The NBA’s Team of the 1980s, a team I remember quite well and fondly. Photo courtesy of basketballlists.com
REMINISCING ABOUT A TIME WHEN THE PURPLE AND GOLD RULED SPORTS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA AND THE BASKETBALL WORLD
I have given some thought as to why despite their team being arguably the worst in the NBA over the past four seasons, a team that would probably have trouble beating college squads like Kentucky or North Carolina, fans of the Los Angeles Lakers continue to fill Staples Center and stay fiercely loyal to them.
Of course the average Laker fan will point to the five championships won this century, led by Shaquille O’ Neal (for the first three titles) and Kobe Bryant.
However, as good as those teams were, I have always said that they would have been absolutely destroyed by the Laker team that I’m about to fondly reminisce about.
The reason why I am not a complete non-fan of the purple and gold, though I think the Clippers have taken over L.A. while the Lake Show deserves the “Little Boy” joke; the one where the boy tells the judge in a custody hearing that he wants to live with the Lakers because “They don’t beat anybody!”…
The Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s.
The “Showtime” Lakers.
Led by Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Michael Cooper, and a host of others as unlike the Shaq and Kobe Lakers, that team went eight deep.
Winners of five National Basketball Association championships during that decade, going to the NBA Finals eight times in a ten-year span.
A great shot of two true basketball legends: Earvin “Magic” Johnson and my favorite, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Photo courtesy of nba.com
If I were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I would still remember those Lakers with the utmost fondness, as if those days of dominance over basketball and the L.A. sports scene had happened yesterday instead of thirty years ago.
I was in my formative years during that heady time, living less than ten miles from their Inglewood home, the Forum, in Santa Monica and attending junior high, high school, and my first few years of college.
Chick Hearn calling Game 6 of the 1987 NBA Finals. Courtesy of YouTube.
Because my family wasn’t exactly rich and I was busy with growing up and various other activities, I unfortunately was only able to pay homage to the Lakers via our TV set, listening to the greatest announcer in basketball history, Chick Hearn, talking about how Magic was yo-yoing the ball up the court and how some player was putting mustard on the hot dog.
Not to mention joyfully hearing these words quite often:
“This game is in the refrigerator! The door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter is getting hard, and the jello is jiggling!”
USA – 1980: Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss poses with the NBA Championship trophy in 1980. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1980 NBAE (Photo by Rich Pilling/NBAE via Getty Images) Photo courtesy of cleveland.cbslocal.com
There were so many things to enjoy about those Lakers:
- Kareem – who was (and still is) my favorite player, by the way – and his sky-hook; I remember him using that bread and butter shot of his to break Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time scoring record while I was in high school in 1984.
- Magic’s youthful charm and charisma on and off the court, which only augmented his spectacular play.
- Seeing large numbers of celebrities like Jack Nicholson sitting court side at games as the Forum was – by a LONG way – the place to be in Los Angeles during that time.
- Watching those gorgeous Laker Girls, which for a time included a certain young lady from Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley who went on to do some decent things in the entertainment world, someone named Paula Abdul.
- The owner, Dr. Jerry Buss, a Hugh Hefner-like playboy and the epitome of everything that was considered cool in L.A.
- The way guys like A.C. Green, Byron Scott, Kurt Rambis and his Clark Kent-like gasses, and particularly Michael Cooper did the dirty work and used any means necessary to win games, especially against the hated enemy Boston Celtics, who they beat twice in three Finals.
The iconic Laker Girls in 1985, featuring Paula Abdul (sixth from right). Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com
I particularly remember in 1985, watching Game 6 of the NBA Finals on TV during a near-summer afternoon in the living and generally acting a fool when the Lakers beat those Larry Bird-led Celtics and took the title, jumping up and down and bothering the neighbors (I’m sure) with the amount of noise I was making.
As for what I saw as the best thing about those “Showtime” Lakers, one thing comes to mind:
The fact that they brought Los Angeles and Southern California together.
Highlights of Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, the one where “Showtime” was established once and for all & the Lakers won their first of five championships in the decade. Courtesy of YouTube.
It didn’t matter one iota if you were a wealthy mogul from Beverly Hills or a barely surviving paycheck-to-paycheck guy from the poorest section of the hood – or a homeless person from Skid Row for that matter.
It didn’t matter of you were from Orange County, East L.A. or South Central (what that part of L.A. was called at the time).
Or if you were white, Latino, African-American, Asian, or a green Martian from that red planet.
The Lakers were the entity that united America’s second largest city and that entire region.
The Forum in Inglewood, CA, home of the Lakers from 1967-1999 and the epicenter of the Showtime Era. Photo courtesy of inglewoodpublcart.com
So much so that I, along with pretty much everyone else, wondered why the Clippers, who moved from San Diego to play in the Sports Arena near downtown in ’84, bothered even trying to share a town with a sports team that ran the place, bad as they were then (picture today’s Lakers and you have the Clippers in those days).
That was what I liked the most about those guys wearing purple and gold.
And that is what I miss as their status as one of the jokes of basketball continues; I even told Magic Johnson as much when I ran into him at a Mexican restaurant in Westwood in 2008.
One question remains:
Do I think the Lakers will ever return to those glory days?
I am hopeful, but it will take a few years as they will have to rebuild from scratch; Magic taking over is a step in the right direction.
In the meantime, as their season (again!) mercifully approaches its end, it’s nice to look back on the days when these Lakers were the opposite of what they are now.
Five members of the “Showtime” Lakers (from left): Kurt Rambis, Michael Cooper, James Worthy – who I also had the pleasure of meeting – “Magic” Johnson, and Mychal Thompson. Photo courtesy of espn.com