Typically, when sports shows present montages of teams that were fortunate enough to win a championship, the underlying message that usually gets thrown out to the fans is that this group of people reached the mountaintop through blood, sweat and tears.
Obviously, the message is often lost on those that rather concentrate on the contributions of superstars; but there is nothing quite like seeing a unit go through some hardships to be the last team standing.
Although, we as the media like to look at the journey from the eyes of the superstars, sometimes the outlook of a player with far less talent can perfectly capture the scene, provided that he is one that plays with heart and hustle.
Today, the seventh best Lakers role player of all-time exemplifies this journey…
To many, Kurt Rambis is the guy that used to play for the Lakers with the cool/goofy glasses. But to diehard basketball and Lakers fans alike, he was so much more.
The big man joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 1981 and was immediately part of the rotation because he gave the team some interior defense as well as some much needed rebounding. With Rambis backing up at power forward, the Los Angeles Lakers won the world title in his rookie season.
By his second year with the Lakers, he was getting 23.2 minutes per game, and played the part of a reliable big man for the team.
Mind you, his minutes took a dip the following year (1983-84 regular season), as Norm Nixon was traded and Byron Scot joined the team. That combined with the emergence of James Worthy meant that the Lakers would occasionally use Big Game James at the power forward spot with Scott and Michael Cooper taking over duties at shooting guard and small forward on occasion.
The Lakers fell at the hands of the Boston Celtics in the 1984 NBA Finals, and the Lakers redefined themselves ever so slightly. With Jamaal Wilkes’ rebounding numbers on the decline, Pat Riley once again started giving more minutes to the Santa Clara product in order to help shore up the defense and protect the backboards.
The Lakers faced the stigma of being a soft team with their loss at the hands of the Celtics in the ’84 Finals.
They were Showtime.
They outran teams, executed better and played sharper than most of their opponents, but were they tougher? Many felt they were not after being humbled by Boston.
The truth was that although they were a finesse team, they certainly knew how to impose their will on the game and even occasionally get scrappy.
Kurt Rambis was one of the players that exhibited the Lakers’ grit perfectly. During the purple and gold’s run through the 1980s, the man with the glasses appeared in 493 games, averaged 18.7 minutes per game, 5.3 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game on 55.3 percent field goal shooting.
The numbers are rather miniscule in truth, but they do not tell the whole story.
The Santa Clara product was called upon to defend power forwards, set screens, rebound, get out of the way on offense — literally — and finish plays whenever defenders completely forgot about him. The tasks might not sound like much, but every now and then, Rambis had to play the role of enforcer, where he took a few hard fouls and refused to allow opponents to punk either him or his team.
On a team renowned for flash, glamour and glitz, Rambis was one of the few guys in the rotation that had to play ugly for the team to be successful.
Consequently, his contributions often get overlooked or even marginalized, but he was a big part of the championship puzzle in the early 80s; as he was called upon to defend the ever clever Kevin McHale, who is considered to have the most devastating array of post moves in NBA history.
With Rambis patrolling the paint next to Abdul-Jabbar, the Los Angeles Lakers rebounded in the 1985 playoffs and defeated the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
In ensuing seasons, his playing time decreased as A.C. Green would become a more prominent player for the Lakers given his ability to help execute the zone trap, and Mychal Thompson was acquired to help defend the post, which in turn made Rambis the odd man out. He still got some regular minutes, but nothing quite like what he enjoyed in his first two seasons with the club.
Nonetheless, the 6’8’’ forward was a contributor to the greatest Los Angeles Lakers teams as voted by our own FB&G panel, and he also managed to be part of one the few NBA dynasties.
He eventually left the team and joined a few other ball clubs before returning to the Lakers for his final two seasons before retiring.
Some might argue that both Bob McAdoo and Rick Fox should have been ahead of Rambis, and that is certainly debatable, but Rambis edged both out by spending the first seven seasons of his career playing for the Lakers during their most successful run since moving to Los Angeles. With Kurt Rambis alternating between starter and reserve big man, the Lakers made seven appearances in the Western Conference Finals, six trips to the NBA Finals and won four titles.
Rambis may not have been the most important player for the Lakers, but he most certainly illustrated in many ways what the Lakers were not. They were not soft, they weren’t just style over substance and they were not a gang of chumps.
Kurt Rambis not only gave the Lakers blood, sweat and tears, but he also represented it better than most.