I was looking on Variety’s website yesterday and I was surprised to find that they had published an article about the recent shakeup in the front office of the Los Angeles Lakers. Though ordinarily a film publication, Variety seems to be comfortable with writing about anything and everything L.A., even when a topic such as the NBA wouldn’t seem to make many waves in the film industry. In the sports industry, though, this is huge news. The Lakers, the second most-winningest NBA franchise in terms of wins and championships, have struggled immensely recently and have now turned to Earvin “Magic” Johnson, their former star point guard, to lead the team as the president of basketball operations.
So, why does Variety decide to post about this one specific nugget of sports news? Why the Lakers, when they have a literal plethora of teams to choose from in the area–the Clippers, the Rams, the Chargers, the Angels, the Dodgers, et. al.? Like many things in the city of Los Angeles, the decision seems to be a superficial one: Magic Johnson is a superstar in every sense of the word and, historically, the Lakers have been a team of superstars as well.
The Lakers have struggled mightily in the past few seasons–in back to back years they have eclipsed their own marks for the worst seasons in franchise history–yet their past history is on their side. The Lakers have existed in Los Angeles longer than any other team besides the Dodgers, and have won a resounding sixteen championships in the city. As film production expanded in the late 1960s and early 1970s so too did the Lakers, acquiring future Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from the Milwaukee Bucks in 1975 and drafting Johnson with the first overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft. The 1980s was the famed “Showtime Era” for the Lakers earned them five titles and, after the team gained Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in the mid-1990s, there was little lull in the team’s success.
The success of the Lakers is easily paralleled with the success of Los Angeles as whole–intense highs and very little lows–yet their lows have gotten quite extreme over the past years. It’s in the best interest of the city to have a team they can stand behind and revel in the pride of (sure the Clippers are good, but who like the Clippers?) Magic Johnson is a star in his own right, a valuable media presence and television personality, so it should be no surprise that Variety would publish an article about his doings and the going ons of Los Angeles’s favorite team. As long as Jack Nicholson is still kickin’ and sitting courtside at every Laker game, there will always be a clear connection to the team and the movie industry that dominates the town.