The Showtime Lakers’ Superman
Rebounds. Diving for loose balls. Setting screens. Hard-nose defense and “smashmouth” basketball. Kurt Rambis was the quintessential blue-collar, “garbage man” teammate that the Showtime Lakers needed to complement their flashy playstyle.
Before Rambis was a Los Angeles Laker, he had played for the Santa Clara Broncos and won the Player of the Year award in the West Coast Conference in his senior year. He was the university’s all-time leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. Rambis was then drafted by the New York Knicks in the 1980 NBA Draft in the third round, but ended up playing professionally in Greece before the Lakers sought him out. When LA reached out to Rambis, he took some convincing, as he felt his career and finances were safe in Greece. But ultimately, he gave the NBA one last shot. And it paid off.
Kurt Rambis was the perfect teammate Magic Johnson and company needed to toughen up the roster and get the dirty work done. His signature look including horn-rimmed glasses, long surfer-like hair, and a resemblance to Clark Kent quickly earned him a cult following. Lakers head coach Pat Riley once complained to a reporter, "Other guys have sharp Adidas bags. [Rambis]'s got this black satchel, like the kind you would have a bowling ball in. And it's, like, vinyl. He doesn't ever bring a garment bag or a suitcase. That's all he ever brings, could be a week.”
Rambis’ fan base would sit courtside at the Great Western Forum, wearing spectacles and imitating his fashion style, (or lack-there-of depending on who you asked) which Rambis admitted embarrassed him initially. He felt as though the fans were mocking him, when they were actually showing love.
“Everybody kids you about your glasses. Does it bother you? Asked the legendary announcer, Chick Hearn. “I’d rather see.” Rambis replied in his humorous sarcasm.
Rambis delivered many iconic moments in the purple and gold, as he played physical on both ends of the floor and initiated the fastbreak that made Showtime so exciting. Despite not posting big stats, it was the plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet that made Kurt Rambis so important to his team. That play style is what every championship contender needs, and LA was no exception.
One of Kurt Rambis and the Lakers’ most significant moments occurred in the 1984 NBA Finals, against the rival Boston Celtics. The series became very physical in Game 4 when one of the most infamous plays in NBA history took place. In what would surely be a flagrant foul or ejection in today’s league, Kevin McHale took down Kurt Rambis on a fastbreak layup. Rambis later reflected on the incident saying, “You know, I would probably be in jail right now if I had been able to do what I wanted to do after he upended me.” Rambis continued, “It’s just something you don’t do in basketball, so I was going after blood. If I had a clear path, I was going after him, so I may have gotten in a lot of trouble.” (Showtime With Coop)
This was a signature play resembling the hard play style of the ‘80s. After the Lakers lost that Finals series, Coach Pat Riley swore the Lakers would never be out-muscled again. This mentality pushed Los Angeles to defeat Boston in their next two NBA FInals matchups, in 1985 and 1987.
Rambis’ tough attitude and consistent effort helped the Lakers to win 4 NBA Championships while he was on the roster, claiming victory in 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988. His iconic play and look are etched in basketball history and will always be remembered by sports enthusiasts.