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Jun 1, 2020

The Major Indoor Soccer League’s rocket red ball bounces back our way this week for an Eighties-style rewind into the story of the Los Angeles Lazers – as seen through the eyes of one of its chief front office architects, Ronnie Weinstein.

Claimed from dormancy (as the previous Philadelphia Fever) by LA sports baron Dr. Jerry Buss – owner of the 1980 NBA champion Lakers, NHL Kings, 1981 TeamTennis champion Strings, and the building that housed them, Inglewood’s “Fabulous” Forum – the Lazers began life in the MISL in the fall of 1982 under the direction of Weinstein and Buss’ eldest son Johnny.

True to its name (and emblematic of the league’s over-the-top promotional zeitgeist), the team immediately became known for its cutting-edge pre-game laser light shows, which management felt ideally suited to the lightning-fast pace of indoor soccer – and hoped would help the Lazers stand out from the wealth of entertainment options available in Southern California.

Weinstein, Buss & Co. also tapped heavily into the celebrity-driven energy associated with their “Showtime”-era Laker arena mates, borrowing the Paula Abdul-choreographed Laker Girls to become the “Lazer Girls” for their games – and regularly recruiting Hollywood A-listers like James Caan, Neil Diamond, Cher, Ricky Schroeder, and elder Buss poker mate Gabe Kaplan to the festivities. 

But the white-hot Lakers, the rising Kings, a robust concert schedule, and the family-favorite Strings all took scheduling precedence over the Lazers, leaving only a hodgepodge of mostly weekday winter school nights from which to attract soccer-mad families to the Forum.

Of course, there was high-scoring MISL soccer action – but the Lazers were not very good (an 8-40 inaugural record and just one winning [1987-88] season over the team’s run didn’t help) – and the majority of games were not well-attended (the league’s least-drawing franchise in five of its seven seasons). 

Despite all the synergies – including Jerry Buss’ strong enthusiasm for the game itself – nothing seemed to work.  By 1987 (with son Jim now helming the team alongside Weinstein), Buss saw the Lazers and the league as doomed – unless moves to reduce player salaries and shift play to a more family-friendly summer schedule were embraced.

After fruitless pleading with the MISL Board of Governors, Buss pulled the plug on the team after the 1988-89 season, telling Weinstein if he ever wanted to pursue another indoor soccer endeavor with his more prudent business model, he’d be there to back it.

This week’s episode is sponsored by the Red Lightning Books imprint of Indiana University Press – who offer our listeners a FREE CHAPTER of pioneering sportswriter Diana K. Shah’s new memoir A Farewell to Arms, Legs and Jockstraps!