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They Paved Paradise in Lakerland

A lot can happen in 20 years, the Lakers said Monday.

Whether it was nostalgic or heartbreaking, what may have been the greatest Laker team came home in the midst of one of the Lakers’ most disappointing seasons, when the 1985 champions were honored at halftime of the 2005 team’s otherwise meaningless game.

They don’t make ‘em the way they did in 1985 anymore. It was early enough in the NBA’s salary cap era that the Lakers could stockpile former MVP and three-time scoring champion Bob McAdoo, five-time all-defense first-teamer Michael Cooper and rugged Mitch Kupchak, just to come off the bench.

Six of them would make All-Star teams (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, McAdoo, Jamaal Wilkes and Byron Scott). Three -- Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson and Worthy -- were named to the NBA’s top 50. As then-General Manager Jerry West noted, they were an All-Star team.

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And if you don’t believe they were great, ask them.

“It’s too bad we couldn’t line up with this Laker team,” said Johnson, a Laker minority owner, breaking up the pregame news conference.

“Matter of fact, we’d probably take ‘em out, anyway. At this age.”

They certainly haven’t made any like that here lately. Before the news conference, Laker spokesman John Black had to announce that questions would be limited to the 1985 championship, before everyone started chanting the names of West and Pat Riley, pleading with them to come home.

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Laker fans, awakening to the horrible reality that no more titles are imminent and the postseason may be in question for the next few years, gave the Boys of ’85 a warm welcome at halftime. For the players, Riley and West, the best part was just being together and remembering the way it was.

“I think all of us at that point in time were young, probably somewhat immature,” West said before the game. “But I think without a doubt, this is the greatest basketball team I’ve ever seen. ...

“I don’t know if you’re going to see a team like this again. They had size, heart, toughness, a coach that pushed them and they wanted to be pushed. For our fans, they’ll never see anything like this again. They’ll never.”

This was also the Laker team that ended the Celtic curse after losing to Boston in eight NBA Finals, including the year before when the Lakers led going into the last minute in the first four games and lost two of them.

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The ’85 Finals started with the Memorial Day Massacre, a 148-114 wipeout loss in Boston in which Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was outscored, 18-12, by Robert Parish, after which Riley torched everyone to a crisp, starting with Kareem.

The Lakers bounced back to win Game 2, 109-102, with Abdul-Jabbar going for 30 points and 17 rebounds. They went on to win the ’85 title and two more in 1987 and 1988, giving them five in the ‘80s to Boston’s three, making it a Laker decade.

That turnaround started Riley’s legend. Having gotten the job in the 1981-82 season when West lateraled it to him at a Keystone Kops news conference after Jerry Buss tried to name them co-coaches, Riley was still learning his craft.

“I always wondered why I was sort of part of it,” Riley said. “I always used to use that analogy, ‘Hey guys, we don’t know why we were all brought together and why we’re here together and why we’re in this gym together, but we are and we’re good.’ ”

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Of course, it’s still an open question whether they played as well as they talked. McAdoo was famous among teammates for claiming he could do anything, or as Johnson once noted, “Whatever you do, Do do, but Do do it better.”

Nor has McAdoo lost the knack. Now a Miami assistant coach, he says he and Shaquille O’Neal constantly argue about whose Laker teams were better.

“We’ve got Shaq in Miami, and we’re battling all the time about who had the better team,” said McAdoo. “And I line it up for him every time, I say, ‘Shaq, you’re strong, you could have backed Kareem in, but Kareem would have skyhooked you into oblivion.’ He doesn’t like that but that’s the way it is. Magic, who’s gonna guard Magic? Who’s gonna guard James? Rick Fox? I don’t think so.”

Actually, the Shaq-Kobe Bryant Lakers would look good around here again, even if Fox can’t check Worthy, but those days are gone too.

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“Pat Riley once said, ‘You won’t really realize how great this moment is until after it’s gone and you’re retired,’ ” Johnson said. “And Pat, you were right.”

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone? Ask any Laker fan.


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