The Wall Street Journal does its best to explain why the Lakers are the No. 1 sports franchise in town. The article make a few good points, including the fact that Southern California is a hotbed of basketball, from the high schools to the colleges. The story also points out that the team crosses cultural and ethnic lines, uniting a region that’s not easy to unite. It fails to acknowledge the team’s great success in the 1960s and ’70s, however. It points to the arrival of Magic Johnson and Jerry Buss as the start of the nexus. Don’t believe it. The Lakers were huge here in the days of Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West. The Dodgers and Rams were big in those days, too. But there was a special bond between the Lakers and the Southland that dates to the 1960s.
Anyway, here’s a sample of the story:
“The team’s domination of the Southern California sports market began in earnest when the charismatic Mr. Johnson arrived in 1979 and soon led the Lakers to their second championship since the team moved from Minneapolis in 1960. That same year, Dr. Buss, who bought the team with money he earned investing in apartment buildings as a graduate student, made himself a fixture at the hottest nightclubs, building his own star power and giving away tickets to actors, actresses and other beautiful people he knew would draw crowds, regardless of the team’s performance. In the 1980s under head coach Pat Riley, the Lakers appeared in the NBA Finals eight times and won five titles.
“After the team’s attendance slumped in the early 90s, Hollywood provided a rebound. Hoping to increase revenue, the NBA sent two executives to Los Angeles to coordinate product placement, ink movie deals and build relationships with studios. Shane Duffy, then the NBA’s director of entertainment marketing, began inviting directors, producers, writers and actors like Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler to join a private, invitation-only league officiated by NBA referees now known as the “E league,” where they could play with each other and sometimes NBA greats. They were also given prime seats at nationally televised Lakers games.”
Actually, the arrival of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in deft moves by then-GM West probably had a little bit more to do with the Lakers’ rejuvenation in the 1990s than some double-dribble league featuring Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler. After a break-in period, Bryant and O’Neal led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA titles to start this decade.