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And Los Angeles Says Hello To Ex-Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: And I'm Nate Rott in Los Angeles, home to the 16-time NBA champion Lakers. LeBron James does not have to make any promises here, but the expectations around LA are higher than they've been since Kobe Bryant hung up his sneakers. Tony McCloud is outside of the Staples Center among the statues of former Lakers greats Magic Johnson, ball in hand, Shaquille O'Neal with a double-handed dunk.

TONY MCCLOUD: He's about to blow it up. Get ready for the ride.

ROTT: And McCloud is already imagining the statue to come.

MCCLOUD: It's going to be that signature King James - put his hands up in the air after he (clapping) pops it like that. That's what it's going to be like, oh, yeah.

ROTT: OK, so maybe McCloud is getting a little ahead of himself, but really, can you blame him? The last time LeBron James was not in the finals in 2010, Lonzo Ball, the Lakers' biggest young start, was only 12 years old. Matthew Lawry says James is the best basketball player in the world.

MATTHEW LAWRY: I remember how it was when Shaq signed with the Lakers. So this feels like it's that times 10.

ROTT: So even if he was an archrival or you don't like his on-court antics, as fan Meredith Gaines puts it, you find a way to quietly put that aside.

MEREDITH GAINES: I think even Kobe wants what's good for the team. And if what's good for the team is bringing over one of his greatest rivals, then so be it.

ROTT: The Lakers have fallen on hard times since Bryant's retirement. They haven't made the playoffs in five straight seasons. And though there is no sure thing in professional sports, having LeBron James don your jersey is about as close as you can get to a playoff berth guarantee. Off the court, the move should be good for James, too. As the terminator and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger put it in a video welcoming James, LA is the city of stars.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: And you're without any doubt going to be the biggest star of all on the court and off the court. I love it.

ROTT: So does Lakers Nation. Nathan Rott, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.