‘Remarkable’: Chapman senior develops ‘Pride Night’ for Los Angeles Lakers

Jeanie Buss, left, and Riley Drexel, right. Drexel, a senior at Chapman, is Buss’ nephew and was named the Creative Director of the Lakers’ “Pride Night” event as part of their Oct. 16 preseason game against the Golden State Warriors. Photo courtesy of Riley Drescal

Remarkable. Generally, this is a word not often used in casual conversation. It can be replaced by hyperbolic synonyms: exceptional, astounding, amazing.

Yet “remarkable” is more raw and unembellished, conveying a better sense of realism. If the Wednesday, Oct. 16 “Pride Night” for the Los Angeles Lakers had a storyline, Chapman senior Riley Drexel simply described it as “remarkable.”

He helped organize this event, part of a preseason game against the Golden State Warriors and between his scrambling around the arena that night, he saw his efforts come to fruition. During halftime, a pitch-black arena was illuminated by the LED glow of Pride bracelets on the wrists of nearly 19,000 attendees within Staples Center.

The twinkling lights swayed to the beat of Imagine Dragons and Coldplay lyrics, blasting through arena loudspeakers. Drexel’s former sports public relations professor at Chapman, Doug Aiken, was in attendance after receiving an invite from his old student. As he described, the bracelets each glowed a different color depending on the specific section a fan was seated; one area red, one blue, etc. Each shade blended together in a symbol of pride, of unity – a rainbow.

“Seeing it all come together in the formative production – it made me tear up,” Drexel said. “Everybody from our players to our front office to the executives to my family to the VIP guests, to the celebrities, they loved it.” Drexel’s aunt is Jeanie Buss, the CEO of the Los Angeles Lakers – an organization famous for having deep family ties – who gave him the title of Creative Director for the event.

Yet he earned that role not just because of bloodline, but because he also relates to Buss as a friend, mentor and activist. Drexel carries a passion for making change, which he believes Buss noticed as a woman who’s paved the way to the top of a male-dominated industry.

“She has never let anyone get in her way with making a difference,” Drexel said. “She sees that in me, of wanting to make a difference and wanting to lead the change regardless of the politics and regardless of individuals second-guessing or not having your back.”

After the team’s first Pride Night the prior year, Drexel pitched to Buss a self-dubbed “Pride Night 2.0” as a formal proposal during May and June, with supporting information that a fair percentage of the Los Angeles market identifies as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. He thought of utilizing social media. He thought of emphasizing community relations. He thought of a Coldplay concert he’d been to when fans wore LED bracelets and everyone “forgot about reality and turned to happiness.”

“If you love sports, don’t be afraid to ever go the distance, even if you’re gay or lesbian or bisexual and you feel there’s a barrier there, that you’re entering a straight person’s world,” Drexel, who identifies as homosexual, said. “We want to show that the entire night is about community.”

For the Lakers’ first-ever pride night on Oct. 4, 2018, a tradition that was carried into this year’s event, Drexel created an award. He dubbed it “Laces of Unity,” selecting and honoring an individual from the world of sports that has made significant strides in the LGBTQIA+ community. Appropriately, the trophy itself is a shoe. Yet like a slew of other features of this night, elements of the trophy are rainbow-colored and carry a larger message Drexel hopes to convey.

“The one common theme in sports is everyone has to wear a shoe. And so, the shoe represents what brings us all together; the laces are what tie us together and unite us as one – regardless of orientation, religion, gender, creed,” Drexel said.

Robbie Rogers, a former professional soccer player for the Los Angeles Galaxy, was awarded the trophy. In addition, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles performed the national anthem and fans from The Trevor Project of Los Angeles – a foundation dedicated to preventing suicide amongst LGBTQIA+ youth – were in attendance.

Drexel played a leading role in gathering all these figures. Now, he hopes to plan an even more improved Pride Night in 2020. Time will tell if it becomes more remarkable than its predecessor.