Rajon Rondo I Nearly Cried After Fan Ovation ... In Lakers Return

LAKER LOVE
TMZSports.com

Fans gave Rajon Rondo the warmest of welcomes in his big return to the Lakers over the weekend ... and the NBA guard says he was so touched by the gesture, he nearly cried.

Of course, Rondo played with the purple and gold for 2 seasons ... winning a ring alongside LeBron James and Co. in 2020, before bolting for the Atlanta Hawks and L.A. Clippers.

But, Rondo is back on board with the Lakers in 2021 ... and the fans gave him an epic welcome back during their first preseason game on Sunday.

Rondo -- who was working at Taco AF in L.A. on Monday in honor of National Taco Day -- spoke with TMZ Sports about the unforgettable moment ... saying he had to quickly get his composure back, 'cause he almost broke down in tears.

"I almost cried again last night," Rondo told us. "It means everything. I was away for a year ... came back and the reception I got last night, I had to try to focus on the game."

"The love I got, the attention from the crowd getting back in the game. It was amazing."

TACO TAKEOVER
TMZSports.com

BTW, Rondo's involvement at Tacos AF was just as amazing -- a portion of all sales on Monday went towards the Downtown Women's Center, which helps homeless women in the area. Plus, fans were able to meet the NBAer as he whipped up and passed out tacos!!

Even rapper O.T. Genasis came through to test out Rondo's tacos -- and judging by his reaction, they were bomb!!

Awesome to see Rondo picking up right where he left off in helping the area.

Welcome back to the Lake Show!!

Drew Pearson I Could Turn LeBron Into HOF Receiver ... Just Join The Cowboys!!!

LEBRON, LET'S WORK!
TMZSports.com

LeBron James ... 4-time NBA champ AND Pro Football Hall of Famer?!

Drew Pearson says he can make that a reality for the King ... telling TMZ Sports if Bron switched to football and joined the Cowboys, he could turn the Lakers star into a HOF receiver!!

"If I had a chance to work with him at wide receiver or tight end, he'd become a Hall of Famer, that's for sure," Pearson said.

"He'd become a Hall of Famer because he's got that talent, and with my coaching, I can coach him up to become a Hall of Famer and get one of these rings."

Pearson added that Jerry Jones and the Cowboys would be more than willing to give the basketball player a shot ... saying, "We got a contract for you."

"If you want a contract," the Cowboys legend said, "you come to Dallas, we'll make sure it works. I know Jerry Jones will make that work."

Of course, Jones has already sent LeBron a contract once before ... with James saying this week the 'Boys -- along with the Seahawks -- offered him deals back in 2011.

Seems, though, James is content fighting for yet another NBA title ... but, hey, if a change of mind goes down -- we're pretty sure Drew's waiting!

LeBron James I Got The Vaccine ... But I Won't Urge Others To Do Same

NOT MY JOB
Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James just confirmed he is, in fact, vaccinated ... but he said he will not urge others to do the same, explaining, "That's not my job."

The NBA superstar broke down his feelings on the COVID vax at Lakers media day Tuesday ... saying to reporters he was initially skeptical of the shots -- but decided to get them after doing his research.

Still, James said he had no interest in pleading with others -- including his NBA peers -- to follow in his footsteps ... believing it's a decision each person must make on their own.

"We're talking about individuals' bodies," LeBron said. "We're not talking about something that's political, or racism, or police brutality. Things of that nature. We're talking about people's bodies and well being."

"So, I don't feel like, for me personally, that I should get involved in what other people should do for their bodies and their livelihoods."

James compared it to giving out job advice -- explaining he would never tell someone how to choose their own career paths.

"You have to do what's best for your family," LeBron said. "So, I know what I did for me and my family. I know some of my friends and what they did for their families."

"But as far as speaking for everybody and their individualities and things that they want to do, I don't feel like that -- that's not my job."

James said the Lakers -- who will head into the season with a 100 percent vaccination rate -- never talked as a team about getting the vaccine ... reiterating he wanted it all to be a choice each individual made on their own.

LeBron James I Was Offered NFL Contracts By Jerry Jones & Pete Carroll

LeBron James says he almost played in the NFL, telling Eli and Peyton Manning the Cowboys and Seahawks both offered him a contracts during the NBA lockout in 2011.

Bron joined the Manning Bros during their "Monday Night Football" broadcast ... when the Giants legend asked James if it were true that Dallas recruited him back in the day, with Eli asking if he had "any temptation to put the uniform on and go play for the Cowboys?”

"That's true, Jerry Jones offered me a contract. Also, Pete Carroll did as well, in Seattle during our lockout time," LeBron told Eli and Peyton.

"It definitely got my blood flowing again. Got my mind racing again thinking about the game of football, being out there on Sundays."

Unfortunately for Cowboys and Seahawks fans, Bron says NBA players and owners quickly worked through their differences, and lockout ended shortly after.

"We were able to get a deal done in the NBA and I was back on the court in no time, but I definitely thought about it. I still got the jerseys too, that Jerry and Pete Carroll sent me from 2011."

Eli asked which position teams envisioned the 6'8", 250+ lb. basketball legend playing -- wide receiver, tight end?

“Yeah, more tight end, tight end," LeBron answered ... "I wanted to be a red-zone specialist like Gronk.”

You'll recall, James was a talented receiver in high school, playing for St.-Vincent-St. Mary’s football team … even getting recruited by several Division 1 schools (for football).

He smashed the competition during his junior year ... racking up 57 receptions, 1,160 yards, and 16 TDs.

Great numbers ... but safe to say his decision to quit football and focus on hooping turned out well for the future Hall of Famer.

But, not even Peyton could stop himself from imagining what it would've been like to throw the ball up to a freakishly big, strong, and talented athlete.

“I would have thrown so many touchdowns to LeBron, put him out wide, throw the ball, throw the fade, jump ball. 75 touchdowns.”

Defenses, you're lucky ...

Lakers Fan Sues LAPD Cop ... You Shot Me In the Head W/ A Rubber Bullet

An L.A. Lakers fan is suing an LAPD cop ... claiming the officer shot him in the head with a rubber bullet while he was peacefully celebrating the Lakers championship last year, and now he wants the officer to pay up.

The fan, Kimberly Marroquin, filed the civil lawsuit Thursday in California … claiming she was peacefully and legally celebrating the 'ship against the Miami Heat on October 11, 2020 ... around 9:15 PM.

"Without warning or provocation", the suit reads, the officer "shot [Marroquin] in the head with a less lethal rubber projectile round."

Marroquin was "unarmed and never posed a threat," according to the lawsuit.

She’s going after an unnamed officer, the Captain she claims was responsible for overseeing the area where she was celebrating, and the City of Los Angeles.

As a result of the alleged excessive force, the plaintiff claims she "suffered severe pain and suffering, mental anguish, humiliation, and emotional distress, and incurred economic losses" from mounting medical bills.

The lawsuit also accuses the LAPD of failing to properly train their officers ... as well as refusing to punish cops who screw up.

Marroquin is asking for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, medical costs, and attorneys' fees. The exact amount she's seeking is unclear.

We've reached out to the LAPD, who told us they don't comment on pending litigation.

We also reached out to the city. They told us they will review the complaint, and would have no further comment at the time.

LeBron James COVID-19 Vaccine Mystery Solved ... GM Says Lakers Will Be Fully Vaxxed

LeBron James may not want to talk about it, but the NBA superstar did get -- or is getting -- the COVID-19 vaccine ... so says GM Rob Pelinka, who claims the whole Lakers roster will be fully vaxxed by the start of the season.

King James has danced around the question for months ... electing to keep his vaccine decision a family matter.

But, Pelinka revealed L.A.'s entire roster will, in fact, be at 100% vaccination status when the season kicks off ... and in case you didn't know, LBJ is on the Lakers.

"On opening night, all of the players that are currently signed on our roster will be deemed fully vaccinated," Pelinka told reporters Thursday. "We’re grateful for that."

Pelinka says it's a sigh of relief to know the team and staff members will not face any setbacks due to people within the organization being unvaccinated.

Of course, LeBron previously brushed the topic off ... calling it "not a big deal" back in May.

"Anything I do off the floor is predicated to my family for the majority or 99.9% of that," James said at the time.

"It’s about the health and safety of my family," he added. "That’s what it came down to. Being available to my teammates on the floor is about taking care of my body and me doing everything I can to make sure I’m available both mentally, physically and spiritually as well."

"But, anything of that nature is all family talk."

There was strong indication Bron had been vaccinated prior to the first round of the NBA playoffs last season ... when the league explained he would not have to quarantine following an appearance at an outdoor event.

Had he not been vaxxed, James would have been forced to stay away from the team for a period of time.

Now, all speculation can be put to rest.

Dwight Howard 'Masked Singer' Even Surprised Mom ... I Kept Her in the Dark!!!

FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAM
TMZ.com

Dwight Howard says his own mother was shocked while watching her fave show -- "The Masked Singer" -- because she found out her baby boy was the "Octopus!!!"

The NBA veteran, and current L.A. Lakers star, joined us on "TMZ Live" Thursday to tell us all about his experience on the Fox show -- and why he went to great lengths to keep his appearance top secret from his mom.

It's super sweet ... Dwight says she was just like every other viewer across the country, watching his unmasking after he'd dropped a pretty good version of the Little Richard classic, "Tutti Frutti."

Keep in mind, he pulled that off while being 6'10" and draped in his heavy costume and headgear.

Unfortunately for the Howard fam, Dwight was eliminated at the end of Wednesday night's season premiere, but it sounds like she'll continue watching even though he got the boot.

It's a fun conversation ... and Dwight tells us why a family connection inspired his song choice.

Lakers Gift Newborns With Kobe Bryant Gear ... To Honor Mamba's Birthday

The L.A. Lakers honored Kobe Bryant's birthday Monday by passing on the gift of Lakeshow fandom to newborn babies ... and the gesture was AWESOME.

Lakers officials teamed up with UCLA Health to hook up some lucky parents and their newborns with Mamba gifts -- and they added a sweet "Welcome to the World!" letter with the swag bag.

In the note, the Lakers explained in order to pay homage to Kobe's birthday, they were passing along shirts and other KB gear.

KOBE GEAR FOR THE KIDDOS
@lakers / Instagram

"On this special day, we want to honor Kobe Bryant and celebrate you," Lakers officials wrote in the letter.

"Kobe loved his family, and so this Kobe Day, we're giving you and your family three shirts: two for your loved ones and one for you to grow into someday."

They concluded the letter, "Lakers family is for life."

The gift bundle not only included classic #24 Lakers shirts, it also came with a #8 baby cap and even a little baby Lakers blanket!

L.A. shared video of the happy families holding up their shirts with their newborns ... and it was all adorable.

Bryant -- who was killed in a helicopter crash in January 2020 -- would have turned 43 this week.

#RIP

Vanessa Bryant Birthday Message To Kobe ... 'Te Amo Por Siempre'

Vanessa Bryant is honoring Kobe Bryant on his 43rd birthday by posting a heartfelt message to her late husband ... saying she will love him forever.

The tributes have been pouring in for the NBA legend on Monday ... with the Lakers, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Wilson and more sharing messages of love.

Vanessa shared a picture of the couple kissing and posing with the Larry O'Brien trophy after winning one of his 5 championships on Instagram just minutes ago ... saying, "Happy birthday, Papi. Te Amo por siempre. Amor Eterno. ❤️💔 43."

Waiting for your permission to load the Instagram Media.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, passed away in a tragic helicopter crash in January 2020 ... and Vanessa has previously opened up on the "unimaginable" pain she's gone through since the accident.

"Lying in bed crying isn't going to change the fact that my family will never be the same again," Vanessa told People.com back in March ... "But getting out of bed and pushing forward is going to make the day better for my girls and for me. So that's what I do."

RIP Black Mamba.

Devin Booker Boozy Lunch With Kendall Jenner ... After Romantic Lake Trip

Devin Booker's offseason of love is still going strong ... 'cause after a romantic lake trip with Kendall Jenner, he sipped booze with the model at a lunch in NY -- and, yeah, the NBA star sure looks smitten.

The attractive couple hit up a party for Jenner's 818 Tequila brand at Sunset Beach Hotel on Shelter Island on Wednesday ... with Booker playing the role of proud BF as he watched Jenner celebrate the success of her alcohol.

Booker was seen smiling, laughing and schmoozing with Jenner's friends ... and we're told Kendall couldn't have been happier to have her tequila with her man by her side.

Of course, Booker and KJ have been inseparable since his triumphant return from the Tokyo Olympics ... they were just spotted enjoying other's company on a lake earlier this week.

In fact, Jenner proudly displayed her BF's new gold medal while rockin' a tiny bikini on their boat.

The two have been dating for over a year now ... and sure have been hot and heavy through the last few months -- with Jenner even hitting the road to see most of his playoff games.

Begs the question ... even though Booker didn't get an NBA championship bling this year -- is a wedding ring in the cards??

Probably not ... but maybe?!?!

J.R. Smith I Wanna Be A College Golfer!!! ... Enrolls At HBCU

NBA guard J.R. Smith is gunning to take his talents to the links -- the hooper has enrolled at an HBCU in hopes of making it on the golf team!!

35-year-old Smith -- who skipped college ball for the NBA Draft in 2004 -- is taking full advantage of his newly acquired free time by becoming a student at North Carolina A&T.

Of course, the 2-time NBA champ has not played in the league since winning a ring with LeBron James and the L.A. Lakers in 2020 ... going all last season without a team.

Now, J.R. is looking to join another team -- A&T's golf team.

"Golf is one of those games that can have you feeling really high or it can bring you down to your knees and humble you," Smith told WFMY.

"To have that feeling and knowing that all of the game is pretty much on my own hands and I don’t have to worry about teammates to pass the ball to, receiving passes and playing defense -- I can just play my game and have fun."

Smith says he learned the game from Hall of Famer Moses Malone ... and is waiting on the NCAA to sort out his eligibility, according to ESPN.

No word on if shirts are required for college golfers. We'll get back to you on that.

Kobe Bryant NBA Debut Shoes Hit Auction Block ... Could Fetch $500k!!!

The shoes Kobe Bryant wore for his VERY FIRST NBA game can now be yours -- if you got half a milli lying around -- 'cause the iconic kicks are hitting the auction block!

The Black Mamba arrived on the scene for the L.A. Lakers on November 3, 1996, against the Minnesota Timberwolves ... going scoreless in just 6 minutes of action off the bench.

Bryant rocked a custom pair of size 14 Adidas kicks as he stepped on the court for the first time ... which he ended up giving away to a diehard fan outside The Forum after the game.

A few years later, the fan was able to run into Kobe again -- and got the legend to quickly sign them outside the team's hotel!!!

Now, the fan is looking to part ways with the keepsakes ... putting them up for auction via Gotta Have Rock And Roll.

We're told these sneakers -- which also come with a ticket stub from the game -- are NOT gonna come cheap ... they have a minimum bid of $100k and could sell for up to $500k!!!

Of course, the 5-time champ went on to eventually score quite a bit in his career -- he's ranked 4th all-time with 33,643 points ... and became one of the greatest players to ever pick up a basketball.

Bidding starts Wednesday ... good luck!

MLB's Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Honors Kobe, Gianna With Cleats ... Will Give Pair to Vanessa!!

Toronto Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is paying tribute to Kobe and Gianna Bryant ... by getting some incredible custom cleats -- and he's giving a pair to Vanessa!!!

TMZ Sports has learned ... the 22-year-old star has been wanting to honor the late Lakers legend and Gigi on his feet for more than a year.

VG specifically wanted to cop the tribute cleats for the Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels series ...  so he hit up New Jersey artist Michael Jordan for the job.

Jordan tells us he started the project back in June to make sure the All-Star Game MVP got 'em on time -- and the finished product is awesome!!!

The white and black Jordan cleats feature a detailed image of Gigi in her Mamba Academy gear and Kobe in his Lakers uniform.

It also has Gigi's jersey #2 and both Kob's #8 and #24 splattered on the whole sneaker -- as well as their nicknames Mamba and Mambacita.

The all purple pair showcases some father and daughter moments -- Kobe celebrating with Gigi after winning the 2009 Finals ... and the duo sitting courtside at a Lakers game in 2019.

It also has a quote from Beyonce's song "XO," "your love is bright as ever" ... the same song she sang at Bryant's memorial service at the Staples Center in February 2020.

We're told the free-handed artwork took a total of 60 hours ... and VG will give the purple pair to Vanessa Bryant after the series.

#RIP

Matt Barnes Lakers' Age Is A Good Thing 'Older People Work Smarter'

AGE IS JUST A NUMBER
TMZSports.com

All the critics cracking jokes about the Lakers' free agent signings will have to eat their words -- so says NBA champ Matt Barnes ... who tells TMZ Sports L.A.'s older roster is actually a GOOD thing!!!

It's no secret -- the Lake Show didn't get any younger this off-season ... adding guys like Russell Westbrook (32), Dwight Howard (35), Carmelo Anthony (37), Trevor Ariza (36), Wayne Ellington (33) and more to join forces with LeBron James (36) and Anthony Davis (28).

Of course, those guys have all been around the block a few times ... with people (not us) comparing the team more to a retirement home than title contenders.

But, Barnes ain't in that group ... 'cause he tells us he's a fan of what the Purple and Gold have done so far.

"I like what they're doing, man," Barnes tells us. "I think you know, they’re saying the team is old, but they got a lot of experience, a lot of great players. So, I'm excited to see what happens.

Of course, Barnes makes it clear the guys have to stay healthy throughout the season ... but thinks everyone's on the same page and knows they have a long journey ahead.

"I just think older people work smarter, so they're going to understand how to work even when they need to do the work during the season and understand that it's a marathon, and I think they're going to be okay with it."

Barnes -- who played in the Association 'til he was 37 -- tells us there are a few key things older athletes gotta do to keep healthy ... and it's some pretty plant-friendly advice!!

LeBron James Producing Native American Hoops Film For Netflix ... 'Rez Ball'

LeBron James is back on the movie scene -- this time, it's behind the camera ... producing a new flick about Native American basketball!!

SpringHill Company -- LBJ and Maverick Carter's production business -- will be teaming up with director Sydney Freeland to make the sports drama for Netflix called 'Rez Ball.'

The movie is about the Chuska Warriors -- a Native American high school basketball team in New Mexico that has to step it up to win a championship after losing their star players, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

FYI, Rez Ball is actually short for Reservation Basketball ... which is a different form of hoops that is played by Native Americans in Arizona, New Mexico and other states.

No word on the casting but the filming will take place in NM and is scheduled to be released in 2022 or early 2023.

Freeland -- who is known for her 2014 film, "Drunktown's Finest" -- is stoked to work on this project ... saying, "basketball on the Rez is like high school football in West Texas."

"What we want to do is bring people into our world, to tell a story about the people and places we know, and what better way to do that than through a sports movie?"

"We are so excited with the team we’ve assembled and can’t wait to bring this to the screen.”

James just finished acting and co-producing 'Space Jam: A New Legacy' that blew up the box office, making $31.7 million opening weekend.

Maybe King James will hop in front of the cam and make a cameo in 'Rez Ball'?

Carmelo Anthony I'm A Laker!!! Finally Teams Up W/ Bron

IT'S FINALLY HAPPENING!!!

Carmelo Anthony is teaming up with his bestie, LeBron James -- the 10-time All-Star just signed a 1-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers!!!

Of course, LBJ and Melo have been tight for 20 years ... but aside from Team USA action, the two never suited up for the same NBA team.

UNTIL NOW!!!

Melo's manager, Bay Frazier, made the news official on Tuesday ... but the official terms of the deal have not been announced just yet.

Anthony is 37 years old now, but the guy has proven he can still hoop -- averaging 13 points a game and playing a key role with the Portland Trail Blazers last season.

Anthony is one of the best players of his era -- he's made the All-NBA team 6 times, was the scoring champ in 2013 and is 10th in points in league history.

The signing adds to the Lakers' big haul through two days of free agency -- Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, Wayne Ellington, Malik Monk and Dwight Howard have all agreed to suit up for the Purple and Gold.

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