The Traveling Lakers

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July 7, 2015 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

wilburys - lakers

In basketball, very rarely does a super team win a championship, much less form a dynasty.  In order for a team to be a super team instead of a very good team, that team must satisfy the below criteria:

  • Feature at least three alpha dogs who could lead a team on their own
  • Have a coherent sense of chemistry that accentuates each player’s skill
  • Each alpha can’t have his own skill diminished to the point where his contributions are negligible
  • Must have a formidable bench made up of either former starters, or plus role players who can protect a lead

With this in mind, there have only been a very few NBA teams that qualify as super teams, some of which include: the 1985-86 Boston Celtics, the 1972-73 New York Knicks, and the 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers.  Without question though, the most successful super team in the entire history of the NBA is the Showtime Lakers.  They more than satisfy the above criteria and dominated their conference in a way that no team save for Bill Russell’s Celtics and Michael Jordan’s Bulls have done.  The Showtime Lakers are the quintessential super team.

Likewise, building a super group in music is similarly a difficult thing to do as it involves egos, creative control, and musical direction.  Hell, some bands (Metallica) even argue like they were super groups.  Any time a group of artists or members from different bands want to get together, they only have to abide by one criteria to actually be a super group—they have to put out at least one album.  That’s it.  Even if it’s a terrible album, that band will still be labeled a super group.  One of the most prolific super groups of all time only lasted for about three years and put out two albums in that timespan.

What made The Traveling Wilburys so interesting is that the band was made up of some of the most accomplished musicians of all time.  The fact that guys like George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison could not only play together, but generate an entire album of good music is absolutely mind blowing.  It’s a lot like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and James Worthy all somehow sharing only one basketball together.  In fact, the Showtime Lakers, and The Traveling Wilburys are almost identical versions of each other in that each member of the latter has his own counterpart on the former.  All five members of The Traveling Wilburys have their analogue on the Showtime Lakers.

Roy Orbison/Kareem Abdul Jabbar

kareem roy

Both of these guys were the oldest ones on their squad, and as such were the first ones to have careers.  Orbison’s career began in the 1950s being billed as the next Elvis, while Kareem broke into the NBA in 1969.  Orbison was already established as a singer long before any of his bandmates were, and Abdul Jabbar was an NBA champion while Magic Johnson was still in junior high school.  Joining The Traveling Wilburys revitalized Orbison’s career after a floundering 20 years.  Similarly, it was only by joining forces with rookie Magic Johnson that enabled Kareem to win championship after championship.  By being a part of The Traveling Wilburys and the Showtime Lakers, it redefined both Orbison’s and Jabbar’s career by reaffirming their statuses.  Incidentally, the Showtime Lakers never won another championship after Kareem retired despite making one more Finals appearance.  Likewise, The Traveling Wilburys broke up after Orbison died despite making one more album without him.  Orbison’s death and Kareem’s retirement signaled the end of band for both The Traveling Wilburys and the Showtime era Lakers.

George Harrison/Magic Johnson

magic george

The real engine behind both projects, George Harrison essentially came up with the idea of The Traveling Wilburys while Magic Johnson was the most important piece of the Showtime Lakers.  Without Harrison, there is no Traveling Wilburys, and without Magic Johnson, Showtime doesn’t happen.  Magic was the most coveted college prospect since Bill Walton, and he was expected to turn around the fortune of any franchise in the NBA.  And any time you have a former Beatle in your band, it automatically legitimizes whatever you’re trying to do.  Both were the most recognizable members of their group while also providing the initial spark that got the ball rolling.  The Showtime era officially came to an end when Magic announced his retirement do to him being HIV positive.  Likewise, any hope for a Traveling Wilburys reunion faded quickly once George Harrison passed away from cancer.  In both cases, the argument can be made that both men were the most important cog.

Bob Dylan James Worthy

bob worthy

For however great Bob Dylan and James Worthy both are individually, there was always the idea that they suppressed their own skill for the sake of the band/team.  Dylan is probably the most accomplished singer/songwriter the world has ever known, and yet he often left lead vocal duties to either George Harrison or Tom Petty.  He didn’t write either of their two biggest hits, and his biggest contribution is the band’s longest recorded song.  By comparison, James Worthy, the number one pick in the 1982 draft, and one of the most explosive college basketball players often played third wheel behind Magic and Kareem.  For however talented he actually was and should have been, Worthy subdued his own game in favor of team success.  He couldn’t take touches away from Kareem, nor dominate the ball whilst playing alongside a point guard like Magic Johnson.  He really could have been the modern equivalent of Elgin Baylor, a strong, physical player who could score from anywhere and rebound at will.  However, if Dylan and Worthy both played as well as they were capable of, it would have thrown off the entire dynamic that was going on.  Despite being crucial members, both Dylan and Worthy had to make the most personal sacrifices on behalf of the band/team.

Jeff Lynne/Michael Cooper

lynne cooper

Playing in a band alongside a former Beatle and one of the greatest songwriters of all time, it’s very easy to overlook Jeff Lynne’s contribution to The Traveling Wilburys.  Similarly, when sharing a court with three of the top 50 greatest NBA players of all time, the overall importance of Michael Cooper’s contribution is often forgotten.  Besides Johnson and Kareem, Cooper was the only other player to have been on all five championship teams from 1980-1988.  While everyone always likens James Worthy as the Robin to Magic’s Batman, it was actually Michael Cooper who was Magic’s preferred sidekick.  Joining the team around the time that the Lakers drafted Johnson, the two shared a symbiotic relationship that most choose to down play.  One of the first 3-and-D players, Cooper provided crucial perimeter defense, guarding the likes of Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Clyde Drexler.  Although Kareem had been in L.A. for five years, the Showtime era was ushered in with Magic Johnson, although it wouldn’t have been as successful as it was without Johnson’s running mate, Michael Cooper.  The origin of The Traveling Wilburys began with George Harrison and Jeff Lynne who were working on their own side project; from there the drafted Orbison, Dylan, and Petty, but those two were the binary star of which everyone else revolved around.  Although he didn’t write their most famous songs, or sing all that often, Lynne was most influential as not only their founder, but as main producer.  He was responsible with blending the sounds together, and more importantly, preventing the music from becoming to folky.  Both guys were the unsung heroes, key cogs who did the dirty work to ensure the success of their band/team.  Cooper and Lynne, two of the best glue guys around.

Tom Petty/Kurt Rambis

petty rambis

When you look at who they were surrounded by, both Tom Petty and Kurt Rambis seem like the most useless member.  They seem like the “What-the-fuck-are-they-doing-here” guy, the “Who-doesn’t-belong” character who was just brought along because they were someone’s friend.  Despite the fact that both literally came out of nowhere, Rambis played in Greece for no reason, and Petty only joined the band because George Harrison forgot his guitar at Petty’s house, they were both key contributors to the group dynamic.  However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Both guys provided an edge, something that no one else could bring to the table.  Petty provided an edge that swayed the songs and the band into more of a pop-rock feel and prevented the band from just being an old man group.  Kurt Rambis gave the Lakers toughness…something that can’t really be said for most mustachioed Greeks with mullets.  But Rambis gave the Lakers interior defense, rebounding, and the invaluable skill of inbounding, the key to the Laker’s fast break.  Without Kurt Rambis, someone who could inbound the ball at the speed of light, the Showtime flight would have a hard time getting off the ground.  By comparison, without Tom Petty, The Traveling Wilburys would have been a bunch of old guys playing heartland folk; they would have been the 2011 Dallas Mavericks, one of the least enjoyable teams of all time.  But thankfully, Petty, like Rambis, provided a much needed boost of energy.  Both occupied the thankless role of hype man, one of the most crucial roles in any group setting.


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