Lakers I Miss: Nick Van Exel

Jeff Skibiski —  August 7, 2010

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Following Magic Johnson’s stunning retirement, the Lakers were desperate for a spark to reignite their depressed fan base. Enter: Nick Van Exel. With an array of NBA Jam-worthy moves, Nick the Quick catapulted the forum blue and gold back into NBA relevance, quickly becoming a fan favorite in the process. Nick’s outspoken nature on the court and Hollywood smile ushered in a new era of basketball in Los Angeles, while proving his naysayers wrong with every twisting turn to the hoop and soft mid-range floater. Van Exel was as accessible as any up-and-coming star in the league, regularly personifying the emotion inside of the Great Western Forum with his spectacular arsenal of aerial acrobatics, clutch shooting and tough-nosed nature. Nick was an arcade player for Lakers fans, responding to their whims, catching fire at any moment, surprising them with a dazzling drive to the basket when they least expected it.

Van Exel’s tenure in L.A. wasn’t always easygoing though, as he frequently found himself at the center of controversy—whether it be with Head Coach Del Harris, referees (how can we ever forget when he shoved referee Ron Garretson?) or his own teammates. Through it all, Lakers fans supported Nick with the type of fervor usually reserved for only superstar-level players. It’s that same level of passion that makes Van Exel one of the more popular Lakers players of the last two decades.

Van Exel wasn’t a perfect player and truth be told, his averages of 15 points and seven assists during his five years with the team hid his often questionable decision-making and wavering attitude. Despite his faults, the Cincinnati alum wore his heart on his sleeve every time he stepped foot on the court and was a much-needed stop-gap in the post-Showtime years leading up to his eventual trade to the Nuggets shortly after the arrival of the Shaq/Kobe tandem. While Van Exel didn’t get to take part in the Lakers budding dynasty, he’ll always be remembered fondly as one of the franchise’s most exciting entertainers.

Check out this great Beyond the Glory piece below for an interview with Jerry West and others who talk about why the Lakers were willing to take a risk on Nick and what made him such a special athlete.

Jeff Skibiski

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30 responses to Lakers I Miss: Nick Van Exel

  1. Cancun.

  2. Great Article!!!

    Nick was one of the most clutch Lakers ever. The man truly had ice water in his vains. I loved his “shushing” road crowds by putting his finger over his mouth after a big shot (the crowds would go silent – it was funny as hell).

    As we have found out later about Shaq (The Big Hater), he ushered at least a couple good Laker players off the team (Eddie Jones being the other). Those are two of my all-time favorite players. They gave what they had every night and they should have been part of our championship legacy.

    Nick the Quick was one of the best point guards we ever had and hearing “When I say Eddie you say Jones…EDDIE..JONES..EDDIE..JONES” at Laker games always sent chills down my spine. Those were two great Laker supporting players in the vain of Bob McAdoo, Michael Cooper, Robert Horry, Rick Fox, and Derrick Fisher!!! Hopefully ShanWoW can one day fullfill the Eddie Jones role and Barnes can be our Michael Cooper.

  3. busboys4me,
    You bring up another point about Shaq. Another reason not to retire his jersey. If his number has to be retired, then we owe it to the other players to make it years after Kobe’s number(s) is retired.

    I know — this thread is about Nick the Quick, and Nick made a lot of his own troubles — but Shaq, throughout his career, was genetically unable to share anything. That is not the symbol I want hanging in Staples Center in the coming decades.

  4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POXL49YzEns

    last laker basket in the old garden

  5. I liked Nick, but he let emotions get in the way of winning. He didn’t have the supporting cast of other Laker teams, but he was overrated in a sense after proving himself, despite being a late draft choice. I also loved Eddie Jones after watching him succeed early on, but grew tired of his lack of energy and not showing up to key games. Both were well worth the risk based on them being late draft picks, but I don’t have fond memories of them when I look back at their careers.

  6. #4 nick needs to have his number retired just for that shot alone LOL

  7. Good article..

    Those were some strange years, and Nick gave us some swagger, some attitude, and had no fear as a basketball player. Remember him shadow boxing after a big hoop, and his cool shaved eyebrows?

    I remember that shot in the Garden live, awesome…

  8. I agree with Peter (#5). Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones left me cold, as did the coaching of Del Harris.

    Someone I LOVED from the Early Kareem and Magic days was Norm Nixon. I can still see him leading those mini fast breaks ending with stop on a dime jumpers that were as consistant as layups.

    I wish he could have stayed on the Lakers team, but Norm wouldn’t or couldn’t play unless he was THE point guard, and Magic had that job sewn up.

  9. I grew up in LA during Showtime but had no close family or friends to get me involved.

    Lakeshow is what pulled me into this Loch Ness Monster of love for basketball, the NBA, and the forum-blue and gold… daggers in the ear, last sound the buzzer… Shadow Boxing the demons of Showtime. Lets admit it, clashing with the Shaq ego. Eddie was really fun to watch but Nick was the Lakeshow swagger.

    I think it a damn shame that Nick, Eddie, Kobe, Elden and Shaq couldn’t have been all together to let Phil coach them. Nick’s shooting, quickness and length at the 1 would have been really good to see and Eddie’s propensity to tire out in the 4th quarter would have been mitigated by letting Kobe handle those duties. Eddie could have been the stopper and a scoring opportunist. Bring in AC/Horace, with Horry and Fox, maybe Harper still comes in (this me would feel sorry for the alternative me for missing out on B-Shaw). I suspect Shaq’s ego had more to do with having to let Nick go then anything else, and maybe Kobe coming into his own would have added another issue. But, dang that would have been a beautiful team to watch make it work.

    All these championships in the last 10 years have been fun to watch and I wouldn’t trade them for any other basketball memory. Seeing Nick in our soaked colors, his sweat dripping from the Larry O’Brian… it would have been a redemption worth feeling.

  10. I can’t understand how any of you can possibly mention Eddie Jones and Nick van Exel in the same breath! Eddie >>>>>> Nick in every possible way. I must say I have very little nostalgia for Nicky van E– I think of him as a glorified Smush. He is NOT a Laker I miss… and I’m the kind of guy who misses Jim Chones, Joe Crispin and Sven Nater.

  11. The thing I actually remember most about Van Exel (and one of the reasons why I liked him) is that after he was traded, he killed the Lakers every time he played us.

  12. After the Showtime years, the reason why I started to follow and eventually become a die-hard Laker fanatic, was because of an unkown second-round pick named Nick ‘the quick’ Van Exel, and a #10 draft pick the following year named Eddie Jones. I loved how those two guys played, with Nick giving back the team some swagger, with his ‘uppercuts’ after hitting a big shot. It was fun watching the ‘underdog’ Lakers of Van Exel, Jones, Divac, Campbell, Ceballos, Threatt, Lynch.

    I don’t know why Jones and Van Exel got traded, they got a draft pick (Tyronn Lue) for Van Exel, but who did they get in return for Jones? I think Jones was traded because he played the 2 guard spot, and Kobe was ready to take over at that time.

  13. I was a huge Van Exel fan, but to say Shaq was wrong in wanting the guy off the roster is a prime case of misplaced anger and/or revisionist history.

    The way NVE quit in the ’98 playoff loss to the Jazz was inexcuseable and Shaq was right to suggest that there was no place for that type of attitude on the floor or in the locker room.

    Saying “1-2-3 Cancun” coming out of a timeout when there’s still a game in the balance was just atrocious. Little did Nick know he’d get an extended summer for basically the rest of his career since he was generally on bad teams from that point on out, sans one or two years in Dallas and San Antonio. But he never got the ring.

    Say what you will about Shaq’s own attitude at times — or worse, his 1999 embrance of Dennis Rodman, whose attitude and play in L.A. were far worse than anything Nick ever dreamed of — but I agreed with Shaq and others who felt Nick’s time had run its course.

    The Eddie Jones trade, in retrospect, is a little easier to question.

    Jerry West was high on Glen Rice and flet Eddie was in Kobe’s way, so that deal made sense in those ways. It also got rid of Elden Campbell, who Shaq hated. However, I’ve always thought Eddie and Kobe could have played well together as a dual combo guard lineup and wondered how that would have worked had they been given a chance to do so.

    Eddie did tend to disappear in big games, but he was young at the time. Perhaps he’d have grown into a winner later on, as Pippen did in Chicago. (He was a huge choker early on.) And it wasn’t like Rice ever contributed much come playoff time either.

  14. The Lakers traded Eddie and Elden Campbell for Glenn Rice who was believed to be that missing piece (knockdown shooter/scorer at the 3 spot) that would compliment Shaq and Kobe and put them over the top.

    In the beyond the glory they talk about Nick getting traded, Jerry West said there there was no way they could get equal talent in return but the trade was more about “addition by subtraction”, and they didn’t want to send him to a contender. Good they didn’t since as Simon (#11) points out, Nick saved his best to go against the Lakers afterwards.

  15. Ok

    Honestly those articles are written about some team every off season. The last 2 seasons the Lakers were predicted by many to match or break the record. Even a fervent supporter of a team has to be skeptical of that prediction. The season is very long and the team has to be nearly perfect all throughout the year and be lucky as far as avoiding injuries.

    who’s the next “Laker I miss”? George Lynch (?) Cedric Ceballos (?), did anyone else besides me like Elden (?)

  16. Can u imagine derek fisher doing the air boxing uppercuts after a big clutch basket? Im trying to forget van exel. He was a loser and cry baby. Exactly the type of player that didnt belong in a laker uniform.

  17. To #17
    Who cares if you can imagine Fish doing the uppercuts after a clutch basket? Its funny because there is absolutely no part of the game in which Fisher is better than Van Exel including what is Fisher’s trademark: the clutch three. Lets think what Fisher would have done if he was around for the Lakers from 93-96. Absolutely nothing and definetely not better than what Van Exel did which was torch a prime Gary Payton repeatedly over and over again. DFish torch a prime Payton: Yea in an alternate universe

  18. Nick the Quick was just fun to watch. Before NVE, Lakers were in a peculiar situation, where they has some good players, but just barely enough to make the playoff. Nicky brought that excitement back. That lake-show team with NVE, Eddie, Cedric, Peeler, Vlade, Campell, and Lynch was so much fun to watch. They weren’t quipped to win the title, but the entertainment value was even higher than the team with Shaq’s bruising style of play which probably was more suitable for NFL.

    I still keep the last game Lakers played at the Garden, and Nicky made that miraculous 3-pointer to win at the buzzer. He is a amazing little dude. That team was fun to watch, win or lose, you would cheer for them.

  19. Having Nick was like a drug.

    You’d get high off his unexpectedly heroic shots, his boxer’s moxie, his court antics (“shushing” the crowd, etc.).

    Then you’d drag like someone kicking a habit when he’d take those horrible shots, generally muck things up, and piss people off in his various ways.

    He was basketball bad news, but a reliable entertainment quick hit.

  20. Big fan too. Eddie Jones, Kobe Bryant, Shaq and Nick. Good times…

  21. Chris J (13) –

    Glen Rice actually was the starting SF and contributed a lot to the 2000 championship.

    He also played well in the 1999 playoffs even though the Lakers lost to the Spurs.

  22. #20 Exactly how I felt about him.

  23. My favorite moment about Nick Van Exel was the 95 or 96 playoffs against the Spurs where in one of the games he hit two clutch shots. One to send a game into overtime and another to win in overtime.

    The look on the face of the Spurs fans there was unbelievably good!

    I nearly broke a chair jump up and down from that game.

    It was the same series were Vlade choked at the free throw line and lost a game. That was a very winnable series.

    Bye.

  24. I loved Nick the Quick and the swagger he brought to the Lakers during those rough years. It seemed like he was proving all those GM’s wrong for passing on him in the draft.

    Eddie Jones was also a favorite of mine. Despite the team’s disappointing seasons Jerry West was demonstrating why he was the best GM in his class.

    As already stated it would’ve been nice to see how these guys would’ve been in the triangle. Thanks for the good read and nostalgia.

    jlv

  25. Plan9FOS —

    Subtract Rice from the 1999-00 Lakers and the Lakers still win that title. They could have plugged in Horry or Fox into that starting role and likely not missed a beat.

    I thought Rice was a great player prior to coming to the Lakers, but for whatever reason he didn’t play that well in L.A. and his career never really was the same after his time as a Laker.

  26. Im a huge Nick fan always have been since I first saw him play.

    One moment of Nicks that stands out to me is when in Dec 96 he basically took on the Bulls by himself after blowing a 20pt halftime lead. He trash talked MJ and Pip and backed it up with an impossible runner over Pip to force OT and 36 pts to boot, while every other Laker was ice cold.

    I made a website on Nick which can be seen at http://nickvanexel.weebly.com

    I have about 300 NVE games on dvd, half of them being old Laker games from the 90’s. The game with the Garden shot, the 2 buzzer beaters vs SA, the 95 series against Seattle ect.

    Glad some people have not forgotten Nicky V and still have high regards for him like I still do.

  27. My favorite players during that post Show Time era was Eddie Jones and 2nd Nick Van Exel. After Show Time they brought back the excitement in the Forum. I even remember Eddie being one of the few players Michael Jordan actually praised that wasn’t on his Bulls while Jordan was still playing. I’m glad he got a ring with the Heat though..

  28. Eddie didn’t get a ring with the Heat. He was traded prior to them winning, as he knew he would, when Shaq arrived. He and Shaq didn’t get along in LA either. Eddie was an average to good three point shooter but not good enough for Shaq.

  29. Lakers I Miss: Elden Campbell.