On any given night at Staples Center, you’ll find an assembly of stars sitting in the front row. Yet every night, one star continually shines brighter than the rest.
Dyan Cannon has been courtside in Los Angeles for nearly four decades. She was there when Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West defined the first golden era for the Lakers, just like she was in the third seat in from the home team’s bench there for Showtime’s first fast break. Cannon saw the early days of Magic Johnson and a young Kobe Bryant, the arrival of Shaquille O’Neal, and is still there for the LeBron James era.
For this game in December against the Heat, Cannon arrives just in time for layup lines — this is L.A., remember, so getting to a sporting event early is a remarkable accomplishment. Doing it for three decades is the pinnacle of dedication.
Greeted by ushers, security, and neighboring front row spectators, Cannon is impeccably dressed in dark jeans, a tan fedora, and a purple and gold Lakers leather jacket. And then there are the brownies; superfans have pregame rituals of their own, and for Cannon, brownies are a necessary part of the gameday experience.
“They’re from my oven, but I don’t make them,” Cannon tells Dime as she points to Rajon Rondo, who will help himself to a couple to while he recovers from a broken hand.
When did that start exactly? Don’t ask her for what year or season, but the three-time Academy Award nominee and star of films like Heaven Can Wait, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, and Revenge Of The Pink Panther has been bringing them for as long as she can recall.
“My very first game — I don’t know years,” she says of her first Forum experience, long before the Staples Center opened in 1999. “It’s a wonderful thing not to know time, because then you’re not under it.”
Cannon does, however, remember when she fell in love with the purple and gold. She recalls getting a phone call from then-Columbia Pictures president Mike Frankovich, who asked if she’d be up for a game. She said yes, sat on the floor, and got up close and personal with Jerry West, who fell on her and caused coffee to spill all over the place.
For Cannon, this union was destined to exist. She grew up in Tacoma, Wash. before she arrived in Hollywood, and while she’s most well-known for her career in show business, sports were a constant during her childhood.
“From the time I could talk, my dad was taking me on his back to hockey, baseball, basketball, and football games,” Cannon says as James buries a baseline jumper inches in front of her. “There was something about basketball, I just love the game, and I love the idea of sitting on the floor. I know that some of the best seats are like halfway up there, because you see the big picture and everything, but down here, you’re just part of it and you just feel it.”
Those early years at the Forum in Inglewood were somewhat off the radar. In a town the revolved around glitz and glamor, NBA games weren’t broadcast live and the Lakers were in a transition between dynasties. As West, Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor hung them up, Cannon watched as the team rebuilt around Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Jerry Buss bought the team from Jack Kent Cooke, and fortunes changed when the team selected Johnson first overall in the 1979 draft.
As Showtime would take the national stage, Cannon became part of the experience. Her status as a celebrity fan heightened the Hollywood gravitas as people tuned in for the festivities. Highlights of Kareem skyhooks and Magic no-looks would also include shots of an exuberant Cannon celebrating courtside.
“My husband, at the Forum, had seats up there,” she says, gesturing to seats several rows up. “And I decided that it was going to be the first time in my life when I worked my way down, because I had sat on the floor once and I thought, ‘that’s where it’s gotta be,’ and we went went through our divorce, I said, ‘You keep the house, I want the Lakers seats.’”
It was a significant moment in the league’s evolution. There were superstars to market, games were no longer on a tape delay, and basketball was attracting prominent fans. The NBA had crossed over to the mainstream. Cannon was there before the hype, a legitimate hoops junkie who connected with the game. She studies the matchups and fully commits to her team, and above all, she loves the moments that leave an entire arena spellbound, even if basketball has pulled on her heartstrings countless times.
“You know, you say it’s just a game, and sometimes I have to remind myself of that, because I’ve walked out of here in tears,” Cannon says. “I’ve walked out of here in cheers. I’ve walked out of here in ‘why didn’t he?’ and ‘if only,’ but it is just a game.”
Beyond the great seats, camera time and status, for Cannon, her fandom is incredibly personal. She builds unique relationships with the players, coaches, and staff. She learns their stories, understands what makes them tick, and is there through thick and thin.
“I just love them,” Cannon says. “Loving them sometimes means saying ‘no’ and loving them sometimes means ‘you’re way out of line’ and sometime loving them means saying ‘you’re so wonderful.’ I’m not a tushy kisser. I’m real. I see it the way I see it, and you might not agree with the way I see it. Ask around, I’m pretty grounded.”
As for her favorite Laker of all time, well, that’s hard to say. Cannon loves everyone to wear the purple and gold over the years, so having to pick one is tough, although she is friends with Johnson — as an aside, when it comes to how he carries himself, Cannon sees some of Johnson’s best attributes in James, namely his humility and how “he’s the first one up off the bench to encourage guys.”
With the current team, she’s a big Kyle Kuzma fan, as Cannon loves his selfless approach to the game.
“I went with the Lakers to Las Vegas when played an exhibition game with Golden State and I said to Kuz, ‘Don’t you change. Don’t you dare change. You’re just so good at both ends of the floor, but the best part is you have no ego,’” Cannon recalls. “And he said, ‘Dyan, I won’t change, my momma brought me up that.’ I’m told the guys love him in the locker room, and I’m just crazy about him.”
While Los Angeles offers spoils and a rich basketball history like no other NBA location, players are less likely to stay there for the entirety of their careers when greener pastures beckon. As you would imagine for someone who lives and breathes her team, this has been a trying adjustment to make in supporting a team in the modern era.
Aside from championship and Hollywood revelry when times are good, Cannon has faithfully stood by through the rough patches. Beyond bad roster fits and chemistry failures, there were times in times of anguish and disappointment for the purple and gold.
As for a particular low point, she’s quick to bring up a moment of infamy that sticks with her ten years later: The Chris Paul trade, saying “the ripple effect of that made a difference for years to come.”
Cannon’s faith anchors her both personally and in her support of the team she loves. It doesn’t take long in a conversation with her to touch on her faith, another avenue through which she supports the Lakers.
“Me and Magic actually pray about things,” Cannon explains. “After the game Rob [Pelinka] and I come together and say a prayer. Oh I pray for the Lakers all the time. For agility, dexterity, flexibility, openness of thought and mind.”
Before this game tips, Cannon has a scouting report of her own, along with an outlook on the current version of the Lake Show. She believes this team’s strength lies in how it is able to turn defense into offense and get out in transition, but “anything else [is] not gonna work.”
It’s hard to argue with an assessment from someone who has witnessed a lifetime’s worth classic games, Hall of Fame performances, and banner raising. This team has an organizational drive to return to prominence, a new school bounce, and a generational superstar to fuel championship expectations, even if they’re in a slump with LeBron out.
Will they meet those expectations? Well, all of us, Cannon included, will have to sit back and watch. The difference between all of us and Cannon, though, is that she’ll be tuning in from the best seat in the house.