The Los Angeles Lakers got a preseason win last Thursday that reverberated far beyond the sidelines of the court.
Sure, the Lakers beat the Sacramento Kings, 128-123, but the evening was also designated the team’s first-ever Lakers Pride Night to celebrate the inclusion of LGBTQ people at the Staples Center and sports at large.
The event featured the first out active LGBTQ college football player, Conner Mertens, presenting a “Laces of Unity” award to Jason Collins, who was the first publicly out gay athlete to play in an NBA game. While he was a member of the Brooklyn Nets, it was at a game against the Lakers that he first took the court as an openly gay man.
One of the cool things the Lakers did for Pride was feature a couple same-sex couples on the KissCam during the game, including a gay athlete who came out publicly on Outsports, Harrison Wilkerson, and his soccer-player boyfriend, Cody Cook. Wilkerson is currently a cheerleader for NC State. They were one of two same-sex couples featured on the night’s KissCam (above).
Yet the truly powerful move they made was the give a Pride Night T-shirt to every single person who bought a ticket to the preseason game. Every other Pride Night we know of has focused on people who have bought a ticket specific to Pride Night and an LGBTQ block of tickets, giving them a T-shirt or hat or something else.
When I walked through security into the Staples Center last Thursday, the first thing I saw was a mother, likely in her early 30s, slipping a Pride Night T-shirt onto her son, who couldn’t have been 10 years old.
Equality. Inclusion. Sports.
All in all, it was a very successful Pride Night, organized by Riley Buss-Drexel, grandson of former Lakers legendary owner Jerry Buss.
Some people on social media criticized the Lakers for hosting the event during the preseason. The reality of the Lakers, led by LeBron James, is that there are few tickets available for games in the regular season. Hosting it during the preseason made it more available and affordable to be attended by LGBTQ people.