Billboards dot the landscape in Los Angeles. When you’ve seen a billboard on Wilshire Blvd. welcoming Suge Knight home from prison, nothing should surprise you. With that said, it was shocking to see the Lakers posting “Stay D12″ banners all throughout the city.
It reeked of desperation. It seemed tone deaf to the grand history of the franchise and more importantly, Dwight Howard wasn’t deserving of that type of treatment. Lakers Nation didn’t appreciate it and the media heartily mocked it. In reality, its the most encouraging sign to come out of the Jim Buss regime.
The Lakers as a brand has closely mirrored the trajectory of Hugh Hefner and the Playboy empire. Relocated to the west in the 60’s with much fanfare and success. A re-structuring in the 70’s. The cultural embodiment of the Southern California lifestyle in the 80’s and 90’s. A last spurt of success under a different business model in the 00’s.
There came a time when Hugh Hefner was no longer believable as the lovable rake surrounded by a bevy of beauties. Eventually, the legend was left at the altar. Something that never could of happened earlier.
Just like Dwight did to the Lakers.
Showtime ended 25 years ago with Magic Johnson’s 5th and last title in 1988. That era marked the golden age of the NBA and left such an indelible mark on the minds of the public, that to this day the aura of that team is as powerful as ever. The Buss family has been trying to recapture that cultural preeminence since the day Magic retired.
There was the short lived “Lake Show” era in the mid 90’s, but Michael Jordan and the Bulls dominated the decade.
The Lakers wanted more championships and signed Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq initially tried to play a Hollywood, entertaining style, but the Lakers kept getting beat in the playoffs. Enter Phil Jackson and a deliberate, physical methodology.
The Lakers spent the last decade winning championships with overwhelming size and power inside, with Kobe Bryant providing a sole dynamic perimeter force. Even though the team owned the decade, they ceded the cultural preeminence to entertaining teams like the Phoenix Suns. Kobe’s longevity and the team’s success has long masked the fact that the Lakers haven’t been fun to watch since 1998.
The team’s brand has grown stale. Their most visible celebrity fans are in their 70’s. In today’s fast paced world of social media, history and tradition have little meaning. The Miami Heat have taken center stage in the NBA galaxy, not just because of the star power of Lebron James and the titles, but because they fit the times perfectly.
Their players photobomb, they put out Harlem Shake videos, they quote rap lyrics in interviews, and they place their celebrity right in the middle of the Hip Hop world. In essence, they are what the Lakers were in the 80’s. Pat Riley designed it that way, make no mistake.
The “stay d12″ campaign was a recognition that the times have changed and the Lakers finally need to change with it. It might have been clumsy, but the idea behind it was correct.
The Lakers are that grand mansion in the Holmby Hills that have all the legendary stories from the past. They still throw grand parties, but the furniture is dated. The host is still great but has been around so long the urgency to pay attention is no longer there.
Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak started tearing down the Lakers roster at the end of the 2010 season, preparing the franchise for a rebirth. The birthing process is difficult, with many stops and starts, but the result makes the struggle worth it. 2014 is the due date and Lakers Nation is impatiently waiting for that new bundle of joy.