LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — As consequential as the Lakers’ upcoming playoff series against the Trail Blazers might seem, the stakes can’t compare to the literal life-or-death circumstances L.A.’s LeBron James and Portland’s Carmelo Anthony were in during a Bahamas vacation.
James, Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul — affectionately known as the banana boat crew — were on a summer excursion with their families years ago when a boat outing in the ocean went awry.
After several of the All-Stars jumped in the water to explore a grotto and scope out the marine life, Anthony was missing when the group got back to the boat.
“I just knew that he was not back in the boat with the rest of us, so I went out looking for him,” James said Monday on a video conference call. “And through the grace of God and through strength and not being afraid of the water, I was able to help him back to the boat. It was the only thing that was on my mind at that point and time, was getting my brother back to the boat.”
Anthony, who will face James and the Lakers in Game 1 of their Western Conference playoff series on Tuesday, originally shared the story of being rescued in an Instagram Live video with Wade and Wade’s wife, Gabrielle Union, back in March.
“I look up, the current is taking me in the middle of the ocean,” Anthony said. “Like, opposite from the boat.”
“We couldn’t see you!” Wade interjected.
“And it was windy,” Anthony said. “All type of s— was going on in my head, I’m going to be honest with you.”
Anthony fixed his gaze on the boat and saw James rush to retrieve him. Anthony said James’ jump off the boat reminded him of the 1980s TV character MacGyver. Wade said it was more like James’ old Nike ad, The LeBrons, where “Business LeBron” leaps off the high dive.
Anthony admitted he doesn’t know what would have happened if not for James’ help.
“He saved my life,” he told Wade on Instagram. “Yo, Bron, I appreciate it. You saved my life that day. Them little flippers wasn’t working for me.”
“I don’t know, it’s a blessing, honestly,” James said when asked how much danger Anthony was really in before the rescue. “I don’t really know what to say to be honest. I’m just happy he’s still here, obviously.”
James and Anthony, who came into the league together in the heralded 2003 NBA draft, will face one another in the postseason for just the second time in their 17-year careers. James’ Miami Heat beat Anthony’s New York Knicks 4-1 in the first round in 2012.
It’s been two years since James last appeared in the postseason and seven years since the Lakers franchise has. After securing the No. 1 seed in the West, L.A.’s reward is playing a hot Blazers team that earned the No. 8 seed with a 7-2 record in the bubble. All of the games will be played at a neutral site, nullifying the home-court advantage that comes with being the higher seed.
“Probably the toughest one,” James said of his postseason prospects. “It’s the toughest championship run for me personally. From the circumstances of just being in here.”
The circumstances might be better than being lost at sea, but James detailed the challenges.
“What’s different for me in this environment? As far as me locking in on an opponent and individuals, that hasn’t changed. What’s different is this is the environment, not home,” he said. “Not with my family, not in my own bed, I’m not in our own practice facility. I’m not preparing to be at Staples [Center] tomorrow with our fans. I’m not with a lot of things that’s essential to my everyday regimen. So that’s what’s different.”
The Lakers’ practice looked a little different Monday with Rajon Rondo back on the court with the team for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair a fractured right thumb nearly five weeks ago.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said the veteran point guard is medically cleared to play but is “unlikely” to see court time on Tuesday.
“We’re going to see how he responds to his work today,” Vogel said. “Don’t know yet if he’ll be active … this is the first time he’s played basketball with anyone other than himself for a few weeks now, or since the injury to his hand. … We’ll take it day to day, see how he continues to progress with his conditioning, rhythm and timing and how his hand is responding to the added work.”