THE NIGHT OF Oct. 11, 2021, was no ordinary Monday in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants had played Game 3 of the National League Divisional Series at Dodger Stadium, while across town in Westwood, the NBA's newest superteam was assembling for a private screening of Russell Westbrook's autobiographical documentary on Showtime, "Passion Play."
Initially, no party had been planned because of local COVID-19 restrictions. But this documentary was important to Westbrook, so he paid for and arranged an IPIC theater, catering and COVID testing for all attendees, so his friends, family and new Los Angeles Lakers teammates could safely attend.
The Lakers had just opened training camp and were full of optimism for the season.
Sure, there had been skepticism inside and outside the franchise about how Westbrook would fit alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But eventually everyone involved had agreed the team needed a third star to help carry the load when -- not if -- James and Davis missed time due to injuries.
Much like on the Olympic team, the thinking went, fit didn't matter as much as talent when everyone's intentions were good.
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Westbrook had assured James and Davis in a series of meetings before and after the trade that he'd do whatever it took to make it work, which gave James and Davis the confidence to advocate for the marriage to Lakers management.
Showing up on that Monday night for Westbrook's movie premiere was exactly the kind of thing NBA superstars do to affirm their intentions.
"It was really meaningful for LeBron to be there," said Gotham Chopra, the film's director, who'd worked with James on "Shut Up and Dribble."
"I thought it was a great affirmation for Russ that he was there because of his stature in the game and the industry."
For two years, Chopra had been filming a side of Westbrook rarely seen behind the coat of defiant armor that's become his public persona. He could feel Westbrook's excitement and nerves as the release date approached. So like James, Chopra made a point of being there to show support, flying cross-country the day of the premiere.
Aside from the preternaturally strong winds, it was a beautiful night. Westbrook was finally playing for his hometown team after 14 seasons in the NBA. He could take his kids to school in the morning or over to their grandparents' house at night. His friends and family could attend home games.
This screening was at a theater five minutes from UCLA, where the basketball center's court is named after him. It was all set up perfectly.
Then, comedy. The projector malfunctioned. And not just a little. It flat out broke. As the team waited in front of the dark screen, technicians worked for 15 minutes to try to fix it. They tried to run the film again.
"It just kept stopping midway through," said one theatergoer. "It was so frustrating."
Once they determined the projector was too broken to repair, everyone moved to a different theater and picked up the film where it had left off. Amazingly, nobody left.
IPIC theaters are as state of the art as they come. Leather recliners. All the amenities. Servers who deliver candy and drinks to your seats. Several viewing rooms had been set up for Westbrook's premiere. His immediate family and the team were assigned to the biggest, nicest theater. And that was the one that wouldn't play.
It was just an unfortunate mess, one nothing could fix.
And so began the 2021-2022 season for the Los Angeles Lakers.