Hubbard: Of Cowboys, Lakers and Jerry Buss

Ultimately, it became evident to the Lakers that Brown had a poor plan and lacked common basketball sense. Those are reasons for dismissal, although there is the larger criticism – he shouldn’t have gotten the job in the first place.

If Lakers history is considered, Brown’s firing makes perfect sense. In 1979, the Lakers started 10-4 but head coach Jack McKinney was seriously injured in a bike accident and could not coach the rest of the season. Assistant Paul Westhead took over and directed the Lakers to the title.

When McKinney recovered, Jerry Buss decided he could not make a change after winning a title, so Westhead was given the permanent job. The Lakers won 54 games, but at the time, a first-round series was only the best-of-3 and they lost in the opening round to Houston, which finished under .500 in the regular season.

The next season, Westhead decided to bring a scholarly approach to the game and installed a new offense that – if this sounds familiar to Steve Nash, it should – at least partially took the ball out of Magic Johnson’s hands. Eleven games into the season, the Lakers were 7-4 and Magic was frustrated. He demanded a trade, and Buss responded by firing Westhead.

Like Brown, however, Westhead had created his own problems. Instead of keeping the offense that had worked so well – like Brown did not do with the triangle – Westhead had to prove his coaching brilliance. And it cost him the job.

After a short period, former player and broadcaster Pat Riley took over, and the Lakers won the 1982 championship. And three more over the next six years.

That’s the history and, no doubt, Jerry and Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak are hoping it will repeat itself. And if it does, sacking Brown will be remembered like the sacking of Westhead, which is to say – not at all.

Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub. For Hubbard’s archive from, click here.


  1. John says

    Great article Jan. I really enjoyed it. And yes, the Lakers are like the Cowboys here in LA. Heck, if they ever brought a football team back to LA I highly doubt they’d surpass the Lakers in ratings. We just love our team so much that we can’t bear to see them losing. I know this may be hard for fans of other teams to understand, specifically lottery teams, but that’s the difference between us. The standards here are so high that it’s hard for us to accept a sub .500 record. It’s like the Patriots in Boston. A 5-3 record over there is like 3-10! But we’re also realists. Right now we realize that we’re not the best team in the West. The Thunder and Spurs are ahead of us in that category, but you best believe we’re catching up. Once everything starts clicking the league will be put on notice!


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