In late September, Kobe Bryant had just begun playing basketball after a three months away from the game following knee surgery.
Andrew Bynum wasn’t close to playing. Pau Gasol was traveling the world. Only Lamar Odom had recently played competitive basketball while helping Team USA claim the World Championships.
Meanwhile, across the pond, Regal F.C. Barcelona was beating everybody in Spain in preseason warm up tournaments and their first regular season game:
Sept. 18, Catalonia League Semifinal: F.C. Barcelona 78, Assignia Manresa 71
Sept. 19, Catalonia League Final: F.C. Barcelona 95, DKV Joventut 79
Sept. 24, ACB Super Cup Semifinal: F.C. Barcelona 89, Real Madrid 55
Sept. 24, ACB Super Cup Final: F.C. Barcelona 83, P. Electrics Valencia 63
Oct. 3, Regular Season: Barcelona 83, Regal Barca-Gran Canaria 58
This is also the same team that crushed Olympiacos, a solid Greek squad, 86-68 in the finals of the Euroleague, otherwise known as the next best basketball in the world outside of the NBA.
Combine this with L.A.’s lack of actual practice time, injuries and general treatment of the preseason, and we can better understand why Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Phil Jackson all said they are expecting a very tough game when they aren’t exactly ready for one.
F.C. Barcelona is led by two players known well in America, Ricky Rubio (drafted in 2009 by the Timberwolves) and Juan Carlos Navarro (formerly of the Memphis Grizzlies), both of whom also started for Spain in the World Championships. But there are several other solid players as well, like Pete Mikael, Jaka Lakovic, Kosta Perovic and Fran Vazquez.
The Lakers, who participated in a training session for kids alongside F.C. Barcelona at the Catalan team’s training facility on Tuesday, will get a close look in a game that tips at 11:30 a.m. Pacific on KCAL, NBA TV and 710 ESPN radio.