EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — As Byron Scott was introduced as the new head coach by several former Lakers greats from the Showtime era, a theme quickly emerged: Los Angeles takes care of its own.
Scott couldn’t be more thrilled to be coaching the team he helped lead to three NBA championships in the 1980s and had trouble containing his emotions Tuesday when he was formally introduced. It was a dream to come back and coach the purple and gold.
But his good friend Magic Johnson said he could have seen that dream come true a few years ago.
"This is a great day for Dr. (Jerry) Buss, even though he’s not here," Johnson said. "We were in a suite and he called me up and said, ‘Ervin, I would love, I think, for Byron to coach this team."
Johnson said this conversation happened a few years back and Johnson never told Scott until it was too late.
"Dr. Buss was going to make Byron the coach when Phil didn’t know what he was going to do," Johnson said. "Byron took the Cleveland job and he took it too early and I called him and said, ‘You took the job too early! Dr. Buss wanted you to be the coach!’ But he had to make a decision, of course, and this is really a great moment for all of us."
Johnson felt that Scott was an ideal candidate for the job because he’s connected deeply with Kobe Bryant, who like Scott has won multiple championships, although Scott is quick to point out that Bryant has won more than him. As the Lakers have failed to win one in a few years and tumbled so low that it was difficult for even Johnson to recognize his former franchise, the winning identity and culture has been lost.
Kobe and "Baby B" know nothing other than that winning identity, and Johnson feels the presence of the two will revive the championship culture that once defined the historic franchise.
"What better teacher to have than a coach who has won championships and also a player like Kobe to be on the court," he said. "So that they can help everybody understand the Laker Way of doing things."
Bryant was a rookie when Scott came back to L.A. in 1996 for his final season in the NBA. He hazed Bryant, making the rookie carry his bags and buy him donuts. Magic said it was exactly like when they hazed Scott during his rookie season.
"We wouldn’t speak to him," Johnson said, laughing. "He was just a college kid. We wouldn’t sit by him, we made him sit by himself for lunch and dinner and we smacked him and elbowed him because we wanted him to understand what we were getting because no one worked harder than our team.
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"Byron took it, never complained, never said anything and Coop said to me one day, ‘Buck, this dude is going to be OK.’"
"Coop" was Michael Cooper, whom Johnson would like to see as Scott’s assistant coach if he could get out of his contract with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream. Johnson also mentioned Mychal Thompson while Kareen Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes stood by. It’s clear that Johnson wants a Showtime reunion, but what he really would like to see is a revival.
And so would the fans. After all, the Showtime era produced five NBA championships and some of the most entertaining ball that the league has seen. This roster isn’t it, but Johnson says it might not be far off. And if you ask him, Scott is the one who will bring the Lakers magic back to L.A.
"Basketball is always going to be strong in this town," Johnson said. "We just need to figure out how to get us in terms of the next level where we’re not just making the playoffs but we’re making runs and winning championships."