Judge Bill Gibron gets his game on, takes it to the rack, and commences to bring the noise all over this historic basketball box set.
The 2003-2004 basketball season was not kind to the Los Angeles Lakers. It began in the off-season, with a trade for Gary Payton and Karl Malone. With the addition of two players seen by coach Phil Jackson as the missing components for an already talent-heavy team, expectations were high. Even former NBA great and current Lakers management member Magic Johnson stated that this was a team built to "not just to make the playoffs, but to win championships."
Then superstar sensation Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault in Colorado. The pressure from that event resulted in a feud between Bryant and celebrity teammate Shaquille O'Neal. The pissing match lasted into the start of the regular schedule, and fueled rumors that neither player liked the other. Indeed, for most of the season, the team was written off as an ill-prepared, unstructured mess, prone to injuries and personal infighting.
Somehow, the Lakers managed to make it to the playoffs and, ultimately, the NBA Finals. Opposing coach Larry Brown and the out-of-nowhere Detroit Pistons laid an embarrassing beat-down on the star-studded franchise, defeating them handily, four games to one. Since that devastating loss, Jackson has left, O'Neal demanded and was granted a trade to the Miami Heat, and, at the very last minute, Bryant re-signed with the Lakers, his rape trial still looming in the future.
With all this turmoil and tabloid tawdriness, it sometimes gets hard to remember why these Hollywood hotshots are such a highly regarded empiric franchise. Thanks to the NBA Dynasty Collection: The Los Angeles Lakers—The Complete History, we can revisit the calmer, more carefree and cheerful days in club mythology.
Presented by Warner Brothers and the NBA on five flip-disc DVDs, we are treated to the following material:
Side 1: "The Lakers Dynasty"
Side 2: "NBA's First Dynasty Overview"
Side 1: "That Magic Season"
Side 2: "Something to Prove"
Side 1: "Return to Glory"
Side 2: "The Drive for Five"
Side 1: "Back to Back"
Side 2: "Dynasty for a New Millennium Overview: 2000 NBA
Side 1: "2001 NBA Championship Season"
Side 2: "2002 NBA Championship Season"
One of the amazing things you learn about the Los Angeles Lakers over the course of this DVD presentation is that they have the distinction of being one of the few professional basketball teams to forge three separate and diverse dynasties throughout the course of their history. The first of these was the Minnesota era. When they were the Minneapolis Lakers (how many current hoops fans knew that fact?), the big man George Mikan (who, in the archival footage shown here, looks like an oversized accountant) led the team to multiple championships in the 1950s. The Lakers also drafted Elgin Baylor in 1958, a player who significantly changed the game of basketball with his influential style of play. Over the course of the '60s and '70s, such luminary players as Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, and, via one of the most famous trades in the history of the league, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, became members of the now LA-based team. With the arrival of rookie sensation Earvin "Magic" Johnson, a new dynasty—called "Showtime"—began. The Lakers dominated the 1980s, earning five championships and, along with an intense rivalry with the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird, forming the basis for the current international popularity of the sport of basketball. Finally, there was the post-millennial Megastar era, with almost every member of the team, from management on down, representing a high profile icon in the league. Ex-Chicago Bulls guru Phil Jackson took over as head coach in 1999 and rebuilt the franchise into a virtual juggernaut. Centered around his superstar pairing of Shaq and Kobe, Phil helped LA repeating the success he had in Chi-town with a three-peat performance in 2000, 2001, and 2002.
For the casual fan or the absolute basketball fanatic, these Dynasty box sets from the NBA and Warner Bros. are remarkably complex time capsules. Given the opportunity to observe how not only teams and playing style, but also broadcast and media components, changed over the years, we witness 50 years of flux in professional sports and its reporting. The archival material on Disc One makes this DVD collection a must-own for anyone with hoop dreams. Watching those highlight reels, complete with the kind of colorful, corny commentary lampooned by comics and films alike, really emphasizes the under-the-radar status of most professional sports—sans the national pastime of baseball, that is—during the post-War years in America. As we move into the '60s and '70s material, you can see the excitement evolution in the sport. Thanks to the influx of numerous talented African American athletes, plus the high-flying fundamentals of the rival ABA league, the NBA discovered a drive-and-dunk formula that finally put fannies in the seats. Watching these fascinating formative years—along with the 1972 Finals Game included here—is a wonderful introduction into old school basketball dynamics. By the time we get into the 1980s legacies, things begin to get overproduced. The melodramatic backing music mandates the emotions, and the film pieces offered bloat and puff up (the featurettes expand immensely from 20 to 25 minutes on Discs One and Two to over an hour each on the rest of the set) to suggest self-defined importance.
Indeed, if there is one flaw in the NBA Dynasty Series: The Los Angeles Lakers—The Complete History, it is that, unless it has something to do with winning it all, crucial information is left out of the DVD dissertation. One of the most powerful presences ever in the history of the team, the wild and wooly Wilt Chamberlain, is almost an afterthought here, since his reign as big man on the Lakers didn't result in several world titles. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, another name synonymous with LA success, is given a nice sky hook mention and plays a significant part in the 1980 championship (if only by his injured absence), but for the most part, he is window dressing for the other dynasty discussion. Perhaps a better title for this offering would be The Los Angeles Lakers—The Story of Their Championships, since the history is so short and selective. Also, the shift around Episode Five (Disc Three) from the short to long format means we are subjected to a lot of filler—gratuitous fodder meant to expand the running time—not our understanding of the particulars and permutations of the team. When dealing with something truly remarkable and unique—read Michael Jordan and the '80s-'90s Bulls—such an expanded running time helps build the suspense and the emotional complexity of each leg of the championship journey.
But on this set, we get far too many individual plays, speculative psychological insights, and monotonous moment-by-moment breakdowns of redundant details. While still a superior set of films regarding the glory of sports, this is not something transcendent like the presentations from NFL Films. The NBA has yet to find a way to bridge the gap between the stressing of statistics and the epic scope of man vs. the athletic elements. NBA Dynasty Series: The Los Angeles Lakers—The Complete History will please people who want to know how LA became the ballyhooed basketball behemoth people recognize over the last 20 years. But some sports fans may find themselves shifting in their Barcaloungers towards the end.
Considering that most of the images come from 50-plus years of visual recording and various technical timeframes, the transfers provided on NBA Dynasty Series: The Los Angeles Lakers—The Complete History look great. There is a warning card before each disc begins, stating that some of the pictures will be less than state of the art, but all ancient science aside, the 1.33:1 full screen specifics have good clarity and decent color correctness. Sound is also suspect some of the time on this set. During the '50s and '60s features, we can hear the harshness of overmodulated mono in all its ear-piercing pain. Still for the most part, the Dolby Digital Stereo sonics capture the roar of the crowd and the curtness of the commentary very well.
There is only one major bonus offered, but it is a major contribution to the value of this disc set. The individual NBA games presented—featuring full contests from '72, '80, '82, '85, '87, '88, '00, '01, and '02—are just amazing. Having the chance to see the competition, as well as the techniques of broadcasting, evolve and modify over the years is as compelling as the competitions themselves.
It's a rare treat to have this many vintage moments and games from one team on DVD, and it's this extra content that helps rebuild some of the magic lost in the overblown overviews offered in this box set. If you love the Lakers in any of their incarnations, or just want a souvenir from the NBA seasons highlighted, NBA Dynasty Series: The Los Angeles Lakers—The Complete History is a magnificent package. But this is really not the full story of the purple and gold giants from the West Coast. There are some very important memories missing from this trip down recollection road.
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