The celebrities! The fast breaks! The music! The championships! Do you wish you could go back in time to the Forum during the fabulous Showtime Lakers years? So do we! We don’t have a time machine to lend you, but we can take you back through words and images. You can visualize the rest with us!
In the 1980’s there was no more entertaining show than the Los Angeles Lakers at The Forum, where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke scoring records, and Magic (Johnson) happened. It was great basketball, played by legends of the game, with hot dancers and celebrities courtside. Take a look back….
Showtime really started when new owner Jerry Buss took over in 1979 and mandated that his Laker play fast, up-tempo and overall entertaining basketball. What’s more, however, the new owner didn’t just want a Lakers’ game to just be a basketball game, but also a show.
We might take that for granted in the NBA now, but this was new territory that Jerry Buss was forging. He’s the guy we have to thank for the lights dimming, the dramatic team entrances, the music, the dancers and the mascots. Under Jerry Buss the Lakers left the locker room to a hyped-up announcer declaring: “It’s Shoooowtime!”
And that meant you were going to get entertained, by golly. The Harlem Globetrotters were the original showtime team, but Jerry Buss made the Lakers the first team to embrace the idea and the vision for competitive basketball. It was athleticism with dazzle. It was a nightclub act with hoops. It was fabulous.
The Showtime Lakers were particularly known for the speed, efficacy, and excitement of their fast break. Designed originally by coach Jack McKinney and perfected by the slick Pat Riley, the Showtime Lakers were amazing in their ability to run in transition, spread a defense and out-rebound their opponents. Led by Magic’s magical passing skills, they would leave their opponents in the dust.
Magic Johnson’s no-look passes, dunks by James Worthy or Michael Cooper, and the unique, signature sky hook of Abdul-Jabbar made the offense the greatest show on hardwood for most of the 1980’s. The Showtime Lakers were hard to beat and won five NBA championships during their run.
The “show” in Showtime wasn’t just about the game. The Showtime Lakers played in The Forum, a building that styled itself as a “Modern Version of the Roman Colosseum.” Like the Colosseum in Rome, it was a round building that enclosed an oval playing space, surrounded by huge, white, concrete pillars.
Buss added to and encouraged the bacchanalian flair of the place by adding as many opportunities for drunken revelry as possible. He quickly converted the formerly family-friendly restaurant (The Forum Club) in the stadium into one of the hottest nightclubs in Los Angeles.
This party atmosphere continued out into the stadium at game time as well. Live music and cheerleaders weren’t common at the time, but Buss added a live band, and instituted the now indispensable tradition of a super-talented (and sexy!) dance squad- the Laker Girls.
The Laker Girls weren’t alone, however. The basketball carnival also included a guy dancing in the aisles in a tuxedo and shades (Dancing Barry), and entertaining peanut vendors who would keep the crowd laughing.
Pat Riley, for most of the Showtime era, added to the Hollywood image, with his crisp Italian suits and slicked-back hair, looking much more like a Dom than a traditional basketball coach.
The Home Crowd
You went to see the Lakers play, yes, to enjoy Magic’s passing, the scoring, and the rebounds. But you also went to be seen.
Part of Buss’s vision for The Forum and the show he wanted to put on involved getting celebrities to come out to the game. It added cachet to the whole experience. He actively recruited and lured big-name celebrities to attend the Lakers’ home games, and succeeded in fine fashion. In fact, during the height of the Showtime era, celebrities who contacted the team for tickets were sometimes turned away because of too many requests.
This, of course, made getting a courtside ticket to a Lakers’ game even more desirable for A-List stars. While nowadays you will see Leonardo DiCaprio and Vanessa Hudgens courtside, back in the Showtime day you would have seen Jack Nicholson (who you can still see today), Dennis Hopper, Arsenio Hall, Penny Marshall, Andy Garcia and Dyan Cannon. The Forum really was the place, like a reporter from The Washington Post noted, “where the fans make more money than the players.”
Jerry Buss created a nightclub act with a floor show- starring the Los Angeles Lakers. This is a concept that many teams have sought to emulate, but few with as much continuing success at the Lakers. The Forum, and the Showtime Lakers, remain a gold standard of glitter and glamour- a golden age.