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Interview with Jeff Pearlman, Author of Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s

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Jeff Pearlman grew up in New York, but loved the Lakers. He's now turned that love into a fascinating new book on our favorite team, and their exploits in the 1980's. We caught up with Jeff for a quick Q&A... 

What fact that you uncovered surprised you the most about the Showtime Lakers?
 That, in 1979, Jerry Tarkanian agreed to become the Lakers' coach. Then his agent was murdered and he returned to coach at UNLV.

What do you think is the biggest public misconception about Showtime?
That Magic was all about partying and sex and living the showbiz life. Truth is, the man was a dogged worker who put basketball far before anything else. Yes, he enjoyed the fruits. But he was a Laker.

How did Showtime change the NBA, what is the legacy of the team today?
Easy—look around. Dancing squads, loud music, celebs sitting courtside all over America. That's 100% Showtime. Jerry Buss changed it from a basketball game to an entertainment endeavor.

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How did you get interested in the subject, and what led to writing a book?
I'm a kid of the 1980s who loves nostalgia. The Lakers were the 1980s. The flash. The big names. The excitement. I wanted to dive in. So that's why, and that's how. Both.

Buss hungered for adventure. When Charline Kenney, his longtime assistant, once called at 9 a.m., he groggily replied, "Charline, calling me at 9 is like calling me at 3 a.m." He regularly chartered jets for nights and weekends with his crew in Las Vegas. Every summer, he and Lance Davis, a friend, would visit San Diego, drive across the Mexican border, and hit Tijuana to watch bullfighting. "Then he'd tell me, 'Lance, they drag that bull out back and make it into tacos,'" Davis said. "So we'd eat tacos. He'd laugh at me—'Lance, you're eating the bull! You're eating the bull!'"

Thanks to Pickfair, the good times came to Buss. On a monthly basis, he allowed different charitable foundations to hold fundraisers on the Pickfair lawn. Though the philanthropic Buss was well intentioned, the events often went deep into the night, a cesspool of alcohol and sex and—on occasion—cocaine. "I went to work for Jerry after I was done playing (in 1983), so sometimes I'd go to Pickfair for parties," said Ron Carter, the former Lakers guard. "I learned quickly I couldn't go and hang with him and still make it to the office the next morning. I got married to get away from Jerry. That wasn't a life I could live." - from an excerpt posted on Deadspin.com

 
Was it difficult to get access to the team and the people around them?
No. For many, it's like recalling the fondest days of a college fraternity. If someone asked the former president of Tau Delta Tau to talk about his exploits of 20 years ago, he'd be euphoric to go back in time. Same here.

Who was the most underrated member of the team/organization? Overrated?
Underrated—Norm Nixon. Because he was traded so early for Byron Scott, people tend to forget how insanely talented he was as a guard. Overrated: Can't think of one. The team was one of bits and pieces and parts. Everyone played their roles.

What's your favorite taco spot in L.A.?
Mister Taco on North Avenue in my hometown of New Rochelle, N.Y. (put differently, I don't really have an LA taco joint. I could have lied and Googled something, but that woulda been a tad jerkish)

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You can buy Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s on Amazon.

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