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Praying the Lakers regain a starring role in the NBA playoffs


HBO’s “Winning Time,” with Quincy Isaiah, left, and Solomon Hughes as Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, has caused hurt feelings and bruised pride among the Lakers it depicts.

By Kurt Streeter


Dear God of Sports,

This prayer comes in the name of NBA healing and restoration.


The playoffs are happening now, blessed with tension and talent. What a spectacle. Thank you for the young among us, beginning with Ja Morant and Jordan Poole. Make safe the health of the great, grizzled Noah known as Chris Paul.


The vigor you have again bestowed upon the Boston Celtics is beauty to behold.


But something is missing: the Los Angeles Lakers. Any postseason without the Lakers feels like a breach of a cosmic bond.


For all to be right in the Kingdom of Hoops, the Lakers must be a fixture in the playoff firmament; same as they were in all but five seasons from their birth in the late 1940s until 2014, when Kobe Bryant (may he and his beloved rest easy) began edging toward retirement.


The Lakers are cherished and hated like no other team. They bestow extra attention, vibe and legitimacy upon the postseason. Nothing is the same without them in the mix.


Great Spirit of Sports, the Lakers now wander in the desert. With this season’s epic collapse, they have failed to reach the postseason in seven of the past nine years. Yes, they reached the highest of heights in 2020. But that season’s NBA championship finished inside a pandemic bubble. Two years ago now seems like 20. Today, the journey to that title is a parable few remember. Was it just a dream?


Basketball fans have been forsaken. A generation walks in the wilderness, having never seen a powerful Lakers team challenge Steph Curry and Golden State with everything on the line.


But you never let us down, God of Sports. Amid the playoffs, you have sprinkled reminders of Lakers luster for all to see — at least those of us who subscribe to HBO Max and Apple TV+.


Last week came the unveiling on Apple TV+ of the documentary “They Call Me Magic.”


Please allow for good reviews.


Heal the hearts of the Lakers family, who now live in distress over another recent depiction, the HBO series “Winning Time.” It is classic Hollywood: a glitzy blend of fact, fiction and glammed-up dramatic license that focuses on the team’s 1980s Showtime era. All that off-court excess, all that soap-opera intrigue, along with those five league titles.


That series has caused hurt feelings and bruised pride to consume Lakersland.


Jerry West demanded a retraction and an apology from HBO over the overheated, fictive way he is depicted.


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called the series a deliberately dishonest rendering, “with characters who are stick-figure representations that resemble real people the way Lego Han Solo resembles Harrison Ford.”


Magic Johnson, the show’s centerpiece, the Showtime era’s North Star, said that he had not seen the series and that it did not tell the truth. Confusing, I know.


Lord of Hoops, Great Giver of the 3-Point Shot, far be it from me to tell these basketball legends that their anger is misplaced. But ease their troubles. Remind them that few will watch a series such as “Winning Time” in these discordant days without being in on the joke.


Help them see the irony: The Lakers’ iconic modern image was built, in part, on Hollywood smoke and mirrors. On the cloaking and twisting of reality. Indeed, on magic.


The Lakers of the 1980s were more than just a team that won five championships in a decade. Their uniqueness came not just from those titles but from the power of make-believe — the Forum Club, the Lakers Girls, the age-defying movie stars in every other seat.


Remind aggrieved Lakers of their team’s twists of narrative. Their storied rise in the 1980s was cast as villains to the Celtics and drawn in simple strokes: the cool, Black team standing in the path of the stodgy, white one.


Yes, Boston had Larry Bird and other white stars, but it also had Black Celtics such as Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish and Cedric Maxwell — legends in their own right.


And which team had a Black head coach? The Celtics, led by K.C. Jones for two of their three NBA crowns that decade.


In the longtime telling of this duel, the city of Boston has often been projected as mired in racism. But simple stories, as you well know, sometimes mask the complicated truth. Los Angeles has always had plenty of its own problems with race.


Injustice exists everywhere. Greatness is a rarer thing. The greatness of 17 NBA championships ground the Lakers, even though mythology has always been a part of their story.


Oh, mighty one, in the name of St. Elgin, lessen the burden of former Lakers who feel wronged.


Then turn back to the hardwood.


Restore LeBron James, his creaky knees and 37-year-old back.


Remind him that all good things come in due time — so long as due time starts next season. The entertainment empire he is building in Los Angeles is something to behold. But being a movie mogul and community force flows first from the river of NBA championships.


Consider purgatory for the front office executives who signed Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the other elder Lakers before this season.


When you finish replenishing Hollywood’s team, would you mind granting an even bigger miracle to another basketball calamity?


God of Sports, remember the New York Knicks?

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