NBA Playoffs Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

Fugazi - Red Medicine (1995)

It’s 12:20 a.m. on March 11th and Kobe Bryant is practicing his jumpshot. The fact that he’s practicing it on the floor of American Airlines Arena surrounded by media is neither here nor there. The Lakers just had their eight game post-All-Star break winning streak snapped by a Heat team that were in a five game slump. And Kobe’s poor shooting was partly to blame. So here he is, jaw jutting out, working the floor like an autistic kid pacing in the throes of a spell.

I don’t wanna be defeated.
I don’t wanna be defeated.

It’s 1980 and Henry Rollins just hired Ian Mackaye to work at the Haagen-Dazs in Georgetown that he manages. He’s 18 years old, and working in an ice cream shop isn’t his only after school activity. He also plays in bands around town. And he recently left his band The Teen Idles to start a new band, one where he gets to be the lead singer, called Minor Threat. He doesn’t realize it yet, but he will one day hate ice cream, and he will soon make an impact on the world of music that will change the game forever.

Kobe Bryant started young, too. He went to the NBA straight out of high school, the first guard to ever do so. And he made an immediate impact. But it wasn’t until Phil Jackson took the reigns of the Lakers and introduced them to the triangle offense that Kobe Bryant was able to really change the game.

The triangle offense is like chess, the fundamentals are simple but mastering it is exceedingly difficult. The beauty of the triangle is that it gives each player handling the ball several options. They then react to the defense to decide. It’s an offense that, when used most effectively, utilizes everyone on the floor and allows teams to keep moving the ball until they find the best possible shot. It is antithetical to the kind of isolation offensive schemes that teams used to put the ball in the hands of their best scorers. It assumes that everyone can score given the best shot.

Without the triangle who knows what all Kobe could have accomplished? He had yet to win a championship before Phil Jackson arrived in L.A., but he was an All-Star, he was playing with other All-Stars like Shaquille O’Neal, and the Lakers were looking like they were on the way back. But it was clear that the triangle provided Kobe precisely what his game lacked: trust in his teammates and the ability to make plays off the ball. There was a mystical quality to Phil Jackson, burining incense in the locker room and leading tai chi sessions before shootarounds. Its only fitting that he chose the most mystical of offensive schemes as his wheelhouse. The team is a single entity unto itself. There are no individuals. Everyone is a part of every play. Feel your teammates. Feel the defense. The triangle was dynamic and chaotic at the same time. There were no set plays but the players all knew instinctively what to do. And what they did was win.

Ian Mackaye started Minor Threat so he could have the microphone. He was tired of playing bass. He wanted the spotlight. And when he had it he didn’t disappoint. Minor Threat was in your face, they were intense, they were angry, and they drew a following like no other hardcore band before them. And any honest accounting would have to give Ian the credit. The music, the attitude, the message, the entire thing was an extension of Ian’s personality. But after Minor Threat broke up, Ian floated around looking for a new project. Then he met Rites of Spring’s Guy Picciotto. Fugazi was born.

Fugazi wasn’t anything like Minor Threat. The music was more complex, the influences were more diverse, the lyrics were more abstract, but most importantly, the band was more than just an extension of Ian’s personality. His influence on the band was undeniable and was key to the music they made, but it wasn’t overbearing. It was complemented by the other members, especially Guy, who brought a sensibility to the music that was almost a perfect yin to Ian’s yang. The signature to Fugazi’s musical style was the interplay between Guy and Ian both through their guitar work and in their lyrics. Often they would play dissonant rhythms that, if you took them on their own you may never think would work together, but when they played it seemed perfect. And Guy would complement Ian’s churlish vocals with his own high-pitched hollerings. The result was a sound that, like chess, was fundamentally simple but exceedingly complex in its execution.

I’m sick with this.
Situation avoided?
Or just missed?

Kobe took a lot of heat for his post-game shootaround after the March 10th loss to the Heat. Critics were quick to point out that the arena had its own private practice facility that he could have worked out in. He was accused of mugging for the media, trying to stay the center of attention after the loss. He was accused of being a baby, a sore loser. But there’s a bit of a mystical quality that follows these world champion Los Angeles Lakers. And this shootaround felt like a harbringer of things to come. It felt like it might be more than just a tantrum or a stunt.

The Lakers gave up on the triangle eventually. And its no coincidence that their abandonment of the triangle in favor of the high pick and roll really picked up in 2004 as they went into a rebuilding phase. They didn’t give it up entirely, just sort of went back and forth between attempting the triangle, playing some bastardization of the triangle that involved getting the ball to Shaq then Shaq dishing it out when he got double-teamed, and just looking for the high pick and roll whenever they were in a pinch. The perfect syncopation of dynamism and chaos gave way to just simple chaos. And the Lakers stopped winning.

Enter Pau Gasol. Tall and lanky, a big guy but considered brainier than brawny, Pau would become the Guy Picciotto that would allow Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to get their syncopation back. His fit with the triangle was obvious. A great passer, he often led the team in assists while running the triangle. He exposed Lamar Odom’s limitations as a triangle big man: Odom didn’t pass enough and when he did he didn’t pass well. Gasol could score, but he could also create scoring opportunities for his teammates by reading the defense and playing well off the ball. The triangle was back, and the Lakers were the only team in the NBA who could play it. No one could imitate them. All they could do was adjust their defenses accordingly. L.A. went on to appear in three straight finals, winning two championships back to back.

It's August 7th, 1993, and Fugazi is playing a show down the hill from the Washington Monument on the National Mall. There are probably a thousand kids there. Fugazi is at their high water mark with the release of In on the Kill Taker, a record that challenges any simple definition for their music, but is powerful and beautiful all the same. Making music like this has a wonderful quality of being impossible to imitate yet easy to inspire. Countless bands in the 1990s, a period whose music was defined by cheesy grunge bands with countless cheap imitations, were inspired by Fugazi’s willingness and ability to do something different. But very few were able to do it the same way, which is Fugazi’s true gift beyond their music itself. Changing the game, challenging musicians to be creative, to not just copy whatever record companies were throwing at them. Fugazi, in being the greatest band of all time, was upping everyone else’s game.

This is the point.
This is the manifest.
Reason for the gathering?

Kobe Bryant and the world champion Los Angeles Lakers went on from that March 10th loss to the Heat (and Kobe’s late night jinxbuster shootaround) to win their next 9 straight games. It’s Phil Jackson’s last season with the team. Kobe has promised him a 12th championship on his way out. Right now they are in a three-game losing skid. There are new, young, exciting teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Chicago Bulls who are knocking on the door. And there are the aforementioned Miami Heat, not to mention the Boston Celtics, who want a chance to expose the Lakers as has-beens. They seem pretty sure they have the Lakers figured out, and that they can take the crown.

In 1995, Fugazi followed up In on the Kill Taker with Red Medicine. True to form, it was a completely unique sound, an experiment that defied definition. While fans of Fugazi will debate until they are blue in the face over which is their best album and why, everyone sees Red Medicine as a tipping point for the band. There are two Fugazis, the band before Red Medicine and the band after. One thing is true: the record challenged their fans. You are either with us or against us. There will never be another Repeater. Shaq isn’t coming back. You can shout "Waiting Room" at our shows, we aren’t going to play it. You can show up during halftime and fuck with your Blackberry the entire game, we aren’t playing for you anyway.

Whoever wins the 2011 NBA championship will have to get through the Los Angeles Lakers first, be it literally or spiritually. Because one thing is for sure, they have changed the game. And in doing so, they upped everyone else’s.

I don’t wanna be defeated.
I don’t wanna be defeated.
I don’t wanna be defeated.
I don’t wanna be defeated.

David Hill is a writer in Brooklyn, NY. He hates the Lakers but he loves Fugazi. Follow him on twitter here.

The rest of Negative Dunkalectics' band-inspired NBA playoff previews can be found at the following links:


Kirk Krack said...

is one of the major options in the triangle to jack an off-balance, contested 25 footer? because if so kobe has it MASTERED

Kirk Krack said...

also, not to dwell, but I don't like how EMBRACE got overlooked in this post.

Anonymous said...

Kirk ur a retard.

Anonymous said...

This post has basically vindicated my life. Bed for the Scraping is absolutely Kobe's anthem, and I could totally see Pau rocking out to most any song off End Hits.

What I really want, though, as a Laker fan, is to see this team make their The Argument -- to go ahead and make pop-song basketball on their way, completely on their own terms, and to do it better than anyone else has done it before or since.

PS: Please check out my shitty band, the preachings of an anarchist, the government can't own me if I don't believe that it exists

Kirk Krack said...

Minimum 8 peat

Ryan said...

I'm better for this.

I just don't know why.

mindmelt said...

Very interesting Analogy - not a Fugazi Fan but I love BLUEPRINT (not really a Kobe fan, but always rooted for the Purple & Gold since 1980)

Anonymous said...

Is a six-peat enough? Doesn't that pale in comparison to Lebron's hypothetical 18-peat?

keri. said...

I absolutely hate the Lakers but this is such a beloved album from my teenage years; in retrospect, there are similarities between the two that can't be denied. it doesn't hurt that this is phenomenal writing! really, dudes, you did so well with this series.

injured said...

Thank you for sharing the nice post with useful information.

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