Basketball: Showtime or bust for the leaky LA Lakers

Struggling to make the playoffs and not even the best team in Los Angeles. What, asks Rupert Cornwell, has gone wrong for Nicholson and Co’s favourite team?

What’s happened to “Showtime?” Not Showtime in the sense of the Hollywood glitter that still encrusts the Los Angeles Lakers, and a fans’ list that includes the likes of Leonardo Di Caprio, Andy Garcia and, most famously of all, Jack Nicholson. But Showtime in the sense that entered basketball lore, the nickname bestowed upon the Lakers of the 1980s, and their thrilling style that made a legend of a team that now boasts 16 NBA championships.

For the past decade or more, the Lakers have been not just the ritziest franchise in basketball, but the dominant power of the NBA. Not though in 2012-13. With just a third of the regular season left, the Lakers find themselves in an unaccustomed position – of floundering also-rans.

The story, in the best traditions of Hollywood, may yet have a happy ending. But whatever happens, this has already been the most turbulent season in the team’s recent history.

It began with sky-high expectations after the acquisition of all-stars Steve Nash from Phoenix and Dwight Howard, to join superstar Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest before the name change) in a starting five that stacked up, in terms of points scored and titles won, as among the NBA’s greatest ever. After two seasons of failure by the Lakers’ demanding standards (defeats in the Western Conference semi-finals), a title once again looked within reach.

So far, it hasn’t worked out like that. On 12 November, after the Lakers had lost four of their first five games, coach Mike Brown was sacked. The faithful, however, could comfort themselves with the seemingly certain return of Phil Jackson, the most successful coach in NBA history, who had led the team to five championships between 2000 and 2010 (to add to the six he won with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s). But that too didn’t quite pan out.

Just when the enigmatic Jackson had been sending smoke signals he would accept, the Lakers management turned to Mike D’Antoni. The “We want Phil” chants that had echoed round Staples Center after Brown was shown the door had come to naught. D’Antoni, long-time owner Jerry Buss believed, was the man to return Showtime to LA. But the Lakers have continued to struggle.

That is not how it’s supposed to be. For decades, the team has been the constant star in Los Angeles’ otherwise flickering sporting firmament. Football has long since supplanted baseball as America’s national sport – but since 1995, the country’s second city hasn’t even had an NFL team. Baseball’s Dodgers may once more be on the brink of great things. The hard fact, however, is they haven’t made the World Series since 1988.

True, the Los Angeles Kings did stage an improbable outsider’s run to win last year’s Stanley Cup. But ice hockey, for climatic reasons if no other, doesn’t exactly set LA’s collective pulse racing. Traditionally, that role has been fulfilled by the Lakers, with their fusion of success, stars and celebrity glitz. Indeed, the joke ran, the Lakers were the only professional sports team whose fans made more money than the players they watched. Right now, however, the Showtime boys aren’t even the best basketball team in Los Angeles.

That distinction belongs to the LA Clippers, long unglamorous and championship-less toilers in the Lakers’ shadow, but as of yesterday 11½ games ahead of their hometown rivals. When the Lakers’ most famous fan walked out seven minutes before the end of a dispiriting home loss to the Oklahoma Thunder in mid-January, even Jack Nicholson, it seemed, had given up on the team.

Excuses naturally have been plentiful. Age, they said, was starting to take its toll on the 34-year-old Bryant, the face of the franchise. Howard has been plagued by injury, Nash missed two months after breaking his leg, while Gasol will now be out for the rest of the regular season after tearing a muscle in his right foot.

Nor does an abrupt change of coach usually enhance a team’s chemistry, while the franchise lost a historical mooring earlier this month with the death of Buss, whose insistence on a fast, attractive and high-scoring playing style helped weave the Lakers into Los Angeles’ image and culture.

Of late there have been signs of improvement. The team has won its last three games, including a 103-99 defeat of the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, in which Bryant scored 38 points and the 39-year-old Nash got 20. Most importantly, Bryant and Howard may finally be starting to click.

“We will make the playoffs. And we will compete,” Bryant vowed last week. But the Lakers still have a losing record, 28-29, and are only ninth in the Conference, three games out of a post-season spot. Should they miss out, it would be for just the third time in more than three decades, since Showtime arrived in LA.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Java Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn