The Los Angeles Lakers have long been one of the glamour franchises, not only in the NBA, but in all of professional sports. For years, many of the best players in the NBA have wanted to wear the legendary purple and gold of the Lakers, and hopefully win championships and have their numbers retired alongside Wilt, Kareem and Jerry West and the others. However, just as with anything that looks too good to be true on the outside, when the outer layer is peeled back, there will emerge the skeletons that exist in the Lakers’ closet.
Many of the greatest players in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers have been embroiled in some scandal or another. Some of these situations were personal in nature, while others have affected team chemistry and on some occasions, have cost the team NBA Championships. Many of the scandals have had short shelf lives, while there are some that have lingered on for a number of years and have negatively affected the involved individuals’ very lives. However, that just means that the Lakers are no better or worse than any other sports franchise, so here are 15 disturbing stories from the Los Angeles Lakers.
15 15. Kobe’s Colorado Sexual Assault Case
Following the 2003 season, which saw the Lakers, coming off of three-straight NBA Championships, lose in the second round of the playoffs, Kobe Bryant needed surgery for his knee. Instead of staying in Southern California, Kobe ventured to the small town of Eagle, Colorado for rest in anticipation of his procedure. Shortly after returning from Eagle, Kobe Bryant was arrested under accusations of sexual assault. The charges were that Kobe had raped an employee of the lodge in which Kobe resided while waiting out his surgical procedure.
Aside from the charges themselves, the Lakers had no idea that Kobe was in Colorado, as they had instructed him to get his treatment in town so that it could be monitored by the team. Kobe alleged that the sex was consensual, and he was apologetic for his indiscretion. The plaintiff received an undisclosed settlement, and Kobe purchased a $4 million diamond ring as his way of apologizing to his wife Vanessa.
14 14. Kobe and Shaq’s Beef Stemming from Kobe in Colorado
When Kobe was arrested by the authorities in Colorado, he was questioned by the Eagle police about the incident. Prior to the interview, the relationship between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal was already strained because Kobe felt that Shaq didn’t get the most out of his talent and should work harder, while Shaq felt that Kobe should be content with his place as Robin to Shaq’s Batman. During the interview, due to comments made by Kobe, the relationship became practically irreparable.
While being interviewed by the authorities regarding the sexual assault charges, Kobe intimated that maybe he should have paid the woman to keep quiet the way that Shaq does with his “mistresses”. Upon hearing this, Shaq was incensed, and was looking for physical retribution. In other words, he wanted to beat the crap out of Kobe. Though the team reached the NBA Finals in the season immediately following the incident, bridges were burned, and the two superstars were no longer able to play together.
13 13. Magic Gets the Coach Fired
In 1979, Paul Westhead succeeded Jack McKinney as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. At the same time, a rookie Magic Johnson joined the team and together, the Lakers won the NBA Title. The following season, with Magic missing much of the season due to injury, the Lakers fell short in the NBA playoffs. At the beginning of the 1981-82 season, Magic and Westhead engaged in a heated debate over the team’s style of play.
Magic felt that the team under Westhead, who would later become a pioneer of the seven-second shot offense, played too slowly. After taking his concerns to owner Jerry Buss, Westhead was fired, and was replaced by Pat Riley. The Lakers went on to win the NBA Championship that season, but Magic was forced to endure negative comments from the media, and boos from fans across the country. His cause was not helped by the fact that he had just signed a 25-year, $25 million contract, which was the largest contract in sports at the time.
12 12. Kermit Washington Breaks Rudy Tomjanovich’s Jaw
During the 1977-78 NBA season, the Lakers found themselves engaged in several altercations with players on other teams. In October, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got into a fight with Kent Benson of the Milwaukee Bucks that saw Kareem break Benson’s jaw and Kareem’s hand with a punch from behind. A few games later, Washington was engaged in a brawl with the Buffalo Braves. Against the Rockets, Washington found himself involved in an altercation that included several players from both teams, but this one changed Washington’s career and life forever.
During the Rockets game, Kareem got involved with a player named Kevin Kunnert. The play between the two men became increasingly physical, and Kunnert hit Washington with an elbow, and that blow launched a brawl between the two teams. With Kareem holding Kunnert, seemingly trying to break up the fight between Kunnert and Washington, Washington hit Kunnert with a punch that sent Kunnert to the floor. After this, seeing Tomjanovich running towards the fray, Washington hit Rudy T with a punch that observers said sounded like “a melon being dropped onto concrete”.
Rudy T’s face and skull were fractured as he lay unconscious on the arena floor in a pool of blood. The bone structure of Rudy’s face was detached from his skull, and he suffered a cerebral concussion, a broken jaw, and a broken nose. He was also leaking blood and spinal fluid into his skull capsule to the point where he said that he could taste spinal fluid leaking into his mouth. Washington was traded shortly after the incident, and both men played for several more years before leaving the game.
11 11. Derek Fisher Dates Matt Barnes' Ex-Wife
The old adage of bros before hoes seemingly does not apply to former teammates. Derek Fisher and Matt Barnes were teammates on the Lakers for a season, and according to Barnes, Fisher and he were good friends. However, when Fisher started dating Barnes’ ex-wife, the friendship and the old adage were all thrown out of the window, and all it took was a call from a six-year-old boy to start the fireworks.
One of Barnes’ twin sons called Barnes to tell him that Fisher was at Matt’s ex-wife’s house romancing the former Mrs. Barnes. Matt drove 95 miles from Northern California to Southern California to confront his former teammate. A fight broke out between the two NBA stars, and after fighting with Fisher, Barnes spit in the face of his ex-wife on his way out of the house. According to reports, Barnes was most upset because his wife was seeing an ex-teammate, because that was a true violation of the “bro code”.
10 10. James Worthy is Arrested for Solicitation
James Worthy came to the NBA after winning the NCAA Championship, and quickly became one of the top players in the league. However, as with many other celebrities, a nice guy in public can have a sketchy private life. James Worthy’s private life was discovered in 1990 when he was arrested for solicitation of prostitution. Fortunately, it never affected his professional life, as the arrest did not interfere with his play with the Lakers.
Worthy was arrested on the afternoon before a night game for solicitation of prostitution. Worthy had contacted an escort service, and was visited by undercover officers, who arrested the NBA All-Star in his hotel room. Worthy made bail, and was released in time to join his team on the court. James Worthy scored 24 points that night and served no jail time, so seemingly, everything worked out for “Big Game” James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
9 9. D’Angelo Russell Rats Out Swaggy P
Nick Young was the veteran teammate who was supposed to be mentoring the much younger D’Angelo Russell. Young was supposed to be showing Russell how to survive and thrive in the NBA atmosphere. However, Young should have been teaching Russell how to respect the bond of teammates, and the adage of what goes on in the locker room is supposed to stay in the locker room. What was supposed to be a private conversation between teammates ended up costing Nick Young his celebrity girlfriend, and cost Russell the trust of his teammates.
Nick Young was talking to Russell about his private life, but he did not know that Russell was recording the conversation. The recording of the “private” conversation was “accidentally” made public, and Young’s girlfriend Iggy Azalea heard it. Azalea promptly dumped Young, and Young promptly discovered that he could not trust his young teammate D’Angelo Russell. By the time the season was over, Russell’s leadership was questioned, and he was traded away from the Lakers with people wondering about his maturity.
8 8. Phil Jackson Thinks Kobe is “Uncoachable”
Following the 2004 NBA season, the Lakers had just lost in the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons, and once the finals were over, the Lakers seemed to implode. There were rumors that Kobe had given a “him or me” ultimatum to Jerry Buss regarding Shaq, and Shaq was supposedly demanding to be the highest paid player in the league. Ultimately, the team torn apart; Shaq was traded to Miami, Fisher left for Golden State, and Phil Jackson left the team and took a break from coaching.
During his time away from the Lakers, Phil Jackson wrote a book in which he referred to Kobe Bryant as “uncoachable”. In the book, Jackson wrote that he was not a fan of Kobe’s character, particularly Kobe’s insistence that he no longer wished to be Shaq’s “sidekick”. Jackson also mentioned in the book that he disagreed with the team choosing Kobe over Shaq, and many of these issues led to Jackson leaving the Lakers, though he returned to the team two seasons later.
7 7. Nick Van Exel Shoves Referee
Nick Van Exel was a fiery player who had great intensity and confidence. In the period between Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, Nick was the Laker who made most of the last-second, game-winning shots, and he shined brightest in pressure situations. Unfortunately, Nick’s fiery temperament sometimes got him into trouble, especially when he got into a shoving match with referee Ron Garretson during a game.
After being called for a technical foul, Van Exel continued to argue the call, even calling Garretson a “little midget”. Once he got the second tech, Van Exel started to leave the court, only to return and shove the referee into the scorer’s table. Van Exel had to be restrained by his teammates and taken back to the locker room. Nick was suspended for seven games, and was fined $25K. Van Exel publicly apologized for his actions, but he would not apologize to referee Ron Garretson.
6 6. Nick Young and Jordan Clarkson Accused of Sexual Harassment
Another episode of Nick Young’s mentorship gone awry occurred when Nick Young and Jordan Clarkson got accused of sexual harassment. The story goes that a woman and her mother were leaving a restaurant in Los Angeles when a car that was carrying some men pulled up beside the women and began directing “vulgar, sexual gestures” at the women. One of the women took a picture of the men with her phone, and two of the men in the car were identified as Young and Clarkson.
The irony of the situation was that the younger of the two women was a woman who began a program that deals with the sexual abuse of women from athletes. The woman routinely speaks to college athletes about the respectful treatment of females, and ironically, was herself the victim of verbal sexual abuse by athletes. The Lakers apologized to the woman and thoroughly investigated the incident.
5 5. Lamar Odon’s Life Spirals Out of Control
After the Lakers were eliminated from the 2011 NBA playoffs, ending the team’s streak of consecutive championships at two, the Lakers decided to revamp the roster. One of the moves that were made was to package Lamar Odom in a three team deal that would have sent Odom to the New Orleans Hornets, and would have brought Chris Paul to the Lakers. When the trade was disallowed, Odom expressed his displeasure in possibly being traded, wanting to end his career in Los Angeles. Because the discontent reflected in his play, Odom was traded two months into the season to Dallas.
Odom’s play and commitment suffered, and he was released by the Mavs after the season. He played for a couple of other teams before his career ended, but his problems were only beginning. Once his NBA career was over, Odom suffered from drug problems, and saw his highly public marriage to Khloé Kardashian implode in front of the entire world. Hopefully, Odom can put his life back together. .
4 4. Kobe’s Beef with Karl Malone
The beef between Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant was allegedly started due to a seemingly innocent comment on the part of Malone, and an overreaction on the part of Kobe’s wife Vanessa Bryant. According to Malone’s recollection of the event, he was asked in passing “What are you hunting for cowboy?” by Vanessa, to which he replied “little Mexican girls”. Supposedly, that was the extent of the issue, but, according to reports, the situation was far worse that originally reported.
Information that later surfaced seemed to indicate that Malone had been flirting with Vanessa continuously, and his action at a Laker game when the two were sitting together, was the final straw. Word is that Kobe was incensed when he heard this from Vanessa, but Karl denied the allegations. Malone did apologize, stating that if he had said anything that offended Vanessa, that he was sorry, but the relationship between the two basketball legends was irreparably destroyed.
3 3. Phil Jackson Passed Over for Mike D’Antoni
Following the 2010-11 NBA season, Phil Jackson followed through with his intention of retiring from coaching in the NBA. The Lakers selected Mike Brown to be the new coach of the team, but midway through his second season at the helm, Brown was fired. During the search for a new coach, Phil Jackson was interviewed, with the possibility of him returning to coach the team. However, before he could make a decision, the rug was pulled out from under him in a highly political move.
When he was asked to return to the team, Jackson asked for two days in order to make a decision. However, while he was making up his mind, the Lakers interviewed and hired Mike D’Antoni to be the team’s new coach. Supposedly, management wanted a faster-paced offense than what would be offered with Jackson and his triangle offense, and voted unanimously to hire D’Antoni. D’Antoni only lasted two seasons with the team, and he would be the last coach to lead the Lakers to the playoffs, and he was the coach for the team’s last winning season to date.
2 2. Kobe’s Alleged Beef with Pau Gasol
In another situation involving Kobe, his wife and a teammate, an issue between the Bryants, Pau Gasol and Gasol’s then-girlfriend seemed to fracture the team’s chemistry, and might have also been the reason for the team’s failure in the 2011 NBA Playoffs. Supposedly, the reason for Pau’s poor play at the end of that season was because he had broken up with his girlfriend. While the breakup itself was not the cause of Pau’s problems, the story behind the breakup might have been the contributing factor.
The story was that Vanessa Bryant had discussed with Pau’s girlfriend the fact that Pau might have been unfaithful. This news was supposedly the impetus for the girlfriend ending the relationship with Pau. Pau was said to be angry with Kobe and his wife, and the team’s chemistry was visibly damaged. The team was swept by the Mavericks, and Gasol was included in the vetoed trade for Chris Paul in the offseason.
1 1. Magic Johnson’s HIV Announcement
Everyone knows the story about Magic Johnson’s HIV announcement. Magic Johnson, prior to the 1991-92 NBA season, announced that he was leaving basketball because he had contracted HIV. Magic was voted into the All-Star game, and won the MVP award, but essentially, his professional career was over. However, what few knew was that Magic’s sexual exploits that led to his contracting the disease were far beyond what people would have expected from the face of the NBA.
In interviews following the announcement, it was learned that Magic had engaged in sex with a large number of women during his Laker career. He discussed sexing women on their desks in their offices, in elevators, and in a variety of other ways. He mentioned being with as many as six at a time in an effort to fulfill the fantasies of the women. There were rumors of wild parties involving Magic and other Laker players, as well as Johnson partying with owner Jerry Buss at the Playboy mansion. In short, Magic’s sex life became as much of a scandal as his suffering from HIV.
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