This is the second part of a three-part series on the Los Angeles Lakers and their place in pop culture history. If you missed part-one, you can find it here.
The 1980s were a golden era for the Los Angeles Lakers. They made it to the NBA Finals in every year of the decade except 1981 and 1986 and were victorious in five of their eight appearances. Following a loss to the Phoenix Suns in the 1990 playoffs, Pat Riley and the Lakers parted ways. The team would make it back to the NBA Finals the following June with new head coach Mike Dunleavy, but the era of Showtime was coming to an end.
Five months after the Lakers were defeated in five games by the Chicago Bulls, Magic Johnson retired from basketball after he had contracted HIV. The three seasons following Magic’s first retirement (the third of which included a comeback attempt by Magic) ended with back-to-back first-round eliminations and the team’s first failed playoff appearance in 18 years. Those were definitely the franchise’s darkest days. But savvy draft picks and the hiring of new coach Del Harris helped the team change course and move back towards becoming media and pop culture darlings again.
As a collective unit they began to win over the city with their energy and enthusiasm — led by rookie Eddie Jones, sophomore Nick Van Exel, third-year man Anthony Peeler, and the newly-acquired Cedric Ceballos. With no marquee face to splash on billboards and bust stops, the team’s marketing department decided to brand them “The Lake Show” and market them as a collective unit.
Ceballos was the team’s All-Star in those early-to-mid 90s teams and led to him getting cast as himself on TV shows like Hang Time, Sparks, and Living Single. Van Exel got a chance to win some money for charity when he went on Wheel of Fortune. Head coach Del Harris was on an episode of Diagnosis: Murder as well as in the movie Space Jam. Even athletic trainer Gary Vitti had a part in Blue Chips. Chick Hearn continued filling up his resumé on shows like Dharma and Greg, Life With Louie, and in the movie White Men Can’t Jump.
But even without having one of the league’s top-10 players, the Lakers were never irrelevant. Lawrence Kasdan’s 1991 film Grand Canyon includes a scene that was filmed at a Lakers game at the Great Western Forum. In 1993, there was an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 when Ian Ziering’s character, Steve Sanders, made a half-court shot for $10,000. I was at the game when they filmed it and I can tell you that he missed the basket by at least 15 feet.
But in 1996 the Lakers would sign a one-man media machine as well as draft another guy who would make his mark on pop culture. The first was, of course, Shaquille O’Neal. Even before Shaq ever wore a Lakers uniform, he had already been mentioned on songs like the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Gimme The Loot”, when Biggie rapped:
I’m slamming ni**as like Shaquille, shit is real
When it’s time to eat a meal I rob and steal.”
Shaq had already appeared in hit movies like Blue Chips and recorded hit songs, like the Fu-Schnickens’ “What’s Up Doc? (Can We Rock)”. But living in Los Angeles only increased Shaq’s profile tenfold.
There were commercials like this one with Michael J. Fox for Pepsi:
Or this hilarious one for 5-A-Day Vitamins:
Shaq was still putting out music but now had the Notorious B.I.G. appearing on his records:
My favorite Shaq record was an unreleased version of his song, “No Love Lost” that featured Lord Tariq, Peter Gunz, Jay-Z, and Nas. The album version was missing the Nas verse:
Check out this performance I found of Shaq and Peter Gunz performing “The Way It’s Going Down” on the Tonight Show in 1998:
Biggie name-checked Shaq again in 1997 on “I Love The Dough,” this time as a member of the Lakers:
We hit makers with acres
Roll shakers in Vegas, you can’t break us
Lost chips on Lakers, gassed off Shaq
Country house, tennis courts on horseback”
Shaq also played himself in movies like Good Burger (1997):
Here’s Siskel and Ebert destroying Shaq’s film Kazaam, even calling it a “waste of time”:
Next Page: Kobe Bryant Hits Hollywood