Here's why the 1980s Lakers Were the Wildest Show on Hardwood
Maxim contributor Jeff Pearlman’s terrific new book, Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s, sheds light on one of the wildest rides in basketball history. You should read the whole thing, but here are five facts you may not know:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kind of a Dick!
Many of today’s fans know Kareem for his goofy goggles, and appearance in Airplane!. The truth, however, is that Kareem apparently seemed to hate white people, and wasn’t even especially friendly with his black teammates. He snubbed – and allegedly even assaulted – fans. He welched on creditors. He sued people with impunity. Of course, he also scored more points than any NBA player in history, so what are you going to do?
Pat Riley Doesn’t Deserve as Much Credit as You Might Think
The slick, Versace-clad Riley has often been seen as the mastermind behind Showtime, especially given his subsequent success with the Knicks and Heat. But when you consider his situation at the birth of Showtime (1979, when Jerry Buss bought the team and Magic was drafted with the first overall pick) his career as a coach is pretty amazing. In ’79, Riley was a Lakers announcer, having ended his decade-long playing career three years before. The team’s head coach at the time was Jack McKinney, and he’s the guy who conceived the fast-paced, high-flying playing style that would come to define the Lakers. Then, only 19 games into the ’79 season, a bike accident nearly killed him, causing a severe head injury. Assistant coach Paul Westhead took over as McKinney recovered, leading the team to the title. McKinney was fired, and as we’ll see, Westhead didn’t last much longer. Thus, in 1981, the 36-year-old Riley, who’d never been a head coach at any level, inherited one of the best teams in the league.
Magic Really Ran the Show
The reason Westhead was fired so soon after taking the title? He clashed with the team’s on-court general, Magic Johnson. Despite winning it all while maintaining McKinney’s approach, Westhead wanted to do his own thing, much to the chagrin of Johnson. Not yet the beloved figure he’d later become, Magic was raked over the coals by the press for orchestrating the firing. On the bright side, Pat Riley let his point guard run the show, and the team went on to dominate the decade. Until, that is, Magic had had enough of Riley’s ego, and got him fired too.
The Forum Club was the Place to Be
During Showtime’s heyday, the team eagerly embraced their glittering celebrity status in the City of Angels. Players like Magic and Norm Nixon had Wilt Chamberlain-like success with the ladies, Pat Riley became something of a sex symbol with his Gordon Gekko-style sideline fashions, and owner Jerry Buss was seldom seen without a few bombshells half his age on his arm. Ground zero for all this action was the Forum Club, a bar-nightclub in the team’s home arena that was like Studio 54 West, replete with sexy young lookers, Hollywood celebrities, free-flowing booze, and plenty of coke.
The Spencer Haywood Story
The single craziest tale to come out of Showtime has been told before, but it’s worth repeating, and Pearlman goes into detail about the deterioration of Spencer Haywood, the four-time All-Star power forward. Married to super-model Iman (who went on to wed David Bowie, who had one – and really only one – thing in common with his wife’s first husband), Haywood was a star. He also had a serious cocaine problem. Haywood hit bottom during the 1980 NBA Finals. After staying up all night smoking crack, Haywood needed to take the edge off before hitting practice the next day. So, he took a few Quaaludes…and then fell asleep during practice. Westhead was understandably pissed, and dismissed Haywood from the team. Luckily, the former star did the sensible thing and checked into rehab. Just kidding! He actually hired two hit-men to murder his coach. Yup. (For the record, the hit was called off, and player and coach later reconciled.)