The NBA All-Star Game is this Sunday at perhaps the most famous sporting venue in the world, New York’s Madison Square Garden. As a result, during the past few days, I found myself thinking back to when I attended my first professional basketball game in Los Angeles in 1960. I’d like to say my parents took me in an infant seat, but the truth is I was in the 10th grade.
The newly arrived L.A. Lakers played in the newly built Los Angeles Sports Arena, the site of the 1960 Democratic National Convention which nominated JFK. (The arena was designed by Welton Beckett, who also designed our Civic Auditorium and the high-rise apartment building in which I live, the Shores!)
That year the Lakers featured future Hall of Famers Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Sadly, this year, the team has lost 15 of its last 16 games and hasn’t won on the road in 2015! Having already lost 40 games, they will likely break last year’s record, the worst in their history in L.A.
In 1957-58 the Minneapolis Lakers had a winning percentage of 26.4 percent. Our current Lakers are at 24 percent. So, with 29 games left, being the “worst ever” in franchise history is on the horizon. As a Laker die-hard, I hope they do it! (Say, what?)
To anyone who’s ever read Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 “The Power of Positive Thinking,” which sold 2.1 million copies, my point of view may seem even odder. But Dr. Peale clearly didn’t understand the NBA draft.
Simply put, the only chance the Lakers have of being a playoff team next year is if they finish with the fifth-most dreadful record in the league or worse. Then they have a chance to keep their draft choice, which otherwise goes to Phoenix as a result of the infamous Steve Nash trade. (As if Nash wasn’t already enough of a disaster.)
Yes, gang, the sad truth is the worse the Lakers’ record the better their chance to get a high draft choice and, with a little luck, even a No. 1 pick! Last year’s first-round draft choice, Julius Randle, missed this season with a broken leg in his very first game! But hopefully he will be back.
And so will Kobe, who played only 35 games this year (one less than his age) due to a torn rotator cuff. Next year the Lakers will be able to afford a maxium-contract player (Kevin Love?) and maybe the Lakers could be a good team, instead of the train wreck they’ve been for the past season and a half. Yes, the preceding is predicated on a lot of “what ifs,” but hope is all we Laker fans have.
Arguably the greatest Laker of all-time, Magic Johnson, agrees with me. In December he said, “The Lakers need to get serious about losing.” (Losing 15 out of 16 is pretty damn serious.)
In April of last year, Jim Buss, Jerry’s son in charge of basketball operations, pledged that he’d resign if the Lakers weren’t back on top within “a few years.” (It makes me wonder what his definition of “a few” is.) Actually, I wish the Buss family would sell the team to Magic, but that’s another column for another day.
There’s even a group on Twitter called “TeamTank15,” devoted Laker fans who realize the only way to win in the big picture is to lose in the current picture. Team Tank monitors the other lousy teams as the Lakers battle to reach the bottom. They’ve popularized expressions like “Tank you very much,” and “Lose More for Okafor,” referring to Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, who may be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft in June.
But being terrible is not that easy, as there’s plenty of competition. Teams like the 76ers, the Knicks and the Timberwolves have decades of practice at losing, whereas the Lakers are relatively new to the game of defeats.
Speaking of the Knicks, they haven’t won a championship since 1973 — 42 years. God forbid, we could wind up the “Knicks West.” (Biting my tongue as I type.)
Also challenging the Lakers’ race to the bottom is the Orlando Magic, which, as of this writing, has 39 losses. Then there’s the Utah Jazz, which has 34 losses and could wreck my scenario if they go on a losing streak and the Lakers, heaven forbid, go on a winning streak.
Team Tank charts the wins and losses of the worst franchises every day. Followers lament the occasional Laker win and celebrate the mounting defeats. The Knicks have 43 losses, while the 76ers and the T’Wolves have 42. If the Lakers put their mind to it, they can do worse. A guy can dream, can’t he?
Jack Neworth also writes “Laughing Matters,” which appears every Friday. He’s at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and can be reached at email@example.com.