It was getting late. The Kings’ locker room was almost empty. Everyone had disappeared into the smoky night air outside Golden 1 Center to move on after a difficult 101-86 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night.
Everyone except Iman Shumpert.
Shumpert, a former NBA champion and one-time teammate of Lakers star LeBron James, stayed behind, sitting sullenly in front of his locker on the far side of the room. He dressed slowly, eventually climbed to his feet and pulled the hood of a pale yellow sweatshirt over his head.
“We lost,” he said. “We lost.”
Shumpert, 28, has provided a veteran voice of reassurance for a young Kings team still trying to find its place in the NBA. When the Kings suffered a 39-point preseason loss to Utah, Shumpert reminded them that he was part of a Cleveland Cavaliers team that lost to the Golden State Warriors by 34 points in the regular season before beating them in the NBA Finals a few months later.
This loss to the Lakers was different.
“I wanted to beat them,” Shumpert told The Bee. “It’s no secret. Y’all know why. It ain’t no secret. I want to go at them.”
At that team or that guy?
“Him,” Shumpert said flatly, referring to James. “Him and them, but specifically him. That was my old teammate. I wanted to have a good showing against him. I wanted that game.”
James scored a game-high 25 points for the Lakers (6-6), who won for the fourth time in five games. De’Aaron Fox scored 21 points for the Kings (7-6), who have lost three of four following a five-game winning streak.
James said he had a slight headache earlier in the evening after breathing the smoke that rolled into Sacramento from the deadly Northern California wildfires, but he felt better following the game.
He was hoping “to get some good rest” Saturday night ahead of the Lakers’ game against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night in Los Angeles.
Shumpert didn’t sound like a man who would be sleeping soundly after finishing with seven points on 3-of-8 shooting in a loss that left him fuming.
Shumpert and James were teammates in Cleveland from 2015 until Shumpert was traded to the Kings in February. Shumpert helped the Cavaliers win the NBA championship in 2015-16 before he came to Sacramento in the deal that sent George Hill to Cleveland.
The trade came as part of a massive shakeup that overhauled the Cavaliers’ roster, prompting James to tell ESPN: “I think we became a younger team, more athletic. We added some more shooting as well. So we’ll have to see how it meshes. I like the pieces that we have coming in.”
Shumpert and James took turns guarding each other at times during Saturday’s game. There have been no public squabbles between the former teammates, but Shumpert wasn’t crystal clear in his response when asked about their relationship.
“It’s fine,” he said. “Everybody in our league is a great guy. I’ve got plenty of guys that I try to get mean with and after the game you see them with their kids. They’re great guys. They do great stuff for their community. LeBron just opened up a bunch of schools, but I’m allowed my 48 minutes to hate a guy. It’s the only 48 minutes I get to hate his guts.”
Shumpert will have other opportunities to face James. The Kings play the Lakers three more times this season.
“A game is a game,” Shumpert said. “I may be taking it harder than most people, but that was one of my ex-teammates and I’m not one of those guys that’s going to say it’s just another game. I wanted that game. I’ve played plenty of pick-up games that were just pick-up games. Some of them I just want more. He got the first matchup, but we’ll see him again.”