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.
The interview on CDR is pretty convincing. I feel like Roberts deserves a roster spot, especially with how he’s been playing. He sounds mature and like a person who will contribute at 15 minutes a game. That would slide ebanks over as the main backup 3 and jamison to the 4. I hope the FO makes the right call.
Don Ford says
Every elite team needs a legit-tough ‘power forward’ to rebound and play hard defense.
The Kareem Lakers of the late ’70s lacked a few things (including that certain ‘magical’ something to come), but they were perennially, painfully, “soft” at the 4 (certainly my somewhat sardonic FB&G namesake was hard to watch).
Then, not long after Magic and Cooper, came this lunchbucket, black glasses guy, just flailing and pounding in there. It was such a relief, satisfying!
Remember his fan club?
Every team should have a Kurt Rambis on it.
Thanks J.M. (& everyone who contributes) for another fine piece. I was lucky enough to be at the finals game against Boston when Kurt got into that tussle with D. Ainge, both of `em falling out of bounds in heap! Good times…
Magic Phil says
Rambis was indeed a key piece from that team, well deserved honor. And the way he went over McHale after the clothesline, we all can say that guy has a P&G heart.
16 More reasons to watch a game at the Staples Center:
16 new stars at our new center court logo (that’s 16 championships for you in case you lost count). Can this season get any better?
Robert Fiore says
I love the story about when Rambis was first starting out and he’s this lunchpail guy on a team of superstars and he’s feeling a little insecure, and he asks Pat Riley, “How’m I doing?” Riles says, “You’re starting for the Lakers.”
Edwin Gueco says
Every Laker dynasty, there is player who does the dirty job as support mainstay of the Superstars. Superstars cannot withstand all the rigors of competition against them, they have to sit down. That is the point where the bench supplement the energy. Before Rambis, there is a player by the Mark Landsberger, he’s raw in talent except in rebounding and defense. Magic made him a better player by just freeing himself in the post. Then comes the first Laker superman from Santa Clara. Rambis is also a post player and FT shooter and no other moves. He just gives the ball to Magic and would defend the post.
In our lineup today, I look at Hill as clean up and he proved himself last year that he could defend. I wish Sacre’ could provide that kind of energy. You don’t need to be a talented player but it helps if you have both talents, IQ plus determination. We are all glued on Howard, Gasol but they also get tired, the game does not end when they sit down. However, if we have a weak bench whatever investment yield produced by starter will be lost by a weak bench. It’s Nash game but it’s still a team game on the supporting PG’s. Blake should stop those turnovers and contribute to the team as he used to torment the Lakers with 3 pt. shooting. Morris and G-lock should be graduate by this time on too much dribbling, it is time to grow to another level.
This is exactly what I’ve wanted to hear from Brown…
“Nobody has really locked up that backup point guard spot yet,” Brown said. “[Saturday] I’m thinking about giving Darius an opportunity and giving Duhon an opportunity another day and then maybe going back to Blake.
“I’m not sure yet, but I’m going to keep giving guys opportunities. Nobody has really locked up that backup point guard spot yet.”
While the Lakers pretty much know what they’ll get from Blake and Duhon, Morris is still something of a wild card. The Lakers like his size (6 feet 4), defensive ability and potential, but Brown says he needs to see him “play under control” and “stay within himself a little bit more.”
Just saw a report where mb says he can see both Morris and Blake playing the 2 times this season. – Morris ibwould say is a maybe because he does have height but blake? Come on man – that would mean we would have Blake and Nash as our backcourt for that to happen = terrible defensive unit
Didn’t he watch the tapes from last year?
Speaking of Nash’s no-look passes, his teammate said “half of the time, I don’t get back on defense after we just scored. I’m wondering what just happened.”
So perhaps Los Angeles isn’t the place for the point guard
“Nash should do a Vegas magic show,” World Peace said. “They should put his picture on the Flamingo hotel with a picture of him posing spinning the ball with his tongue out. There could be a bunch of strippers around him naked covering themselves with a hat.”
We echo Nash when he says: “I don’t know how he comes up with this stuff.”
Because I don’t think Brown is a complete moron I’d have to beleieve those words are to cushion the blow for the player who loses out on the back up PG spot. Fingers crossed that’s Blake 🙂
Anyone fortunate enough to see the Showtime Lakers featuring some of the best NBA championship teams in NBA history knew Rambis would be on this list, only question was how high. He was a Clydesdale on a team of Thoroughbreds. And on a team featuring guys like Magic, Kareem, Silk, & Nixon, he was easily overlooked. I’m glad to see him receiving his dues here.
I love this series by FB&G. I’d like to make one suggestion if I may. Please include links at the bottom of the articles to the previous players named on this list as the countdown gets closer to one.
10) A. C. Green
09) Rick Fox
08) Bob McAdoo
07) Kurt Rambis
Two things this list further proves are:
1) the Lakers had such great centers (Mikan, Chamberlain, Kareem & Shaq) during their championship runs that all-stars were not needed at the four position.
2) Pau Gasol is without question the best, most talented power forward to ever wear a Laker uniform.
Kurt Rambis was my mom’s favorite Laker of all-time. She loved his hustle, grit and determination. And she also thought he looked like a very nice man. I recall the day he retired and my mom was sobbing quietly as a video tribute showcased his Laker highlights, amongst them, the McHale clothesline, the Danny Ainge scuffle, and a picture-perfect no-look pass from Magic for the flush.
God, how I miss those Showtime days… I bet my mom spends every evening comfortably watching Laker reruns with Chick’s words-eye-view up in heaven.
Malone was a better power forward, but pau has done more with the Lakers.
@ #13, not at that stage of his career.
A day after Marc Stein reports Lakers looking to trade Duhon and Blake Mike Brown mentions the backup PG spot is open. Those things go hand in hand may have some movement.
I’d like to see Morris get more than 6 minutes. Make him the first sub and see how he does. Put Morris, Ebanks and CDR all in the first quarter and see how it goes. It’s only preseason game 3 it’s the time to experiment.
Darius Soriano says
A new post is up.