Showtime 2.0? How 2020 Lakers Mirror 1982 Lakers


When last seen in action, the 2020 Los Angeles Lakers were in the best form in the league. The Lakers had two tremendous showings against the Bucks and Clippers, who were previously undefeated against LA. The wins seemingly made the Lakers unofficial regular season’leaders as playoff seedings began to stabilize. Moreover, LA appeared to be gelling and having fun as a unit. The product on the court was stellar.


1982 Lakers: Birth of Showtime

The 2020 Lakers mirror the NBA-Champion 1982 team in many ways. Here is an excerpt of the 1981-82 season from The Official NBA Encyclopedia (3rd Edition, 2000) characterizing those Lakers:

“It was the kind of soap opera that could be scripted only in L.A. How deep were the early season woes and conflicts for the Lakers in the fall of 1981?

Within weeks, the coach, a big-time winner, had been ousted, and the franchise had turned to a former broadcast analyst to get the running game back on track. Frustrated by their playoff failure in 1981, the Lakers started the season determined to make a better showing by emphasizing power instead of fast breaks. But a mediocre start and the plodding pace of the new offense led to the dismissal of Paul Westhead as coach 11 games into the season, despite the team having won at least 50 games in each of Westhead’s two seasons at the Lakers’ helm.

[…] But out of the chaos emerged Pat Riley, the former Laker who had been part of the 1972 championship team. […] Riley installed a freewheeling offense and aggressive defense, and the Lakers responded by winning 57 games.”

The 1982 Lakers’ record was best in the Western Conference (3rd overall behind Boston and Philadelphia). That unit eventually beat the 76ers in six games for the 1982 NBA Championship: the second of the decade and first of the Riley-Showtime era.

The Showtime Connection? 

The teams share the ability to shift between up-tempo and post-up basketball. Both squads have multiple playmakers capable of dissecting defenses for easy baskets. The 1982 Lakers featured Magic Johnson and Norm Nixon, both top five in assists. The 2020 Lakers feature LeBron James, who leads the NBA in assists, and Rajon Rondo, who averages five assists. Each team has a slender go-to player in the post who also protects the rim on defense. The 1982 Lakers fielded Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the new-millennium Lakers have Anthony Davis.

The teams also share similar storylines. Each team dealt with controversy and coaching changes. The 1982 Lakers’ shift occurred during the season, while today’s coach swap happened before the campaign. The 2020 Lakers also featured new roster signings and a blockbuster trade landing Davis. The teams also have a similar league placement as the new Lakers also lead the Western Conference.

Bottom Line

Today’s Lakers may never be mentioned in the same stratosphere as the 1982 Lakers if the NBA cancels the season. These Lakers plan on joining the 1982 winners as champions after a newsworthy offseason, the memorial of Kobe Bryant, regular-season success, the ongoing impact of coronavirus, and recent demonstrations over law enforcement practices. The stakes are high for the 2020 Los Angeles Lakers should the season resume on July 30th as planned.

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About Tamba Mondeh

1st-year law student. Stillman College, The University of Alabama, and Duke University alum.

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