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LAFC star Carlos Vela on basketball fanhood, love of LeBron and Lakers, respect for Kobe

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Sometimes pro athletes really are like the rest of us.

Courtesy of Body Armor

Most of us have dreams at some point or another to become a professional athlete, and most of the time, those dreams aren’t reached. Believe it or not, Carlos Vela knows that feeling, too.

Yes, the LAFC star has reached the pinnacle of his sport, as a professional footballer for half his life at this point. But there’s still a dream that didn’t happen in the sporting realm, as the avid basketball fan had aspirations to play that sport at a high level as a youngster, too.

“When I was young, I was playing football and basketball at the same time,” Vela told Angels on Parade in English last month during an interview. “You know, I try my best playing in different leagues — it’s impossible to continue like that. So in some moment I have to make the decision to say, I want to play basketball or football. And then I picked football, but in my heart, I have that feeling like, ‘Oh I want to be a basketball player.’”

“Honestly, I have a better time watching basketball than football,” he added.

It’s not hard to see why he went with soccer in the end — Vela stands 5’10, which is average in his sport but shorter than most professional basketball players, and while there’s been a cohort of Mexican players in the NBA over the years, the odds are quite a bit longer for a kid in Quintana Roo to reach the Association than they are for him to get scouted by an elite Mexican football club, which is what happened to Vela as a boy.

Vela knew with his head that getting serious about soccer was the right choice, but it only helped fuel his basketball fandom.

“For my side, I was a point guard,” Vela said of his basketball days. “I liked to have the ball most of the time. I played that position but in the end, you have to be smart and say come on, I’m better in football, so I have to make the right decision. So let’s go to play football and forget about the basketball.”

It doesn’t feel like a stretch for Vela to have taken his point guard skills in basketball and apply them to an extent in soccer. On quick transition plays in particular, Vela often does much of the dribbling upfield, keeping his head up for the outlet pass to a teammate on the break. But while he acknowledged the broad brush stroke similarities, he does not see himself as a “point guard” of sorts in football.

“Of course [football is] in a bigger space but it’s something similar in the end, you have to play in a team and find always the best solution for, or be dangerous and score goals, so it’s definitely helping [the team] and I like to do that,” he said.

Vela is a huge fan of Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and has historically followed the team James plays for. When the NBA star brought his talents to the Lakers, Vela was understandably excited to be playing in the same city.

“I follow LeBron so normally, the team [I root for] is [where] LeBron’s playing. I watch more, I support that team. So when I came here, I don’t expect LeBron comes to the same city. So maybe it made my decision easier [on which team to root for] and yeah, definitely right now, I’m a Laker fan, a LeBron fan so I am enjoying what he’s doing here, excited to come back to the Staples [Center] and watch games,” he said.

Vela really does seem to be all-in on the Lakers right now. He said he watched last season’s NBA Finals showdown between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns, but usually while doing other things at home. In contrast, Lakers games are effectively appointment viewing for him.

Another prominent Laker, of course, was Kobe Bryant, who co-founded Body Armor sports drink, which Vela is a spokesperson for. Vela said that the commitment from Bryant and others involved with Body Armor to make a product that can help athletes, including youngsters, perform better was a reason he made the plunge to promote it.

“It was something that made me make the decision to be part of Body Armor because Kobe co-founded this company, so you feel good about it. Like okay, it has to be something special, something good” he explained. “So, in that part, they create really good people working in the company trying to make the right message for the people, for the young guys, all the guys that want to be professional, so we’re trying to do the right things to help them to have a better future.”

And while Vela never got to see Bryant play in person, even as a star himself, the outpouring of emotion in Los Angeles after Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash in early 2020 made an indelible mark on the LAFC star, who seemed to relate to Bryant as more of a fan than a fellow pro athlete.

“Of course I followed Kobe, I never saw him in person but yes definitely, he was one of the greatest players in history. I’m really happy to be in this time, I can watch him, and seeing now, living in LA, all the legacy he made here, honestly I have the honor to be in this [place] here,” Vela said.

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