Sins of an Empire: Destruction of the Los Angeles Lakers
Being a lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan has afforded me with many tremendous experiences and memories, most of which live within Lakers lore. The past three NBA seasons (38 months to be exact) have set an ominous grey cloud above the organization, with careless and shortsighted decision making attacking the very tradition and loyalty of what was once the great Lakers’ kingdom. Events, succeeding each other as often as a series of rostertransactions, have taken what was once the most powerful franchise in basketball and reduced them into an abysmal of complete unknowns. One after the other, all of the Lakers’ good fortunes vanished, leaving them as merely mortal to attest for their sins.
While not accepted in all circles, the Seven Deadly Sins are humanity’s character representation of its tendency to sin. These Seven Dethroning Sins, as I prefer to call them within this series, reflect the error in judgment and negative karma, which continues to hover above the Lakers’ organization. Once the envy of 29 other teams in the NBA, the Lakers are facing their most serious climb back into prominence, hoping that the worst stretch in franchise history is now merely part of its history. Just how the Lakers got to this point can be head-scratching, and requires a suspense of belief to fully comprehend.
When trying to piece together what went wrong with the Lakers, I traced the catastrophic downfall back to May of 2011, when the team was swept by the Dallas Mavericks. Following the loss, there were an additional six events, each separate yet equally impactful and immorally deflating in their devolvement of the Lakers’ reign over the NBA. Before reviewing each dethroning sin and event that brought down the Lakers, now would be a good opportunity to take a look back at where this mighty franchise stood just some 38 months ago.
Coached by 11-time NBA Champion Phil Jackson, the Lakers’ dynasty had overcome adversity, both internally and from challengers to their throne. The organizational structure of the team offered a lasting hierarchy of Hall of Famers – owner Dr. Jerry Buss, retired star player Magic Johnson, head coach Jackson, and others including general manager Mitch Kupchak and Executive Business VP Jeannie Buss, who is of course Dr. Buss’ daughter and Jackson’s then-girlfriend. Lastly, they had the epitome of an NBA superstar in Kobe Bryant, flanked by a long, talented and grizzled team.
The back-to-back Champion Los Angeles Lakers rode through the 2010-11 NBA season a wounded, yet wiser group, with limitless potential centered on Bryant and Andrew Bynum. In perhaps what was his best season, Bynum emerged with a defensive presence to complement his growing offensive game. Teamed with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, Bynum and the Lakers’ frontline proved to be the advantage no other team could match, despite numerous attempts by other teams to duplicate the dynamic.
While Bryant struggled to remain healthy throughout the season, his on-court production did not suffer, as he averaged 25.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, all on par with those of his career averages. Including a post All-Star Break stretch with the Lakers winning 17 games out of 18, the team finished with 57 wins, tying their same output from the previous 2010 championship season.
Elsewhere around the league, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh conspired to team as the modern dynasty and contenders to the NBA throne as part of the Miami Heat. A direct threat to the Lakers, the three superstars formed what Joakim Noah labeled “Hollywood as Hell,” taking the league by storm in the process. In addition, teams like the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder positioned themselves as emerging or perennial contenders to challenge the Lakers.
The more things changed around the league, the more semblance and steadiness the Lakers displayed within their core group. Little did anyone know that the steady foundation was about to crumble, not because of external threats, but from severe fracturing stemming from within. This fracturing wouldn’t reveal itself immediately, but over the course of the next three years, the Lakers’ dysfunction would transcend itself more off the court than on it.
The upcoming series reveals how the sins of greed, pride, envy, gluttony, lust, sloth and anger would come to define the Lakers of today.