'Freeze': Why the Lakers' signature three-point celebration isn't what you think

Los Angeles, California April 11, 2023-Lakers Dennis Schroder celebrates the go-ahead three-pointer against the Timberwolves in the fourth quarter during a play-in game four the NBA playoffs at arena Tuesday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Dennis Schroder Jr., the 4-year-old son of the Lakers’ guard, 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 stall, and soon the boy was dapping up James and Anthony Davis.

It was a special moment for Schroder, a player who re-signed with the Lakers on a minimum contract because, in part, of unfinished business from the Lakers’ failed title defense in 2021. Now his oldest child was sharing smiles with two future Hall-of-Fame players, including the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

“You don’t take that for granted,” Schroder later told The Times.

Before Junior left the room, there was one last thing to do, one more moment to cement that these Lakers were together in lockstep in ways that were unimaginable earlier in the season.

“Hit the freeze,” Schroder told his son.

Lakers guard Austin Reaves celebrates with the "freeze" pose after making a three-point shot.

And without hesitation, the 4-year-old extended one arm, palm in the air, while he pointed at his bicep and nailed the unofficial celebration of the Lakers’ turnaround to huge laughter from James and Davis.

It’s moments like this, the Lakers’ chemistry on full display, that have the team optimistic their 2-0 deficit to Denver in the Western Conference finals is a mountain they can overcome beginning with Game 3 on Saturday.

“All the good teams that you see, it seems like they have something, right?” Davis told The Times in between Games 1 and 2 in Denver. “…It just shows the togetherness of our team and how together we are a group.”

The first thing you need to know about the Lakers’ three-point celebration is that it’s not what you think.

When D’Angelo Russell pointed at his left forearm after scoring 39 points in 2016, he mouthed the words “ice in my veins.” So when the team started doing something similar shortly after Russell re-acquired by L.A. at the trade deadline, people assumed it was related to him.

It wasn’t.

No, the Lakers’ celebration ritual had its roots from earlier in the season in team card games. Former NBA guard Damon Jones, a team associate who works with James pregame, gets the credit, Schroder said.

When Jones would win a hand, he’d show his cards and say “Freeze” — as in “Freeze, Miami Vice!”

“Crockett and Tubbs,” Davis said with a laugh.

As a joke, Schroder said he’d do the “Freeze!” as a celebration in the Lakers’ next game. That game just happened to be a 25-point comeback win in Portland, and sure enough if you review the video, Schroder looks to the Lakers’ bench and slightly extends his arm as if he’s showing his badge.

“Nobody move,” Schroder said with laugh when he remembered the origins. “…I just brought it in and every time when I made a three, I just said ‘Freeze.’ And then Bron went with it because he played cards with Jones back in the day and everybody just doing it.”

James, Davis, Russell, Austin Reaves — the celebration has become the signature for the team whenever someone hits a big three.

“I was just watching a clip, one of the Warriors games, and I don't remember who shot it but someone had a three in the air, might've been the three [Schroder] hit to start Game 6, when he stared at the bench,” Reaves said. “If you look in the background in the crowd, you see three people like this [does the freeze]. The takeoff of that, the chemistry, something that was so little and started off as a joke, now everyone has kinda adopted it.”

It's as good of a symbol as any to explain just how dramatic the Lakers’ turnaround has been this season. Before the trade deadline, team chemistry was harder to find, especially on the court, where the team continued to flounder after a miserable 2021-22 season.

“We couldn't figure it out,” Davis said.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis gives the "freeze" sign after making a three-pointer against the Grizzlies.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis gives the "freeze" sign after making a three-pointer against the Grizzlies during a playoff game. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

A roster re-organization at the trade deadline was followed by the best basketball of the Lakers’ season, which opened the door for the team to fully come together.

“There was good energy before, but right now, it's more togetherness off and on the court,” Schroder told The Times before Game 1 of the West finals. “Everybody is having more fun. When you win, of course, it's easier. Everybody's happier, everybody's playing the right way so everybody eats. So the chemistry now is, of course, better than before. Stuff like that, ’The Freeze,’ everyone doing it, the chemistry plays a part.”

Reaves said he never had a three-point celebration.

“No. My parents used to tell me that if I did anything, they were going to be mad at me after the game," he said. "I just needed to run back to the other end and play defense. They got to be [OK with this]. It's not changing.”

The Freeze reached its zenith in the Lakers’ play-in game victory over Minnesota when Schroder sank a clutch corner three; he and James did the celebration identically. The photo is saved to Schroder’s phone, and his driver even made T-shirts with the picture.

“It's a fire moment,” Schroder said.

Now when fans stop him for photos, they regularly ask Schroder to do the pose.

Even if this playoff run ends sooner than the Lakers want, their celebration has broken through in the most meaningful ways.

When Dennis Jr. did it in the Lakers’ locker room following Game 6, it wasn’t some kind of new trick. Inside the Schroder home, whenever Junior makes a shot on his mini-hoop, he extends his arm and shows the badge — “Freeze! Miami Vice” being passed from one generation of hooper to his son.

“It's the culture right now,” Schroder said, his smile full of pride.

If the Lakers are able to overcome their 2-0 deficit to the Nuggets, “The Freeze” will undoubtedly have to be a part of it. The Lakers have only shot 33.3 percent from three this postseason, by far the worst of the three other remaining teams.

Reaves made 10 threes in the two games in Denver while the rest of the team has combined to make only nine. James has been the coldest, missing all 10 of his attempts in the conference finals.

But the Lakers don’t need to make a lot of them — just the important ones. And if they do, you can bet on the way they’ll celebrate.

“There's already enough stress,” Davis said. “When you have great chemistry off the floor and it carries over onto the floor, that's where the good teams excel. And I think that's big reason we're in the position we're in now.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.