50 Years of Lakers Memories – The Lake Show
• dEDGE Post Scriptum •
Long before Phil Jackson and his zen arrived on the scene, a former powerhouse was trying to rebuild and rebrand themselves. No longer Team of the Decade and long after any hope of parades in June with the promise of back-to-backs had faded, the Los Angeles Lakers found themselves at a crossroads. Do you cling on to your past greatness, or forget it all and move on? But as the Lakers moved further and further away from the Magic/Kareem/Worthy years, they were forced to annex themselves and
develop an identity that they could call their own. Gone were core members Byron Scott (Indiana, Sacramento), AC Green (Phoenix, Dallas) and Michael Cooper (Pallacanestro Virtus Roma). “Big Game” James retired after the ’93-’94 season when the Randy Pfund/Bill Bertka/Magic Johnson led Lakers finished with a 33-49 record and out of the playoffs for the first time in 18-years. If even the great Magic Johnson could not resuscitate these Lakers, who could? Magic was brought in as interim coach through the urging of owner Jerry Buss, and compiled a 5-11 record capped by a 10-game losing streak to close out the season. Even Magic shook his head in disgust and proclaimed, “What have I gotten myself into?” He promptly quit at the end of the season and restaked his claim as a minority owner of the team.
The Lakers hired Del Harris the following season to right their wayward ship. He was a safe choice and one that the front office believed was necessary. Harris was old-school and that fact alone helped convince the Lakers brass that this was what the team needed. On a team spearheaded by former Phoenix Suns forward, Cedric Ceballos, veteran Sedale Threatt and up-and-coming speedy point guard, Nick Van Exel, the Lakers reclaimed past glory by excelling to a 48-34 record and sporting a 15-game turnaround from the previous season. Yugoslavian transplant, Vlade Divac secured the post with his superb passing abilities and the Lakers were loaded with young guns in Eddie Jones, Anthony Peeler and George Lynch. Surrounding out the squad were veterans Elden Campbell, Sam Bowie and perennial fan favorite, Kurt Rambis, in his second stint with the Lakers. The Lakers had the young legs to get out and run, plus the post presence in Divac and Campbell to help them place third in the Pacific Division behind the Phoenix Suns with Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson and “Thunder” Dan Marjele, and the Seattle Supersonics which featured Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Sam Perkins and Detlef Shrempf. The Lakers would meet Seattle in the first round and stun the veteran Sonics, 3-1. Powered behind Van Exel and Ceballos, the Lakers dropped the first game then took the next three contests, handing the Sonics another disappointing first round exit. But the Lakers would stumble in the second round against a familiar foe in the San Antonio Spurs, who featured David Robinson, Sean Elliott and Dennis Rodman. The Spurs would take care of the Lakers rather easily, downing them 4-2 but not before the young team had gained invaluable experience and a mojo to go along with their new success. This led to them anointing themselves as the Lake Show.
The ’95-’96 season saw them attaining a 53-29 record, good enough for second place behind the rejuvenated 64-18 Sonics. On January 29, 1996, Earvin “Magic” Johnson officially made his long awaited come-back. 50-pounds heavier and 36-years of age, the former leader of Showtime was now a point power forward. In his debut at the Great Western Forum against the Golden State Warriors, Magic delivered a near triple-double amassing 19 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds. On one memorable play, target=”_blank”>he faked a pass to the right, got Latrell Sprewell to bite, and simply sauntered in for a lay-up. It was vintage Magic and although his uniform didn’t fit the way we were accustomed, his play was reminiscent of right were he left off. The Lakers were enthused with renewed motivation and momentum and went 29-11 to steamroll into the postseason. But not all was well in Lakerland. There were mumblings amongst the younger players that Magic was stealing the spotlight and their shot
opportunities. This innuendo caught Magic totally off-guard and he was left to ponder if he had made the right decision to come back. The NBA was a different era than the one in which he had prospered. It was the “me” generation and players were more concerned with personal stats and endorsements than with “winnin’ time.” It there ever was a generation gap, the ’95-’96 Lakers were a living, breathing abyss. The Lakers would fall in the first round to the Houston Rockets and after the season, Magic officially retired from the NBA for good. The team had fallen well short of its lofty preseason expectations and amid rumors that there would be a huge shake-up in the off-season, the Lake Show prepared for some new arrivals, one in the form of the Most Dominating Ever and the other, a precocious 18-yr. old phenom straight out of Lower Merion High School..