Lakers History: ‘1-2-3 Cancun!’ Origin of Mantra, Explained

Of the many entertaining regular segments on the NBA on TNT, “Gone Fishin'” is one of the most popular. When season after season ends or even if a franchise is relegated from playoff contention, you can expect TNT to have a shootout with players photoshopped at various holiday destinations. will be graphic.

The tradition stems at least partly from the sarcastic saying “1-2-3, Cancun!” Which has been in the NBA circle for years. It’s a satirical saying that centers primarily around the idea of ​​NBA players taking a vacation to Cancun – at least several years ago – and how their focus shifted from the current season to what’s happening after the season. It turns out that their fate is completely sealed.

But can you say “1-2-3, Cancun!” Know about the origin of one is included lakers The team that would go on to become the 3-Pete champion?


Although the Lakers eventually became the dominant force and franchise in the early 2000s, they had to endure some soul-crushing beatdowns. Utah Jazoo To reach that point in the late 1990s. The 1996–97 and 1997–98 seasons both ended at the hands of the Jazz, and the Lakers won only once in nine meetings after the season.

Those meetings are remembered the most Kobe Bryant Airballs Which helped shape his incredible journey to the top of the game, but he also lost the infamous “1-2-3, Cancun!” also gave birth to mantra

As those two seasons were coming to an end, the Lakers were 3–0 down to the Jazz in the series and moments before Game 4, guard Nick van Axel hoped to lighten the mood a bit. As the team got ready to go on the court, the Lakers put their hands on top of each other saying “1-2-3, Lakers!” Got ready for the ceremony.

But Van Axel mixed things up instead of shouting Cancun in the end. In the years that followed, Van Axel made sure that it was only a joke to lighten the mood, including Howard Beck’s piece for Sports Illustrated in 2022.

“But I didn’t say it out loud so that everyone could hear it,” Van Axel recalls. “I think only a few people heard it. And they started laughing a little bit. And that was my point, to loosen up the bunch. … I’m a clown. I like to have fun, to keep everybody open.”

The problem was, while Van Axel claims he was light-hearted, Shaq reportedly wasn’t laughing and went to the front office demanding to do business, according to a la times The article comes a week after Van Axel was sent the nuggets for Tony Batty and the rights to the draft for Tyrone Lew.

Captain Shaquille O’Neill went to management with the story, demanding a pledge from Jerry West that Van Axel would never wear Laker’s uniform again.

In the years after Van Axel was settled, Schack played down the position, telling Beck and Sports Illustrated that it was “time to make a change” that led to the deal. No matter how much the herbivore is involved, “1-2-3, Cancun!” The implication with the mantra is that you are leaving the team, something that (expected) Pushed back to the LA Times in 1999,

“I say things all the time, ‘Okay, this is my last game with you guys. When I come here with 40’ I see you again, ‘Just to let people loose and laugh,'” Van Axel said. recently said.

“It is when things are going wrong, someone says something wrong, especially to me, it feels like it is out of proportion and people are pointing fingers.

“Everyone in that locker room with me knows that I will never leave the team. But the finger has to be raised. I never meant anything wrong.”

Van Axel’s intentions may have been good, it was a joke that was bound to backfire and it is no surprise that the team used him as part of the argument to trade him.


Even though Van Axel may have lost his spot in the joke with the Lakers, that didn’t stop it from entering the NBA’s jargon. Coaches, players, the media, and everyone else have referenced it at some point, like Alvin Gentry after his Pelicans’ playoff exit in 2018.

So, the next time you see a postgame presser referencing a coach, TNT doing their “go fishin'” segment or—heaven forbid—a player shouts it during a huddle on the court, you’re going to miss out. Van Axel and his role in inventing one of the funniest things one can think of in the NBA.

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