The diva guard is orchestrating coaching changes. The boss man is an inveterate womanizer, as is most of the team, except for the committed virgin they just signed, who firmly believes sex shouldn't take place till marriage.
This a dynasty or a soap opera?
Well, actually it's both. Welcome to Showtime, the run-and-gun Lakers of the 1980s, one of the most successful yet dysfunctional franchises in the history of sports.
What a tonic Jeff Pearlman's new book is for forlorn Lakers fans suffering through the team's disastrous current season. Rarely, if ever, has an L.A. team had the star power and sense of fun of owner
By comparison, coach
Pearlman's inside story, much of it pulled from previous books and stories but brilliantly woven together in this narrative, is a marvelous and dishy history of the Showtime Lakers, full of bare-knuckled assessments, some of them unpleasant. With a first chapter titled "Jack Kent Kook," you know you're in for a rollicking ride.
Pearlman's talking points, based on 300 first-hand interviews and archival accounts, include:
— Jack Kent Cooke, who sold the team to Buss, was a snarling bully, a "real sicko."
— The team's taciturn centerpiece, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, hated white people.
— Coked-out Spencer Hayward once plotted to have his coach killed.
Then there were the groupies, the orgies and a Forum Club that rivaled Studio 54 for excess and debauchery. Somehow, amid it all, there was some pretty good basketball played as well.
Ex-sportswriter Pearlman, author of five other books including "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of
After McKinney was disabled in a freak bicycle accident, Paul Westhead took over the team, coached it to the 1980 championship, then promptly fixed everything that didn't need fixing the next season. Pearlman details how Westhead so bungled the job in his second year that his prodigious young point guard, Johnson, began to work behind the scenes to get Westhead removed.
To fans and observers, it seemed the charismatic star had gone too far.
"[Paul Westhead] was fired by Magic Johnson," Pearlman writes.
Next up: Pat Riley, a little-known assistant best known at the time as a former Chick Hearn sidekick in the TV booth. He would become Showtime's crown prince, netting a 73% winning percentage during the decade, best in league history.
The book makes clear that inspiring this talented team took supreme moxie and people skills. It was a diverse set of characters, as would befit an enterprise that married sports with showbiz. Top of the heap, Abdul-Jabbar, who comes off in this book and most reports as both uncommonly bright and uncommonly moody, a persona that amplified Magic's huge smiles. The talented and temperamental
Magic's amazing arrival at the Lakers is detailed well, especially his huge role in the dynasty's resurrection. Even if you've followed him for decades, the book will give an even more vivid appreciation for the strength of his personality.
Meanwhile, those wondering how the current Lakers ship will ever right itself will be intrigued by the insights in this book. By Pearlman's account, almost everything seemed to go right in that ancient Lakers era. Most importantly, a poker-loving owner with an eye for talent managed to blend it all with L.A.'s greatest natural resource — pure glitz.
As Riley said at his emotional Lakers departure in 1990, "There is nothing wrong with being unique. [These Lakers] were unique — above and beyond."
Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s
Gotham Books: 469 pp., $30