Editor’s Note: For as long as the NBA season is stopped, we’ll be taking a near-daily look back at players from Lakers history that we can’t stop thinking about. Today, we remember Mark Madsen.
When most people think of Mark Madsen, there is only one image that comes to mind: The awkward-looking, arrhythmically gyrating white guy in an oversized t-shirt dancing at the Lakers’ second two championship parades of the threepeat era.
Those clips went viral before things went viral, and Madsen was a good sport, giving the people what they want at both celebrations that he was a part of. Everything started when the cameras focused in on the then-rookie during the Lakers’ 2001 championship parade as Shaq began rapping onstage.
Some guys would have been embarrassed by that attention, but not Madsen, the affable sort who seemed to understand that there was so much joy and lightheartedness coming through in those dances that people were laughing with him, not at him. I mean, just look at how much Kobe is loving it when Madsen just goes for it again as the Lakers’ celebrated their three-peat in 2002:
Parade dancer was a fitting role for Madsen in those celebrations, as he wasn’t much more than a human victory cigar for those teams, playing 3.7 and 1.4 minutes per game in the postseason during those two title runs, respectively. As kind-of-dorky and, shall we say, lighter-complexioned fan favorites go, he was a bit closer to Brian Scalabrine than Alex Caruso.
Still, Madsen was a beloved part of those rosters, and not just for the way he kept a smile on everyone’s face. The relentless energy and physicality he played with earned him the nickname “Mad Dog” in high school, and that was a style that continued in the NBA — which led to him averaging six fouls per 36 minutes during his first two seasons in the league — and helped him earn fans both inside the locker room and in the stands. Say what you will about his effectiveness, but Madsen didn’t back down from anyone. Including, as it happens, Shaq.
Most people’s biggest memory of the Shaquille O’Neal/Mark Madsen relationship — aside from their rap/dance team-ups at title parades — is likely the story that O’Neal saw that Mark Madsen was driving a “beat-up, Toyota Minivan” as a rookie and told him he was absolutely not driving that to Staples Center in that, taking him straight to a car dealership, walking right back to the manager’s office and buying him a new truck.
Shaq told Fox Sports host Kristin Leahy in 2018 that he did this because Madsen was “the purest guy I ever met in the NBA” and that he respected the strengths of Madsen’s religious convictions — Madsen is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — adding that he “felt it was my duty to protect him” from the parts of NBA life Madsen was lest interested in.
“I was the one who said, ‘Nah. Mark ain’t doin’ that,” O’Neal said. “Mark is not doing that at all. Stay away from him, don’t invite him out, don’t bring certain people around him. Don’t do any of that, ‘cause he told me, ‘Shaq I don’t do that. I don’t do any of that.’ It was awesome to hear. I had never heard anything like that before.”
It helped lead the two into an improbable and hilarious bromance. In a post on his personal blog, Madsen listed off his favorite memories of Shaq, which included — and this is all true — wrestling with him pregame in the locker room, debating the Pythagorean Theorem and Shaq (apparently) asking just about every woman he came into contact with if they were mormon so that he could try to set them up with Madsen.
And that was just on the first page.
But alas, all good things must come to an end, and so did the Mad Dog era in Los Angeles. There would be no third parade for Madsen to dance at, as in his third year he earned a bigger role — playing 14.1 minutes per game in the playoffs and starting 22 regular season games — but the Lakers lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals. Madsen was a free agent after that, and signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he played the next six seasons before being traded to the LA Clippers and then retiring in 2010.
But Madsen’s Lakers journey wasn’t over. He spent some time as an assistant coach at Stanford — his alma mater — before rejoining the Lakers as the head coach of their then D-League team, the D-Fenders (now the South Bay Lakers). Just a month later, he was promoted to a full-time assistant on the parent team under Mike D’Antoni. After D’Antoni’s ouster he worked under both Byron Scott and Luke Walton.
Forget talent. Do you understand how well-liked and easy to get along with an assistant has to be to make it through two coaching changes and work under three head coaches in the same organization? But that was just Mad Dog. There just doesn’t seem to be anyone who doesn’t like him.
Madsen was so universally beloved in the organization, in fact, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see him survive another changeover to serve on Frank Vogel’s staff this year if he hadn’t left of his own volition. But Madsen had long said his goal was to be a head coach one day, and he saw that dream realized this offseason, leaving the Lakers to take over the Utah Valley University program in his home state, dancing off into the sunset.
But Lakers fans will always have the memories of the fun the young Madsen brought to an era that is mostly remembered for dramatic tension and conflict amidst nearly unprecedented success. For giving us all a little levity and making it look like exactly as much fun to win two titles as we all think it would be, Mad Dog will always be a Laker worth appreciating.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.