Considering how innovative Dr. Jerry Buss was when it came to the presentation of a basketball game — and even the invention of the nickname Showtime — it’s a bit surprising that one of the things the Lakers don’t have, and have never officially had, is a mascot. But even for someone credited with the creation of the Laker Girls and also someone who brought house bands into arenas to liven up the atmosphere, a mascot was never part of the equation for Buss.
Obviously, one of the first questions would be: How do you make a mascot for a Laker when no one knows what a Laker is? But that hasn’t stopped teams in the past. One of the most popular mascots ever is the Suns’ mascot, which is a gorilla. The Pacers, a team named after Indianapolis’ racing tradition, have had a cat as their mascot for over 30 years.
Why, then, did the Lakers never join the rest of the league and introduce a formal mascot? A couple of theories persist on the topic, one being that the celebrities serve as some sort of unofficial mascot for the Lakers. In that sense, maybe Jack Nicholson can be considered the Lakers mascot for the last 30-plus years.
The other theory is that, in lieu of someone dressed up in a wacky costume, Buss created the Laker Girls as the team’s mascot. One of his very first moves as owner of the Lakers was introducing the Laker Girls at home games in The Forum.
The reality is, the Lakers did have a sort of unofficial mascot for a short-lived time, and nearly had an official one as well. Author Jeff Pearlman detailed the short-lived history of Lakers mascots in his book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s,” the basis for HBO’s new “Winning Time” series, and it is actually really wild (emphasis mine):
Buss mostly kept his distance. He wanted the Forum to be cool and hip, and he trusted his employees to deliver. Against his better judgment, he even paid a fan named Barry Richards thirty-five dollars a game to stand along the sideline in a white tuxedo and perform as “Dancing Barry”—a goofy shuffler who grooved during time-outs. There are only two notable moments when Buss put his foot down. The first came when Lon Rosen, working in the promotions department, sent the Laker Girls onto the floor accompanied by a male baton twirler. “If you ever have something like that on again,” Buss said, “it’s going to be your last day.” The second involved Jeanie Buss and Linda Rambis coming up with a plan for “Slam Duck,” the Lakers’ first-ever mascot. “He was an edgy duck with a Mohawk and a piercing,” said Rambis. “We hired a cartoonist to draw him up, and we thought we could send him to schools instead of the players. Dr. Buss looked at it and said, ‘No way. No possible way.’ In hindsight, he was right. But the duck was cute.”
Perhaps part of the “cool and hip” vibe Dr. Buss wanted didn’t include a mascot. As a result, fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint — the Lakers never made Dancing Barry or Slam Duck a mascot, and have seemingly never seriously revisited the matter since, content as one of the small handful of teams to not have a mascot.
But what else do we know about those Dancing Barry and Slam Duck options? Let’s dive in.
While Dancing Barry may have been an unofficial mascot, he’s a very real person that very much performed at Lakers games. According to his Wikipedia, after starting his routine in Houston, Barry Richards adopted the Dancing Barry name and began performing at Rockets games.
After moving to Los Angeles, Barry would appear at a Lakers game in 1983 and, during a fourth-quarter timeout, was seen dancing in the crowd. When the Lakers closed the game on a run to claim victory after the performance, Chick Hearn — who is connected to every Lakers historical story, it seems — took notice of Barry’s performance and, from that point on over the next seven seasons, Barry became a regular at Laker games.
Originally paid $35 per game, Barry eventually got a raise after the Clippers — who love nothing more than signing a former Laker — offered him $200 per game, and the Lakers matched the deal in some sort of pseudo restricted free agency for mascots. Eventually, Barry fell out of love with Lakers games, and last attended one against the Bulls in January of 1990, ending his run as the unofficial in-game mascot.
Very, very unfortunately, there is effectively nothing known about Slam Duck outside of Pearlman’s book. In the grand scheme of things, a duck wouldn't be an awful choice for a mascot, and could have tie-ins with Disneyland in Southern California as well.
And as you can see above, we asked SB Nation social fellow Zain Fahimullah to make a couple of mock-ups, and we’re already sold. I mean, look at how hilarious the imagery would be.
And, honestly, Slam Duck is a 10-out-of-10 name for a mascot. There could even be a potentially loose tie-in between Lakers — who name originates from lakes — and a duck, but that isn’t even necessary. The team also has a history of having animals integrated with the franchise, as the old-school giraffe logo has long represented the team, albeit in an unofficial capacity.
Really, though, who wouldn’t love an edgy, pierced, mohawked Duck in Lakers gear distracting Devin Booker during free throws? The Lakers should give this idea another shot.
Would you like to see the Lakers have a mascot? Do any of these options appeal to you? Let us know in the comments below, and for more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.