There’s a lot to digest in ESPN’s bombshell feature on the Los Angeles Lakers dysfunction that dropped Tuesday morning. Multiple members of the Lakers coaching staff in disbelief over the “basket case” free agents the team signed in the offseason. LeBron James’ agent going directly to Adam Silver to voice his complaints about Luke Walton. Magic Johnson reportedly giving multiple employees panic attacks. It’s just a lot.
There’s also an entire section devoted to Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and why many in the organization don’t trust what he says. The chief example isn’t a new one, but it’s still good to refresh everyone’s memory of the time Pelinka fabricated an insane story involving Kobe Bryant and used it to try and motivate his team.
In March of 2018, Pelinka hosted Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as part of the Lakers “Genius Talks” series, an effort by the franchise to bring in celebrities with inspiring stories to help motivate the team. In the middle of the session, Pelinka jumped in to relay a story about Bryant, who he represented as an agent for 18 years, requesting a dinner with Heath Ledger after seeing The Dark Knight. It’s a fun story the involves Bryant wanting to pick Ledger’s brain on how he went full method actor to get into the role of The Joker, one of the most iconic performances in movie history. The only problem? The Dark Knight came out six months after Ledger died.
“There was one time when Kobe, who I worked with for 18 years, was going back to play in Madison Square Garden, and he had just seen The Dark Knight,” Pelinka said. “Obviously, you guys saw that movie, and he’s like, ‘Hey, hook me up with dinner with Heath Ledger, because he got so locked into that role. I want to know how he mentally went there.’ So, he had dinner with Heath, and he talked about how he locks in for a role. And Kobe used some of that in his game against the Knicks.”
As Baxter Holmes wrote: “The Dark Knight was released in July 2008, six months after Ledger died. A source with direct knowledge said no such arrangement was made and no dinner ever took place.”
The story has all the telltale signs of embellishment. There’s the casual name-drop. There’s the “of course I made a dinner between Heath Ledger and Kobe Bryant happen” sentiment. And then there’s the kicker, which is hilarious even if the story was true. Bryant used Ledger’s techniques to play an sociopathic comic book villain to help him….beat the Knicks?
A year later and many questions still remain from when this unreal story came out. There’s speculation that perhaps Bryant saw the movie’s prologue that played ahead of the showing of Will Smith’s “I Am Legend.” The prologue featured the eight-minute opening scene of The Dark Knight, in which Ledger and his masked goons rob a bank, only for Ledger to double-cross his cohorts at the end and take all the cash for himself. Still, that scene doesn’t even begin to showcase The Joker’s full breadth as a character, and you don’t even know it’s Ledger under the mask until he briefly removes it near the end of the scene.
So, did Pelinka simply make the entire thing up? Has he told the lie so many times that he’s come to believe it and, much like The Joker, just wants to watch the world burn? Or did Bryant tell him the story originally, and Pelinka reworked it to make it sound like he was the catalyst behind the dinner? However it came to be, Pelinka interrupting The Rock to spin a web of lies is far and away the best storyline of Pelinka’s tenure with Los Angeles.