Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Kurt Rambis was a key component of the Lakers dynasty of the 1980’s. The forward from Cupertino, California and Santa Clara University won four NBA championships with the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. His contributions to their dynasty helped shape the game of basketball today. This is his story.
Kurt Rambis was born on February 25, 1958 in Terre Haute, Indiana. His family moved to Cupertino, California when he was young and he starred at Cupertino High School, graduating in 1976. He led Cupertino to back-to-back CCS Championships, scoring 23 points in the championship game against Saint Ignatius his junior year and tipping in the missed free throw to win the game 61-60. They were even better his senior year, again defeating Saint Ignatius in the championship game, this time 50-40 with Rambis scoring 27 points. After claiming his second straight CCS championship, Kurt Rambis accepted a scholarship offer from Santa Clara University.
Rambis started his collegiate career on fire, averaging 14.9 points and 11.6 rebounds per game as a freshman. He was joined by fellow freshman Londale Theus who scored 13.2 points per game. Together, they set out to change the culture of basketball at Santa Clara University. The Broncos finished 17-10 that season and were ranked second in the WCAC. Even though they missed out on the NCAA Tournament, they lost two close games to the University of San Francisco, at the time the top ranked team in the nation.
The Broncos were even better the following year, finishing 21-8, but again missed the postseason. Rambis wasn’t as dominant his sophomore year, averaging 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Theus scored more than he did as a freshman, averaging 13.6 points per game.
Santa Clara took a step back in the 1978-1979 season, going 13-14. However, they were a statistical machine with three players averaging more than 15 points per game. Theus averaged 20.1, Rambis averaged 15.6 points and 8.4 rebounds and sophomore forward Mark McNamara averaged 15.1 points.
McNamara transferred to Cal before the 1979-1980 season began, leaving seniors Rambis, Theus and Gary Carpenter to pick up the slack. Rambis averaged 19.6 points and 9.9 rebounds, Theus averaged 17.7 points and Carpenter averaged 12 points and six rebounds per game. Unfortunately, all of that offensive production couldn’t result in more victories and the Broncos finished the season a disappointing 13-14. Following his senior season, Rambis earned the WCAC Player of the Year. With his college career at an end, Kurt Rambis looked toward the NBA for the next step in his basketball journey.
Rambis was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1980 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks. He was subsequently waived by the team and he signed with AEK Greece. In order to better acclimate himself with the country, Kurt Rambis became a citizen of Greece and played under the name Kyriakos Rambidis. After winning the Greek Cup in his only season, Rambis signed with the Los Angeles Lakers before the 1981-1982 season.
When Kurt Rambis arrived in Los Angeles, the Lakers already had many of the pieces that they needed to become a dynasty. Players such as Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set the standard expected of each and every player that came through the organization. Rambis saw a lot of action that first year, starting in 43 games and collecting 5.4 rebounds per game. The Lakers went on to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Finals that year, giving Kurt Rambis his first world championship. He collected 39 rebounds and scored 47 points during the series.
He started in 77 games the following year, scoring 7.5 points and collecting 6.8 rebounds per game. They lost to the 76ers in the NBA Finals. Rambis was hurt for much of the 1983-1984 season and only appeared in 47 games. Though his scoring slumped to 3.6 points per game, his rebounds remained a strong part of his game with him averaging 5.7 rebounds per game. The Lakers would lose a hard fought seven game series to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals that year.
Following their heart breaking end to the previous two seasons, the Lakers were on a mission in 1985 to finally defeat the Celtics in the NBA Finals. Rambis was healthier and appeared in every game that season while averaging 5.2 points and 6.4 rebounds. The Lakers and Celtics met in a rematch destined from the year before and this time the Lakers were ready to defeat their arch nemesis after eight previous defeats. It was a closely contested series but the Lakers never lost their focus or determination and they beat the Celtics in six games in, of all places, the Boston Garden. It was the first time that the Celtics had ever been eliminated in the NBA Finals on their home court. Los Angeles was abuzz in jubilance as they had finally defeated Boston when it counted most.
The Lakers failed to make the NBA Finals the following year and watched as their rivals won the championship. They bounced back and won back-to-back NBA Finals the next two years. Rambis was a key backup in both of those years, only starting in 30 total games in between those years.
Following that last championship in 1988, Kurt Rambis was traded to the Charlotte Hornets. Statistically, his best years were the years following those last two championships. He averaged 11.1 points and 9.4 rebounds in 1989 and 9.1 points along with 7.5 rebounds in 1990. He was traded to the Phoenix Suns in the middle of the 1990 season and immediately made an impact, collecting seven rebounds a game. Eventually, his skills declined and he hardly ever saw a start for the remaining five years of his career. He was traded to the Sacramento Kings in the middle of the 1993 season and finished the final two years of his career with the Lakers. He retired after the 1995 season a four-time NBA Champion.
Following his retirement as a player, Kurt Rambis immediately entered the acting and coaching worlds. He acted in television shows such as 7th Heaven, Sweet Valley High, The Commish, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and Malcolm & Eddie. Despite his various works in the film industry, Kurt Rambis felt a calling to continue working in the NBA. He began working for the Lakers in 1994 as either an assistant or briefly as a head coach until 2009. Led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, those teams won four NBA championships during that time span. He became the Minnesota Timberwolves head coach in 2009 but was fired in 2011 after posting a dismal 32-132 record. He spent the 2013-2014 season with the Lakers and was hired to be the New York Knicks associate head coach after his latest season in LA. After head coach Derek Fisher was fired, Kurt Rambis took his place as the interim head coach. Rambis couldn’t convince New York’s owners to make him the full time coach after winning just nine games against 19 losses. Rambis was retained as the associate head coach after the Knicks hire Jeff Hornacek to be their new head coach. Rambis returned to LA as the team’s senior basketball advisor in 2018 and won another NBA championship in 2020. He remains with the Lakers to this day.