For those of us who grew up rooting for the Lakers, it’s probably impossible to imagine cheering for any other team as children. It might be surprising, then, to learn that there are actually very few books about the team written with kids in mind.
Lifelong Lakers fan Lynn Markham and his wife and co-author, Cerise Markham, wanted to change that. With Cerise doing the art and Lynn doing the research and writing, “Laker Tails: The Ultimate Bedtime Fanthology” — their debut book — was born.
Lynn first reached out to me and introduced himself to tell me that he and Cerise were writing this book several years ago, and now that it’s finally been published, I am excited to say that the 88-page story of the animal alter-egos of Stu Lantz and Chick Hearn traveling through time to visit key moments in the history of the greatest Lakers ever (who also have animal avatars) is as silly, fun and packed with information to help your kid learn about the history of this team as any parent would hope for from a good bedtime story.
Below is an email Q and A between Lynn and myself that will hopefully answer any questions you have about “Laker Tails.” It has been lightly edited for clarity.
All right, so give me an elevator pitch for this book. Why should Lakers fans buy it for their kids?
This book is a fun Lakers 101 for kids. We did the research and the detailed work so you can click a few buttons and have the ultimate kid-friendly Laker history book in your bedtime reading hands. It’s a perfect Lakers-related Christmas or birthday present for kids to learn about all the Laker greats from Kobe to Shaq, Magic to Kareem, Jerry West, LeBron, AD, etc.
The book is set up like “Zootopia,” with all the characters and players as animals to make it as silly and digestible for kids as possible, all while teaching growth mindset using true stories from when the Laker greats were kids overcoming challenges! The book also has time machines, pizza, ninjas, dinosaurs, pirates, and a ridiculous amount of Laker fan Easter eggs and animal puns. Fun for nine-year-olds to read, with enough silly illustrations for 2 year olds to look at.
What made you specifically want to put this together? Why was it important to you?
Our own kids. We wanted to make it for our own kids digitally to enjoy, and then we ultimately decided to turn it up a few notches to print it to help other kids. Two driving forces:
(1) Our oldest son is a crazy Laker fan and has worked his whole life to overcome health challenges. By age 5 he was sick of going to physical therapy after going multiple times a week since he was a baby. I started researching stories from the Laker greats as kids to inspire him, and quickly realized that every single great Laker had a compelling story from childhood of overcoming some kind of challenge relatable to most kids. We wanted our kids and other kids to learn about these inspiring stories.
(2) Kobe & MJ.
I’m a diehard Laker fan, but my kids loved Michael Jordan because of Space Jam. This was not okay. MJ ripped my heart out when I was 6 during the 1991 NBA Finals.
When my kids were chanting “KOBE” during his final 60-point game, I went online to buy a Laker book for my kids. Nothing. Zero Laker content for kids. I decided on April 13, 2016 that I was going to make the first ever Laker children’s book at some point.
What makes you qualified to write a definitive Lakers history for kids?
I’m a third-generation, die-hard Laker fan. My grandpa had Laker season tickets in the 1960s watching Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. My dad Melvin Markham (aka “Money Mel”) is a crazy fan who would show up to visit my mom’s family in Idaho (all diehard Celtic fans) with Laker gear from head to toe in the 1980s. He’s more savage than Randy Savage. My oldest son at age 7 refused to smile in a picture with Jabari Parker since Jabari wasn’t a Laker. He talks to everyone who will listen about the Lakers.
I’m a pretty crazy fan also. I’ve told an owner of a different NBA team “Go Lakers” to his face. I waved Steve Nash down in Downtown LA on March 21, 2011 to tell him “Go Lakers” to his face the day before a Suns-Laker game. Lakers won in triple OT the next day, but my brother blamed the triple OT on me.
Right after (Cerise and I) got married I spent $500 to buy 30 nosebleed Lakers-Jazz tickets for “The Laker Nation Fan Club” I was the founder and president of as a student at BYU. We only had $650 in the bank at the time since we were poor, working students who had just spent all of our money on wedding stuff and honeymoon. My wife was naturally worried I wouldn’t be able to sell the tickets to the Laker fans to get our (much needed) money back. I told her to trust me and other Laker fans. I sold all 30 tickets at cost in less than 24 hours. My wife never doubted Laker fans again.
What kind of comments and feedback did you get while making it?
The Lakers were dead last in the West, and the Warriors were first when we started making this. Everyone at the time was telling us to make a Warriors book instead so we could make a lot more money. Nope. We weren’t making the book for money. It was really for Laker pride and for Lakers fans during such a hard time as a fan. And when the book was finally printed, the Lakers were in first and the Warriors were in last.
Our first son is obsessed with all things Lakers and sports, but our second son cares more about animals and skateboarding. So I created the book with Lakers as animals to cover all interests. And it worked! Haha. They were stoked. Plus, it was more fun to make since it required a lot more creativity and it made our kids more curious about seeing the players in real life. “DAD! Can we google pictures of real life Kareem?? And Elgin Baylor??” Never thought I’d hear little kids request that.
What was the thought process for coming up with which Laker was which animal?
Kobe was obviously going to be a mamba, even though basketball logistics are complicated for a snake. He had to have arms which is a tad bizarre, but also kinda funny so we rolled with it and we even joked in the book, “If snake Kobe wants arms, snake Kobe is getting arms.”
LeBron... Lion. King James. Easy.
From there it was kind of a combination of the sound of their name and how we could draw them as an animal. We wanted to do “SHARKille O’Neal,” but having a shark dunking was even more complicated than a snake. We also wanted him doing Kung Fu on a different page to both celebrate and poke fun at Shaq’s old video game and his glorious obsession with martial arts. We made him a yak since it rhymed with Shaq and we could easily draw a yak dunking and stuff. Then the Shaq nickname puns started rolling.... Shaq Diesel = Yaq Diesel, Man of Steel = Mane of Steel (yaks have gnarly manes), Big Aristotle = Big Hairystotle (yaks are hairy). You get the idea.
We’re somewhat socially aware people who recognize how ridiculous all of this is and that made doing this a lot of fun. My wife and I would just look at some of the drawings and get a good laugh about the absurdity of us making this book.
I showed a drawing of Camel Abdul-Jabbar to a Laker fan Lyft driver early on, and the guy loved it and was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe. Some people may not get it and that’s totally cool, but we made the ultimate Laker book for people like that Lyft driver to enjoy with his kids.
How did you pick Chick Hearn and Stu Lantz to be the characters taking people through this story?
I freaking love Chick Hearn. He was like my Lakers grandpa. I sincerely miss him. I’m 35 so I grew up listening to Chick Hearn during every game in the 90s and early 2000s. Chick Hearn will forever be my guy.
I couldn’t make a Laker children’s book without Chick Hearn and Stu Lantz. Love and respect the heck out of those guys. So I completely changed the plot to have them traveling in time (like Bill & Ted’s) in a refrigerator time machine (reference to Chick’s classic “putting the game in the refrigerator” line) to include them both. Rest In Peace, Chick!
Can I safely brag to people that I am one of the background giraffes?
Yes. Very safely. You are every giraffe in this book.
What else should people know about this book before they buy it?
The book is silly, but there is a lot of subtle detail in it that even hardcore fans may miss. The house in Magic Johnson’s childhood scene is what his actual house at 814 Middle Street in Lansing, Michigan looked like. Like exactly. The jerseys and even the ad patches on the jerseys on Kobe‘s childhood wall are what his dad’s Italian jerseys actually looked like. The bus in the LeBron scene is what the Akron buses actually looked like in 1995.
Keep in mind I had two hours to kill everyday during my round-trip, standing-only commute on the train while living in the Bay Area haha. Everyone else was watching downloaded Netflix content on the train while I was standing doing research, or using my 5th grade art skills to sketch on my iPad how the scenes and animals could look, with the hope these stories could inspire some kids. Then my wife would use her amazing art skills and worked hard to perfect all the scenes. We wanted our book to be really silly, but also really legit. Hope you enjoy it!