Friday, October 30, 2009

Tall guys in sweatpants and short shorts

Former LA Lakers coach Bill Sharman is credited with being the father of the NBA shootaround. Sharman, who coached the Lakers during their record-setting 1972 season, started the practice of having the team come to the arena hours before the game, so the players could get a brief workout in, go through some plays, and take a few shots. A legendary story centers on Wilt Chamberlain refusing to attend one of the shootarounds. Sharman sent a player to Wilt's hotel room to get the big man. Wilt - who, judging by his boasts, probably wasn't alone at the time - told the messenger he goes to the arena once, and that Sharman could decide if he wanted him there for the shootaround or for the game.

So in a way we have Bill Sharman to thank for the above video. It's from the 1983 season. A behind-the-scenes look at the Lakers as they prepare for a game in Phoenix, it's simultaneously fascinating and proof that we don't always want to see behind the curtain. When you see Mark Landsberger (No. 54) wandering around in his shorts, you might be cursing Sharman for his innovation.

Highlights include a young Pat Riley, who was in his second season as head coach. He had the slicked-back hair already, but had not yet become a dictator, a role he perfected in his later years with the team and in New York and Miami. Kareem was 36 that season, but still had a beard and enough hair to come off as a 30-year-old. He was still six years from retirement.

Current Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis is there, decked out in his trademark Clark Kent glasses, which he's since replaced as a coach. At the 1:20 mark, Chick Hearn begins narrating a shooting drill. Only Chick could make a mundane drill sound sort of exciting. But a fight breaks out! One team accuses the other of cheating! Magic confronts McAdoo. Cooler heads prevail. 

About three minutes into the video, the hulking Landsberger appears to adjust himself, unaware or unconcerned about the camera. For some reason, he's the only Laker who deemed it a day worthy of sporting the short-shorts. A Minnesota native, he may have been trying to get some sun on his pale Midwestern legs. Everyone else wears sweats. Landsberger is also the player who would have been voted the guy you'd least like to see in those shorts, narrowly defeating Rambis and Kareem. On an unrelated note, Landsberger didn't return for the 1984 season. His Wikipedia page contains this tidbit:

"After an early 1980s Lakers practice in Phoenix, Arizona, Landsberger joined a group of sportswriters for lunch without changing out of his team jersey. During the meal, Landsberger spilled a chocolate shake on his uniform, leaving a long, brown streak. Since he was on a team road trip and did not have an extra road jersey available, he was forced to wear his stained clothing during the following night's nationally televised game."

So Minnesotan. This game was in Phoenix and was in the early 1980s. But he's not wearing a game jersey, so hopefully he didn't follow this video with a spilled shake.

If I'd seen this video as a kid, I'd have watched the bleary-eyed, yawning players in awe. I'd have speculated on why they were so tired. "Probably spent all night watching tape of the Suns," I'd think. "I bet Magic was shooting free throws until 4 a.m."

Now, well, I'm guessing they were up to more adult activities. Being naive had its moments.

No matter how well-prepared the Lakers were this season, it still ended in disappointment. Worthy broke his leg late in the season. In the Finals, a powerful Philadelphia team defeated the Lakers in four games. I can remember sitting in our living room after Game 4, spinning in a chair, despondent over the defeat. I cursed Moses Malone, Dr. J and Maurice Cheeks. I loathed Philly. Wished the British had sacked it way back when.

I consoled myself with thoughts that Magic, Kareem and Worthy would spend the night working on their free throws and hooks. 

Like I said, being naive had its moments.

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