By Danny Kohan
I grew up Spoiled.
I grew up listening to the fast-paced enthusiastic (and often times comedic) voice of Chick Hearn describing every square inch of the game in front of me.
I grew up with short-shorts and James Worthy goggles.
In the Forum with seventeen five o’ five. With a trim and still lucid Jack giving players high-fives.
With Dr. Buss. With Chick and Stu on the mic.
I grew up hating the Celtics, with the only Green I could stand being A.C.
I grew up with the joyful bounce and heart-racing anticipation of a Magic Johnson led fast break. With the sheer glee of a no-look pass and a smoother than silk “Big Game” James one-handed finish. With a bouncy Byron Scott perfectly aligned pull-up jumper and those sick sick hops…hops that Magic would routinely put to good use.
I grew up with A.C. Green crashing the boards. Post Soul Glo jheri curl, but still celibate, cherry firmly unpopped, infused with a relentless Rodman-like get-the-fuck-out-of-my-way hustle. (Two guys who, by the way, as similar as their play was on the court, couldn’t possibly have been any more different off of it). With “The True Point God” Magic Johnson, utilizing Terry Teagle’s signature unorthodox fade-away shot to break Oscar Robertson’s all-time assist record. My first indelible basketball memory.
I was born in the Summer of 1984 and while the Lakers had won five titles in the 80’s, I was either not alive or not yet old enough to remember any of it. The first year of basketball that I do remember closely following was that Los Angeles Lakers 1990–1991 season.
This was a team at the tail end of the “Showtime” era, without the slick-haired coach that hed led them to dominate the previous decade, Mr. Cool Pat Riley. A team devoid of the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, one of the greatest to ever lace them up, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
While I didn’t have the pleasure of growing up with that sweet sky-hook, I was raised on a super young Vlade Divac. A guy who wasn’t yet sure exactly what he was doing, but played with a child-like joy that jumped off the screen.
At a time when foreign-born players in the NBA were an anomaly, his floppy hair, three-days-of-scrub beard and goofy gait stood out like a sore thumb. You couldn’t help but root for this guy. His English may have been a work in progress, but that just made post-game interviews all the more fun. I can hear him now, grabbing the sideline reporters’ mike, quoting the great Fred Flintstone and belting out a “Yabba Dabba Doo!” How could you not get emotionally attached?
He was like a stray puppy dog, all the buoyant energy and enthusiasm in the world, without a single clue of what to do with it. No doubt, this pup always had the best of intentions. He would try so hard to please his master (Magic), but he was only now beginning to grow into his oversized body. He would cut to the basket, post up, spot up behind the arc…all the while looking over at Magic for approval.
While he could plainly see his Master’s stretched out arm emphatically pointing and his darting eyes signaling, he could never figure out exactly where he should stand or what the Hell he should be doing.
Vlade’s first response would often be to move hurriedly, from one spot to the next, but by then it was too late. The shot clock had already wound down and the Master had already moved on to another option.
While the pup followed Magic’s commands to the best of his ability, he just couldn’t help but make clumsy mistakes. The talent was there, the length, the height, the raw physical ability, but the puppy was just starting out in a vast new world. Just learning his place in unfamiliar terrain, much less his place in the game.
He would pee on the bed, take an ill-advised three-point shot, chew up the Master’s sneaks, make a bounce pass to a row of chairs…he would disappoint you. And Magic would always be right there, right up in his mug, with a menacing scowl. Berating him harshly for all the world to see.
Magic would be there to point out that puddle on his pillow, to lift him up and show him his muddy paws. Not to shame him, but to push him to be better, to show him that he cared.
After all, It wasn’t long ago that Magic was that excitable young pup, having to be counseled by the team’s top dog, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Having to be told to calm the Eff’ down.
It’s Magic’s favorite story to tell. How “Cap” hit the game winner in his very first NBA game. How he emphatically jumped up and latched onto Kareem, choking him out of sheer joy. And how “Cap” responded with a “Will-someone-please-get-this-guy-the-fuck-off-me” glare. Kareem famously scolded him in the locker room afterwards, reminded him that they had 81 more games to go.
Now, it was Vlade playing Kareem’s center role, with Magic as the lead dog, consistently guiding the young pup. Scolding him, yes, but also making sure that he was composed and thoroughly focused for the next play
While young Vlade made some dumb errors, what we the fans loved was how he would respond. After a Magic grilling, he wouldn’t yell back in anger. He didn’t get mad or upset. Instead, he listened. He listened and he learned.
And when Vlade finally did make that perfectly timed cut and Magic fed him with a sharp bounce pass for a wide open dunk….it was all the sweeter. Again, we knew that Magic would be the first one to get right up in his face, but this time it was with that warm big bright legendary Magic Johnson smile. He would pat him on the chest, look up with a point and a grin…show him some love.
As a seven-year-old Laker fan, those were the greatest moments of all. I connected with Vlade because I could so empathize with his situation. I too was surrounded by adults constantly commanding me to do this or not to do that. Glaring at me in dissapointment or yelling at me for my miscues.
So when Magic, the guy everyone loved and (after five titles) everyone respected so clearly, embraced that goofy seven-footer and flashed that bright smile…well, you couldn’t help but smile yourself. This was your Dad, your Coach, your Mom, your Principal and your Teacher embracing you all at once. Telling you in unison how proud of you they are.
You were happy for Vlade because of how obvious it was to everyone (obvious even to a seven-year-old child) how much he loved Magic. How much he respected him. It was clear that all he wanted was to play well for him. To earn his admiration. To gain his respect.
I grew up with Vlade memories and Playoff memories. Memories of the #3 seeded Lakers as underdogs in the 1991 Western Conference Finals. Facing off against Clyde “The Glyde” Drexler and the #1 seeded 63-win Portland Trailblazers.
That Laker team had a 3–2 series lead, one win away from yet another trip to the NBA Finals. But, the Blazers wouldn’t go down easy. There they stood with possession of the ball, down only one point, with 12 seconds to go. That Laker team was desperate to get one more stop, to avoid having to go back and face what would be an absolutely raucus Game 7 Portland crowd.
I can still remember the ball swinging over to an open Terry Porter on the wing. His shot going up in what felt like slow motion, straight on target, in for an excruciating millisecond and then out. That’s when Magic secured the rebound and instinctively made one of the smartest big-stage-huge-moment-plays I’ve (still) ever seen. Before the surrounding defenders had a chance to foul him, Magic immediately flung the ball over his head, at just the right speed and trajectory for it to dribble down the court and tick the remaining seconds off the game clock.
Go ahead, check it out for yourself here. It’s at the nine minute mark. No really, I’ll wait. If not for Magic’s play, then for Clifford Robinson angrily cussing out the camera man shortly after. By the way, if that game were played today, it definitely would have inspired the internet to create a Cliff GIF and for Magic’s behind the head throw to be transposed into more meme’s than Lance Stephenson’s infamous LeBron blow. (Jesus, just now reading back that last line. You know what I mean…Lance blowing air into LeBron’s face…come on, grow up already).
That final Magic play was so genius, so beyond the comprehension of mere mortals, that it baffled the home time-keeper. It short-circuited his mind. If you watch it carefully, as the ball travels down the court, the time-keeper mistakenly stops the clock for more than a few beats. Apparently, his feeble intellect and ordinary human senses, simply could not process such brilliance.
That play was the perfect microcosm for who Magic Johnson the player was. A singular undeniable basketball genius. A guy who was always three, four plays ahead. A man who outsmarted not only his opponents, but the officials, the opposing team’s coaches…even the freaking time-keeper.
And that image of Magic leaping in the air, his arm raised high, fingers pointing to the heavens as the ball hurled down the court, bouncing the final seconds off the clock. That look on Magic’s face, the exhale of victory, it still sticks in my mind. It’s the image I think of when I think of Magic. It’s the statue in front of Staples Center I would have chosen.
I grew up with Magic Vs. Jordan in the Finals. Surrounded by constant debates about who was better. Who you’d rather have to lead your team. When my parents forced me to go to a classmates birthday party, instead of allowing me to stay home and watch Game 1 of the Finals, I was more than upset. Jordan was the enemy, the new “cool” kid coming into Magic’s school, trying to take his turf. This was good vs. evil. This couldn’t be missed.
Thankfully, my dad taped the game.
And thank God he did. In the coming years, I would watch that tape countless times (especially in those lean years, when my parents cut the cable). The above NBC pre-game promo still gives me the chills. As does the final twenty seconds of Game 1. Where Magic backed Jordan down and kicked it out to Sam Perkins, a before his time sleepy-eyed three-point shooting big man, who hit a dagger three with fourteen seconds left to take a 92–91 lead. That three was pure joy. And it felt all the sweeter, after Jordan’s wide-open in-rhythym jumper to win it somehow rattled out.
We stole Game 1 of that series. We TOOK home-court advantadge. All the sports radio talk about Jordan being too selfish or not good enough a leader to win a championship was starting to come to fruition.
At last, we all know what happened next. Jordan emphatically shut the critics up, ripped off 4 straight wins, won his first title and added another signature shot to his growing all-time career highlight reel:
That (Marv Albert Voice) “SPECTACULAR MOVE” was the final nail in the “Showtime” era’s coffin and the start of a Bull’s dynasty that would own the 90’s. A team so dominant that it exceeded the Lakers five eighties titles, with six of their own.
Still, I grew up spoiled.
I grew up with those yellowish gold jerseys and that Forum court that seemed to glow. That gold that never failed to bring me comfort, never failed to brighten even the darkest nights. And when my parents said it was time for bed and I was forced to my room, missing the game’s end, Chick’s voice blaring through my alarm radio was the Chicken Soup for my Soul. No matter what kind of day I had had at school, that voice warmed my heart, it made me feel whole (sorry, I’m on a Dr. Seuss flow).
The only form of entertainment that comes close to giving me that same sense of comfort today, that same sense of home, is Seinfeld re-runs. On those occasions when I’m aimlessly channel surfing, Seinfeld will ineviatably pop up on the guide. And I’ll aways stop. Especially if I’m feeling down and need a little pick me up. No matter how many times I’ve seen the episode (usually roughly in the 1,400 range), no matter that I’ve memorized every coming line, it still makes me laugh, it still brings me joy. It’s Chick’s voice, it’s that familiar feeling, it’s my comfort food. Some will turn to In-N-Out, some a tub of their favorite ice-cream, I have Seinfeld….and I used to have the Lakers too.
A child born in 2010 may be spoiled by Ipad’s and iPhones, by YouTube and on-demand entertainment. By having the ability to see their favorite program or play their favorite video game at any moment, in any situation, at any location. But, he’s definetely not spoiled by being a Laker fan.
A Laker fan born in 2010 has grown up in far different circumstances. Any knowledge they may have of my Laker heroes would be in a whole other context.
They’ve grown up with Magic Johnson the South Park character. The guy that one racist owner didn’t want his visor wearing girlfriend lady associating with. As the guy Kanye said had a cure for AIDS, while all the other broke mother-fuckers passed away.
They’ve grown up with Vlade Divac, the bumbling overmatched Sacramento Kings General Manager. With Byron Scott, no longer vibrantly bouncing up and down the court, but “coaching” from the sidelines. Staring out into the oblivion. Powerless to change the proceedings in from him.
They grew up only hearing the words “A.C. Green” as a diss line in a Dre Beat. And If not in that song, it was probably for being the League’s longest standing virgin, rather than for being the League’s other kind of “Iron Man.” (Having played in more consecutive games than any other player in League history by far.)
They’ve grown up with a Lakers squad teaming with a whole other cast of mis-matched characters. With this being the team’s defining internet Gif:
Plays like this are funny when your team is winning, but when they’re a perennial loser, it’s oh so sad. The laughter quickly turns to tears
They’ve grown up with the memory of “Swaggy P”, Iggy Azaelea and TMZ. With old-man Kobe as that weird bearded guy with the sperm muppet. With $132 million dollars of Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov.
I could go on and on, but it’s just too painful. You get the point.
They’ve grown up with a team full of young pups without a lead dog.
The NBA Draft Lottery used to be a mild inconvenience, a cute little show we were anxious to be over with so that a Laker playoff game could begin. Laker fans would either tune in for the amusement of witnessing silly inept franchises get excited over lottery balls or ignore it altogether.
We’re used to having 82 games and countless playoff contests to get excited about. Now, Lottery Day, trumps all. Lottery Day, that same procession we’d mock Clipper fans for getting excited about, has become by far the most important/thrilling/agonizing/terrifying day of the Lakers season.
Those are the feelings we fans used to experience in a big game, like Game 7 of the Lakers/Celtics 2010 Finals. A slog fest of a contest, where every negative posession felt like a punch directly to the solar plexus and every Laker basket allowed you to take your next breath.
Those same feeling’s, that mixture, equal parts excitement and terror, us fans will experience again for a few fleeting moments as those cards are pulled this evening.
Tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET, the collective sphincter of ever Laker fan on the planet will be glued so tight, the Jaws of Life couldn’t re-open the passageway.
Here Laker fans stand, with a 46.9% chance of experiencing pure unadulterated joy (top 3 pick). With a 53.1% chace of excrutiating gut-wrenching pain (no pick this year, no first rounder in 2019 to boot).
I know, I know, this is where you say Laker fans are spoiled, that they don’t really KNOW pain. They don’t deserve it. And you’re right, I don’t KNOW Clipper-level pain. I did grow up spoiled.
But, come on Adam Silver, don’t do it for me, do it for the children. My God, the children.
Besides, Magic Johnson, the “Point God” himself, the very man who spoiled me, is back with the Lakers representing us in tonight’s NBA Draft Lottery. And I can’t help but to ask him to pull one last rabbit out of his hat, to throw one last ball over his head…to run the clock out on these past years of Lakers misery.
And as that ball rolls, I want to see that look, that expression, the exhale of victory. I want to see that big bright smile, one more Magic jump for joy.
(And that time-keeper better not stop that mother-fucking clock)
Author: Danny Kohan