The Lakers are never too far from the lips of any of their fans looking for instant gratification – even if it’s a momentary fix based on nostalgia instead of the present. Tell me if this sounds familiar –16 championships, a list of legends and banners hanging from the rafters.
The 1980’s were a blur of fast breaks and trophy celebrations. Now that braggadocious position isn’t without merit. The 80’s Laker teams were filled with a generation of players, all of them married to a singular commitment: winning – a group seemingly moving as one for all – guided by a coach, straight out of central casting. Hollywood all the way.
Those teams (I’ll call them the Greatest Generation) of Laker players continued to enjoy success in and around the sport they dominated for years. Maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe it’s just generational.
Here’s how they’ve fared thus far:
Norm Nixon (77-83) – is often spotted in Santa Monica with his wife Debbie Allen walking their dog – always smiling and always pleasant. Norm was the point guard prototype – 6’ 2′ – quick with a 15-foot fade away jumper that was money in the bank. Norm remains active and currently provides analysis for his former employer.
James Worthy (82-94) – one of the original 50 greatest players has also remained close to the team where he enjoyed much of his success. James kept it simple – back to the basket, spin move, right handed finish at the rim. They called him Big Game James for a reason.
Michael Cooper (78-90) – was a defender you’d never forget. Skinny for no reason with socks always pulled too high, Coop never saw a moving screen he couldn’t slip or a defender he wouldn’t chase all over the court. Cooper went into coaching women’s hoops and yes, he’s still close to the team he helped win big games (he can also still step on a court and drain a three).
Kurt Rambis (81-88) – played basketball like a guy who knew he didn’t have options. Hard work/all the time. Lunch box hard. Bring your lunch to work everyday and never leave your desk hard. Getting in early and leaving late hard. Being closed lined by a Celtic in the playoffs only added character lines to his resume. Not surprisingly, Rambis went the head-coaching route. Hard workers study more I guess.
Byron Scott (83-93) – walked through the door as Norm Nixon was ushered out. Talk about the perfect fit. A shooting guard that could do just that – shoot. Byron fit perfectly on the left or right side of Ervin like a side view mirror to a car. Byron moved directly into coaching seamlessly getting to the NBA finals.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (75-89) – master of the game’s only indefensible shot. All-time leading scorer, winner of every award created and one of a kind. They broke the mold after him. Jabbar outlasted all of his contemporaries playing 20 effective NBA seasons. The Captain as he was known, is arguably – the greatest NBA center. Socially aloof, Jabbar was cut from a different cloth. He practiced yoga before professional athletes understood the long-term benefits, loved jazz, studied history and has authored several books. Unfortunately, Kareem may be the only member of the greatest generation to suffer from a closed basketball door he helped shut on himself. He still aspires to be a head coach and he’s still waiting. The idea that he hasn’t been afforded the opportunity yet is – unthinkable.
A.C. Green (85-93) – is probably grabbing another rebound or boxing someone out right now. He’s beyond an ironman. The Linchpin, his record for consecutive games played may never be eclipsed. A.C. joined the Showtime Lakers in midstream filling the lane all the way to back-to-back titles. Green is still filling the lane and I would argue that his 17-foot jumper is probably better today than it was when he played a record 1,192 consecutive games. The only thing that could end his streak was retirement. He’s still close to the team that drafted him.
Ervin Magic Johnson (79-91) – Leader. Conductor. Maestro – ruler of the fast break universe. From his rookie campaign, Magic was to the NBA what Red Bull is to the sleep deprived – a wake me up. As Magic ran, so did the league – reaching record attendance and ratings. Magic moved into business and it’s no secret that he doesn’t live paycheck to paycheck. He was so good, Broadway couldn’t resist (Magic/Bird recently opened on Broadway).
They say generations’ change and I’d have to agree. I don’t care much for the clothes my father wore. CDs replaced records, which were replaced by MP3s. We evolve in our taste and style, but we also use what we know about the past as a reference point to gauge the present and future. Players certainly change which is why the current Laker team won’t endear themselves in the collective memory of their fan base like the greatest generation did.
Do you see any future coaches on the current team? TV analysts? How about, long term Laker employees? Are any of these guys going to stick around when their playing days are over? Will any one of them be a future business leader in Los Angeles?
Kobe Bryant has the most cache in town. The Lakers mortgaged their future in order to give him a kings’ salary as he closes out his career. He could have asked for less money, but – it’s Kobe. He could also take less shots, but – it’s Kobe – Frank Sinatra of the NBA – My Way is the only way. If anyone has the most opportunity to show Los Angeles the love it deserves from a player who was afforded so much, it’s him. Every big name player conducts a summer camp. Every big name player performs NBA PSA announcements for the league. Not every big name player uses his cache to give back the support they’ve been shown.
My bet is this – when he laces up for the last time, he’ll walk away and not look back.
So, on behalf of Los Angeles, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar because; Kobe will probably get a statue in front of Staples Center before you do.
Welcome to the new Laker generation.
Continued – Part 1 of 2.