The 1980s Los Angeles Lakers, known as the ‘Showtime’ era is one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the NBA. Led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers rose to a new level when they were able to draft James Worthy with the first overall pick in 1982.
With Magic, Worthy and Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers would go on to win three more championships in 1985, 1987 and 1988, with Worthy himself winning NBA Finals MVP in the last of those appearances. Additionally, ‘Showtime’ came to define the Lakers of that time as they were truly a Hollywood show created by the late, great Dr. Jerry Buss.
Worthy recently reflected on that Showtime era and how Dr. Buss created something that was completely different from anything else in the NBA during an appearance on Adam Mendler’s Thirty Minute Mentors:
Now Showtime was a unique experience created by, first, the purchase of the team. Br. Buss bought the team in 1978 or 79, I believe. And he had an idea of what he thought the Lakers should be […] So they already had great players, but they didn’t have a brand or concept or style. They had never won a championship with what they had. Hence, here comes Magic Johnson. Dr. Buss saw something in Magic that he liked – the personality, the style of game, a 6’9 point guard – no one had ever seen that in the NBA. Someone with a bubbly personality fit right into LA Hollywood brand.
So Showtime was fast-paced, nontraditional, unlike what fundamental basketball was, even though we played really tough defense and we rebounded the ball well, offensively, it was unacceptable to a lot of people – fast break, a lot of people like you to set up, take your time, pass, pick, move, cut, you know, like, like a machine. We didn’t have that – we had Magic Johnson, who had a fast pace. We had Kareem Abdul Jabbar who had a nice skyhook if we needed to go to the half-court. But then we had Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, myself running with the fast pace. So combine that with Hollywood, Dr. Buss was the first one to have cheerleaders, the Laker girls. He was the first one to have floor seats.
Before Worthy joined the Lakers, the franchise had already won two championships, including just before drafting the future Hall of Famer. The Lakers acquired the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 1982 draft pick in a 1979 deal for Don Ford. When the Cavaliers finished with the worst record, the Lakers would win a coin toss over the then-San Diego Clippers to land the top pick, but as Worthy noted, there were other options for the Lakers but he was ultimately the best fit:
They didn’t really need me. They had won two out of three championships the last three years. There were other players, Dominique Wilkins, everyone thought would be the number one draft pick. He’s a really great scorer. They called him the human highlight. But the Lakers didn’t need that. They had a number of scorers including Bob McAdoo, who was a Hall of Famer coming off the bench. They needed someone who was going to fit in and play team and understand their role […] So knowing that they were getting someone with that type of attitude, they drafted me first. And so coming into play with Magic, Kareem, Pat Riley, and playing for Dr. Buss, who is a great owner, and really understanding how to how to develop a great brand for us.
There were so many elements that made the ‘Showtime’ Lakers so special. Of course, it starts with Dr. Buss and his vision, but coach Pat Riley, Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar and Worthy all played major roles in making these Lakers one of the best the NBA has ever seen.
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