The following is excerpted from Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s, which is available now on Amazon.
If one were in with the Los Angeles Lakers after the 1985 championship season, he or she had an opportunity to party at two of the hottest spots in America.
The mansion belonging to Jerry Buss.
The mansion belonging to Magic Johnson.
The two abodes, located mere miles apart, came complete with swimming pools, hot tubs, bars, home theatres, expansive kitchens, enormous yards and hosts who embraced—in no particular order—women with large breasts, women with long legs, women with gymnast-like flexibility, women in their 20s, and women with a proclivity for sex.
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Buss resided in Pickfair, the Beverly Hills mansion Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks chose as a home after the two cinematic idols married in 1920. It had been the first private property in the Los Angeles area to include a swimming pool. Throughout the 1920s, dinners at Pickfair became the stuff of Hollywood legend. Among those who attended were Amelia Earhart, Charlie Chaplin, Rudolf Valentino and George Bernard Shaw. However, when Fairbanks (who destroyed his marriage by having an affair with Lady Sylvia Ashley) and Pickford divorced in 1936, the magic vanished. Pickford remained in the home but lost herself to alcoholism and depression. She let the place fall into disrepair, and, by the time she died in 1979, Pickfair was a dump.
Buss, however, believed in the power of Hollywood Past. In September 1980, he paid $5,362,500 for the estate, and shortly thereafter brought his daughter, Jeanie, to 1143 Summit Drive in the San Ysidro Canyon for a look-see. "It wasn't good," she said. "I thought we were just visiting, so I took a picture in every room. I didn't know he was about to buy it, but my dad believed in the fantasy. He loved movie stars and entertainment, and to him, Pickfair was perfect."
Before long, Buss transformed the 22-room home into a magnificent ode to classic décor meets 1980s adventurism. His dinner parties were fantastic. His guest list was magnificent. Buss thought of Pickfair as a souped-up Playboy Mansion. "Jerry was a night owl," said John Rockwell, an actor who befriended the Lakers owner. "He spent a lot of time at night in Pickfair, playing poker, drinking rum and cokes. One time I had to drag him from Pickfair to the Forum for a game. He never wanted to leave that place."
"I'm no prince of a guy, but with Jerry and Pickfair it was like, 'Really? You're fifty-something and still dating 20-year-olds?'" said Scott Carmichael, who worked for the Los Angeles Kings at the time. "He had Playmates coming in and out, these 25-year-old bimbo girlfriends coming in and out. He was very into stars and stardom."
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."
If the goings-on at Pickfair were wild, the events hosted by Johnson were orgasmic. The star point guard had lived in one of Buss's apartment complexes until 1984, when he purchased his own 9,000-square-foot Bel Air mansion. Though not quite as awe-inspiring as Pickfair, Johnson's Tudor home had once belonged to the French consulate, and contained (among other things) an indoor racquetball-basketball court, a sauna, a whirlpool, and a disco complete with strobe lights and thousands of records. Alongside the master bedroom was a tiny room with a sunken hot tub and a panoramic view of the canyon his home overlooked. The house also boasted something close to his heart—the greatest stereo system anyone had ever seen. With speakers the size of Cadillacs, the 18 rooms filled with the sounds of Michael Jackson and Earth, Wind & Fire, and Marvin Gaye.
While Johnson didn't host as many shindigs as Buss, the ones that took place were beyond compare. The Lakers point guard neither drank alcohol nor did drugs, but his parties were odes to excess and extravagance. Many Lakers agree the most beautiful women they ever met were encountered at Johnson's. They were models, strippers, actresses, exotic dancers. There was no hotter ticket than an invite to the mansion, but—while Laker players and opponents were almost always allowed—women had to meet certain criteria. First, they had to be gorgeous. Second, they had to be promiscuously dressed. Third, they had to be willing to do . . . things.
Johnson fancied himself not merely an entertainer, but a maestro. "If you ever die and go to heaven, you want heaven to be Magic's house parties," said Frank Brickowski, a future Lakers teammate. "He would have the finest girls in L.A. there. The absolute finest. And at midnight you had to get busy with somebody or you had to get the fuck out. So if you were a guy, at midnight you'd get as close as you could to the hottest possible woman. Magic went around in this freaky voyeuristic way. He'd check on you. He'd go throughout the house, the pool. He'd order people to start doing things. All you had to be was near a chick. There were guys who would yell, 'Magic, she's not getting busy! She's not!' He'd run over and she'd get busy. Celebrity is seductive in L.A. Girls have this desperation about them, like moths to a flame. It's sad. But when you're young and single, fame matters."
Just because one was a Laker didn't mean sexual conquests always came easily. Yet Johnson wasn't merely the most eligible bachelor in Los Angeles—he was the most eligible bachelor in California. He once wrote of his rendezvous: "Some were secretaries. Some were lawyers. Quite a few were actresses or models. Others were teachers, editors, accountants, or entrepreneurs. There were bimbos, too, but not that many. Most of these women were college-educated professionals. Some were black, some were white, some were Hispanic, or Asian. Some of these women were very open about what they were doing, and some were more discreet. A few would even brag about all the players they had slept with. For others, this was all a part of a very secret life.
"Most of them were in their mid-20s. Every now and then you'd come across a teenager, but if you were smart you stayed away from her. These kids were simply too young—not only legally, but emotionally, too."
This was the Sodom and Gomorrah-esque world that greeted A. C. Green.
He was the Lakers' latest first-round pick, a 21-year-old power forward out of Oregon State whose drive and hustle made him, on paper, a perfect fit for a team that specialized in all-out effort. Having wasted his previous top selection on Earl Jones, Jerry West (not one to forgive himself ) was determined to make sure Los Angeles landed a contributor in the 23 spot. Leading up to June 18, 1985, most of the team's scouts and executives were pushing for Terry Porter, a 6-foot-3 guard out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Porter had averaged 19.7 points and 5.2 rebounds as a senior, and Gene Tormohlen, the Lakers's top scout, insisted he was a potential star. "I just thought he had the chance to become excellent," said Tormohlen. "He would take the pressure off Earvin, sort of like Norman once did. But Jerry was sold on A.C., and when Jerry's sold on someone . . ."
West liked that Green played without an ego. When the Beavers needed him to score, he scored. When they needed him to rebound, he rebounded. There were hundreds of minutes of Oregon State game tapes inside the Forum offices, and not once did Green appear to mope, whine, or talk trash. He was a power forward in the most traditional of models—hammer the boards, block shots, charge ahead, work to the point of exhaustion. "He had no airs about him," said Roger Levasa, an Oregon State football player and close friend. "A.C. wasn't cocky or arrogant or someone who thought being athletic made him special. He just wanted to do well and do the right thing."
There was just one small problem: A. C. Green was a virgin.
A.C. Green, second from left, arrived in the league carrying baggage of all kinds. Photo by George Tiedemann/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images.
By "problem," one means not to imply that avoiding premarital sex is somehow wrong. No, it's just that, on the Lakers, virginity wasn't mocked or ridiculed—it was impossible. From Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar to Michael Cooper and James Worthy, Los Angeles's players came to appreciate the special carnal perk of being a member of basketball's elite team. There was sex to be had, and more sex to be had. There were strip clubs to be visited, prostitutes to call, groupie fantasies to fulfill.
Virginity? Virginity was for priests.
Even before Green reported to the team, players shared among themselves his off-the-court scouting report.
Has the world's moistest Jheri curl.
Knows every page of the Bible by heart.
Has probably never kissed a girl (who wasn't a relative).
In particular, they laughed over an incident that took place his sophomore year at Oregon State, when Green entered the student bookstore and was aghast to see copies of Playboy being sold alongside Time and Sports Illustrated. When the manager refused his request to move the magazines elsewhere, Green led a protest, encouraging students to shop at the nearby Circle K. "Then I went to the Circle K, and they sold the same pornography," he said. "So I protested them, too." Before long, Green and several other Oregon State students generated national attention, and he spoke openly about his decision to remain celibate until marriage. When the Beavers traveled to Arizona State, Green stepped to the free-throw line and was greeted by fans, situated behind the basket, waving posters of bikini-clad girls. "It was funny," Green said. "Really, that was as bad as it got."
Until he arrived in Los Angeles. Upon joining the team, all rookies were required to partake in a training camp ritual known as the Buck a Rome Show—an evening when each newcomer had to sing and perform skits for the veterans, coaches and executives. When Green was called to the front of the room, Johnson shouted out, "Sing your fight song!"
Green didn't know the words to "Hail to Old OSU."
"Well," said Johnson, "give us 'Billie Jean.'"
"Billie what?" said Green.
"'Billie Jean' by Michael Jackson," Johnson replied with disbelief.
"I don't know that one either," Green said, his voice drowned out by cackles.
Johnson ran off a series of singers: Prince. Phil Collins. Aretha Franklin. James Brown. New Edition. Chicago.
"Look, rookie, you're singing," Johnson said. "You have no choice." "Well," said Green, "name a gospel song. . . ."
Finally, James Worthy, the quietest Laker, piped up from the rear. "Sing 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot!' " he said.
"Uh . . ." said Green.
"So I did," said Green. "Not well, but well enough. That broke me through and gave me my first real connection with the team. Not that they went easy on me."
In what had been one of the busier off-seasons in recent team history, West let Jamaal Wilkes and Bob McAdoo depart. Though both men were past their primes, the moves were unpopular with players, and left Green in the uncomfortable role as replacement to legends. Was it his fault? No more so than it had been Byron Scott's when he was traded for Norm Nixon. Yet the Laker mainstays were upset that two trusted hands were gone, and the virgin was here. "They knew I wasn't the normal rookie," Green said. "So they tested me."
The team opened with a two-game Texas road swing at San Antonio and Dallas, and Johnson and company wasted little time. While taking the bus from the San Antonio International Airport to the hotel, the Laker star yelled toward Green, "Rook, we haven't figured you out yet, but we're going to take a bet."
"What sort of bet?" the rookie asked.
"Once you start seeing these girls around the NBA," he said, "you won't be thinking any of that Christian and God stuff."
"Really?" said Green. "You think so?"
Johnson liked the newcomer's confidence. He also laughed at it. The NBA was the land of long legs and quick bangs. Few could resist its charms. "We'll give you two months, and you'll be done," he said. "Two months." Johnson removed the baseball cap from his head and passed it around, urging his teammates to plunk down some money. By the time the hat returned to its owner, Green was staring at nearly $300 in crumpled bills. "You don't get laid once in two months, the money's yours," said Johnson. "But there's no fucking way. . . ."
Less than a month later, the Lakers were in Portland to face the Blazers. Green, who was reared in the city, scored 11 points in 27 minutes of action ("I played lousy," he said), and afterward stood outside the locker room, chatting away with a striking young woman. "I saw all the guys sorta looking over, wondering what was going on," Green recalled. "Finally someone comes over and says, 'Hey, rookie, who is this?'"
Green smiled. "Oh, meet Vanessa," he said. "My sister."
See also: Magic Act: The Making Of Earvin Johnson, AIDS Saint | Risk And Romance Among NBA Groupies: An Embed's Report
Reprinted from Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s by arrangement with Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright Jeff Pearlman, 2014.
Jeff Pearlman is a columnist for SI.com. He has worked as as a columnist for ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, a features writer for Newsday, and—amazingly—as The (Nashville) Tennessean's food and fashion writer. He is the author of two New York Times bestsellers—Boys Will Be Boys, a biography of the 1990s Dallas Cowboys, and The Bad Guys Won, a biography of the 1986 New York Mets. He is also the author of a pair of, ahem, non-New York Times bestsellers, Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Anti-Hero, and The Rocket That Fell to Earth: Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball Immortality.
Image by Jim Cooke. Photo via Getty.