Behind the Numbers
1981-82, 1984-85, 1986-87, 1987-88, 1999-2000, 2000-01, 2001-02
13 Wilt Chamberlain
22 Elgin Baylor
25 Gail Goodrich
32 Magic Johnson
33 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
42 James Worthy
44 Jerry West
Los Angeles Lakers 1960-
For NBA Title
From Mikan To Magic, Lakers Have Always Had A Winning
From the George Mikan-led Minneapolis Lakers teams of
the late 1940s and early 1950s to the "Showtime" era of the Earvin
"Magic" Johnson teams in Los Angeles during the late 1980s, one
thing has been consistent about the Lakers: winning. The franchise
has boasted a host of Hall of Famers and has compiled a string of
championships rivaled in American sports only by the baseball
Yankees and the basketball Celtics.
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1947-48: The Game's First Star
The Lakers franchise predates the NBA. The Minneapolis
Lakers' first season was 1947-48, when the team entered the
National Basketball League. A strange series of events early that
year landed the Lakers the biggest prize in the game at that
time-center George Mikan.
Mikan was a 6-10 giant of a man who had dominated college
basketball in his four years at DePaul. He joined the Chicago
American Gears at the end of the 1945-46 season, then led the Gears
to the NBL Championship the following year.
Prior to the 1947-48 campaign Maurice White, president of the
American Gear Company and owner of the Chicago team, pulled the
club out of the NBL. White's plan was to create a 24-team circuit
called the Professional Basketball League of America, in which he
would own all of the teams and all of the arenas. But the new
league lasted barely a month, and the players on White's teams were
distributed among the 11 NBL franchises. The first-year Minneapolis
Lakers landed Mikan strictly by chance.
The Lakers were a good team even without Mikan. The club
featured a fine forward named Jim Pollard and one of the better
playmakers in the league in Herm Schaefer. Coaching the squad was
John Kundla, who had been hired away from the University of
Minnesota. But once the bespectacled Mikan joined the Lakers there
was no stopping them.
Minneapolis walked away with the NBL crown that season. After
winning the Western Division by 13 games, the team disposed of the
Oshkosh All-Stars, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, and the Rochester
Royals. Minneapolis lost only two games during the postseason, one
in the first round and one in the finals against the Royals. Mikan
paced the circuit in scoring during the regular season with 21.3
points per game and was tops in postseason play with an average of
24.4 points per contest.
1948-49: Minneapolis Jumps To BAA
The franchise struggled for respectability during its
first four years. The inaugural 1946-47 campaign yielded a 22-38
record and a last-place tie with the Toronto Huskies in the BAA's
Eastern Division. Connie Simmons, a 6-8 center, led the Celtics in
scoring with 10.3 points per game.
The team fared slightly better the following year, managing to
make the playoffs with a 20-28 record. Appearing in their first
postseason contest, the Celtics lost Game 1 to the Chicago Stags,
but they came back to beat the Stags, 81-77, on March 31, 1948, to
claim the franchise's first-ever playoff win. Their playoff hopes
were short-lived, however, as the Stags eliminated the Celtics two
For the 1948-49 campaign Brown hired a new coach, Alvin "Doggie"
Julian, who had guided Holy Cross to an NCAA Championship the year
before. But the results were pretty much the same. Boston's roster
was populated with little-remembered players such as Gene Stump,
Dutch Garfinkel, and Hank Beenders, just 3 of the 18 cagers who
wore Celtics Green that season. The club finished out of the
playoffs with a 25-35 mark.
The BAA merged with the rival National Basketball League prior
to the 1949-50 season. The new league, christened the National
Basketball Association, fielded 17 teams. Julian was back at
Boston's helm for a second year, and the Celtics once again
finished out of the playoffs with a 22-46 record that earned them
the last-place spot in the Eastern Division.
1949-51: Lakers Win First NBA Finals
The BAA and the NBL merged after that season, and the
NBA was born for the 1949-50 campaign. In its first year the NBA
consisted of 17 teams competing in three divisions. Minneapolis was
assigned to the Central Division (the new circuit's strongest
division), where the team once again went head-to-head with
If anything, the Lakers were even better than they had been the
season before. The team included a trio of promising first-year
players in forward Vern Mikkelsen and guards Slater Martin and Bud
Grant. (Grant went on to greater fame as coach of the football
Minneapolis seemed to have a lock on the top spot in the Central
Division, but Rochester put together a 15-game winning streak as
the campaign wound down, and the teams ended the regular season
tied for first with identical 51-17 records. The Lakers then edged
the Royals by a single basket in a one-game playoff to claim the
For the second season in a row Minneapolis waltzed through the
preliminary rounds of the postseason. The powerful Lakers felled
the Chicago Stags in the Central Division Semifinals, swept the
Fort Wayne Pistons in two games in the division finals, and then
dusted the Anderson Duffey Packers in two games in the NBA
The first NBA Finals pitted the Lakers against the Syracuse
Nationals. The Nats had the home-court advantage, but the Lakers
took Game 1 in Syracuse when reserve guard Bob Harrison heaved in a
40-foot shot at the buzzer to give Minneapolis a two-point victory.
The Nationals evened the series the next night. When the Finals
reconvened in Minnesota five days later, Minneapolis pounded out a
91-77 win, then followed that with a victory in Game 4. Syracuse
postponed the inevitable by shutting down Mikan in Game 5, but the
Lakers came back with a 110-95 victory in Game 6 to earn the first
NBA Championship. Mikan, who had led the league in scoring during
the regular season with 27.4 points per game (only one other player
topped 20.0 ppg), poured in 31.3 points per contest in the
A slimmed-down NBA fielded 11 teams in the 1950-51 campaign and
went back to a two-division format, with the Lakers returning to
the Western Division. With the best players from the six disbanded
clubs distributed throughout the remaining teams, the offseason
attrition helped to raise the level of competition in the
The Lakers were favored to repeat as NBA champs that season. In
addition to Mikan, the team boasted a solid frontcourt in Jim
Pollard and Vern Mikkelsen and a better-than-average backcourt in
Bob Harrison and Slater Martin. Minneapolis took the Western
Division by three games and posted the league's best record at
44-24. But the playoffs didn't go according to plan. Minneapolis
lost a game to the Indianapolis Olympians in the division
semifinals, marking the Lakers' first-ever loss in a preliminary
playoff round. They nevertheless won the series, two games to one,
and advanced to face old rival Rochester in the Western Division
Finals. The Lakers won Game 1, but the Royals came back with three
straight victories to take the best-of-five series.
1951-52: NBA Tries To Slow Down "Big George"
The NBA widened the foul lane before the 1951-52 season
in an attempt to slow Mikan, but the rule change had a minimal
effect on "Big George." He still averaged 23.8 points, but he lost
the scoring title to Paul Arizin, a sharp-shooting forward with the
The Lakers went into the campaign with essentially the same
lineup. Rochester took the Western Division crown by a game, but
the Lakers ousted the Royals in four games in the division finals
to set up an NBA Finals matchup between the Lakers and the New York
Minneapolis took Game 1 at St. Paul but needed overtime to do
so. The Knicks prevailed in Game 2. Back in New York, Games 3 and 4
were played at the 69th Regiment Armory instead of at Madison
Square Garden because the circus was in town. The teams split those
games, and Games 5 and 6 as well. Game 7 was all Minneapolis. The
Lakers pounded out an 82-65 win at home to claim their second NBA
crown in three years.
1952-53: Basketball's First Dynasty
The 1952-53 Lakers outmuscled the Royals during the
regular season to finish atop the Western Division by a four-game
margin. Mikan's scoring output dipped a notch to 20.6 points per
game, second best in the league. He was joined in the NBA's top 10
by teammate Vern Mikkelsen, who finished eighth with 15.0 points
per game. Mikan led the league in rebounding, pulling down 14.4
boards per contest.
In the playoffs the Lakers and the Knickerbockers marched toward
an NBA Finals rematch. Minneapolis whipped past Indianapolis and
Fort Wayne in the preliminary rounds. Meanwhile, in the Eastern
Division, New York downed the Baltimore Bullets and then the Boston
The NBA Finals opened in Minneapolis, and the Knicks stunned the
Lakers with an eight-point win in Game 1. Minneapolis barely beat
the Knicks in Game 2, winning by a slim two-point margin. The next
three games were scheduled for New York, and with the series tied
at one game apiece, the Knickerbockers had hopes of unseating the
defending champions. But the Lakers would have none of that. They
took all three contests at Madison Square Garden to win the series
and become the NBA's first repeat champs. With four championships
in five years (including the BAA crown in 1949), the Lakers staked
a claim as professional basketball's first dynasty.
1953-54: Lovellette Comes To The Rescue Of Ailing Mikan
The following season saw Mikan's production dip again.
Bad knees were beginning to take a toll on the 29-year-old center,
and he scored only 18.1 points per game. But the Lakers signed a
promising rookie named Clyde Lovellette, who was more than capable
of spelling Mikan at the center position.
Minneapolis won the Western Division in 1953-54, posting the
NBA's best record at 46-26. The playoffs got off to an odd start
when the league experimented with a round-robin format in the first
round. Minneapolis survived, then downed Rochester in the Western
Division Finals. The expected NBA Finals rematch between the Lakers
and the Knickerbockers failed to materialize because New York was
eliminated in the Eastern Conference round-robin. Instead, the
Lakers faced Syracuse.
The Nationals surprised Minneapolis with a two-point win on the
Lakers' home court in Game 2, tying the series at one game apiece.
The Lakers then took two out of three games in Syracuse, and the
teams returned to Minneapolis with the Lakers leading, three games
to two. Syracuse survived Game 6 with another two-point victory,
but the Lakers made it three titles in a row with an 87-80 triumph
in the deciding game.
1954-58: New Rules Are Bad News For Lakers
The NBA instituted two revolutionary rule changes
shortly after the end of the 1953-54 season. The 24-second shot
clock was introduced, as was a limit of six team fouls per quarter
(after which every foul would result in penalty free throws). The
new rules accomplished two things: they helped quicken the pace of
the action on the court, and they took away the tactical advantage
of fouling a player who has possession of the ball late in a game.
The big question was what effect the new rules would have on the
three-time defending NBA-champion Lakers, a team built around the
size and power of George Mikan. But the question was never really
answered, because Mikan retired before the 1954-55 season began and
assumed the job of team general manager.
With Mikan gone, the center position fell to second-year player
Clyde Lovellette, who contributed 18.7 points and 11.5 rebounds per
game. But Lovellette was not the defensive force that Mikan had
been, and the Lakers finished 40-32, second to the Fort Wayne
Pistons in the Western Division. Minneapolis survived the first
round of the playoffs but fell to the Pistons in four games in the
division finals. The beginning of the shot-clock era meant the end
of the Lakers' dynasty.
Age was also beginning to take its toll on Minneapolis. Jim
Pollard retired before the 1955-56 season, ending an eight-year
career with the Lakers that stretched back to the NBL days. Guard
Slater Martin had a fine season, but he was 30 years old. The
Lakers' youngest starter was the 26-year-old Lovellette, who had
become the team's star, finishing fourth in the league in scoring
(21.5 ppg) and third in rebounding (14.0 rpg).
By midseason the Lakers were struggling so badly that they
prevailed upon Mikan to come out of retirement. It took him some
time to get back into shape, but by the end of the season he had
become a solid contributor, if not the star he had been a few years
earlier. All told, Mikan appeared in 37 regular-season contests,
averaging 10.5 points and 8.3 rebounds.
Slater Martin finished among the NBA's top 10 in assists (6.2
apg) and free-throw percentage (.833), while seven-year veteran
Vern Mikkelsen led the league in personal fouls for the second year
in a row.
The Lakers fell under .500 for the first time in franchise
history that season, finishing with a 33-39 record. Facing the St.
Louis Hawks in the playoffs, Minneapolis dropped Game 1, 116-115,
then walloped the Hawks by 58 points in Game 2. But St. Louis came
back with a repeat of the opening game and won Game 3, 116-115, to
take the series.
In 1956-57 Minneapolis managed to earn a tie for first place in
the Western Division, but that said more about the division's
weakness than about the Lakers' strength. Minneapolis, St. Louis,
and Fort Wayne shared first place with identical losing records of
34-38. By contrast, the last-place team in the Eastern Division was
After a series of one-game playoffs, St. Louis earned the
Western Division title and a bye in the first round of the 1957 NBA
Playoffs. While the Hawks waited, the Lakers and the Pistons
squared off in the division semifinals. Minneapolis prevailed with
a two-game sweep. St. Louis then took out the Lakers in three
straight, but the series was close for a sweep. The Hawks won Game
1 by a comfortable nine-point margin. Game 2 was a squeaker at
106-104. The final contest was a no-holds-barred marathon. The game
lasted through a pair of overtime periods, and when it ended, St.
Louis was the team still standing. The final score was Hawks 143,
The franchise endured a disastrous season in 1957-58. George
Mikan was persuaded to assume the head coaching duties, but he
failed miserably and stepped aside after the club fell to 9-30.
John Kundla moved back into the coaching spot after half a season
in the front office, but there wasn't much he could do with the
Lakers that year. The team finished with a 19-53 record and in last
place in the Western Division.
1958-60: Baylor Ushers In A New Era
The dreadful record had a silver lining, however, for
it earned Minneapolis the No. 1 pick in the 1958 NBA Draft. The
Lakers came away with Seattle University star Elgin Baylor. With
the unbeatable combination of a great scoring touch, smooth
ballhandling and passing skills, a willingness to pound the boards,
and the seeming ability to defy gravity on the way to the hoop, the
6-5 forward helped usher in a new era for the struggling Lakers
In his rookie campaign Baylor finished fourth in the league in
scoring (24.9 ppg) and third in rebounding (15.0 rpg). He also led
the club in assists with 4.1 per game. Powered by the league's
newest superstar (and that season's Rookie of the Year),
Minneapolis won 14 more games than the year before and finished
with a 33-39 record, good for second place in the Western Division
behind the St. Louis Hawks.
The Lakers dispatched the Detroit Pistons in the division
semifinals, then moved on to face St. Louis in the Western Division
Finals. By all accounts the series was little more than a warm-up
for defending NBA-champion St. Louis. The Hawks had breezed through
the regular season with a 49-23 record and were looking forward to
a rematch with the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
However, behind Baylor and Vern Mikkelsen, who was the last link
to the glory years of the Mikan-era Lakers, Minneapolis stunned the
Hawks. St. Louis owned a two-games-to-one series lead heading into
Game 4, but the Lakers took that game by 10 points and then earned
a one-point overtime victory in Game 5. They completed the upset
with a 106-104 triumph in Game 6.
The Lakers ran out of gas in the 1959 NBA Finals, however. They
faced the Celtics, who owned an 18-game winning streak against
Minneapolis and had demolished the Lakers, 173-139, in the teams'
last meeting. When the dust settled, the Celtics' winning streak
was still intact-Boston swept the series in four straight.
Still, the Lakers' season had to be counted as a great success.
After finishing with the league's worst record the year before,
they had bounced all the way back to the NBA Finals.
After the Lakers' great playoff run in 1959, the 1959-60 regular
season was a bust. Head Coach John Kundla was replaced by John
Castellani, who had been Baylor's college coach. The team managed a
dismal 11-25 record under Castellani's command, and he was replaced
by Jim Pollard, who had played alongside George Mikan in the early
years of the NBA. Pollard fared no better, and the Lakers finished
with a 25-50 mark. Only Baylor managed to shine-he pumped in 29.6
points and snared 16.4 rebounds per game.
Despite the difficult regular season, the Lakers made the
playoffs because they had the third-best record in a four-team
division. (The Cincinnati Royals were worse at 19-56.) After making
short work of second-place Detroit in the division semifinals, they
headed to St. Louis for a rematch of the previous year's Western
Division Finals. Minneapolis got ahead, three games to two, but the
Hawks avoided embarrassment for a second straight year by posting a
21-point win in Game 6 and then ousting the Lakers with a 97-86
victory in Game 7.
1960-62: A Double Dose Of West
During the offseason the Lakers became the NBA's first
West Coast team. Although Minneapolis fans had come out in droves
to watch the Lakers when Mikan was with the club, attendance had
fallen off dramatically in the ensuing five seasons. Even the
presence of Elgin Baylor hadn't made much of a difference.
Meanwhile, Major League Baseball's Dodgers had moved from Brooklyn
to Los Angeles in 1958 and had become a huge financial success.
Lakers owner Bob Short, a shrewd young businessman from Minneapolis
who had owned the franchise for two years, packed up the club and
moved it to Los Angeles before the 1960-61 season.
That wasn't the only important change for the franchise during
the offseason. The Lakers' 25-50 record the previous year had given
the club the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft. The prize was 6-21/2
guard Jerry West, a talented playmaker and scorer. West's former
coach at West Virginia, Fred Schaus, was installed at the Lakers'
Baylor was a scoring machine and a terror on the boards for the
new Los Angeles Lakers. He averaged 34.8 points and 19.8 rebounds
in 1960-61. West struggled for the first half of the season before
hitting his stride, finishing his first NBA campaign averaging 17.6
points. The two players combined to boost the Lakers to a 36-43
record and a second-place finish in the Western Division.
The Lakers faced the Pistons in the opening round of the
playoffs. In an era of rampant scoring, the two teams lit up the
scoreboard. Los Angeles posted 120 points in each of the first two
games and won both. Back in Detroit, the Pistons won Game 3,
124-113, and Game 4, 123-114. The Lakers closed out the series with
a 137-120 shoot-out in the final game.
That meant a Lakers-Hawks matchup in the Western Division Finals
for the third year in a row. St. Louis had finished the regular
season 15 games ahead of Los Angeles and was heavily favored, but
the series was a dogfight. The Hawks managed a one-point victory in
Game 4 to even the series at two games apiece. After the Lakers
took Game 5, St. Louis eked out a 114-113 overtime win in Game 6
and a 105-103 victory in Game 7 to move on to the Finals.
Los Angeles played with a slight handicap during the 1961-62
season. Elgin Baylor was one of only two NBA players called to
active military duty in the wake of the Berlin crisis. (Lenny
Wilkens was the other.) For much of the campaign Baylor was only
available on weekends. Still, in 48 games he averaged 38.3 points.
Meanwhile, West exploded for a 30.8 average in his second year.
The high-scoring duo was ably supported. The cast included 6-8
Rudy LaRusso, a third-year forward who chipped in 17.2 points and
10.4 rebounds per game. Frank Selvy, a much-traveled veteran who
had played with six teams in his first five seasons in the NBA
before settling in with the Lakers, added 14.7 points per game at
guard. A solid bench featured Rodney "Hot Rod" Hundley and Tom
Los Angeles dominated the Western Division, topping second-place
Cincinnati by 11 games. Up against Detroit in the division finals,
the Lakers trounced the Pistons in the first three games of the
series, lost Games 4 and 5, and then ousted Detroit in Game 6.
The NBA Finals pitted the Lakers against the Boston Celtics, and
the series opened in Boston, where the teams split two games. The
Lakers won Game 3 in Los Angeles, thanks to a last-second steal and
a layup by Jerry West. The Celtics evened the series with a win in
Game 4. Game 5, which was played in Boston, saw Baylor pour in 61
points to set a playoff record that stood for a quarter of a
century. The teams headed to Los Angeles with the Lakers up three
games to two and poised to clinch the championship on their home
court. But the Celtics pushed the series to the limit with a
Game 7 ranks as one of the most exciting championship games of
all time. The score was knotted at 100 apiece when Selvy put up a
shot that slid off the rim as time expired. Had the shot fallen,
the Lakers would have claimed the crown. Instead, the game moved
into overtime, and the Celtics outscored the Lakers, 10-7, to win
the game and the NBA Championship.
1962-65: The Start Of A Trend: Celtics Clip Lakers For NBA
The Lakers added Dick Barnett to their roster during
the offseason. Barnett, who had spent the previous two seasons with
Syracuse, moved into the starting lineup at guard, and Selvy became
the team's sixth man. Barnett averaged 18.0 points during 1962-63,
and his contribution became critical when Jerry West missed 27
games with a leg injury. West still finished with 27.1 points per
game, while Elgin Baylor poured in 34.0 points per contest to
finish second in the league in scoring behind the San Francisco
Warriors' Wilt Chamberlain.
Los Angeles finished 53-27, repeating as Western Division
champs. The Lakers then earned a rematch against the Celtics for
the NBA crown by besting St. Louis in the Western Division Finals.
But the Celtics, in the midst of a string of 11 championships in 13
seasons, continued to hold the upper hand, winning the series in
The Lakers' two-year reign atop the Western Division came to an
end during the 1963-64 season. West (28.7 ppg) and Baylor (25.4
ppg) finished fifth and sixth in the league in scoring,
respectively. But the team was weak in the middle. Starting center
Gene Wiley averaged only 4.3 points, and Los Angeles placed third
in the division with a 42-38 record. The Lakers failed to get by
the St. Louis Hawks in the first round of the playoffs.
Los Angeles rebounded from a relatively disappointing year by
posting a 14-6 record to open the 1964-65 season. The Lakers then
coasted to a 49-31 overall mark and their third division title in
four years. As usual, West (31.0 ppg, second in the NBA) and Baylor
(27.1 ppg, fifth) provided the firepower. The Lakers had a
surprisingly tough time with Baltimore in the Western Division
Finals, needing six games to win the series and advance.
The NBA Finals, which pitted the Lakers against the Celtics, was
a lopsided affair. Baylor went down with a knee injury and was
unable to play in the series. West did his best to make up for
Baylor's absence by averaging 40.6 points during the postseason,
but he couldn't do it alone. Boston humiliated Los Angeles in Game
1, 142-110. Only a token Lakers win in Game 3 prevented a sweep.
The Celtics finished off Los Angeles in Game 5 with a 33-point
1965-68: Cooke Purchases Lakers For $5 Million
The Lakers franchise changed hands during the offseason
when Bob Short sold the club to Jack Kent Cooke. Cooke paid $5
million for the team, which not only represented a huge profit but
also established that the value of an NBA franchise was on par with
the value of a Major League Baseball team.
Cooke left the team virtually intact. Center Darrall Imhoff and
guard Walt Hazzard, who had been backups the season before, moved
into the starting lineup for the 1965-66 season. Bob Boozer came to
Los Angeles from New York and proved to be a valuable addition when
sore knees sidelined Baylor. The Lakers also featured a promising
young rookie from UCLA named Gail Goodrich.
Baylor had a tough season. Knee problems limited him to 65
games, and after scoring at least 24 points per game in each of his
first seven seasons, his output dipped to just 16.6 points per
contest. West (31.3 ppg) was as irrepressible as ever, trailing
only Wilt Chamberlain in the NBA scoring race. The Lakers came away
with the Western Division title but never really put together a hot
streak during the regular season. Their best month was November,
when they went 10-7. But they barely played above the .500 mark for
the next three months and finished 45-35.
Los Angeles moved on to the postseason and bested the Hawks in
seven games to reach the NBA Finals. Facing the Celtics for the
fourth time in five years, Los Angeles stole Game 1 in an overtime
thriller, then dropped three straight. Wins in Games 5 and 6 sent
the series to a seventh game. Once again the Celtics prevailed,
this time by the score of 95-93. Since 1959 the Lakers had faced
Boston in the NBA Finals five times and had come away losers each
The Lakers stumbled out of contention in the 1966-67 campaign.
Injuries kept Jerry West on the sidelines for 15 games and Elgin
Baylor out of action for 11. The squad finished in third place in
the Western Division and chalked up a losing record (36-45) for the
first time since the 1960-61 campaign. San Francisco made short
work of Los Angeles in the playoffs, ousting the Lakers in a
That season ended Fred Schaus's reign as the team's head coach.
The Lakers' pilot since the move to Los Angeles, he had guided them
to the NBA Finals four times. His replacement was Bill "Butch" van
Breda Kolff, who started the season in the new 17,500-seat
West missed 31 games during the 1967-68 campaign with injuries,
but second-year guard Archie Clark blossomed into an offensive
threat, averaging 19.9 points. Baylor led the team in scoring (26.0
ppg) and rebounding (12.2 rpg). The club improved by 16 games over
the previous season, to 52-30, but finished in second place in the
division behind St. Louis. The Lakers dispatched the Chicago Bulls
in the division semifinals, then breezed by San Francisco in the
division finals. That set up a sixth meeting between Los Angeles
and Boston in the NBA Finals, and once again the Celtics came out
on top, this time taking the series in six games.
1968-69: L.A. Acquires A Supercenter
By now it had become clear to everyone that the Lakers
were missing the one ingredient they needed to nail down a
championship-a dominating center to complement West and Baylor. And
time was running out-Baylor was 34 years old and playing on gimpy
legs, and West was 30. So owner Jack Kent Cooke filled the gap by
wresting supercenter Wilt Chamberlain away from the Philadelphia
76ers for Clark, Darrall Imhoff, and Jerry Chambers.
The 1968-69 Lakers weren't the dominating force that everyone
expected them to be after the arrival of Chamberlain, but they did
take the Western Division title with a 55-27 record. Chamberlain
led the league in rebounding with 21.1 boards per game while West
and Baylor each averaged better than 20 points.
In the playoffs the Lakers dropped the first two games of their
division semifinal matchup with the San Francisco Warriors. But Los
Angeles stormed back to win the next four, including a 118-78 romp
in Game 6, and take the series, four games to two. The Hawks (now
playing in Atlanta) came next, and the Lakers dispatched them in
five games. That set up yet another Celtics-Lakers showdown, but
with a new twist-a clash of the titans, with Chamberlain going up
against old nemesis Bill Russell.
Los Angeles took the first two games and appeared to have a good
chance at ending the Celtics' dominance. But Boston won Game 3 and
then eked out a win in Game 4 after Sam Jones hit a shot at the
buzzer to give the Celtics an 89-88 victory. The series went to
seven games, with the deciding contest played at the Forum in Los
Angeles. The Celtics built a 17-point fourth-quarter lead and then
held on to win by two points. For the sixth time in eight years the
Lakers had butted heads with the Celtics in the NBA Finals and had
come away without a championship. Jerry West earned the first-ever
NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award. It was the only time the
award was given to a member of the losing team.
1969-71: West Cans Miracle Shot, But Reed Is The Real Hero
Coach Butch van Breda Kolff stepped down after the
Finals and was replaced by Joe Mullaney, who took over a team that
was badly bitten by the injury bug during the 1969-70 campaign.
Chamberlain tore up his knee in the ninth game of the season and
was lost until the playoffs. Baylor's injured knees limited him to
54 games. That placed most of the burden on West, who led the
league with an average of 31.2 points. He couldn't keep the team at
the top of the Western Division, however, and the Lakers finished
with a 46-36 record, two games behind Atlanta.
Chamberlain and Baylor both recovered in time for the playoffs,
but the Lakers nearly faced elimination at the hands of the Phoenix
Suns in the division semifinals. Down three games to one, Los
Angeles rallied with convincing wins in the final three games to
take the series in seven. The Lakers then swept Atlanta in the
division finals and moved on to face not the Celtics but the New
York Knicks in the NBA Finals.
It was a dream matchup for the league, pitting the two most
glamorous teams from America's two largest cities against each
other. The Lakers and the Knicks split the first two games. In Game
3 at the Forum, Jerry West provided one of the most memorable
moments in Finals history when he sank a 60-foot shot at the buzzer
to send the game into overtime. New York won the game, 111-108, but
West's miraculous heave helped earn him the nickname "Mr.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, the Knicks' Willis Reed upstaged
West with a memorable moment of his own. After Los Angeles evened
the series with an overtime victory in Game 4, the teams returned
to New York for Game 5. In the first half of that game Reed went
down with a torn thigh muscle and didn't return. Despite trailing
by 13 points at halftime, New York rallied without its center to
post a 107-100 victory. Reed sat out Game 6, and the Lakers rolled
to a 135-113 victory behind Wilt Chamberlain, who had 45 points and
27 rebounds, and West, who had 31 points and 13 assists.
It looked as if the Knicks would be without Reed in the deciding
game. Then, moments before tip-off amid a deafening roar from the
crowd at Madison Square Garden, Reed hobbled onto the court. He
then scored the first two baskets of the game before returning to
the bench, but the damage was done. With the crowd and Reed's
teammates inspired, the Lakers fell, 113-99. For the seventh time
in nine years the team had reached the Finals and come away
The 1970-71 season saw the league expand to 17 teams and four
divisions. Los Angeles was put into the Pacific Division alongside
San Francisco, the San Diego Rockets, the Seattle SuperSonics, and
the Portland Trail Blazers. The Lakers had Wilt Chamberlain back
and healthy, but Elgin Baylor played in only two games because of
ongoing knee problems. The team was helped by the addition of
Harold "Happy" Hairston, who had joined the club midway through the
previous season, and Gail Goodrich, who returned to Los Angeles
after two years in Phoenix. Future Lakers Coach Pat Riley was
acquired from Portland as a player.
With Baylor missing, West (26.9 ppg), Chamberlain (20.7 ppg),
Hairston (18.6 ppg), and Goodrich (17.5 ppg) picked up the scoring
slack. Chamberlain led the league in rebounding with 18.2 boards
per game. The Lakers finished 48-34 and won the Pacific Division,
seven games ahead of second-place San Francisco. Los Angeles
squeaked by the Chicago Bulls in a tough conference semifinal
series, then fell to Lew Alcindor (soon to be known as Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar) and the Milwaukee Bucks in the Western Conference
1971-73: 33 In A Row!
Owner Jack Kent Cooke replaced Head Coach Joe Mullaney
in 1971-72, bringing in former USC star and Celtics standout Bill
Sharman. The team had to make do without Baylor, who retired early
in the season after realizing that his legs were not going to hold
up through another year. The Lakers may have lost Baylor, but they
did have a balanced, mature, and experienced team with Hairston and
second-year player Jim McMillian as forwards, Chamberlain in the
pivot, and West and Goodrich at the guard spots.
The Lakers went 6-3 through the first month of the season. On
November 5 they beat Baltimore, 110-106, marking the first of 14
straight wins in November. December saw them take 16 games without
a loss. Along the way, the Lakers shattered the NBA mark of 20
consecutive victories set by the Milwaukee Bucks just one season
before. Los Angeles won three straight to open the new year before
the Bucks finally ended the string on January 9, besting the
Lakers, 120-104. At that point the Lakers had rung up a 33-game
winning streak, an American professional sports record.
The team rolled on to a 69-win year, setting a new NBA record
for victories in a season, a record that would stand until the
1995-96 Chicago Bulls went 72-10. Chamberlain averaged a career-low
14.8 points, but it may nevertheless have been his finest season-he
led the league in rebounding with 19.2 per game, was a defensive
stalwart, and played outstanding team basketball. West led the
league by dishing out 9.7 assists per game, and he and Goodrich
each averaged better than 25 points. The team paced the league in
points, rebounds, and assists. At season's end, Bill Sharman was
named NBA Coach of the Year.
The Lakers breezed right through the playoffs, sweeping the
Chicago Bulls in the conference semifinals, ousting the Bucks in
six games in the conference finals, and then zipping by the Knicks
in the Finals, four games to one. After years of frustration the
Lakers had finally earned an NBA Championship, the team's first in
Los Angeles and the first for the franchise since 1954. Chamberlain
was named Most Valuable Player of the Finals.
The Lakers didn't match their record pace of the previous season
during the 1972-73 campaign (although they won all 12 of their
games in November), but they did roll to another Pacific Division
title by winning 60 games overall. Wilt Chamberlain, playing in his
final season, led the league in rebounding for the 11th time in his
career. He also became the first player in NBA history to record a
field-goal percentage above .700 -he finished at .727.
Los Angeles needed seven games to get by the Chicago Bulls in
the conference semifinals, but they then breezed past the Golden
State Warriors in the Western Division Finals. That set up an NBA
Finals rematch between the Lakers and the New York Knicks. Los
Angeles took the first game by three points, but the Knicks
employed a pressing, trapping defense that forced the Lakers into
an average of 19 turnovers and held them under 100 points in each
of the final four games. New York took the series in five games to
wrest the title away from the defending champions.
1973-75: Wilt Retires, West Shortly Follows Suit
Chamberlain, now 37 years old, retired. He left the NBA
with a career average of 30.1 points per game. Of the 57 top
scoring performances in NBA history, he had accounted for 47. In 14
years he had accumulated more than 31,000 points and had pulled
down more than 23,000 rebounds. He was elected to the Naismith
Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978.
For the 1973-74 season the Lakers picked up promising young
defensive center Elmore Smith to plug the hole in the middle, and
they also acquired Connie Hawkins to add some punch to the offense.
But the team was hampered by the loss of Jerry West, who lasted
only 31 games before his 35-year-old legs finally gave out. By that
point the team's real star was Gail Goodrich, who averaged 25.3
points and helped engineer a late-season surge.
Trailing Golden State by three games with seven left to play,
the Lakers rallied to win the Pacific Division with a 47-35 record,
three games ahead of the Warriors. Los Angeles advanced to the
postseason but managed only one win against Milwaukee in the
The 1974-75 season found the Lakers in transition. West had
retired after 14 incredible seasons in a Los Angeles uniform. Mr.
Clutch had led the Lakers to the playoffs in every season of his
career, including nine trips to the NBA Finals. He was an All-Star
all 14 seasons and an All-NBA First Team selection 10 times. He
finished with 25,192 career points and an average of 27.0 points
per game. Truly one of the league's all-time greats, West scored
more points as a Laker than any other player in the franchise's
For 1974-75 the team signed Cazzie Russell, who played just 40
games before a knee injury ended his season. Despite the addition
of Lucius Allen (19.5 ppg) and another strong season from Goodrich
(22.6), the club posted its first losing record in eight seasons,
at 30-52. Los Angeles sat out the postseason for the first time in
1975-79: Los Angeles Trades For Jabbar
During the offseason the Lakers made an acquisition
that laid the foundation for yet another championship-caliber
squad. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the league's premier big man, made it
known that he would not return to Milwaukee after the 1974-75
season, demanding instead to be traded to either New York (where he
had grown up) or Los Angeles (where he had attended college). He
ended up going to the Lakers for Elmore Smith, Brian Winters,
Junior Bridgeman, and Dave Meyers.
Abdul-Jabbar had an MVP season for Los Angeles in 1975-76. He
led the league in rebounding, blocked shots, and minutes played and
finished second in scoring and field-goal percentage. But the big
trade paid higher short-term dividends for Milwaukee than it did
for Los Angeles-the Bucks went from last to first in the Midwest
Division. The Lakers stumbled through a 3-10 January and finished
out of the playoffs with a 40-42 record. At season's end,
Abdul-Jabbar won the fourth of six career NBA Most Valuable Player
Jerry West replaced Bill Sharman as head coach during the
offseason. The club lost Gail Goodrich, who signed with the New
Orleans Jazz as a free agent. It took another MVP season from
Abdul-Jabbar to carry the team back to the top of the Pacific
Division, as the Lakers finished 1976-77 with a league-best 53-29
record. They barely survived a tough seven-game series against the
Warriors to open the postseason before being defeated by Portland
in the Western Conference Finals. The Trail Blazers swept the
Lakers en route to an NBA Championship.
During the offseason the Lakers picked up Jamaal Wilkes from
Golden State and signed first-round draft pick Norm Nixon. But the
1977-78 season got off to a horrendous start. Just two minutes into
the campaign's first game Abdul-Jabbar punched Milwaukee's Kent
Benson in retaliation for an overly aggressive elbow. Abdul-Jabbar
broke his hand and was out for two months.
Then, on December 9, the Lakers' Kermit Washington got into a
tussle with Kevin Kunnert of the Houston Rockets. Houston's Rudy
Tomjanovich ran downcourt to break up the fight. Washington saw
Tomjanovich running at him from behind and responded with a
devastating punch that nearly ended Tomjanovich's career.
Washington was fined and suspended for 60 days. Tomjanovich missed
the entire season and underwent a series of operations to
reconstruct his jaw, eye, and cheek.
The Lakers struggled through the first half of the season but
rebounded to post a 28-13 mark during the campaign's second half. A
45-37 record earned them a matchup against Seattle in a
best-of-three first-round playoff series. The Sonics, on their way
to the NBA Finals under Coach Lenny Wilkens, eliminated Los
Despite the early ouster, the pieces were beginning to settle
into place for the Lakers. During the 1978-79 season the team got a
sneak preview of the future with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jamaal
Wilkes, and Norm Nixon all turning in fine performances. The club
posted a 47-35 record, then fell to the SuperSonics in the
semifinal round of the playoffs.
1979: The Beginning Of The Buss Era
During the offseason owner Jack Kent Cooke sold his
sports empire, which included the Lakers and the Great Western
Forum, to Santa Monica real estate developer Jerry Buss for $67.5
million. Buss brought in Jack McKinney as the new head coach.
When the Lakers had let Gail Goodrich go to free agency prior to
the 1976-77 season, they had no idea how significant Goodrich's
departure would be for the team's future. Because Goodrich signed
with the New Orleans Jazz as a veteran free agent, the Jazz had to
compensate the Lakers. New Orleans did so by giving Los Angeles
three draft picks, including its first-round pick in 1979. When the
Jazz (who moved to Utah in 1979) finished with the league's worst
record in 1978-79, the Lakers found themselves holding the No. 1
overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft.
1979-82: "Showtime" Arrives
Los Angeles picked Earvin "Magic" Johnson, an
electrifying 6-9 point guard who had led Michigan State to the 1979
NCAA Championship. "Showtime" had arrived, and a dynasty was
established almost overnight.
The 1979-80 season was one of intense drama for the Lakers. With
the team at 10-4, Head Coach Jack McKinney suffered a serious
injury in a bicycle accident and was replaced by Paul Westhead. The
Lakers rallied to finish the season at 60-22, tops in the Pacific
Division. Inspired by NBA All-Rookie Team member Johnson,
Abdul-Jabbar turned in the best all-around performance of his
career and earned his sixth and final Most Valuable Player Award.
The Lakers were talented and deep-Jamaal Wilkes, Jim Chones, and
Abdul-Jabbar made for an intimidating front line, and the backcourt
of Johnson and Nixon could stand up to any guard tandem in the
country. The Lakers' bench included Michael Cooper and Spencer
Los Angeles walked all over Phoenix and Seattle in the first two
rounds of the playoffs, taking each series in five games. The NBA
Finals pitted the club against the Julius Erving-led Philadelphia
76ers, and the two teams split four close games to start the
series. Abdul-Jabbar sprained his ankle in Game 5 but still scored
40 points to give the Lakers a 108-103 win. Abdul-Jabbar was unable
to play in Game 6, but Johnson stepped up to turn in one of the
most remarkable performances in NBA Finals history. Still just a
20-year-old rookie, Johnson moved from guard to center and tallied
42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists, single-handedly carrying the
Lakers to a 123-107 victory and the NBA Championship. Johnson
earned the first of three NBA Finals Most Valuable Player
The 1980-81 season was a major disappointment. The Lakers lost
Magic Johnson for much of the season to a knee injury. Behind
another brilliant year from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (26.2 ppg, 10.3
rpg), the team turned in a 54-28 record and finished second behind
the Phoenix Suns in the Pacific Division. But Los Angeles was
stunned by the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
Led by Moses Malone, the Rockets bumped the Lakers in a
best-of-three series, notching both victories in Los Angeles.
Owner Jerry Buss fired Coach Paul Westhead after the Lakers went
7-4 to start the 1981-82 season. Buss promoted Assistant Coach Pat
Riley, a former Lakers backup point guard, to head coach on
November 19, and the team won 17 of its next 20 games.
The Lakers took the Pacific Division title and then embarked on
one of the most impressive playoff journeys in NBA history. They
swept both Phoenix and the San Antonio Spurs with an average margin
of victory of 11 points. Los Angeles then stretched its postseason
winning streak to nine games by taking the first contest of the NBA
Finals from the 76ers. Philadelphia came back to win Game 2, but
the Lakers prevailed in the series, four games to two, to win their
second title in three years. The team's playoff record that year
1982-83: A Worthy Draft Pick
The Lakers found themselves with an embarrassment of
riches when, after winning the championship, they also ended up
with the first overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft. The situation
was the result of a trade with Cleveland midway through the 1979-80
season, when the Lakers had sent Don Ford and a 1980 first-round
pick (eventually Chad Kinch) to the Cavaliers for Butch Lee and
their 1982 selection. Fortuitously for the Lakers, Cleveland had
finished with the league's worst record in 1981-82, giving Los
Angeles first crack at a talented crop of college players. It
marked the first time in NBA history that a reigning champion held
the No. 1 pick.
The Lakers used that pick to select forward James Worthy, who
had just led North Carolina to the 1982 NCAA Championship. Worthy,
Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would define the powerhouse
Lakers teams of the 1980s. Worthy proved to be the perfect
complement to both players, finishing on the break for Johnson and
stepping out to the perimeter when Abdul-Jabbar needed room to
Worthy's rookie year ended in disappointment, however. He
suffered a broken leg in the last week of the regular season and
had to watch the postseason from the sidelines. The Lakers, who had
won the Pacific Division with a 58-24 record, advanced to the 1983
NBA Finals with early-round victories against Portland and San
Antonio. But Los Angeles was no match for the Philadelphia 76ers,
who had acquired Moses Malone before the season. The Sixers won the
series and the championship in four straight games.
1983-84: Abdul-Jabbar Becomes NBA's All-Time Leading
During the offseason the Lakers sent Norm Nixon to San
Diego for Byron Scott. Los Angeles started 1983-84 at 12-4, but on
December 2 Magic Johnson sustained a dislocated right index finger
and missed a month of action. Although he led the league with 13.1
assists per game, Johnson's injury prevented him from setting a
probable NBA record for total assists in a season. The Lakers
garnered their share of NBA records that year anyway. On April 5
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became the NBA's all-time leading scorer when
he scored point No. 31,420 against Utah to pass Wilt Chamberlain.
The Lakers reached the NBA Finals in 1984 by roaring past the
Kansas City Kings, the Dallas Mavericks, and the Phoenix Suns in
the early rounds. That set up a Larry Bird-Magic Johnson matchup as
Los Angeles and Boston squared off for the championship. Los
Angeles took Game 1, then held a two-point lead in Game 2 with 15
seconds remaining when Gerald Henderson picked off a James Worthy
pass and scored a layup to send the game into overtime. Boston
prevailed, 124-121, and then the teams split the next four games.
The Celtics had never lost Game 7 in an NBA Finals series, and
tradition held. Boston triumphed, 111-102.
1984-86: Finally! Lakers Beat Celtics In Finals
The Lakers cruised to a fourth straight Pacific
Division title in 1984-1985 despite losing Jamaal Wilkes for the
season in mid-February because of torn knee ligaments. Los Angeles
(62-20) took the division by an NBA-record 20 games. The club, at
the height of its "Showtime" era, set two other NBA marks by
posting a phenomenal .545 team field-goal percentage and handing
out 2,575 assists.
Los Angeles reached the NBA Finals after eliminating Phoenix,
Portland, and the Denver Nuggets, chalking up an 11-2 record on the
way. Facing Boston again in the championship round, the Lakers were
humiliated in the first game, 148-114, a contest remembered as the
"Memorial Day Massacre." But Los Angeles bounced back to take four
of the next five games, led by 38-year-old series MVP Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar. The 1985 series marked the ninth time that Los
Angeles and Boston had met in the NBA Finals but the first time
that the Lakers had come away with the crown.
Jamaal Wilkes left the Lakers before the 1985-86 season. (He
played only 13 games with the Clippers before retiring.) Los
Angeles continued to rebuild, adding 33-year-old Maurice Lucas, who
gave the team some muscle, and rookie A. C. Green. The Lakers also
had power forward Kurt Rambis, a bespectacled, blue-collar fan
favorite who had joined the team in 1981. Rambis spent seven
seasons in a Los Angeles uniform.
The team got off to a blazing start, with records of 11-1, 19-2,
and 24-3 early in the season. Los Angeles won 62 games for the
second year in a row and finished 22 games ahead of second-place
Portland in the Pacific Division. Abdul-Jabbar was playing in an
unprecedented 17th season, and he set new NBA career records for
minutes and games played while averaging 23.4 points. Johnson paced
the league in assists (12.6 apg) for the third time in six
The Lakers seemed headed for an NBA Finals rematch with the
Boston Celtics, who had ripped through the Eastern Conference with
a 67-15 record. The Celtics lost only one game en route to the
Finals, but the Lakers failed to hold up their part of the bargain.
After eliminating San Antonio and Dallas in the first two rounds,
Los Angeles met Houston in the Western Conference Finals. Led by
twin towers Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, the Rockets took a
surprising series lead after four games. But the teams headed back
to Los Angeles for Game 5, where the Lakers expected to regain the
momentum. Instead, Sampson stunned the Lakers with a miraculous
turnaround jump shot at the buzzer, breaking a 112-112 tie to give
Houston the series victory. The Rockets managed two victories
against the Celtics in the Finals but lost the series.
1986-87: A Very Magic Year
Once again the Lakers made a couple of key offseason
moves, letting go of Maurice Lucas, moving A. C. Green into the
starting lineup, and picking up Mychal Thompson from San Antonio.
Head Coach Pat Riley also made a tactical adjustment in 1986-87 by
shifting the offensive focus from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Magic
The moves paid off. Johnson won his first career NBA Most
Valuable Player Award while leading the Lakers to a 65-17 record,
the second-best mark in franchise history. Abdul-Jabbar, now 39
years old, chipped in 17.5 points per game, and Michael Cooper was
named NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
The Lakers earned another matchup with the Celtics in the NBA
Finals by sweeping Denver, losing just one game to Golden State,
and then sweeping Seattle. Los Angeles routed Boston in the first
two games of the Finals, and the teams then split the next four
contests, giving the Lakers their second championship in three
seasons. Johnson earned the NBA Finals MVP Award to go with his
regular-season MVP trophy. At the Lakers' championship celebration
in Los Angeles, Coach Riley brashly declared that the Lakers would
repeat as NBA champions in 1987-88. It was a bold statement that
served to motivate the team throughout the next season.
1987-88: Lakers Fulfill Riley's Prophecy
Los Angeles made no major moves before the 1987-88
campaign. The Lakers opened the season with an eight-game winning
streak but lost six of their next nine games. They snapped out of
the uncharacteristic slump with a 115-114 victory in Boston on
December 11 that ignited a 15-game winning streak, the second
longest in franchise history.
The club finished with a 62-20 record and a seventh consecutive
Pacific Division title. After sweeping San Antonio in the first
round of the playoffs, Los Angeles was forced to the limit in each
of the next two series. The Lakers struggled against both the Utah
Jazz and the Dallas Mavericks before winning each series in seven
games. In the NBA Finals the Lakers had a new opponent in the
Detroit Pistons. The Pistons had grown into an Eastern Conference
power thanks to Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, and Dennis
Rodman. Detroit had managed to unseat the Celtics in six games in
the Eastern Conference Finals.
The NBA Finals represented a clash of styles, with the
run-and-gun Lakers battling the physical Pistons. The series went a
grueling seven games, with players on both sides turning in heroic
performances. The most heroic of all was turned in by James Worthy,
who had a triple-double in Game 7 to lead the Lakers to a 108-105
victory. Worthy was named Finals MVP, and Los Angeles became the
first club to repeat as NBA champions since the Boston Celtics in
1988-90: Kareem Calls It A Career
The next year marked the 20th and final NBA campaign
for 41-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The 1988-89 Lakers won 57
games, the 10th year in a row that they had topped the 50-victory
mark, and maintained their stranglehold on the Pacific Division
crown by finishing two games ahead of Phoenix. Magic Johnson earned
his second NBA Most Valuable Player Award.
Three-quarters of the way through the playoffs it looked as if
Abdul-Jabbar's career would have a perfect ending. The Lakers
reached the NBA Finals by sweeping Portland, Seattle, and Phoenix.
No other team in NBA history had ever earned sweeps in three series
in one year. But the Finals rematch with the Pistons didn't go
according to plan. Hamstring injuries to Johnson and Byron Scott
hobbled the Lakers, and Detroit swept Los Angeles out of the
playoffs and Abdul-Jabbar into retirement.
The 1989-90 Lakers adjusted very quickly to the absence of
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, moving Mychal Thompson into the starting
lineup and bringing over Vlade Divac from what was then Yugoslavia.
The team rolled to another 60-win season, its fifth in six years,
and Johnson claimed his second straight MVP trophy (and third in
four seasons). The Lakers won the Pacific Division for the ninth
Heading into the playoffs, another Lakers-Pistons Finals seemed
likely. But in the Western Conference Semifinals, Los Angeles was
overpowered by a tough Phoenix team that included Kevin Johnson,
Eddie Johnson, Tom Chambers, and Jeff Hornacek. The Suns won the
series in five games.
1990-91: Riley Steps Down, But L.A. Still Advances To
After winning the NBA Coach of the Year Award for
1989-90, Pat Riley stepped down during the offseason. His nine-year
reign in Los Angeles had yielded incredible numbers: a .733
regular-season winning percentage, a 102-47 playoff record, nine
Pacific Division titles, and four NBA Championships. Mike Dunleavy
was appointed to fill Riley's shoes, and the team signed free agent
Sam Perkins from Dallas.
Los Angeles got off to a slow start under Dunleavy, with a 2-5
record to open the year. But the team won eight straight after that
and then strung together 16 consecutive wins at midseason. An
important milestone was reached on April 15 when Magic Johnson
handed out career assist No. 9,888 to pass Oscar Robertson and
become the NBA's all-time assists leader.
The 1990-91 Lakers won 58 games but finished in second place in
the Pacific Division to the high-powered Portland Trail Blazers.
Los Angeles had no problem with either Houston or Golden State in
the first two rounds of the playoffs but found itself in the
unaccustomed position of underdog against Portland in the Western
Conference Finals. The Lakers upset the Blazers by winning the
series in six games but then fell victim to the Chicago Bulls and
Michael Jordan in the 1991 NBA Finals. Los Angeles won Game 1
against the Bulls on a last-second three-pointer by Perkins. But
Chicago roared back to take four straight and the championship, the
first of three consecutive titles for the Bulls.
1991-92: Magic Shocks The World
The following season was a roller-coaster ride for the
team. Los Angeles went 1-2 in three straight overtime games to
start the season. Then on November 7, 1991, Magic Johnson shocked
the world when he announced his retirement, having tested positive
for the HIV virus. The Lakers responded on the court with a
nine-game winning streak. In early December center Vlade Divac
underwent surgery for a back problem and was lost for two months.
Divac's absence contributed to a 6-8 showing by the club in
December, the Lakers' first losing month since March 1979.
Although he had retired, Johnson was voted to the 1992 NBA
All-Star Game and, in a rousing performance, earned the game's MVP
Award. That was the high point of the season for the Lakers. The
team qualified for the playoffs for an NBA-record 16th straight
year, but they limped through the final month of the season after
losing James Worthy and Sam Perkins to injuries. Los Angeles was
eliminated in four games by Portland in the first round of the
After Johnson's stunning announcement in November, he went on a
season-long crusade to help increase AIDS awareness and raise money
for AIDS research. For his tireless efforts Johnson was presented
with the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, given annually
to that member of the NBA family who makes outstanding
contributions to the community.
Johnson's playing career wasn't quite finished, however. He
joined Larry Bird and Michael Jordan on the U.S. Dream Team at the
1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona and helped the team win a
gold medal. Wherever he went during the Olympics, Johnson found
himself mobbed by fans, reporters, and even fellow athletes. He had
truly become an international icon.
Perhaps bolstered by his Barcelona experience, Johnson declared
that he would return to the Lakers for 1992-93. He practiced and
played with the team throughout the preseason but then called it
quits again before the start of the campaign, citing personal
Thus, one of the most dynamic and successful players in NBA
history, just two years removed from the NBA Most Valuable Player
Award, brought his career to a premature close. Johnson was 33
years old and had accomplished so much, yet he still had so much to
accomplish. His career ledger was impressive. In 12 seasons he had
led the Lakers to five championships; he had won three NBA MVP
Awards, three NBA Finals MVP Awards, and an Olympic gold medal; and
he had earned 12 All-Star selections (including 1992), two All-Star
Game MVP Awards, and nine All-NBA First Team selections.
At the time of his retirement Johnson also ranked as the NBA's
all-time career assists leader with 9,921. With his spectacular
passing skills, Johnson had made team basketball glamorous again.
He had also rekindled one of the league's greatest rivalries by
facing off with Boston and Larry Bird three times in the NBA
1992-93: Not A Very Pfund Year For The Lakers
Prior to the 1992-93 season Mike Dunleavy departed the
Lakers to become head coach and vice president of basketball
operations for the Milwaukee Bucks. Los Angeles promoted longtime
assistant Randy Pfund to the head coaching role.
The Lakers had a difficult season, struggling to mesh young
talent such as Vlade Divac, Elden Campbell, and Anthony Peeler with
veterans such as James Worthy, A. C. Green, and Byron Scott.
Veteran Sedale Threatt, whom Los Angeles had acquired from Seattle
prior to the 1991-92 campaign, assumed Johnson's vacated point
guard role for the second consecutive year. Threatt led the team in
both scoring (15.1 ppg) and assists (6.9 apg), but something was
At midseason the Lakers sent Sam Perkins to Seattle for Benoit
Benjamin and the rights to unsigned rookie Doug Christie, an
athletic swingman who seemed to have star potential. The move was a
signal that the Lakers intended to rebuild with youth, a philosophy
that would hit home when they let both Green and Scott go to free
agency after the season.
The Lakers finished the campaign at 39-43, barely earning the
eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference. They drew
the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the postseason and nearly
staged one of the greatest upsets in NBA Playoff history. The Suns
had climbed onto the shoulders of newly acquired superstar Charles
Barkley and had ridden him to the NBA's best record at 62-20.
The Lakers, however, stunned Phoenix by opening the series with
two straight victories at America West Arena. The Suns, who had
been favored by many to win the championship, suddenly seemed on
the verge of collapse, especially with the series heading to Los
Angeles for two games. But Phoenix won both games in Los Angeles,
forcing a deciding Game 5 back in Phoenix. The Lakers hung tough,
forcing the contest into overtime before finally losing,
1993-94: Not Even A Little Magic Can Lift The Lakers
Magic Johnson had another moment in the Lakers' sun in
1993-94, but it was brief and added only a glimmer of excitement to
the club's worst season in almost two decades. The Lakers lost
their last 10 games and finished at 33-49, out of the playoffs for
the first time since the 1975-76 season. The record was the second
worst since the club had come to Los Angeles in 1960. The 1993-94
Lakers had trouble both on offense and defense. The team yielded
opponents an average of 104.7 points per game (19th in the league),
while its offense generated a franchise record low of 100.4 points
Individually, Vlade Divac was the team's top scorer with 14.2
points per game, and rookie Nick Van Exel proved to be the steal of
the 1993 NBA Draft. A second-round pick, Van Exel started 80 games
for the Lakers at point guard, scored 13.6 points per contest, and
earned a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Second-year
players Anthony Peeler and Doug Christie, considered part of the
club's core for the future, missed a combined 69 games because of
With the team sputtering in late March, the Lakers replaced
Coach Randy Pfund with Johnson, hoping that he would take a liking
to coaching and stay on for 1994-95-and that his championship magic
would rub off on the team. With Johnson at the helm, the Lakers
captured five of the next six games, defeating such teams as the
Houston Rockets and the Atlanta Hawks, and began battling for the
final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But reality soon set
in, and Los Angeles dropped nine straight games. Before season's
end Johnson announced that he would not return to guide the Lakers
for the next year. In the offseason Del Harris was named the team's
new head coach.
1994-95: Newcomers Key Lakers' Revitalization
The Los Angeles Lakers were one of the league's most
improved teams in 1994-95, and their playoff success augured well
for the future. The Lakers had finished the previous season with a
33-49 record; in 1994-95 the team was 48-34. The 15-win improvement
was second best in the league behind that of the Dallas Mavericks.
Aside from the emergence of electrifying point guard Nick Van Exel,
three new arrivals keyed the Lakers' turnaround: Head Coach Del
Harris, free-agent signee Cedric Ceballos, and rookie Eddie Jones.
The postseason was even more satisfying. The Lakers earned a No.
5 seed in the playoffs, finishing in front of the defending
NBA-champion Houston Rockets, and they met the fourth-seeded
Seattle SuperSonics in the first round. Los Angeles was defeated
soundly in Game 1 but responded with three straight victories to
score an upset. Van Exel, who made a name for himself in the
postseason, averaged 24.8 points and shot .500 from the field
against the Sonics. In Game 3 of that series he set a team record
by playing 48 minutes without committing a single turnover-all the
more impressive considering that he handled the ball against a
Seattle team that had led the league in steals.
In the Western Conference Semifinals the Lakers met the San
Antonio Spurs, who had finished the season with the league's best
record. Los Angeles won two games in an exciting series but fell to
the Spurs in six. In Game 5 at San Antonio, with the Lakers down
three games to one, Van Exel hit two buzzer-beating
three-pointers-one at the end of regulation and one at the end of
overtime-to give the Lakers a 98-96 victory.
For his team's effort, Harris was named NBA Coach of the Year.
General Manager Jerry West was named NBA Executive of the Year for
his work behind the scenes. On the court, Ceballos had a terrific
season in his first year with the Lakers, averaging 21.7 points,
8.0 rebounds, and 1.03 steals and earning selection to the All-Star
Game, although he didn't participate because of an injury. Van Exel
averaged 16.9 points and 8.3 assists in the regular season, while
center Vlade Divac averaged 16.0 points, 10.4 boards, and 2.18
blocks. Athletic swingman Jones averaged 14.0 points and won a spot
on the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
1995-96: Magic Returns To The Court
The 1995-96 season gave the Lakers much cause for
optimism. After all, they were coming off of a first round upset of
the Seattle Sonics and their best season since 1990-91. Not many,
though, could have predicted that "Showtime" would return to Los
Angeles with the return of Magic Johnson.
The Lakers were already a talented team - featuring Nick Van
Exel and second-year player Eddie Jones in the backcourt and a
frontline of Vlade Divac, Elden Campbell and Cedric Ceballos. On
January 30, they added a legend. Johnson, who after talking about
it for years, finally made the decision to come out of
Although his statistics were impressive (15.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg and
6.5 apg), his arrival did upset the delicate chemistry of a team
that had gotten a whole lot younger. In spite of the turmoil, which
included a brief unexcused absence by leading scorer Ceballos, the
Lakers returned among the league's elite, posting 53 wins, and a
second place finish in the Pacific Division..
In the playoffs, the Lakers had the challenge of unseating the
two-time defending champion Houston Rockets. Not even the Magic of
Magic could save the Lakers, who fell to the Rockets in four
The conclusion of the season began an offseason of change for
the Lakers, who stayed true to their history and acquired a
franchise center in the rich tradition of Chamberlain and
Abdul-Jabbar. The arrival of Shaquille O'Neal necessitated the
trading of longtime center Vlade Divac, and the trading or
renouncement of several other veterans. A new look Laker team would
take the floor in 1996-97.
1996-97: Shaquille Goes Showtime
The Los Angeles Lakers dipped into the free agent
coffers prior to the 1996-97, wresting away prized center Shaquille
O'Neal from the Orlando Magic. O'Neal, a 7-1 center with a rare
combination of power and quickness, averaged 27.2 ppg and 12.5 rpg
in four seasons with the Magic, leading Orlando to the NBA Finals
O'Neal was just the tonic to rekindle championship hopes in Los
Angeles. He paid immediate dividends for the Lakers, leading them
to a 56-26 record, their best effort since 1990-91, despite missing
31 games with a knee injury. O'Neal averaged 26.2 ppg and 12.5 rpg
(but did not qualify for the league leaders in either category due
to his injury), and finished third in the league in blocked shots
(2.88 bpg) and fourth in field goal accuracy (.557). In the 51
games that O'Neal played, Los Angeles was 38-13.
Opponents of the Lakers were faced with more than a Shaq Attack.
The team featured several of the quickest, youngest, most versatile
players in the NBA, including Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Elden
Campbell and Robert Horry, as well as an 18-year-old rookie, Kobe
Bryant, who showed flashes of brilliance at All-Star Weekend,
winning the Slam Dunk competition and scoring a game-high 31 points
in the Rookie Game.
Jones (17.2 ppg) received his first All-Star berth, while Van
Exel averaged 15.3 ppg and finished eighth in the NBA with 8.5 apg.
His 23 assists against Vancouver on Jan. 5 were an NBA season high.
Campbell also enjoyed the best season of his career, averaging 14.9
ppg and 8.0 rpg, and filling in ably during the O'Neal injury.
Horry, acquired from Phoenix for Cedric Ceballos during the season,
provided additional spark, setting an NBA playoff record for
three-point playoff goals without a miss with a 7-for-7 effort
against the Utah Jazz.
Despite Horry's heroics, the Jazz was more than the Lakers could
handle. The Lakers dispatched Portland in the first round before
losing to Utah in the Western Conference Semifinals, 4-1. O'Neal's
46-point effort in Game 1 against the Trail Blazers marked the
highest single-game playoff scoring output by a Laker since Jerry
West tallied 53 against the Boston Celtics in 1969.
1997-98: Showtime Once Again
In the second season of the Shaquille O'Neal era, the
Los Angeles Lakers survived early injuries to the gargantuan
center, then climbed upon his broad shoulders and ascended all the
way to a 61-win season and a berth in the Western Conference
O'Neal and the Lakers immediately served notice of their
improvement with the best start in franchise history. The Lakers
started 11-0, then endured a stretch of 20 games that O'Neal missed
because of an abdominal injury. That key stretch, during which the
Lakers were 13-7, gave other players the opportunity to step up and
prove that the Lakers proved they were more than a one man
In Shaq's absence, Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones and Kobe Bryant
stepped into the limelight and shined, picking up the offensive
slack while Elden Campbell manned the middle. Versatile forwards
Robert Horry, Rick Fox and Derek Fisher rounded out the nucleus of
the one of the youngest and quickest teams in the NBA - the only
NBA team without a single player over the age of 30. With Jones,
Bryant and Van Exel running and gunning, and the January return of
the dominant O'Neal inside, the Lakers possessed the most prolific
offense in the NBA (105.5 ppg). All four players were rewarded for
their effort, as the Lakers became the first team in 15 seasons to
send four players to the All-Star Game.
All season, the Lakers found themselves embroiled in a fierce
battle with Seattle for the Pacific Division title. On Mar. 16,
Seattle scored a 101-89 win to take a four-game lead in the
division with only five weeks remaining in the season. But the
Lakers wouldn't give up. In the final two months of the season, no
team played better ball than the Lakers, who won 22 of their final
25 games. O'Neal led the team in scoring in all but two of those
games, including a 50-point effort in a 117-106 win over New
O'Neal averaged 28.3 ppg for the season to finish a close second
to Michael Jordan (28.7 ppg) in the scoring race, and was among
league-leaders in rebounds (11.4 rpg) and blocks (2.40 bpg), while
leading the league with a field-goal percentage of 58.4 percent.
With their late-season surge, the Lakers captured Seattle atop the
Pacific at 61-21. Their paths crossed in the second round, after
the Lakers disposed of Portland with a 3-1 win in the first-round
best-of-five. A series destined to be a classic instead was a
one-sided affair. After Seattle won the first game, the Lakers
responded with four straight wins, making quick work of their
What looked to be a Laker steamroller rolled to a halt in Salt
Lake City, where the Lakers were swept in four games by the Utah
Jazz, putting a damper on an otherwise exceptional season in which
Los Angeles was stopped one series short of reaching the Finals for
the first time since 1991.
1998-99: Busy Times in Brief Season
The Lakers made a blockbuster trade, changed coaches,
brought a seven-time rebounding champion on board for awhile and
closed out their historic arena. In other words, they squeezed an
entire year's worth of action into a lockout-shortened season.
By the time the regular season was over, Shaquille O'Neal and
Kobe Bryant had led the Lakers to a 31-19 record. They advanced to
the Western Conference semifinals, where they lost to San Antonio
in four games.
The Lakers' 118-107 loss to the Spurs in Game 4 on May 23, 1999,
marked the last meaningful game in the Great Western Forum, home to
six championship teams in 32 years. Los Angeles would play two more
preseason games at the Forum the following season before moving
into the brand-new Staples Center.
Early in the 1998-99 season, the Lakers made three significant
moves in a three-day span. It started Feb. 23 when they signed
Dennis Rodman, a member of five NBA championship teams and one of
the top rebounders in league history. He would average 11.2 boards
in 23 games before being waived April 15.
One day after signing Rodman - with the team sporting a 6-6
record - Los Angeles relieved head coach Del Harris of his duties.
Assistant coach Kurt Rambis took over Feb. 26 for the rest of the
On March 10, the Lakers and Charlotte Hornets pulled off a deal
involving All-Stars Glen Rice and Eddie Jones. L.A. sent Jones and
Elden Campbell to Charlotte for Rice, J.R. Reid and B.J. Armstrong,
who was subsequently waived. Rice averaged 17.5 points in 27 games
and 18.3 ppg in the playoffs for the Lakers.
O'Neal, who was named All-NBA Second Team, averaged 26.3 points
and narrowly lost the league scoring title to Philadelphia's Allen
Iverson (26.8). Bryant scored 19.9 points per game and was All-NBA
1999-2000: Return to Dominance
The 1999-2000 season was the beginning of a new era in Los Angeles Lakers basketball. The team hired a new head coach in former Chicago Bulls lead man Phil Jackson, and for the first time in 31 years the Lakers would play their home games somewhere other than the Great Western Forum, as the club moved into the brand new 18,997-seat STAPLES Center in Downtown Los Angeles.
Jackson brought with him three new assistant coaches in Jim Cleamons (a former player on the Lakers 1971-72 squad), Frank Hamblen and Tex Winter, and along with holdover Bill Bertka, that quartet would form one of the most experienced assistant coaching teams in the NBA. The team also took on a different look as veterans A.C. Green, Ron Harper, John Salley and Brian Shaw were added to the roster.
Shaquille O'Neal began the season with a vengeance as he earned NBA Player of the Month honors for November after averaging 28.7 points, 13.4 rebounds and 3.36 blocked shots in the first month of the season. O'Neal continued his dominating ways as he earned Player of the Month honors two more times, in February and March, becoming the first player to receive Player of the Month accolades three different times in the same season. O'Neal was also named the MVP of the 2000 All-Star Game played in Oakland and was joined there for the second time by teammate Kobe Bryant.
Not limited to individual efforts, the new coaching staff, the veteran additions, and the returning players all meshed incredibly well as the club got off to a fast start, registering wins in 25 of their first 30 games and reeling off a 16-game winning streak in the first half of the season. The streaks continued as the Lakers also added a 19-game winning streak and an 11-game winning streak to become only the third NBA team to register three different double-figure winning streaks in the same season.
The Lakers stormed though the regular season achieving the best record in the league (67-15) and earning homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. Though they were heavily favored, the team struggled to get out of the first round, needing five games to defeat the Sacramento Kings. The next round was less difficult as the Lakers knocked off the Phoenix Suns in five games. The Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers went to seven games, as the Lakers staged a miraculous comeback. Trailing by 13 points entering the fourth quarter of Game Seven, the Lakers fought back to win the game and the Western Conference Championship. Boosted by their improbable comeback, the Lakers went on to defeat the Indiana Pacers in six games, earning their first NBA Championship since 1988.
O'Neal (First Team) and Bryant (Second Team) were named to the All-NBA teams and both were also named to the NBA's All-Defensive Teams, with Bryant becoming the youngest player to ever receive All-Defensive honors. O'Neal became only the third player to be named Most Valuable Player of the regular season, All-Star Game and the NBA Finals.
2000-01: Back to Back-to-Back
With a nucleus that included two of the NBA's best players in Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant and a head coach that has won seven NBA titles in Phil Jackson, the Lakers began the season with aspirations of winning a second consecutive NBA Championship.
After struggling to contain the Western Conference's high scoring power forwards in the playoffs, Los Angeles dealt Glen Rice and Travis Knight to the New York Knicks in a three-way deal involving the Seattle SuperSonics, which netted power forward Horace Grant and center Greg Foster. Having played under Jackson earlier in their careers, both Grant and Foster were skilled in running the Lakers triangle offense, and Grant was to provide a solid defensive and rebounding presence.
Derek Fisher began the season on the injured list after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right foot and would miss the first 62 games of the season. The rest of the team also got off to a slow start and was 31-16 at the All-Star break, already picking up one more loss than during the entire 1999-2000 campaign. The Lakers battled through injuries to Fisher, O'Neal and Bryant, but as the club returned to full health, the Lakers began to pick up steam heading into the postseason.
After a 96-88 win over the Utah Jazz at the Delta Center on April 3, the Lakers ran off eight consecutive victories, their longest winning streak of the season, and were able to claim their second consecutive Pacific Division title, edging out the Sacramento Kings in the last week of the season. Los Angeles would not lose another contest until Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, sweeping Portland, Sacramento and San Antonio. Philadelphia surprised the Lakers with a 107-101 overtime victory at STAPLES Center, but Los Angeles went on to victories in each of the next four games to claim a second consecutive NBA title.
O'Neal was named Finals MVP after averaging 33.0 points and 15.8 rebounds against Philadelphia and was again a First Team All-NBA selection. Fisher returned from injury to convert 35 three-pointers throughout the playoffs, setting an NBA record with 15 threes in the four-game series against San Antonio. Bryant earned Second Team All-NBA and Second-Team All-Defense honors.