The Los Angeles Lakers, even when losing, is the most glamorous franchise in all of sports. In Southern California, Laker games at the Forum and Staples Center are always a “see and be seen” event for Hollywood celebrities, wealthy businessmen, and high-powered bureaucrats. For years, the product out on the floor featured dominant big men, graceful wing players, and of course, savvy coaching and motivational tactics from the likes of leading men Pat Riley and Phil Jackson.
1. Magic Johnson
At 6-foot-9, Earvin “Magic” Johnson was the rare NBA athlete who could play all five positions at a high level, most notably when he subbed in for Kareem Abdul-Jabaar at center, in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals as a 20-year-old rookie. That evening, Johnson went on to rack up 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists, a performance that helped him claim Finals MVP honors in a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Magic’s true gift arrived when assistant coach Pat Riley was promoted to the head coach position. All of a sudden, Showtime was born, with Magic as the ringleader — a one-man fast break who could crash the boards, control the basketball in the open floor, and push the pace. At times, Johnson appeared to defy the laws of physics, in feeding the likes of Byron Scott, James Worthy, and A.C. Green for easy dunks and lay-ins off pinpoint no-look passes..
Magic Johnson’s megawatt smile and Hollywood marquee showmanship made for the perfect contrast against the scrappy Larry Bird and his Boston Celtics. In all, Magic closed out his 13-year career having averaged, 20 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds per game and finished with five championships to his credit, too.