When Lakers guard Dion Waiters lines up for a 3-point shot, as he has done seven times in the team’s two scrimmages (he has made three of them), you’re likely to hear the same refrain from his teammates on the bench, which has quickly gained a reputation as one of the most raucous groups among the teams participating in the NBA’s restart in Orlando.
“Say Cheese!” his fellow Lakers holler.
Or, actually, let’s allow Waiters explain: “‘Say Cheeeeese,’ you got to stretch that out. That’s new.”
Waiters said the newly minted tradition comes from courtesy of fellow win Danny Green, who took Waiters’ nickname—Philly Cheese, after his hometown of Philadelphia—and turned it into a camera-friendly slogan. When Waiters lines up a shot, then the Lakers use the line so many photographers have used to get their subjects to smile before snapping a picture.
Waiters said that without a crowd in place during this NBA restart, which has seen the Lakers play two of four scrimmages ahead of the season reboot tip-off on July 30 against the Clippers, support from the bench has been a confidence booster. If you can’t hear fans pushing your play, at least you can hear the other guys on the team.
“When I take a shot, it’s ‘Say Cheese,’ a bunch of different things they are saying, but it feels good,” Waiters said. “That’s the only thing I got. Some guys, like myself, we like to play off the crowd. But your teammates, they’re there, supporting you, it’s a win-win.”
Waiters’ ‘Philly Cheese’ Moniker Goes Back to Miami Heat Days
The nickname, “Philly Cheese,” goes back to his days in Miami, Waiters said, given him to by former Miami center Hassan Whiteside. Waiters had been with the Heat from 2016 until this past February, when he was traded to Memphis and promptly released. Waiters’ career in Miami had, at least recently, been marred by run-ins with team rules, and he was suspended three times before the trade. He played only three games this year.
He signed with the Lakers in March but was not able to get onto the floor before the season was suspended because of the spread of COVID-19 on March 11.
The two scrimmages in Orlando are his first appearances with the Lakers. He has been impressive—21 points in 33 minutes, with 8-for-16 shooting from the field, 6 rebounds and 2 assists.
Most important for Waiters, he appears to be fitting in with the Lakers tight-knit culture.
“The vibe, man,” Waiters said. “The vibe like that, that camaraderie, the guys cheering you on, calling your name, ‘Philly Cheese,’ ‘Say Cheese,’ when you make a shot. There’s a little bit of everything. They’ve been great since I got here, ever since I got here, just been great, they welcome you with open arms. So, I really can’t complain. I am really thankful to be honest, to have a group of guys like that just to support me. I’m happy.”
Will Dion Waiters Get Lakers Minutes?
There is some question as to how Waiters will fit into the Lakers’ rotation. He was expected to get playing time as the team looks for more players who can create their own shots, but with Avery Bradley backing out of a spot in Orlando and with Rajon Rondo suffering a hand injury that could keep him out two months, Waiters could be a more important cog in the Lakers’ machine than expected.
Still, the backcourt remains crowded. The Lakers likely will start Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at one guard slot and either Danny Green or Alex Caruso in the other. Quinn Cook, Waiters and another new signee, J.R. Smith, will battle for minutes behind KCP-Caruso-Green. It’s also possible Rondo could return in late August or early September.
Waiters says he welcomes the competition and will be ready when it is his time.
“We got a lot of guys that do a lot of different things,” he said. “When guys’ numbers are called, you got to be ready. We got a lot of guys. You just never know, any given night, it could be anybody. We know who gonna come every night. We deep, so it is probably kind of like a tough situation for coach to try to fit everybody in.”