On Monday, David Nwaba had the day off. On Tuesday, he had a Wikipedia page.
Cliché as it may sound, Nwaba is living the dream—every LA kid's dream. Only, this Kobe Bryant fan's path to joining the Los Angeles Lakers is anything but a cliché.
After attending University High School in Los Angeles, the LA kid went to Santa Monica College before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. From there, Nwaba went undrafted and looked set to jump overseas for his basketball career until he caught the eye of a coach for the LA D-Fenders, which is the Lakers' NBA Development affiliate.
"It was actually a closed tryout," Nwaba told the story with a somewhat stunned look on his face, sitting in the same locker room that they player he "idolized" reigned for 20 years. "I was actually going in for a showcase to go overseas, and a D-Fenders coach saw me and invited me to a closed door tryout. They liked me, and I stayed around and made the team."
According to the player, he looked set to join the Reno Big Horns when he got a call from the D-Fenders letting him know that they had traded for him. Being on the D-Fenders, though, is hardly a guarantee of an NBA call up, especially considering this particular player's profile.
Nwaba's specialty is defense, rebounding and throwing down the occasional monster dunk. While the last skill in that set sounds attractive, a defensive guard that can rebound is not exactly something that stands out in the box score, especially in a league that rarely finishes with either team scoring fewer than 100 points. Nwaba was a defender in a scorer's league.
Anyone who has watched the Lakers play in recent years can see clear as day: the Lakers need help on defense. According to Nwaba, the only interaction he had with Lakers coach Luke Walton prior to joining the Lakers came at a D-Fenders game when the coach briefly complimented the player on his defense in passing.
Then, a series of fortunate events left the Lakers with an open roster spot after Jose Calderon negotiated a buyout of his contract with the hopes of joining the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors eventually opted to sign former Laker Matt Barnes, but the Warriors held up their agreement with Calderon to the tune of the Spaniard netting $415,000 for two hours of service in Northern California.
In the meantime, Calderon's escape from LA provided Earvin "Magic" Johnson the opportunity to sign his first free agent since taking over the basketball side of the Lakers' business.
And so, Nwaba got a call from his coach on Monday.
"I actually thought (D-Fenders coach Coby Karl) wanted me to work this Boys and Girls clinic, so that was actually going through my mind," Nwaba shared his thoughts when he got the call to come into the office on his off day, Monday. Then, he got the news. "I was shocked and very happy."
The next day, Tuesday, Nwaba found himself inside the Lakers' practice facility going through a morning shootaround with his new teammates and his new coach, Walton. A few hours later, Nwaba was due to put on a Lakers' jersey.
Talking to the Lakers' media contingent on Tuesday morning, Nwaba smiled wide and said, "Yea, it's pretty crazy just growing up a Laker fan and just dreaming about this day, and it's finally happening."
About two and a half hours away from tip-off, he sat on the Lakers' bench at Staples Center. Fans would not be allowed into the building for a couple of hours, but Nwaba stayed glued to his seat on the Lakers' bench. When he got hold of a basketball, he held on tight almost seeming as though letting go of the ball may cause him to wake up.
"Showed up early just to experience the atmosphere," he explained. "I'm just living it up and enjoying the experience."
When Walton strolled into the arena, dressed casually with a black Lakers' hat on, the coach took a stutter step before grabbing a seat next to the 24-year-old ball player living out the dream of every LA kid that grew up watching no. 24 for the past two decades.
"He's an LA kid," Walton said he offered advice. "I just kind of asked him how it was sitting there in a Laker uniform on the Laker bench. It's obviously different for everybody, but I remember my first time. It was a pretty incredibly, special night. And then, I told him 'Enjoy it, really enjoy it, embrace it, but once we start playing, put all that outside your mind. It's just about playing basketball, competing and doing what you do well and what's got you here.'"
When the Lakers' interns came by and placed team sheets on all the courtside seats, Nwaba picked up the piece of paper that has a slight gold tint to it and read the names of players. Yes, his name was listed under the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was real.
"It's just crazy," Nwaba said about seeing his name listed and the numerous other "pinch-me" moments of the day. "Everything is shocking, but I'm just enjoying it when I can, just having fun."
Next, Nwaba took the Staples Center floor with the purple and gold and warmed up in front of his fellow hometown fans. When he sat on the bench this time, the Lakers—his team—were playing a real life NBA game. After three quarters had passed, Nwaba figured he would not get into the game. After all, it was a game that hung in the balance entering the final 12 minutes.
Walton called Nwaba's number in the fourth quarter.
He entered the game with the score tied 82-82, and he spent five minutes and 19 seconds energizing the Lakers' defense. He guarded Kemba Walker, an All-Star point guard. When he left the court, the Lakers led by two.
"As far as us seeing what we wanted to see (from Nwaba), it was good," Walton said after the game. Then, the coach almost laughed, "You know, we put him on Kemba Walker in the fourth quarter of a game he hadn't played in, in a league he had never played in, and he did not seem to be timid out there."
Certainly, Tuesday had been a test. Nawaba had passed.
Walton added, "I thought he did a fine job in the minutes that he got, and I told that group they did their job. When they came out, we had a lead."
After the game, though, Nwaba seemed to focus more on his single missed shot and the lone defensive mix up than all the stops he was a part of. The mindset was understandable and commendable considering the Lakers had lost a close one to the Hornets.
After being reminded he went up against an NBA All-Star in his first NBA game, Nwaba responded, "I mean, it was a good experience. I took the challenge. I wasn't afraid of the challenge."
He admitted that the fast pace of the NBA game stood out to him but added, "The next game will be a lot easier, hopefully better."
Incidentally, the "next game" happens to be against the franchise's greatest rival: the Boston Celtics. For a Laker fan, this dream just keeps getting better.
Lakers versus Celtics tips off at 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time.