Wesley Matthews shared a name and with his father, but for a long time there was little else.
For many years, he was raised by his mother, Pam Moore, and he and his father weren’t very close. But one of the few continuous lines was basketball: The day he was born – October 18, 1986 – was the day Wes Sr. signed with the Lakers on his way to championships in 1987 and 1988. And the younger Matthews has a photo, “I’ve Always Had” of him as a toddler, dressed head to toe in denim at the Great Western Forum with a ball in his little hands.
The most important part of Wesley Matthews’ decision to sign with the Lakers 34 years after his father has to do with the present: he sees this as the best chance of his 11-year career to win an NBA title . But there’s clearly a mystique too: a history with nostalgic and even bittersweet ties that have drawn Matthews to the franchise since he was born.
“I’m a little bit younger than my daughter’s age now,” Matthews said of that old photo. Just to see everything come full circle – it’s really only God can write a story like this and it’s not finished yet. But it is sentimental. ”
There are many layers to Matthews’s addition to the defending champion, but the most important is the defense. The 34-year-old has earned a reputation as a staunch man on that side of the court, which is a major reason the Lakers sought him out in a free trial.
Matthews agreed to terms during the opening hours of free desk after he said it was clear the Lakers thought a lot of him. As he watched the rest of the grid take shape, he said, his expectation for next season only grew.
Speaking to the media at a video conference Tuesday afternoon, Matthews gestured behind him to the basketball court in his house – he said he would train immediately after the call ended.
“I’m excited to be wanted,” he said. “I’m excited to be in a situation where I feel like I can show most of my game. I am excited about the opportunity to try to light up an 18th banner. I look forward to an opportunity to play basketball at the highest level. I am passionate about everything. ”
Matthews brings a gritty element to the Lakers after building a respectable career from an undeveloped Marquette free agent. He overcame a devastating Achilles tendon injury in 2015 and returned later that year.
During his rehab, he said he had received meaningful advice from a Lakers legend: Kobe Bryant. Matthews choked with emotion when he said he got a call from a number he didn’t recognize when he pulled up at his Portland driveway.
“He just shared his wisdom about it and it really helped motivate me because he was honest and said it was difficult,” said Matthews. He said it was going to be difficult. At the time, that wasn’t what you wanted to hear, but it’s what I had to hear because I didn’t want anything with a sugar coating. ”
One of Matthews’ career goals is to be the greatest undesigned NBA player ever: With an average of 13.1 points per game and a 38 percent shot from a 3-point range in his career of 791 games, he stands up at least high on the list.
He played in Dallas with JJ Barea, another undeveloped overachiever – and all Barea has always had about him was a championship. Matthews said he has reached the point in his career where that is the most important factor.
“Winning is the first goal,” he said. “So when we started working with free agency, we had an idea that the contenders would be the teams that would come after me. For me, that was all I wanted. ”
In Los Angeles, Matthews has the opportunity to team up with LeBron James, who often has to defend him in front of other teams. When asked if he’s looking forward to getting more three-point looks next to James, Matthews joked, “Who doesn’t love to shoot?”
But Matthews was also exuberant about the Lakers’ record of defense in last season’s playoffs. Matthews’ own Bucks team fell apart in a second round against the Miami Heat, and critics cited a lack of obvious adjustments to account for Jimmy Butler and the company. Matthews seemed to sense that would not be a problem to play for a team coached by Frank Vogel.
“I like to think I know a thing or two about the defense. I can read situations, I can make adjustments on the spot, ”he said. “I’m a defensive mind, along with a team full of defensive people, so things can be discussed and nuances can be made in the game, live, when it comes, so we can put ourselves in the best position to win.”
Matthews has grown closer to his father in recent years, a hard-won trial that fills him with pride. The increasing warmth in that relationship allowed him to enjoy more of his family ties with the Lakers – he was also a huge fan of Eddie Jones growing up. Matthews spoke more than once about raising what would become the franchise’s 18th champion banner next season.
He knows the history and pantheon of the Lakers well. Now he is looking for his place in it.