If the Los Angeles Lakers didn't already exist, Hollywood would have had to create them.
Wait a second, Hollywood already did.
Keeping up with the Joneses of the NBA (as in Sam and K.C. and the rest of the Boston Celtics) always has been the Lakers' first order of business. But keeping up with the Nicholsons (as in Jack), the Spielbergs (as in Steven), and the Washingtons (as in Denzel) in the star-obsessed, show biz capital where they entertain the entertainers has been almost as important. Important and integral to their success, sustained across decades at a level to which only the Celtics can relate and in some ways defer.
The trophy tally tightened again Sunday night with the Lakers' 99-86 Game 5 victory at Orlando; it gave them 15 as a franchise to the Celtics' 17. The Lakers won their first championship 60 years ago, some 1,520 miles away in their starter home of Minneapolis and eight years before
That might seem like math trickery to create a gap between the teams, one that favors the Lakers (the Celtics, after all, have a 17-3 series record in the championship round to their rivals' 15-15). No such fun-with-numbers is needed, though, to widen the moat between those two NBA heavyweights and everyone else. The Lakers have played 685 playoff games in their history, 147 more than Boston and nearly 70 percent more than third-place Philadelphia (403). Their 413-272 record in postseason games makes them No. 1 in winning percentage, the only team topping .600 (Boston is at .578). The Lakers also are tops in series won or lost, going 100-41 all-time to the Celtics' 71-30.
And they've done it while feeling considerable pressure for much of their history not just to win, but to dazzle. To bring both the style and the substance, when most markets would happily settle for the latter. In a league where the salary cap levels the spending field -- the 2008-09 Lakers ranked eighth in payroll -- and luck is equally elusive for all teams, the current NBA champs and their history have been driven by star power.
As much as it might rankle traditionalists, the NBA long has been about stars, and no other franchise has set the star bar higher than the Lakers. Not the Celtics through all their championships, not the New York Knicks for all their conceit, not the 76ers, the Bulls, the Pistons, the Spurs or any other contender-slash-pretender.
"Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars" was disc jockey
"Even before the Lakers moved westward, the NBA was a players' league, a star-driven operation," venerable assistant coach
We're talking early-early, back when the Lakers' nickname made sense and the league's first famous giant -- one of several Hall of Fame big men to have anchored the franchise -- roamed the pre-paint hardwood lanes.
"In our time,
Mikan, the 6-foot-10 bespectacled, hook-shooting marvel from DePaul, was the NBA's first marquee name, literally; when the Lakers traveled to New York for games in the 1950s, it was common for "Geo Mikan vs. Knicks" to go up on the sign outside Madison Square Garden. The big guy routinely flew to cities a day ahead of his teammates to give interviews and otherwise beat the promotional drum.
"People talk about all the endorsements players do today, but George was doing that sort of thing even then," Mikkelsen said. "He used to be on the back cover of
Those Lakers teams won five titles in six years (Mikan won two previously in the NBL for a total of seven in eight years). By the time attendance waned -- the club was hard-up for a proper arena in the Twin Cities -- and owner
The star treatment didn't happen overnight. The Sports Arena, where the Lakers initially played, wasn't a glamour venue, and the competition was fierce. "We didn't have many celebrities in the stands," West told NBA.com. "We had very few fans and rarely celebrities. At the time, the two most important sports teams were the Dodgers and Rams. We were on the back of the sports page, and weren't even on the radar at that time."
But a strong showing in their first L.A. postseason, beating Detroit in the first round before pushing St. Louis to six games, perked up interest. So did Baylor's creativity, West's manic drive, Hot
"The connection with Hollywood and its supply of celebrities only served to amp up the equation," Winter wrote in
The departures of Baylor, West and Chamberlain in the '70s left the Lakers in a star vacuum, starting the only two-year blip from the playoffs ('75 and '76) in their history, so Cooke pounced when
He did, however, lure West -- the Logo -- back as coach, later to become general manager. Buss purchased the franchise and then came the masterstroke: In coin flip with Chicago for the No. 1 pick in '79 (the Lakers held New Orleans' slot from a trade for aging
It came up tails.
Wrote Winter: "The Lakers became about winning, about Showtime basketball, about the fast break, about entertainment ... But with their approach always came the persistent and troubling question: Where will we find the next star?"
Johnson's skills as a 6-9 point guard tapped into the other Lakers' talents, and his smile pried even Abdul-Jabbar out of his shell. Both were contagious, Johnson joined (then took over for) West as a franchise fixture even after his sudden retirement due to HIV, and everything since -- nine trips to the Finals in 12 years, five titles in the '80s,
It's a thread spun from gold, woven into designer duds, sold at the boutiques along Rodeo Drive, available again only at the finest consignment stores, driven by winning, but shuttled to Staples Center on game nights these days in Priuses.