Lee Maxwell


Scenes from the Lakers’ recent game in Bakersfield. See the pictures

On one of Bakersfield’s final balmy Sundays, Centennial Garden transformed into a sea of purple and gold known as “Lakersfield.” Anxious Los Angeles Lakers fans arrived as early as noon for a show that didn’t open its doors until 5 p.m.

Fans arrived with hopes of seeing the likes of Gary “The Glove” Payton, Karl “The Mailman” Malone and Shaquille “Shaq Diesel” O’Neal during the preseason game on Oct. 19.

Others came to see what all the hoopla surrounding the newest member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, 18-year-old LeBron James, was about. James made the jump from high school basketball to become the first pick in the 2003 NBA draft and signed a shoe contract worth $90 million before he ever graced the NBA’s hardwood floors.

Still others wanted to see if Kobe Bryant’s offseason surgeries and off-the-court issues would prevent him from slipping on a uniform for this event. Although Bryant didn’t make an appearance, O’Neal satisfied Laker fans’ thirst to see their favorite players. Not only was he in town, but he played, big-toe and foul-shooting issues in tow.

Despite his ailments, O’Neal led his team, as a leader should, to 20 points and six rebounds in what would ultimately become the Ricky Davis show. Cleveland’s Davis scored 27 points in the game, ruffling Payton’s feathers after a few sizzling drives to the basket and some obligatory trash-talking.

Finally, to the delight of just about every basketball fan in the house, it was announced that due to the sellout of 9,772 seats, Centennial Garden will host another preseason game for the Lakers next season.