Dennis Schroder Jr., the Lakers guard’s 4-year-old son, entered the team’s locker room in Los Angeles not long after his father’s team defeated the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
“Junior,” LeBron James said from his booth, and before long the boy was pranking James and Anthony Davis.
It was a special moment for Schroder, a player who had re-signed with the Lakers on a minimum contract, in part because of unfinished business following the Lakers’ failed title defense in 2021. Now his eldest child was smiling with two future Hall-of- Players of fame, including the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
“That is not to be taken for granted,” Schröder later told the Times.
Before Junior left the room, there was one last thing to do, one more moment to reiterate that these Lakers were in lockstep together in a way that would have been unimaginable earlier in the season.
“Stop freezing,” Schröder said to his son.
And without hesitation, the 4-year-old stretched out an arm, palm in the air while pointing to his biceps, bringing the unofficial celebration of the Lakers’ turnaround to gigantic laughs from James and Davis.
It’s moments like this that really show off the Lakers’ chemistry and make the team feel optimistic. Trailing 2-0 to Denver in the Western Conference Finals is a mountain they can climb from Game 3 on Saturday.
“All the good teams you see seem to have something, right?” Davis told the Times between Games 1 and 2 in Denver. “…It just shows the cohesion of our team and how together we are as a group.”
The first thing you need to know about the Lakers three-point celebration is that it’s not what you think it is.
When D’Angelo Russell pointed to his left forearm after 39 points in 2016, he mouthed the words “ice in my veins.” So when the team started doing something similar shortly after Russell was acquired back from LA at close, people assumed it had something to do with him.
No, the Lakers’ celebration ritual has its roots in early-season team card games. Former NBA guard Damon Jones, a team staffer who works with James before the game, deserves credit, Schroder said.
When Jones won a hand, he would show his cards and say “Freeze” – as in “Freeze, Miami Vice!”
“Crockett and Tubbs,” Davis said, laughing.
As a joke, Schroder said he would do the “Freeze!” as a celebration in the next Lakers game. That game happened to be a 25-point comeback win in Portland, and if you watch the video, Schroder is actually looking at the Lakers’ bench and sticking his arm out slightly as if showing his badge.
“No one moves,” Schroder said, laughing as he recalled the origins. “…I just brought it in and every time I did a three-pointer, I just said ‘freeze.'” And then Bron went along with it because he was playing cards with Jones back then and everyone was just doing it.”
James, Davis, Russell, Austin Reaves — cheering has become the team’s trademark whenever anyone hits a big three.
“I just saw a clip, one of the Warriors games, and I don’t remember who shot it, but someone had a three in the air, maybe it was the three [Schroder] struck early in Game 6 as he stared at the bench,” Reaves said. “If you look in the background in the crowd, you see three such people [does the freeze]. The starting point, the chemistry, something that was so small and started as a joke, now everyone has kind of taken over.”
It’s as good a symbol as any to explain just how dramatic the Lakers’ turnaround has been this season. Ahead of the trade deadline, team chemistry was harder to find, particularly on the pitch where the side continued to falter after a miserable 2021-22 season.
“We couldn’t figure it out,” Davis said.
A close-of-trade roster reorganization was followed by the best basketball of the Lakers season, which opened the door for the team to fully come together.
“There used to be a good energy but now it’s more togetherness off and on the pitch,” Schroder told the Times ahead of Game 1 of the West Finals. “Everyone has more fun. Of course, when you win, it’s easier. Everyone is happier, everyone plays right, so everyone eats. So, of course, the chemistry is now better than before. Something like ‘The Freeze’, everyone does it, the chemistry is there.”
Reaves said he never had a three-point celebration.
“NO. “My parents always told me that after the game they would be mad at me if I did anything,” he said. “I just had to run back to the other end and play defense. They have to be [OK with this]. It doesn’t change.”
The freeze peaked in the Lakers’ play-in-game win over Minnesota, when Schroder sank a clutch corner three; he and James performed the celebration in the same manner. The photo is saved on Schroder’s phone and his driver has even made t-shirts with the image.
“It’s fireworks,” said Schröder.
Now, when fans stop him for photos, they regularly ask Schroder to strike the pose.
Even though that playoff run ends sooner than the Lakers would like, their celebration has broken through in meaningful ways.
When Dennis Jr. did it in the Lakers locker room after Game 6, it wasn’t a new trick. At Schroder’s home, every time Junior takes a shot on his mini-tire, Junior stretches out his arm and flashes the badge – ‘Freeze! “Miami Vice” is passed down from a generation of Hoopers to his son.
“That’s the current culture,” said Schröder with a proud smile.
If the Lakers can get past their 2-0 deficit against the Nuggets, The Freeze will no doubt have to be a part of it. The Lakers have scored just 33.3 percent from three goals this postseason, which is by far the worst of the three other remaining teams.
Reaves hit ten three-pointers in the two games in Denver while the rest of the team only had nine three-pointers combined. James was the coldest and missed all ten of his attempts in the conference finals.
But the Lakers don’t have to do a lot of them — just the important ones. And if they do, you can bet how they will celebrate.
“There’s enough stress out there,” Davis said. “When there’s great chemistry on the field and that transfers onto the field, then the good teams excel. And I think that’s the main reason we’re in the position we’re in now.”