1986-1987 stats

Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers History

Probably the most glamorous franchise in Basketball, synonymous with superstars and showtime, the Lakers have captured the imagination of fans across the world. Even in its darkest days, the purple and gold uniforms remain a symbol of success.

They officially played their first NBA season in 1948-49. The franchise was then located in Minneapolis and were originally part of the NBL, the National Basketball League, which merged with the Basketball Association of America to form the NBA. Minnesota is known as the land of 10.000 lakes, explaining how the now Californian franchise got its nickname.

5 titles in the Franchise's first 6 seaons

Right from the start, the Lakers were dominant winning 5 championships in the first 6 seasons of the NBA, as they relied on the most dominant player in basketball. Standing 6-10, George Mikan was an unstoppable big man known for his ability to finish over smaller defenders with a trademark hookshot released with either hands. He even prompted several rule changes in the NBA including the introduction of the goaltending rule, the widening of the foul lane and the creation of the shot clock.

The team moved to Los Angeles in 1960. In 1958, the Brooklyn Dodgers of Major League Baseball had moved to Los Angeles and quickly became a huge financial success. Owner Bob Short decided to take his team to California, making it the first NBA team on the West Coast, as attendance had plummeted in Minnesota. Two guards spearheaded the Lakers’ offense. For 10 years, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West combined for 60 points per game but the Lakers were defeated seven times in the NBA Finals, including six defeats to the hands of their nemesis, the Boston Celtics. The greatest rivalry in basketball was born in the 60’s.

It got even bigger when the franchise traded for Wilt Chamberlain in 1968. At 32, the center who reached the mythical 100 points plateau in a game had to learn to share the spotlights with Baylor and West. He was supposed to be the answer to Bill Russell’s impact.

Lakers versus Celtics: basketball's greatest rivalry

Success was not immediate and at the start of the 1971-72 season, Elgin Baylor retired after 9 games. The man who once scored 71 points in a regular season game and 61 points in a NBA Finals game had taken the Lakers eight times to the championship series, not winning once. Ironically enough, the team went on to win 69 games that season, a record that lasted 24 years, including a 33 game winning streak. The Lakers eventually won the NBA title as Chamberlain was voted Most Valuable player in the Finals. Yet West remained the fan favourite. Nicknamed Mr.Clutch, he was a deadly outside shooter who still holds the record for the highest points per game average in a playoff series with 46.3. His silhouette is incorporated into the NBA logo.

Two years later, both West and Chamberlain had retired and after missing the playoffs in 1975, the Lakers answered by trading for three time MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, formely known as Lew Alcindor. Yet, they never made it past the Conference Finals despite his impressive numbers and deadly sky hook. All of that changed in 1979 when the Lakers got the first pick of the draft from a past trade with the New Orleans Jazz. They selected 6-9 point guard Earvin Johnson, who had just guided Michigan State to an NCAA title. The Lakers won 60 games in Johnson's rookie year, and defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in six games in the 1980 NBA Finals. Johnson won the Finals MVP award, after starting at center for the injured Abdul-Jabbar in game six, and tallying 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists.

The Showtime era

Soon after, owner Jerry Buss planned to promote Jerry West as the new head coach. But the Logo declined during the introductory press conference, indicating that assistant Pat Riley was indeed the true head coach position. The 37 year old valued the running game and the Showtime era started in Los Angeles. The Lakers won four championships in the 80’s and did it in style. The Forum of Inglewood became the place to be seen as movie stars cheered for every fast break and no look passes from the first row. Jack Nicholson was labelled as their number one fan. The roster was perfectly assembled as, with years passing by, Abdul-Jabbar took a backseat offensively to sharpshooter Byron Scott and James Worthy. Michael Jordan’s teammate at the university of North Carolina was a new type of power-foward, relying on quickness and mid-range shooting abilities. A silent assassin he gain the nickname Big Game James as he always seemed to save his best when it mattered the most, as in Game 7 of the 1988 Finals when he recorded a triple double. Once again, the Boston Celtics were their main opponent. The Celtics and Lakers met three times in the Finals and America fell in love with the matchup between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. The white kid from rural Indiana against the black kid from the city suburbs of Detroit. A rivalry that transformed the NBA and made it immensely popular.

The 80’s concluded on a memorable farewell tour for Abdul-Jabbar who received gifts during special ceremonies organized by the other 24 franchises he faced. The 19 time NBA All Star played 20 seasons in the League, winning six championships. At the time of his retirement at age 42 in 1989, Abdul-Jabbar was the NBA's all-time leader in points scored, games played, minutes played, field goals made, field goal attempts, blocked shots, defensive rebounds, career wins, and personal fouls.

In 1991 the franchise lost to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the NBA Finals. Many insiders saw it as a passing the torch moment. A few weeks later the Lakers were left shell-shocked when Magic Johnson announced its retirement, after being diagnosed HIV positive. The news made the headlines across the world, reaching an audience far beyond the basketball world and reminded everyone about the the fight against AIDS.

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal

The following five years were disapointing for the Lakers but Jerry West, now in a General Manager position, changed the momentum in the summer of 1996. He traded his starting center, Vlade Divac, for a young high school player from Lower Merrion drafted 13 by the Charlotte Hornets. Kobe Bryant was joined in Los Angeles by free-agent Shaquille O’Neal, the most dominant big man in the League. The first pick of the 1992 draft had transformed the Orlando Magic from being the laughing stock of the League to a team fighting for a championship.

Their duo provided another dynasty as the Lakers, coached by Phil Jackson, achieved a three-peat in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Opponents could only pick their poison. O’Neal was unstoppable in the paint displaying a combination of power and explosiveness hardly ever seen. He demolished the competition en route to winning three Finals MVP trophies. Bryant, after some early struggles, turned into a Michael Jordan look-alike.

Tensions finally ended their partnership and forced LA to trade O’Neal to Miami in 2004, after the Lakers lost 4-1 in the Finals to the Pistons, despite having added veterans Gary Payton and Karl Malone to its roster. A rebuilding process followed that generated frustration to the point when Bryant demanded a trade. As they had done in the past the Lakers answered by pulling out a major trade, acquiring Pau Gasol in 2008 from the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Spanish bigman was the perfect complement to Andrew Bynum in the paint as he provided the finesse, technique and outside shooting the Lakers were lacking. Gasol enjoyed great chemistry with Bryant and the duo produced another two championships in 2009 and 2010. Obsessed with the idea of proving he could win a title without O’Neal, Bryant was named MVP of the Finals twice.

The next decade was far from successful for the Lakers. Coaches changes became a habit, injuries struck Kobe Bryant and power struggles rocked the front office. While the franchise had failed to reach the playoffs only five times in 65 years, it did not qualify for the post season between 2013 and 2019.

The last chapter of LeBron James's career

A situation that required a major overhaul. It was provided by the signing of the biggest superstar in the League. LeBron James could not resist the idea of bringing the Lakers back to the top. The four time MVP and three time champion is facing one of the most exciting challenge of his illustrious career. Yet he would not have to do it alone. A year after his signing, the Lakers confirmed the attraction the historical franchise can have on players. Anthony Davis, the superstar from the Pelicans, forced his team into a trade to move to California.

There is no bigger market than Los Angeles and this is where legends are written.