It was the fall of 2006 and my Laker fandom was as strong as ever watching a young Andrew Bynum fly down the lane for a monster dunk. I was at my buddy Adam’s parents house, who I have known since I was two, watching a game early on in that young season. We both have been diehards since we can remember. We were excited to see the light at the end of the tunnel after a few dark years of watching Kobe waste his prime with the likes of Smush Parker, Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown next to him on the court.
We decided then to get on the waitlist to become season ticket holders. Two seats each.
They told us it would take 3-5 years before we were admitted to the special club of being a Laker Season Ticket holder. We were fresh out of college not making a ton of money, but this was a dream for both of us.
That offseason Kobe gave us a gift. He asked for a trade. This scared enough season ticket holders to not renew that we somehow lucked into getting admission early. 3-5 years turned into 9 months. We were excited!
As long as Dr. Buss didn’t give into Kobe’s demands we were golden. Luckily he did not.
Then Lakers GM, Mitch Kupchak then pulled off an underrated acquisition of Trevor Ariza for PEANUTS! Adam hated it, I loved it. Then his greatest coup was one of the greatest trades of all time getting Pau Gasol, which launched the Lakers into the Finals against the Celtics. How lucky were we in our first season as season ticket holders? They lost, but what a turnaround Mitch orchestrated! Mitch deserves a lot of credit.
Soon we were celebrating back to back Lakers Championships! Three seasons, three Finals appearances, two more banners hanging in the rafters at Staples Center! Culminating in the greatest experience a Laker fan can have, watching them beat the hated Celtics in game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals.
It has been all downhill from there.
The NBA has since evolved from the triangle to small ball. The slow demise has been hard to stomach year after year. We draft well, but the free agent signings are suspect at best. Other teams ascend, as Byron Scott’s terrible coaching ushers in an unfamiliar feeling. Mediocrity.
The Warriors now have three of not just the greatest shooters in the league, but of ALL TIME. The Lakers are void of a single All Star for the first time since 1996. The Warriors signed Kevin Durant in the offseason (former Laker GM Jerry West had a hand in that). The Lakers signed a 31 year old Loul Deng. Ugh!
This is rock bottom!
Luckily Jeanie Buss saw it too. How do you turn a rock into a diamond? Magic! And pressure. Lots of pressure. Laker land now has both!
In my mind Earvin Magic Johnson is the greatest basketball player to ever live. Yes, I said it. Jordan was a scorer and a winner, but Magic won a lot too and he had the ultimate skill, setting up his teammates to succeed. He embodies leadership.
From starting at Center as A ROOKIE in the 1980 NBA Finals and posting a triple double, to taking the blame for losing to the Celtics on 1984, to driving the team to repeat in 1988 and culminating in how he handled his HIV announcement with such poise and grace when everyone else was in shock. He takes challenges and rises to the occasion repeatedly.
I expect nothing less than success from one of the greatest leaders sports has ever created. Unfortunately for him, everyone else is expecting a lot now too. There is that pressure I was talking about.
He has little experience with the complexities of the CBA (there are a lot more than people realize) and negotiating trades, but he is bringing in NBA Power Agent Rob Pelinka to handle that side which is a huge relief. Another underrated move was simply not spurning Ryan West, who is the Assistant GM, son of Laker great Jerry West and one of the brightest young basketball minds out there. Those three along with the best young coach in the game, Luke Walton will be a huge upgrade in the free agency market from Mitch Kupchak, Jim Buss and Jim Buss’ hat.
Mitch is a very good GM and will be hired somewhere in the off season if he still wants to work. The real problem is Jim Buss. And it actually has little to do with his lack of Basketball knowledge. When you are around the game as much as he has been you have to pick up a thing or two. He pushed to draft Bynum after all. His problem was image. And it started with the fact that he always dressed like a bum in a baseball cap. You are part owner of one of the greatest franchises in sports. PUT ON A DAMN SUIT ONCE IN A WHILE!
Jim had to go! He never appealed to any big free agent and he was blind to that fact. Jeanie isn’t.
The Lakers strengths of late have been scouting and the trade market and with West and Pelinka handling that side I do not expect that to change much. The upgrade will be in leadership and free agent attractiveness. Players respect past players. Simple as that.
Players respect all time greats the most because they know how hard it is to get to that elite level. Magic is at the very least the greatest point guard in league history (go watch youtube videos of him running a fast break, you can thank me later). He knew how to set his team up to win and I have faith he will do it again. He will do it flair and that iconic smile. But most importantly in today’s NBA he will do it with credibility and leadership. Something sorely lacking from Jim Buss.
The Magic is back in LA. In more ways than one.