Kurt Rambis isn't one of the most physically talented players in the National Basketball Assn., or anywhere close for that matter.
Nevertheless, he's an important member of the Lakers.
At 6-feet 8-inches and 215 pounds, Rambis is best described as a role player. He dives for loose balls, plays tough defense, battles under the boards and sets screens.
In addition, he usually takes the ball out of bounds after an opponent has scored, and looks to start a fast break in that situation if the defense hasn't retreated fast enough.
Much of what he contributes can't be found in a boxscore and isn't noticed by the average fan. But that doesn't bother him; he's been a starter through most of his five NBA seasons and has played on two league championship teams.
"I bet there are millions of guys who'd like to be called a role player in this situation," he said with a smile. "A lot of basketball players who have an ego would have a hard time with what I do, doing things to help the team win, things like setting picks and taking the ball out of bounds.
"I was raised to believe the team's success is what's important, not the individual. People are always drawn and attraction is always given to winners. A lot of excellent players in the NBA who aren't playing on winning teams, you hardly hear about them."
The 28-year-old Rambis' NBA career didn't exactly get off to a flying start. After an outstanding career at Santa Clara, he was a third-round draft choice of the New York Knicks in 1980. The Knicks released him during training camp that year, re-signed him to a 10-day contract in December, then released him before he got into a game.
He went to Athens, Greece, where he spent four months and played in about 20 games as his team won a 20-team tournament.
Several months later, while playing in a summer league in San Francisco, he received an invitation to try out with the Lakers. At first he said no because he didn't make the team, but a telephone call from then-Coach Paul Westhead convinced him to give it a shot.
As he admitted, the rest is history.
"I realize there are other players on the team who have more talent than I have, who can shoot the ball better than I can," Rambis said. "If I were a coach, I'd want other guys to shoot the ball and I'd want me under the basket rebounding.
"Once you get to this level, you have to have people who accept their roles. Another good example of role playing on this team is Magic (Johnson). He could shoot 25 or 30 times a game if he wanted because he controls things, but he doesn't because it's better for the team if he doesn't."
Rambis is averaging 5.5 points a game this season, which happens to be his career average. He has made 58.6 percent of his field goal attempts, which leads the team, and is averaging 7.3 rebounds, which ranks second on the club.
In a game last week, he had 16 points and 16 rebounds. When asked if that kind of performance gave him any special satisfaction, he hesitated before answering.
"No, not really," he said. "I can't deny it makes me a little bit happier when I'm productive like that, but the thing I like to look at is how hard I work. It's not necessarily the numbers that determines the ball game."
The Lakers are trying to become the first team to repeat as NBA champions since the Boston Celtics accomplished the feat in 1967-68 and 1968-69.
"Since I've been in the league, I can see three reasons why it's been so hard to repeat," Rambis said.
"First, when you win it, you probably don't work as hard the next summer to win it again. That probably just comes from everybody patting you on the back and your feeling good the whole summer.
"Second, the next season everybody plays you like a champion. You never get an easy night. Every game is like the seventh game of the Championship Series. That wears on you after a while.
"And third is the injury factor. I think that's related to the second reason and the previous season. When you win it, you go all out. It's not easy to stay healthy the following year. The most important thing is the injury factor during the playoffs, it doesn't matter at this point."
Rambis believes the Lakers are better this year than they were last season because of an improved bench. But he believes that the Boston Celtics, who won the NBA title in 1984 and lost to the Lakers in the Championship Series last June, are better for the same reason.