The Los Angeles Lakers are now the most famous NBA franchise and second most valuable, just behind the New York Knicks. For the past several decades, the Lakers games have been associated with the glamour of Hollywood and the term showtime basketball that was coined in the '80s when Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were the prominent leaders of the squad.
Moving from Minneapolis to LA
The Lakers accumulated 17 NBA championships in their rich history, and now as a fan, if you want to go to their games, you better be ready to spend a lot of money if you want decent seats in the arena. According to Jack McCallum and his book "Golden Days", things were much different in the early '60s when the Lakers were trying to bring people into attendance.
The franchise just recently moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, and it took a bit more time for them to get recognition in a city that was developing faster than ever. People were primarily interested in the Dodgers, and the Lakers had to do everything in their power to differentiate themselves and bring the people to the arena. Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and the legendary Chich Hearn had a tough job in front of them to make that happen.
“More instant acceptance was afforded the Dodgers, who were already a nationally known commodity, their minor-league affiliates sprinkled around the country like so much salt in a sport that was still very much our national pastime. It remained for a fast-talking, Illinois-born announcer named Francis Dayle “Chick” Hearn and two franchise players named Baylor and West to bring fans into the pro-hoops fold. Though the Lakers’ arrival predated John Wooden’s string of NCAA championships at UCLA—Wooden’s first was in 1964, West’s fourth season—L.A. basketball in the early sixties meant college basketball. Even Southern Cal hoops resonated more than Lakers hoops.”
Marketing was done differently back in the day
Marketing was done in a totally different way back then and definitely was based more on a personal approach where the players would go among the people to promote the product. The book details a pretty wild marketing strategy that the Lakers implored, and it involved Jerry West driving in a pickup truck across various neighborhoods to sell tickets for the games. That sounds pretty incredible looking at it from today, as it's hard to imagine some of the big names in the league doing something like that now to sell tickets for the games. But back in those days, you really had to earn your paycheck in every possible way.
“In an effort to attract a fan base, the Lakers adopted primitive marketing schemes. West remembers standing in the back of a pickup truck and driving through countless neighborhoods in an effort to sell tickets. “Come see the Lakers play!” West says, imitating a carnival barker. “Can you imagine asking players to do that today? And I was painfully shy. I couldn’t even bring myself to wave from a truck. My Gawd! I felt like I was on display.”
Luckily for the players, the league is now a multi-billion dollar business, and Jerry West was one of its early ambassadors who helped in the early adoption among the fans. NBA players nowadays have the best possible conditions to be successful and really make a decent living for themselves and their families. The Lakers are now the most storied franchise in the league, and back then, West had to do all sorts of crazy marketing activities to get people into the stands.
This story perfectly epitomizes how nothing is built overnight, and it takes years of sacrifice, dedication, hard work, and a bit of luck to bring it to a level that we know right now. A few generations of successful players, coaches, and staff takes to build a multi-million dollar business and a team that is respected and loved globally. The Lakers fans can most certainly thank Jerry West for doing what he did for the Lakers as a player and later as an executive bringing the Lakers to the spotlight in the NBA and creating a team that has tens of millions fans around the world.