The late morning air created a hum in the clouds- that was a sign of something special, a Byron Scott affirmation. Then Jamaal Wilkes, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar arrived like honored royalty, turning heads as they went by. It was clear this was not an ordinary coach’s introduction. It makes sense. Los Angeles is not an ordinary city to live in. Showtime was not an ordinary era. Friends who are the greatest players in the world are not ordinary either.
Byron Scott or “B” to his friends was about to be introduced as the team’s next leader. His friends came to show their support and appreciation the way friends usually do. And one more thing they wanted to accomplish. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Jamaal Wilkes- three Hall of Famers- wanted to remind everyone that when you play for the Lakers you transform inside your own skin- you become a Laker. You stay committed to the Lakers forever.
“Showtime’s back”, Magic grinned into the microphone and it took a moment to embrace what he was saying even as you shook your head. His brand of Showtime was not back, not by any stretch of the imagination. But the Showtime that unearthed emotion and love and pride, that was all the way back. The special feeling that the Lakers brought to the city was back after three disastrous years. The Lakers family was back too, after death and exile and bad philosophies.
The happiness of the former Lakers greats, a little older but still staunch defenders of the brand, was palapatble. “We’re so excited we wish we could put on a uniform and help you”, Magic said. Kareem added, “It’s great LA take cares of its own like this. Welcome home B.” Jamaal Wilkes tied a ribbon on it by acknowledging, “A tie to the past but more importantly a bridge to the future. We are going to be bothering you.”
Mitch Kupchak who has been appropriately maligned for this prolonged coaching hire process apologized to Byron for the grueling three month punishment in which Byron had to wait. Even when he was vacationing in the Carribbean he had to wait.
The Lakers, diligent but also evasive, had zeroed in on Byron Scott from the beginning despite the optics and the rumors and all the other people they brought in. Aware that the fans support of Byron Scott was tangible they took their time. The anxiety surrounded Byron rarely diminished. Everywhere he went in Los Angeles he was continually asked when? When was he going to get the job?
Such is the life of a former Laker; L.A. folks believe Laker greats are religious figures. Byron, who spent all of last year as a studio analyst for Time Warner Cable said the coaching “itch” didn’t leave but rather watching from a distance made the urge that much stronger. How it must have grated on Byron’s Laker soul to watch the Clippers ascendance. But he refused to accept Los Angeles was a Clippers town. “One (team) has 16 banners and one doesn’t have any.” It’s the basic talking point of any Lakers fan to a Clipper fan, what they lord over them. That Byron said it with conviction only reminded everyone the difference between him and Mike D’antoni and Mike Brown. He is a Lakers fan first.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to make the Buss family proud and bring this team back to where we know it should be.” Lingering in the recesses of Byron Scott’s mind was the thought of Dr. Jerry Buss who had been his biggest advocate and supporter. When Byron was fired from New Orleans Dr. Buss called his former player who had become his friend. He told him to come home, come to a Lakers game and sit in his box so they could talk about all the old times. Byron declined the invitation but he never forgot the offer or the kindness or this Laker value: family is there to catch you.
Byron insisted his team would play hard every night. Defense is his priority as well as rebounding and he made a strong case for post play. On offense his priority will be ball movement and taking advantage of mismatches which quite frankly is an old school way to play. Coaches rarely expose the weaknesses of their opponent the way they used to do a decade ago when that was a staple of offensive game plans.
The roster the Lakers put together was called “competitive” by Byron. And if they are not competitive or if the players don’t do exactly what Byron wants them to do he’ll take them out of the game. (Nick Young be warned).
A young player that excites him is Julius Randle. Byron called Randle a top 3 player in this year’s draft class. But as talented as Randle is Byron has no intention on setting expectations for him. “Just let him play.” But he challenged Randle’s competitive drive. He said Randle could start if he beats out the other power forwards.
The first task of any coach is what Pat Riley used to call the “peripheral opponent.” Those things players say to themselves even by accident. Because losing is a virus. It starts with thought. You think of losing and so you do. You expect to lose and so you do. You anticipate losing and so you do. You make excuses about losing and then you lose again and tell more lies. By then you can’t get it back, any of it.
As for Kobe, he and Byron’s 18 year relationship is an asset no other Kobe coach has ever had. The two have been texting all summer. Byron’s respect of Kobe’s basketball I.Q. resonated. “I see us talking a lot about the game.” He even threw out the idea of Kobe playing point guard.
But the day belonged to the past. To what the Showtime era was all about: friendship, competitiveness and winning. Since then there have been some significant lean years for the Lakers. But there is always something special when someone comes home after a long time. Magic summed it up best. “If it was any other coach, we all probably wouldn’t be here.”
Magic added, “It messes up my whole year when the Lakers are not successful.”