Los Angeles Lakers: Magic Johnson

The "Magic" coin flip (book excerpt)

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
11:00
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Pearlman By Jeff Pearlman
Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The following is excerpted from "Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s" -- by Jeff Pearlman


Earvin Johnson wanted a hamburger.( He was a nineteen-year-old kid, fond of burgers and pizza and French fries and any other cuisine guaranteed to block the arteries. Sure, he happened to be sitting in the presence of Jack Kent Cooke, perhaps the world’s least likely man to ever order a burger of any sort. But, hey, Johnson was hungry.


Scratch that. Starving.


It was a warm May afternoon in Los Angeles, and the most dynamic player to grace college basketball since Louisiana State’s Pete Maravich a decade earlier was in town to figure out whether he should return to Michigan State University for his junior season or jump to a professional sports league that had been crippled by poor TV ratings, player indifference and a dwindling fan base. On the one hand, in East Lansing, Michigan, Johnson -- a local kid out of Everett High School -- was a king. He had been nicknamed Magic as a fifteen-year-old high school freshman and now, having just led the Spartans to their first NCAA men’s basketball title, he could not walk the streets without being mobbed. “He really was beyond reproach,” said George Fox, his high school coach. “Earvin could do no wrong.”


There was, however, the siren call of the NBA and specifically the siren call of Jack Kent Cooke’s thick wallet. On April 19, 1979, the Lakers and Chicago Bulls had engaged in a coin flip to determine which team would be gifted with the number one pick in the upcoming draft. Coming off of a 47–35 season, Los Angeles was in such a position because, three years earlier, the New Orleans Jazz committed one of the worst free-agent acquisitions in league history. The team signed thirty-three-year-old Gail Goodrich, a long-ago star on his last legs. At the time, league rules mandated that the Jazz had to compensate Los Angeles with players, draft picks or money. After much haggling between the Lakers and Jazz general manager Barry Mendelson, New Orleans agreed to part with its first-round picks in 1977 and 1979, as well as a second-rounder in 1980. “Gail was great,” said Bill Bertka, the Jazz vice president of basketball operations. “But he was older, and he came to us and immediately tore his Achilles. That didn’t make us look so smart. Especially when we lost almost every stinkin’ game in 1978-79.” (The Jazz went a league-worst 26-56.)


When Larry O’Brien, the NBA’s commissioner, prepared to flip the coin inside the league’s New York City headquarters, the Bulls and Lakers felt their futures momentarily hovering in midair. Executives from both teams listened to the toss via speakerphone from their respective offices.


“Chicago, do you want to make the call?” O’Brien asked.


“We’d love to,” replied Rod Thorn, the Bulls’ general manager, who was sitting inside the team’s offices on the thirteenth floor of a Michigan Avenue building.


“Is that OK with you, Los Angeles?” O’Brien said.


“Fine,” said Chick Hearn, the announcer, who also worked as an assistant general manager with the team.


“We call heads,” said Thorn.( A pause.(“OK, gentlemen, here we go,” boomed the deep voice of O’Brien. “The coin’s in the air…” Another pause. Another pause. Another pause.


“Tails it is!” O’Brien said. (Hearn let out a triumphant whoop.
(


“I was playing basketball at Venice Beach,” said Pat O’Brien, at the time a reporter for KNXT-TV in Los Angeles. “The news came over a transistor radio, and people started screaming. ‘Yes! Yes! We’re getting Magic! We’re getting Magic!’”

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D'Antoni shrugs off Magic Johnson's latest criticism

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
12:35
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McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Magic Johnson again criticized the Los Angeles Lakers for hiring coach Mike D'Antoni.

"We made some critical mistakes," Johnson said to Leno on Monday. "Coach D'Antoni, I like him ... when he was with Phoenix."

Johnson's line brought laughter and applause from Leno's L.A.-based studio audience.

"Because we're the Lakers, we got to have a championship coach," Johnson said. "We made a critical mistake in not bringing Phil Jackson back. That was a critical mistake."

Beyond D'Antoni never winning a ring, or making it to the Finals, in 12 seasons as head coach with Denver, Phoenix, New York and Los Angeles, Johnson said he had an issue with D'Antoni's approach to defense.

"I can't stand to watch the Lakers play because the same play happens every single time on the Lakers: pick-and-roll and the guard goes all the way in for a layup. We're 40-something games into the season. The teams run the same play, Jay, on us. We haven't stopped it yet. Uh . . . duh!"

D'Antoni was asked about Johnson's comments following shootaround Tuesday morning in preparation for his team's game Tuesday night against the Indiana Pacers.

"No," D'Antoni said when asked if he had any thoughts about Johnson's statement. "Next subject"

D'Antoni was asked about Johnson's comments again during Tuesday's pregame media session and remained tight-lipped.

"I don't have anything to say," D'Antoni said. "There's no use addressing it."

A reporter followed up by asking if the coach found Johnson's stance "hurtful" in any way.

"Oh yeah," D'Antoni said. "It doesn't help anything, but that's not up to me to say."

Johnson, who went 5-11 in 16 games as Lakers head coach during the 1993-94 season, made similar comments in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, telling the newspaper D'Antoni's hiring was, "a wrong decision."

D'Antoni, who said he has not spoken to Johnson in person since joining the Lakers, responded to the previous barb from Johnson when the team was in Boston during its recent seven-game "Grammy" road trip.

"Normally I don't hear it until [the media] brings it up," D'Antoni said. "There's voices everywhere, and it's a hard job to do no matter what team you're with. You do the best you can and you feel like every day is a new battle, and everybody has their opinion. There's a saying about that . . . So, that's the way it is. You go on and do your job."

L.A. has allowed its opponent to score 100 points or more in each of the last 12 games (going 2-10 in that stretch) and ranks 26th in the league in defensive efficiency overall, allowing 106.2 points per 100 possessions.

Part of the Lakers' struggles on that end has been because of injuries. Once L.A. starts getting players like Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake, Xavier Henry, Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar back in the lineup, will they be capable of improving on defense?

"Yeah, yeah," D'Antoni said, matter of fact. "Yup."

Magic weighs in on Howard, D'Antoni

June, 12, 2013
6/12/13
6:26
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McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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It has been nearly 20 years since Magic Johnson coached the Los Angeles Lakers for 16 games in the 1993-94 season*, but the Hall of Famer's opinions about his former franchise are as strong as ever.

Johnson, an analyst for ESPN appearing on KIA NBA Countdown during the NBA Finals, was on a conference call Wednesday with reporters to discuss the Finals and not surprisingly, the subject of the Lakers came up.

Below is a transcript of Johnson's latest thoughts on the purple and gold:

Q: What do you think of Dwight Howard, what is best for him?

JOHNSON: "I can't tell you what's best for him -- for Dwight Howard. I think that he'll probably make the best decision possible for him.

"I would say that he will probably enjoy playing for Kevin McHale, because Coach McHale, not only was he a Hall of Fame player – and I feel with Tim Duncan, the best power forwards that have ever played the game – but you have an emerging superstar and a guy that you can definitely play with James Harden.

"And I think that the other young players that they have, (Omer) Asik and (Jeremy) Lin, (Chandler) Parsons, those guys are right there too, with Dwight Howard, will take the next step as being one of the elite teams – one of the best four or five teams in the league and definitely will give themselves a chance to win a championship.

"So that's really where it is. The Lakers have to decide what they want to do. Dwight has to decide what he wants to do.

"I don't think you're going to have enough money for Chris (Paul) and Dwight. I think you're going to have to concentrate on one or the other probably, and I don't know if they want to play together; if one will decide to take lesser money. Now, one might decide to take lesser money and join forces there. But if they both command top dollar, that's going to be hard for Houston to pull off."

Q: The state of the Lakers, where you see them now and a year from now?

JOHNSON: "The state now is really just making a decision on Dwight Howard. I know that the Buss family, Jim Buss, are interested in sitting down and trying to strategize to find out, what do they want to do. And once they make that decision, then the next thing is Kobe Bryant, his return. Hopefully he can come back strong and healthy. And then they have to decide if they want to add somebody or not.

"But a year from now, with all the cap space that they will have, I think the Lakers will be able to sign two or three players and I think it puts them right in position to be a great franchise for the next five years if they make the right decisions and the right moves.

"So I'm excited about next summer for the Lakers. I think it's going to be tremendous. The Lakers just can't make dumb decisions right now to mess up that cap space."

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David Stern remembers Dr. Jerry Buss

February, 20, 2013
2/20/13
2:04
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McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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David Stern will retire as NBA commissioner next spring after a long run with the league that started full time when he was hired as the NBA's general counsel in 1978, one year before Dr. Jerry Buss bought the Los Angeles Lakers.

Both the Lakers and the league as a whole experienced incredible growth and success in that time and Stern and Buss developed a strong friendship.

Stern called in to the "Mason & Ireland Show" on ESPNLA 710 radio on Tuesday to share his memories of Dr. Buss:

In regards to what made Buss a great sports owner, in his opinion:

“Well, he used those numbers and other intuitive features to judge basketball players and to judge those who work for him. We must not forget, Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak have done quite well for Jerry and in addition, as a business man, he understood what it would do to raise ticket prices to the Forum, to give Magic (Johnson) a contract that was outsized by any standard and he used those talents to learn everything there was to learn and make many suggestions about our league and how it should be run.”

On how the NBA would be different had there not been Buss' influence:

“I don’t know whether he led it, or innovated it, or he just flat out changed everything because we’ll never know, but for example, he looked at ticket prices and told us that everybody was pricing the best seats in the house wrong. The supply was limited and the demand would be unlimited and he changed the pricing structure. Would we ultimately have reached that conclusion a decade or so later? Maybe, probably, but he led it and then one fine day, long before there was a salary cap, Jerry thought it’d be a good idea to pay Magic Johnson a million dollars a year for 25 years, an outrageous amount of money that caused some owners to seriously consider selling their teams because this was so nuts. Of course it wasn’t nuts at all, it was, as Jerry said, he was making even a bigger star out of Magic and he realized what Magic could do with the franchise. There were many examples like that, Jerry did them all.”

In regards to how Buss was able to sell his ideas to other owners in league, ex: Laker girls, seating prices, etc.:

"I don’t think he forced his will; he led by example. I don’t remember any blow back on ticket pricing, just a lot of scratching of heads. On the Laker girls, my goodness gracious, I always say that Red Auerbach had the Celtics as the last team that didn’t have cheerleaders. And on the day they were supposed to launch, Red decided it was time to leave this Earth. Go check the records, Red was consistent for all of those years. He didn’t think there should be cheerleaders and he used to push at me for not being strong enough, or whatever it was. That was his pet peeve, but Jerry did it by example. ... With the business of basketball, and even though it says he didn’t meddle, I think that it’s fair also to say that he was the basketball presence of the Lakers, as well, because all decisions went through him. "

In relation to the Chris Paul trade and whether it was an issue with Buss:

“Not even an issue. We had a discussion about why he thought it was good for his team to do what they planned to do and someday I’ll tell everyone what he said about that, but then he also said he understood what I did and there was no rancor of any kind and we had … because we have been having a steady of conversation about collective bargaining and revenue sharing -- because of course Jerry was quite interested in that subject because much of it could be sought to be directed at the Lakers, because they were the largest-grossing team and other teams were going to be sharing in some of that and they were going to be, if they kept their payroll intact, the largest payer of tax because the tax was going up. But Jerry understood that it was in the best interest of the league and his wish was that his partners treated the Lakers fairly because he had always been a good league man.”

In relation to when Stern first saw greatness in Buss:

“It’s just a solid business acumen, time after time. Player drafting, player signing, business practices, being a fixture on the advisory finance committee, being a fixture on important collective bargaining committees and throughout it all, all I can tell you is, he took great pride in what his children were doing and even though I hear the word flamboyant, he was actually, people would find this hard to believe, a modest intellectual to me at many times and he was a thorough delight to have as a friend and an owner.”

Jamaal Wilkes' No. 52 raised to Lakers' rafters

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
10:58
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McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Jamaal Wilkes will be remembered as a part of Laker lore forevermore thanks to the team raising his No. 52 to the rafters Friday night at halftime of their game against the Portland Trail Blazers. But for those who saw "Silk" play, there's one part of his game he'll always be remembered for first: that funky jumpshot that was as deadly accurate as it was awkward to look at.

[+] EnlargeJamaal Wilkes
Harry How/Getty ImagesJamaal Wilkes' No. 52 was raised to the rafters Friday night by the Lakers. Wilkes, who retired after the 1985-86 season, jokingly said "I'm glad it happened while I'm still alive."
"It came straight from the playgrounds," Wilkes said Friday before his jersey became the eighth number honored by the franchise. "When I was 11-12, I was a pretty good basketball player in a little town, Ventura, north of here which was real basketball crazy and I began playing with older guys. I was going from the nine-foot to the 10-foot hoops, and of course they wanted to play on the 10-foot hoops and they would block my shot every single time. So, most kids start with that side-winder, I just learned to hold it back there until the last minute and I never realized I was doing anything different until I got to UCLA. Even then, I wasn’t sure I was doing anything different."

Wilkes went on to share the story of his second year at UCLA, back when he was still known by his birth name of Jackson Keith Wilkes, when legendary coach John Wooden tested his shot.

"Coach Wooden called me over one day after practice early my sophomore season and said, ‘Come here, Keith. Let me see how you shoot that ball. I want you to shoot some shots around key.’ I was really confused by that and also terrified because you didn’t want the man calling you out about anything, especially around the other guys. So, I did what he said and he said he would rebound for me.

"Well, that really confused me. I thought he was going to call one of the other players to rebound for me. What I remember about that, every pass was just perfect. I said (to myself), I could get used to playing with this guy. And I was drilling it, because you know, my manhood, my credibility, everything was on the line I felt at that moment.

"So he called me back and said, ‘OK, how did you shoot that again?’ And I was really (thinking) like, ‘You just saw me shoot 40-50 shots, right?’ So I said, ‘OK, I go like this (Wilkes pulled his arms behind his head), I go like that (Wilkes moved his arms in a shooting motion).’ Then he said, ‘Well, does it leave your finger tips with (backspin)?’ And I thought about it and I said, ‘Well, yeah, coach.’ And he said, ‘OK, you’re dismissed.’

"Years later we laughed about it. He said he thought about changing it but my setup and my finish, he thought, was textbook and whatever happened in between he decided to leave it alone, and I’m so glad he did."

That funny-looking shot of his led to two NCAA championships with the Bruins, four more titles in the NBA (one with the Golden State Warriors, three with the Lakers), a Hall of Fame induction in 2012 and an upcoming jersey retirement at UCLA in January.

Here are a sampling of other quotes from Wilkes on the occasion of the ceremony in his honor:

On what it means to him:

"They’re saying no one will ever wear No. 52 again, and not only that, it will be in some lofty company."

On the timing of it, 26 years after he retired from the NBA following the 1985-86 season:

"I’m glad it happened while I’m still alive."

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Magic still frustrated by the Lakers

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
1:55
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By ESPNLA.com
ESPNLosAngeles.com

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images


Magic Johnson, who has been critical of recent moves by the Lakers, continued to speak his mind to a small group of reporters after a press conference to introduce new Dodgers pitcher, Hyun-jin Ryu, on Monday afternoon.

On whether there is still time for this year's Lakers team to turn things around:

“This team has time, now I’m not giving up on the season, we’ve got time to improve. We started off the same way in ’90, not quite this bad, but we were there. So this team has time to turn it around, I think they’re gonna have to look each other in the eye and say, 'Look man, I’m committed to whatever, but I’m gonna commit to the defensive end first.' And then whatever happens on the offensive end, let it happen, but they gotta commit to each other on the defensive end.”

On whether Kobe Bryant needs to talk to Mike D’Antoni if things continue the way they've been going:

“If it keeps going the way it’s going, and this road trip is going to say a lot about our team. Then yes, he has to talk to him.”

On letting Mitch Kupchak make personnel decisions:

“You gotta rely on Mitch Kupchak's basketball knowledge, you gotta, you gotta reach out and let -- look, Dr. Buss let Jerry West make basketball decisions. He just came and said, 'Hey Dr. Buss, this is who I want to trade, this is the reason I want to trade them.' And Dr. Buss said, 'Ok.' You know make the move, if it’s gonna help our team. Jim wants to make the move and then tell Mitch to do it. No, you don’t have that basketball expertise. You gotta let Mitch Kupchak make those decisions and then we all live with that, whatever happens.”

On his hope that D'Antoni's approach will work:

“I’m hopeful that it will work out because I love the Lakers, so let’s see, but I still feel if he doesn’t change his system to fit the talent that he has, it’s never gonna work or you’re gonna have to make some major trades -- one or the other.”

On how the team handled a possible return of Phil Jackson as coach:

"If you weren’t gonna consider him for real, then why talk to him? Cause you got all of us excited, I’m excited, all L.A., the whole country was like, 'Oh, Phil’s coming back, maybe.' And then you turn around, not even negotiating or not knowing what he wanted and then you hire D’Antoni and again, you hire a coach who wants to run and you don’t have a running team.”

On the attitude he sees among the Lakers players right now:

"I don’t see the guys happy, it’s one thing to lose, but there’s no spirit. There’s no spirit, I hope they get back the hunt, where’s the spirit? Where’s the love of the game and love of playing with your teammates? Now that’s another thing I don’t see. It’s gonna take us time to get that, but we gotta get the feeling good about playing with each other as well.”

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Magic Johnson not on the (Jim) Buss

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
8:58
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Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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You -- certainly including the chanting masses at Staples Center over the weekend -- wanted Phil. Magic Johnson did, too, judging by some water cooler worthy Tweets sent out Wednesday.

Last night, Johnson explained his criticisms of Lakers management, and was particularly blunt on the subject of Jim Buss.

Lakers management learns from the past

November, 10, 2012
11/10/12
1:03
AM PT
Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Thirty-one years ago this month, the Los Angeles Lakers fired Paul Westhead after just 11 games and one infamous trade demand from Magic Johnson following a game in Utah.

Friday they fired Mike Brown just five games into his second season after one infamous "death stare" from Kobe Bryant during a game in Utah. Two exceptionally quick hooks that are so eerily similar it's hard to believe they are simply coincidental.

As it turns out, they aren't. According to multiple Lakers sources, Lakers owner Jerry Buss learned a lesson from his experience with Westhead that he, his son Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak remembered this week when they made the decision to to fire Brown.

"When you're ready to fire someone, don't wait," one source said.

The Lakers had actually decided to fire Westhead two games earlier, sources said, before they played the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 15, 1981, but they didn't do it right away. When the team beat both the Pacers and the Utah Jazz three nights later, things got awkward. The team's issues hadn't changed -- Johnson was unhappy with the way he was being used in Westhead's offense -- but now after losing four of their first six games, the Lakers had rattled off four straight wins. When Johnson asked to be traded following the Jazz game, it created the perception he forced Jerry Buss' hand when in actuality the decision to fire Westhead had been made several days earlier.

That experience was brought up several times in the Lakers' decision-making process this week. Kupchak was a player on that Lakers team and remembered it well. As ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported early Friday morning, Lakers management had initially decided to evaluate team and Brown during this six-game homestand. But the more they thought about it, sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com Friday night, the more they realized there was a lesson to be learned from their own history.

Dwight: 'When it's time to get it done, I go and get it'

October, 10, 2012
10/10/12
10:54
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Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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ONTARIO, Calif. -- Tuesday we learned that Kobe Bryant thought Dwight Howard was mean enough, just not mean enough, enough of the time.

"Dwight, to be a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, you've got to have a little of that dog in you," Bryant said on Tuesday. "It's just a matter of him digging deep and just pulling it out. But it's already there. It's just a matter of him having it become habit."

But in yet another sign that Howard and Bryant are off to a pretty decent start in this budding relationship that pretty much has to work for the Los Angeles Lakers to make good on their potential, Howard seems as if he took Bryant's comments pretty well.

"I heard about what he said," Howard said. "People might take that the wrong way. He's not saying be a jerk or an a-hole to people, he's basically saying, 'On the court. He loves the way I play, but I can be more of one of those people.' "

The reason the question came up in the first place is pretty simple: Howard has become known for his sunny personality and sense of humor almost as much as his basketball ability. He's fun. Silly at times. Like on Wednesday night when he danced for the crowd at Citizens Business Bank Arena when the Korean pop hit "Gangnam Style" played over the loudspeaker.

Bryant compared Howard's personality to former Lakers great Magic Johnson, who was "extremely competitive, but he still played the game with a smile on his face."

Howard seemed to like that comparison.

"I think a lot of people get it confused," Howard said of his personality. "They think I don't take it serious because I'm smiling or things like that. When it's time to get it done, I go and get it."

Jamaal Wilkes enters the Hall of Fame -- speech, induction video

September, 8, 2012
9/08/12
1:44
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Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Another Los Angeles Lakers great is now officially a Hall of Famer, with the induction of Jamaal Wilkes on Friday evening in Springfield, Mass. As ESPNLA's Arash Markazi notes, it's an honor he believed one day would come, but wasn't quite sure if he'd live to see it.

He did, and if you missed his speech, click here, it's worth a listen. (His induction video is also three minutes well spent.) If, like me, you didn't get a chance to see Wilkes play in person and want to know what you missed, here's a great video of arguably his greatest game, a 37-point, 10-rebound performance in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals against Philadelphia.

His effort was then and now overshadowed by one of the most iconic performances in NBA history: 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and a block from rookie point guard Magic Johnson, as the Lakers clinched a title with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the sidelines. But in some ways it's fitting so many forget what Wilkes did that day.

As ESPN's J.A. Adande writes, it's a reflection of how Wilkes carried himself on the court:
"In the NBA, when everyone else tapped their feet to a 1-2-3, 1-2-3 beat, Wilkes would go 1 ... 2. He found a way to slip between the beats, and it proved to be completely disruptive, just as effective as the ultimate beat shifter, the crossover dribble. The crossover brings the rhythm to a complete stop. It makes fans go, "Ooooooh!" Wilkes simply made fans scratch their heads and say, "How did that happen?"

At least once a game, Wilkes would be open right in front of the basket, Magic would zip a pass to him and Wilkes had a layup. The layups were another thing that set Wilkes apart. Amid the Showtime Lakers' high-flying finishers such as Michael Cooper and James Worthy, you could count on Wilkes simply depositing the ball in the hoop.

That's another reason Wilkes slipped through NBA memories. The passes from Magic were usually more dazzling than the shots by Wilkes. Wilkes' play didn't do anything to draw attention to himself. He was just ... there. You noticed him only after he'd accomplished his goal, never before. He didn't taunt his opponents. He pointed fingers at teammates only to acknowledge a pass, never to accuse them."

The Lakers will retire Wilkes' 52 on Dec. 28 vs. Portland.

Jamaal Wilkes finally gets his due

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
9:05
AM PT
Markazi By Arash Markazi
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Jamaal WilkesNBA Photos/NBAE/Getty ImagesJamaal Wilkes, who grew up in Santa Barbara, never played for a team outside his home state of California.

Jamaal Wilkes always knew this day would come. He never lost faith he would one day be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He just wasn't so sure if he would actually be around to see it.

"I was hopeful that it would come while I was still alive," Wilkes said Thursday night from Springfield, Mass., where he will be inducted Friday. "I wanted to enjoy it."

Wilkes retired from the NBA in 1985 and only now is receiving accolades for a 12-year professional career and a college career so impressive that UCLA Bruins coach John Wooden once singled him out as his ideal player.

On Dec. 28, the Los Angeles Lakers will retire Wilkes' No. 52 jersey, 27 years after he officially retired from the NBA. On Jan. 17, UCLA will retire Wilkes' No. 52 jersey, nearly 40 years after he helped the Bruins win back-to-back national championships.

"I knew once I got into the Hall of Fame my jersey would be retired. Although I knew that intellectually, emotionally the fact that the Lakers are going to retire my jersey along with all those great players I watched and played with, I still haven't grasped that yet. I haven't grasped UCLA yet, either."

One of the reasons it took the Hall of Fame nearly three decades to grasp the greatness of Wilkes' career is because he was often overshadowed by some of the great players he will be joining in Springfield and in the rafters of Staples Center and Pauley Pavilion.

The greatest games of Wilkes' career came on the biggest stages, usually resulting in a championship, but also coinciding with a bigger name having a legendary game that rendered his performance a footnote in history.

Wilkes' signature performance came during Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, when he had 37 points and 10 rebounds to help lead the Lakers to a championship over the Philadelphia 76ers.

That game was, of course, also one of the greatest games of Magic Johnson's career, as he started at center in place of the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, played all five positions, and finished with 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.

"That was probably the best game I've ever played, certainly in my top three," Wilkes said. "I think they were already expecting a Game 7 and overlooking us in Game 6. Without Kareem, we wanted to play faster, but we all had to rebound and we all had to chip in and get the ball off the glass. We knew it was going to be an up-tempo game. It was the only game I ever played in where I attempted 30 shots."

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Magic sounds off on latest moves

July, 31, 2012
7/31/12
10:34
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Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Magic Johnson has had plenty to deal with as owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers of late, but when you stick a microphone in front of him and ask about the Los Angeles Lakers, he's always going to have an opinion.

Asked whether the Lakers are now a championship team with the acquisitions of Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, Johnson smiled and said, "I think we still need two to three pieces but if they can add a shooter, as I've told [general manager] Mitch [Kupchak], we've got a shot.

"One thing Oklahoma City still relies on talent. With Steve Nash, what happened to us in the fourth quarter [in two games during the Lakers second-round playoff series] would not happen to us. Especially that second game and we had a seven-point lead in the last two minutes and we turned it over three times. We didn't get good shots. All we had to do was score one time and the game was over. I think Steve helps with all of that."

Johnson is still listed as an executive with the Lakers but said he's not directly involved in team business anymore. He said he wasn't sure if the Lakers would eventually land Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard in a trade.

"I don't know. I can't tell you. I don't know what they're going to do," he said. "If they don't they've got to roll with what they've got and hopefully improve the bench. They've done a good job with Jamison.

"One thing about the Lakers is they're a very smart team. I think they'll give the Thunder a lot of trouble because of their talent, and they're very smart. Steve Nash, man, the shots that we're going to get with him are going to be amazing. Kobe's going to love playing with him. Finally he can have a chance to rest on offense."

PodKast: The schedule, Olympics and mascot heists

July, 28, 2012
7/28/12
9:28
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
At long last, a string of legitimate offseason basketball topics that don't include the words "Dwight" or "Howard!" Huzzah!!! It's enough to make a pair of podcasters giddy with glee. The show can be heard by clicking on the module, and a list of talking points can be found below.



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- (4:45): After establishing why Brian drinks stray, half-opened bottles of water, we discuss the news that NBA jerseys will soon feature advertising. Neither of us reallly mind -- the league has long passed the point of no return with commercialization, anyway -- but care must be taken to avoid poorly matched teams and products.

- (10:00): Thursday, we offered a quick reaction to the Lakers' newly released schedule. Now we dig deeper, breaking down some roadies and 16 back-to-back sets. All in all, it's a fairly favorable slate. Not many stretches with one powerhouse team after another, and even the Grammy Trip isn't too hairy. Obviously, there will be tough games, because that's just the nature of the NBA, but the schedule-makers certainly didn't act with vengeance towards the purple and gold.

- (19:00): Brian senses palpable hysteria and dread from fans at the prospect of Team USA failing to grab the Gold in London. Frankly, it's a little over the top. Yes, America boasts the rightfully favored squad and it would be anticlimactic seeing them fall short. But this also isn't 1992, when The Dream Team ran roughshod over a bunch of countries well behind the basketball curve. The level of global competition has grown significantly, which means the U.S. is vulnerable for a loss. It's inevitable at some point, and it's not a travesty.

- (26:30): A combination of human drama and kitsch value drives Brian's interest in the Olympics.

- (29:00): Kobe Bryant recently declared as long as he's a Laker, Pau Gasol will also be one. It's the latest example of a relationship that's sometimes complicated and frustrating for both players, but ultimately based in mutual respect and appreciation.

- (32:05): Friday's theft of the "Wally the Green Monster" costume from Fenway is yet another example why the Lakers don't have a mascot.

Magic Johnson-led group to buy the Dodgers

March, 27, 2012
3/27/12
9:22
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
It's a very happy day for Los Angeles fans, as someone so intricately woven into the fabric of this city's sports culture will be the face of a civic treasure.

Will the new Dodgers ownership group, fronted by Magic Johnson and led on the baseball side by former Braves and Nationals president Stan Kasten, bring L.A. it's first World Series title since '88? I have no idea. Nor is the deal perfect, since it seems like Frank McCourt will have some stake in the parking lots around the stadium (the man likes parking lots).

Still, the evening's news should go a long way to blowing out the dark clouds hanging over the franchise.

Give 'em some love

March, 12, 2012
3/12/12
9:10
AM PT
ESPNLA has launched a Sweet 16, Los Angeles-style. The most beloved figures in L.A. sports history. As you can imagine, there are one or six Lakers in the bracket. Make sure you drop by and vote.

Vote here: The Most Beloved.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0