are a story-generator’s dream. 

A globally recognizable franchise, which fans either love, or love to hate, this generation’s answer to Michael Jordan, the backdrop of Tinseltown, plus the pantheon of greats of eras old all creates a perfect cocktail. The NBA’s most discussable team. 

Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook are continually in the headlines for LA

Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook are continually in the headlines for LA

Not that everyone agrees. The ever-outspoken Charles Barkley – a former NBA great himself – is outraged by the constant coverage of the Lakers franchise, despite their current position as 13th among 15 teams in the Western Conference.

‘Y’all force enough to show them all the time like they’re gonna be good. Y’all as in the NBA,’ Barkley said as the Lakers trailed 65-50 at half in an overtime loss to Boston December 13.

‘It’s a conspiracy. Then we got all these clowns on television that have to talk about them everyday.’ 

Here, DailyMail.com examines why the Lakers receive so much coverage and whether they warrant it…  

While the Lakers remain popular, they are a world away from the perennial winners of the past

While the Lakers remain popular, they are a world away from the perennial winners of the past

LeBron James Factor 

‘The King’ is far from universally adored. In fact, he is quite the opposite as he continues to defy normalized expectations for a player in their 20th NBA season. 

James is undeniably one of the greatest players to have ever have put a leather ball through nylon. That is what brings him both widespread adulation and criticism. 

Comparisons to ghosts of NBA past and his frequent expression of political and social views, make James either a hero or villain in homes across America.

LeBron James has cultivated an image beyond the court, particularly during his time in LA

LeBron James has cultivated an image beyond the court, particularly during his time in LA

Granted, the Lakers would not drift into utter media irrelevancy without the ‘kid from Akron’, but there was a time where they were as close to a non-topic in the two seasons between the late Kobe Bryant’s retirement and James’s arrival.  

In the 2016-17 and 17-18 campaigns, LA managed 61 wins out of 164 and were only topical thanks to the brashness of a newly-acquired draft pick’s father. Hello, LaVar Ball. 

During such time, James had already surged to his greatest on-court achievement for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. In his second coming, the four-time NBA champion captured the Cavs’ first title in franchise history during the 14-15 season with an historic comeback from 3-1 down to the 73-9 Golden State Warriors.

The following two seasons saw Cleveland once again meet in the NBA Finals , but they lost twice. Despite the mundanity of a Warriors-Cavaliers monopoly, both were the media darlings or villains depending on the moment. 

James and the Cavaliers franchise were a constant talking point during his two spells in CLE

James and the Cavaliers franchise were a constant talking point during his two spells in CLE

James and Dan Gilbert’s franchise stuffed the sports talk stat sheet in identical fashion to the 2022 Lakers. Currently, Cleveland are a true force in the Eastern Conference, closing in on the hype – locally, at least – once surrounding James’s teams. 

And yet the Cavaliers are spoken of in the shadows despite occupying the fourth seed in the East and a far better record than LA.

The NBA has always been a star-driven league and there is none bigger than James nor the Lakers in name. 

Cameras and microphones have followed James throughout his career. Now it’s more noticeable than ever due to the Lakers’ position nearer to the basement than the summit. 

Since he was globally discovered as a teen, James has been a constant figure in the spotlight

Since he was globally discovered as a teen, James has been a constant figure in the spotlight

History 

The past does not guarantee a path to permanent relevancy, just ask the Chicago Bulls. 

Alongside, the trophy-laden Celtics, Michael Jordan’s former franchise complete a podium of the NBA’s most illustrious teams – and brands.

Chicago have won six titles – all during Jordan’s career – equal-fourth on the all-time list behind Golden State (6), Boston (17) and of course, the Lakers (17). 

Kobe Bryant helped bring five championships to the league's equal-most successful franchise

Kobe Bryant helped bring five championships to the league’s equal-most successful franchise 

While the Bulls captured the imagination of the 90s and succeeding generations, but their importance to television networks is virtually non-existent outside of the Midwest, given their recent successes – or lack thereof. 

Back to the Lakers, winning more titles than all except Boston helps, but their production line of generational talents adds a layer no other franchise can compete with. 

Of the NBA’s 75 – a panel-selection of the greatest players in league history – the Lakers had 18 players representing the franchise, only bettered by the Celtics (20). 

Magic Johnson was also a lightning rod for winning - amassing five championships of his own

Magic Johnson was also a lightning rod for winning – amassing five championships of his own

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Jerry West, O’Neal and Bryant, among many others, carried on the rich tradition of the league’s best playing in Purple and Gold. 

Even during the dire last season of Bryant’s career, his presence made the 17-win Lakers somehow, someway a point of relevance. During No. 24’s final game in 2015-16, LA received a peak audience more than a million viewers greater than the Warriors’ record-setting 73rd win, giving them the NBA’s greatest-ever regular season record. 

So long as there is a superstar in LA, cameras are drawn, no matter the performances. While Barkley may have a point, the Lakers currently have three in name, and sometimes, in nature. 

Present-day 

Los Angeles have made a slow start to the season, and that’s putting it lightly – much to the amusement of social media. 

LeBron James and Co. started the season 0-5, which ballooned to 2-10. From November, across a three-week span, the Lakers won eight of 10 games – including wins against Milwaukee and Brooklyn to bring them back to 10-12. 

With a hot streak signaling an end to their woes, the familiar feeling of losing set back in during December. 

Davis and James brought a ring back from the bubble in 2019-20 - LAL's first since 2009-10

Davis and James brought a ring back from the bubble in 2019-20 – LAL’s first since 2009-10

Not once this season have the Lakers hit the .500 mark, which gives some credence Barkley’s exasperation at their perpetual presence in the spotlight. 

Only Golden State’s 30 nationally televised games surpass the Lakers’ 27 primetime slots this season.

Although even during the embryonic stages of the 22-23 campaign, when only Houston held a worse record, the Lakers were a must-watch. 

Despite winning the title in FL, the Lakers have only made the playoffs four times in 10 years

Despite winning the title in FL, the Lakers have only made the playoffs four times in 10 years

Not for fans of the Purple and Gold perhaps, but the types who enjoy car-crash television.

Notwithstanding Barkley’s plausible take, the 13th seed Lakers are relevant this season, even from a standings perspective, in spite of their 13-20 record.

With 10 of 15 teams from each conference able to find their way into the playoffs – six automatically, and two via a four-team play-in, almost every NBA franchise is a live chance of making a run at the postseason.


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