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An expert's view on the Lakers' greatest centers

Shaw_300

So, I'm highly unmotivated, but know I have to offer up something for the morning Laker-holics. I'm searching the Web for stuff that hasn't been discussed, thinking of things with which I might be able to entertain you.

Then it dawns on me. WWJMD? What would Jim Murray do? Not that perhaps the greatest sports writer of all time would be blogging at 3 a.m., but maybe I can draw inspiration from The Times' GOAT. Then the moment of clarity. I've got access to our archives. Let's follow the lead of LRob, one of our blog's historians, and see what Mr. Murray has to say about the great centers in Lakers history.

So, folks, I give you his column on Shaquille O'Neal's regular-season debut on Nov. 3, 1996. Enjoy.

-- Dan Loumena

"No Way He Misses This One"

By Jim Murray

I don't often feel this way, but somehow I felt I had to be there.

You see, I had been there when Sandy Koufax pitched his first game for the L.A. Dodgers. Saw him too, when he struck out 18 Giants in a night game.

Saw Bob Waterfield take his first snap as an L.A. Ram quarterback. Was there when Ben Hogan won his first U.S. Open at Riviera Country Club.

And I was on hand when the L.A. Lakers played their first home game at the Sports Arena. I was there when Wilt Chamberlain played his first home game as an L.A. Laker. Same when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made his debut as a Laker. Also when Magic Johnson did.

So I had to be in on the start of the Shaquille O'Neal Era, didn't I? Had a ring of deja vu about it.

I don't remember too sharply Wilt's or Kareem's inaugural game. But I do recollect that the advent of Chamberlain had a deleterious effect on Elgin Baylor's game. Chamberlain seemed to be occupying the places Baylor wanted to go to perform his sleight-of-hand under the basket.

I also remember that Chamberlain, who used to throw up as many as 3,000 field-goal attempts a season--and make as many as 1,500--and who rolled up as many as 4,000 points a season, suddenly became a playmaker in L.A. Only 7-foot-1 point guard I ever saw. His field-goal tries descended into the low 1,000s. So did his point totals. His rebounds remained the same. He led the league every year in those. He went and got the ball and dished it off to the shooter.

Abdul-Jabbar more or less brought his game intact. His rebound total, never robust, was less of a factor than his shooting. Abdul-Jabbar relied on Oscar Robertson to seek out the ball for him in Milwaukee and Magic Johnson to do it in L.A.

But how do the Lakers wind up with these nuclear forces in the pivot in the first place?

Well, in the cases of Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar, you have to detect the fine covert operations hands of then-Laker owner Jack Kent Cooke. The CIA lost a fine prospect when Cooke elected to turn his talents to business dealings and, particularly, the business of professional sports.

No one ever knew for sure how Cooke maneuvered for Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar, how many arms he had to twist, how many favors he had to call in. Cooke was never one to leave a telltale trail. No DNA would ever attach to his machinations.

But it was well-known Chamberlain was fed up with Philadelphia and Abdul-Jabbar was mild about Milwaukee. Every franchise in the league would have wanted them, but Cooke was never one to let nature take its course. Cooke had paid $5 million in cash for the Lakers at a time when basketball was something you went to for the dance afterward and pro basketball was considered the preliminary game on a show featuring the Harlem Globetrotters as the main event.

So, Cooke got his show-stoppers in the pivot. He got Magic Johnson in a coin flip that, so far as anyone knows, was honest (although, when the New York Knicks got Patrick Ewing, you had to wonder).

When Jerry Buss bought the team (along with the hockey Kings and a couple of mountains of real estate up in Kern County) for $62 million, he got Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson, and the world championships came with some degree of regularity. The act was a show-biz smash known as "Showtime," the seats were full of film goddesses and leading men, season tickets cost just less than an all-expense cruise in the Caribbean.

But then, Abdul-Jabbar retired, Johnson hit the wall, and the Lakers were back to square one. No skyscraper in the pivot and no one to go get the ball for him if there were. Almost enough to make you yearn for a dance afterward.

But then, Buss comes up with a page out of the Cooke school of ownership. A major coup. The most visible player in the game, the modern successor to Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar shows up in a Laker uniform.

I hotfooted it over to owner Buss to see what subterfuge he had to resort to to bring off this master stroke, bringing Shaquille O'Neal to L.A. Whose arm did he twist, what markers did he have to call in?

Buss sighed and denied complicity. "Do you want the dramatic version, the emotional version -- or the truth?

"The truth is, I relied on [his general manager] Jerry [West]. I prayed a lot. We kept hearing Shaq wanted to play here, but when we got around to signing, it looked like it didn't.

"We got rid of Vlade [Divac] and kept our options open.

"My feeling is, L.A. really needs something like this. This town has lost its football teams, it has lost a lot of star players. The town has been good to pro sports. It deserves something better."

In New York, the Yankees are the Yankees again. Are the Lakers the Lakers?

O'Neal's debut opened to what Broadway would call "mixed reviews." He was a presence in the sense that Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar were. The visiting Phoenix Suns seemed to go in a circle-the-wagons mode when he hit the floor. When he left the floor (with foul trouble), they were somewhat less intimidated. The Shaq-less Lakers squandered a 19-point lead on one occasion when he was largely bench-bound.

He came within a foul of disqualification. It's well to remember Chamberlain never fouled out and Abdul-Jabbar fouled out only once in each of his last two seasons. Of course, it would have taken a very brave official to foul Chamberlain out of a game in the days when he was one of the league's few drawing cards. O'Neal's fouls, too, are apt to have a referee looking around to see who he can pin it on.

O'Neal's 23 points for his opening game were creditable for a guy who had to spend 13 minutes on the pine. His 14 rebounds were downright encouraging.

Is it the start of something big? Will it end in a ticker-tape parade at City Hall? Or will Michael Jordan and Co. prove it's going to be just a lot of Bull once again? Oh, well. Either way I can tell my great-grandchildren some day I was there on one more start--whether it's big or Bull.

Photo: No Wilt Chamberlain, but three generations of great Lakers centers: Shaquille O'Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and George Mikan. Credit: Peter Read Miller / NBAE/Getty Images

 
Comments () | Archives (117)

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Pau is an effeminate Spaniard, but a damn good BB player. He belongs in the NBA. But let's not get carried, away. Alright, Ricky?

Speaking of Ricky...Mr. Rubio may one day play in the NBA, and might turn out to be a servicable guard...somewhere along the lines of J-Will, but only a half-notch less talented. He could, however, be a superstar, but only if he remains in Spain.

Team USA has got this one locked. I actually like this B-Team better than the
A-hole Team. Better, more team oriented basketball.

49'ers kept Jarrett Brown. Very nice move. Very nice!

Dodgers took it up the rear again from the San Francisco Giants. This is what happens when the pennant race heats up and the pretenders must step down.
Not this year, Dodger fans.

DMC is salivating to rough up Andy boy. Reke dreams of spinning Kobe like a top, again.

Go Kings!
Go 49-ers!
Go Team USA!
Go San Francisco Giants!

Glad you're back too Larry.

Sonnybelfast

Oh, by the way.

Manny wins by TKO. Mayweather throws in the towel after the 1oth round.
He can't take the pummeling any longer.

That is, if this fight ever happens.

Sonnybelfast

I have serious doubts that Mayweather's camp will even let him take a fight with Manny.

Why risk going to the hospital,
and blemishing a perfect record against a fighter who may end up being
the best pound-for-pound fighter of all time?

Go Kings!
Go Manny!

Sonnybelfast

Dare say, with all of the great detail oriented historians and stat keepers we have on this board, I think it would be nice to see some of these Laker 'championships' from yet another perspective, don't you?

Maybe a new list is in order, yes?

Apart from the sheer numbers in the L.A. fan base,
and a few of the other obvious advantages
inherent with the media, money, and glitz of Hollyweird La La Land,
how is it that the Lakers are able to win so many championships?

I'll start the list, OK?

1. 2011 season: 7 fewer back to back games than the Chicago Bulls, another Playoff Team.

2.

3.

101.

Go Kings!
Go Niners!
Go Giants!
Go Team USA!
Go Manny, go!
Go Los Angeles football team (name?)!

Sonnybelfast

1.

Dare say, with all of the great detail oriented historians and stat keepers we have on this board, I think it would be nice to see some of these Laker 'championships' from yet another perspective, don't you?

Maybe a new list is in order, yes?

Apart from the sheer numbers in the L.A. fan base,
and a few of the other obvious advantages
inherent with the media, money, and glitz of Hollyweird La La Land,
how is it that the Lakers are able to win so many championships?

I'll start the list, OK?

1. 2011 season: 7 fewer back to back games than the Chicago Bulls, another Playoff Team.

2.

3.

101.

Go Kings!
Go Niners!
Go Giants!
Go Team USA!
Go Manny, go!
Go Los Angeles football team (name?)!

Sonnybelfast

1.

Gosh, double posted. Woops!

Although, I'm sure we can fill both lists up to the brim, and then some, don't you?

Sonnybelfast

Sonny,

The sarcastic tone of your post is obvious, you seem to have an impression that the Lakers win due to some kind of conspiracy among NBA officials, schedule makers, refs or whatever. Really Sonny.

Here are a few real reasons the Lakers win so much.

1. Best owner in sports who will spend what it takes to acquire the best talent and is willing to take risks.

2. An organization that recognizes superior talent.

3. Some of the best coaches is NBA history.

4. A long history of having many of the best players in the NBA.

Others may think of more to add to this list, but when you have the four things listed above, you are going to win.
A lot.

Dan,

I suppose today is your last official day as blog boss. I just wanted to chime in and somewhat echo the remarks of Edwin. You have done a really good job.

During the slowest of times for the NBA season you have managed to put out some threads of interest, but more importantly, you have participated in the blog just enough to keep it moving along without letting it go too far off track in terms of hostility.

You have shown that you do recognize what's relevant and important to most of the bloggers. Your occasional posts were knowledgeable and friendly and you have a nice, gentle touch when reminding everyone what's appropriate when it comes to interacting with others.

When a firm hand was needed to eliminate the crudeness of troublemakers you were there to block them.
When name calling reared it's head you were there to quickly reign it in and suggest more appropriate ways to communicate.
When knowledgeable bloggers posted items of interest you were there to add to the discussion and encourage it.
When there was some lighthearted banter you were able to be friendly.

You showed an excellent depth of knowledge about basketball in general and the Lakers in particular.

As a moderator who moderated, you likely won over everyone who is a regular here and probably even those who are just infrequent visitors.

Someone suggested that you should admit that 'we are growing on you' (I think jamf), but really I think the opposite is true, you are growing on us.

Your commitment of personal time and effort to the blog while having other responsibilities is commendable.

If we were to talk in basketball terms about you as the 6th man coming in off the bench, you were a game changer.

Thanks for doing a great job.

Gooood Morning Lakerland! Another outstanding job by the nightshift I see.

Art, what an awesome post! It was spot on and yes, this guy "Dan the Man" has made an impression on us. I hope we see more of him because he has an element we need here in the blog. Maybe he can help mentor MM or even work together with him as a partner of sorts as someone else mentioned. I think the difference is palpable with Dan here. We have a leader we like and respect which creates a successful atmosphere for doing what we do.

Here are a few real reasons the Lakers win so much.

1. Best owner in sports who will spend what it takes to acquire the best talent and is willing to take risks.

2. An organization that recognizes superior talent.

3. Some of the best coaches is NBA history.

4. A long history of having many of the best players in the NBA.

Others may think of more to add to this list, but when you have the four things listed above, you are going to win.
A lot.

Posted by: Art - FL Laker Fan | September 06, 2010 at 06:28 AM

Man, you’re an early riser, and quick to dispel any odor of malfeasance.

Nice and appropriate words for Lieutenant Dan by the way.
(We’ll swap you Aileen Voisen and one million gallons of drinking water for Lieutenant Dan...come to think of it, we’ll give you Aileen, but to get the water you’re gonna have to fork over Dan).
Sounds like the kind of guy who could really get behind an honestly built team, such as the Sacramento Kings of Basketball. As usual, I digress.

But speaking of odor, I’m curious.

When you get up so early in the morning, do you head straight to your computer before or after you use the pot? I’m just wondering, because thanks to some handy moisture flaps I had installed on my Macbook, I’m able to kill the bird while passing stones, and read this board all at once.

Anyway, I agree. Yes, yes, yes, and yes to the four points you listed, and yes, they provide a pretty good explanation of how you are able to win, but you miss my point.

It takes a lot of little things to win championships.

Seven fewer back-to-back games than another Playoff team would help, right?

How about Pau landing on your team out of nowhere...gee, how did that happen?

And the list goes, on and on and on and on. No?

I just put the challenge out there to man-up, or at least acknowledge some of it.
Can you do that? I have my doubts. It would be so unlike you.

It's 2200 hrs here, and if I am correct, Team USA is about to thrash Angola.
Have a nice day!

Go Kings!
Go Niners!
Go Giants!
Go Team USA!
Go Trojans (maybe a bowl appearance next year, huh?)
Go PacMan

Sonnybelfast

Sonny,

Notice I live in Florida, do you know what time zone that is? The time stamp on my post is PST, but for me on the east coast it was 9:30 am.
Is that so early, though a better question might be what difference does it make what time I get up or when I read the blog?
It implies nothing.

No Sonny, I didn't miss your point. I knew exactly what you were insinuating.
But it's all old sour grapes that others, who are also jealous of the Lakers, get on this site and post from time to time.
You didn't state anything new, just the same worn out accusations that the Lakers get favorable treatment, that they are able to acquire good players through some type of nefarious means or collusion, and, as you said, the list goes on.

I do acknowledge your points, but not in the sense that you want me to.
I acknowledge them in the sense that it is just sour grapes posted by a sour grape.
I acknowledge then in the sense of having read those things written by others who are jealous of the Lakers success and try to find any excuse to show flaws in their success.

It just isn't worth even trying to debate those topics with someone like you, or even with someone who isn't like you.
They are old, worn out subjects that have been beaten to death already.
And you know that, you read this blog somewhat regularly.

I see your post as attempt to inflame or instigate.
Perhaps you are bored and/or need some attention. I have responded to your twice now, so here you go.

I know from previous posts of yours you do have the ability to disagree and remain civil.
And sometimes you can even be funny when you aren't trying to make others look bad, or inferior.
Please keep it that way.

Was Kareem really a bad rebounder? Who was a better rebounder, Kareem or Shaq? Kareem was skinny, agile, and highly skilled while Shaq was a monster, so image says Shaq was the best - but which was really the better rebounder?

For their first dozen season (prime time) Kareem averaged 14 rebounds per game. Shaq averaged 12.

Kareem was also a better shotblocker, by the way.

By the way, kudos to Pau Gasol this year for averaging over 11 rebounds per game. Not bad for another skinny dude - and by far his career high.

LRob - another great post-er Awesome stuff! It's all opinion and history but the Lakers could have been a lot better with Auerbach so... Fantasy world I know. Jerry West wasn't a good coach, neither was Magic. I am grateful to Sharman don't get me wrong but he was almost like Marv Levy of the Bills....too many almosts.
It is just a fact that for years coming into the finals they were great then faltered over and over, those days sucked. Thank God for the one Championship in the seventies. 72 was a great year.
If you were in NorCal and followed Rick Barry then 75- 6 were the greatest for the Warrior fans- we all rode that one out as one of the greatest teams to win when they weren't expected to win. Great memories eh LakerTom!
The Laker teams of the 80's would beat that All Star line-up of the 2 Pau positions all day long. Pau is good but I would still want Big Game James Worthy on my team over him. Pau could get better and I sure hope so but I see a player that has gotten complacent and if anything has begun to understand the game better through Phil and Kobe. Mainly in being aggressive and not backing down like the weakling he had been for years. He could still could use some more muscle, especially while playing center. Maybe a few more McHale like moves around the basket too- Lamar as well has never tapped his athleticism and full on talent of being great along with being consistent. Pau's brother Marc, actually plays a great role as a upcoming powerful center, he might end up being better than Bynum. At small forward Elgin Baylor would have been a great choice to have although the team chemistry wasn't that good, but he was a fantastic talent to watch, who can forget the great Keith- Jamaal Wilkes too. The Center Position totally is Kareem's and although Wilt gets a lot of notoriety as a Laker his better years were with Philly. The Mikan theory is just not even an argument so many changes in the game and how many brothers were playing against him? Its like the old Baseball stats. Kareem was the best we have had all around and through his test of time and durability. He learned from everyone and his BBIQ was very good...I don't get that point at all. John Wooden would be rolling over in his grave to read that one. Heck lets just face it Kareem/Lew was the greatest center ever to play the game by a mile, some guys were good for a few years but Cappy took it to a whole different level and his endurance, health, IQ, competitiveness, and knowledge of what to do when was far greater than any other center I have ever watched for that long of a career as well as being efficient and effective. That dude had people poking his eyes out and beating the heck out of him for years -could have wimped out but always out played his opponent and made his teams better. Martial Arts and Yoga over weights, smarter than smart! Low BBIQ shame on you Ricky.
That line-up just doesn't work, as of today because of what Kobe has done recently (5 Championships) he would start and the Logo would come off the bench. We need a great small forward and maybe somehow 'Melo will be coming out to LA and get us some new talent to end out Kobe's career. He is lazy still but a season or two with Kobe and he might reach his full potential. This team can last maybe 3 more years barring health/injury problems. Dr. Buss, Jim, Mitch, someone has to find a way to coax Phil to continue and the Lakers definitely need to start building for a new future. Nothing wrong with the present, but I live for Championships! So great to be riding back to back titles.

hey boss, heres this thing u would want to use http://sportscomplainer.com/twitter that my buddy found the other day. i think its like some all in one sports twitterer type thing. anyway i know its ur type of thing, ill cya tom sir

Art - You are on top of your game today...Your remarks echoes the Blog Nation...Thank goodness you were on watch...Game ball goes to you...

Thanks Lew, and JohnnyV.

Art --- Way to go, man. Thanks for keeping the flame burning while we were asleep. :)

 
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