The wattage of Magic Johnson's smile, the grace of James Worthy's forays to the basket and the overall magnificence of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are so great that Superman himself seems insignificant.
The Los Angeles Lakers' goggled forward, Kurt Rambis, aka Clark Kent, doesn't mind. Tucked away in his phone booth near the foul lane, he generally works in isolation.
Some would say that's because when you live and work in Hollywood, as the Lakers do, there's only glitter, with little need for grit. That may have been true during the team's romp through the Western Conference playoffs, but the Boston Celtics, their opponents in the NBA championship series, have shown no proclivity for the glamorous life.
Friday night's 120-111 victory was pivotal for the Lakers, who hold a 3-2 lead in the series going into Sunday's sixth game (WDVM-TV-9 at 1 p.m.). Had they not won, Los Angeles would have had to take both Games 6 and 7, before a hostile crowd in Boston Garden, or lose the series. The gravity of the situation was obvious in the Lakers' locker room before the game. What normally resembles a discotheque seemed like a mausoleum. "That's how it should be every night," Rambis said. "There wasn't any music, no loudness. Everybody knew what we had to do on the court."
During the game, he provided the most inspirational plays. In the first half, after Worthy blocked a shot, Rambis plunged into the stands to retrieve the ball; that led to a basket.
An even bigger play came late in the game. In order to negate Kevin McHale's scoring, the Lakers put Abdul-Jabbar on him, leaving Rambis to deal with Robert Parish. Switching gears flawlessly, Boston began going to 7-foot pivotman Parish. He scored a team-high 26 points, helping cut an 18-point lead to 107-103. The Lakers pushed it to 111-103, but it seemed the Celtics had taken the momentum
Isolated on the right side of the court, Boston worked a two-man game between Dennis Johnson and Parish. Johnson lobbed the ball inside toward Parish, but Rambis, working class grunt, intercepted.
He passed ahead to Magic Johnson, whose dunk gave the Lakers a 10-point lead and control of the game.
"I don't know that the plays were symbolic," Rambis said. "They were probably stupid. We need hustling plays like that from everybody at that stage of the game. If we played like that in the previous game, the series would be over now."
Of course, Rambis, lacking the natural abilities of a Magic Johnson or Worthy, has to play that way every night. His hustle is what earned him a spot on the Lakers roster in 1982 after a thoroughly undistinguished career at Santa Clara.
"Kurt is one fantastic player in my opinion," Boston Coach K.C. Jones said. "He goes for the loose ball, bangs the boards, does the dirty work, plays a total team game. I'm impressed with Rambis as a super player."
There's that word super again, even if Rambis' final statistics included a modest seven points. There were, however, nine rebounds and lots of desire. "I'm just out there to play good aggressive ball," he said. "My main job is to rebound, which is the physical part of the game. That's the way I play. If it turns the team around in the process, great."
Now it's the Celtics' turn to try to execute a turnaround, lest they fail to become the first team in 15 years to repeat as champions. "I'd rather be in their situation than ours," admitted Boston forward Larry Bird. "They only have to win one more game. They can shoot from the hip in the next one."
There was very little shooting from the lip by the Lakers, though. Perhaps no one wished to invoke the ire of the fictional leprechaun that is said to guide Boston's basketball fortunes. Perhaps it's already a foregone conclusion that, just as they did last season, the two teams are destined to fight to a seven-game finish. And Boston has never lost a seventh game of a championship series.