L.A. Sports Franchises: Los Angeles Lakers

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Championships: 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1972, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010 (16 BAA/NBA titles, 1 NBL title in 1948)

Retired Numbers: #13 Wilt Chamberlain, #22 Elgin Baylor, #25 Gail Goodrich, #32 Magic Johnson, #33 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, #42 James Worthy, #44 Jerry West

Rivals: Boston Celtics

The Lakers franchise began with the 1947 purchase of a disbanded team, the Detroit Gems of the NBL. The new team began play in Minneapolis, calling themselves the Lakers in honor of Minnesota’s nickname, “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” The Lakers won five championships in Minneapolis, propelled by George Mikan, often regarded as the NBA’s first true superstar. After Mikan’s retirement in the late ‘50s, the team began to experience financial hardships, and relocated to Los Angeles before the 1960-61 season.

The move to LA fashioned the Lakers as the NBA’s first West Coast team. In the 1960 NBA Draft, the Lakers selected Jerry West out of West Virginia, and along with Elgin Baylor, the two young stars blossomed, and led the Lakers to incredible playoff success. In addition the 1960’s were high times in LA, as the Lakers acquired four time MVP Wilt Chamberlain at the center position. However, these powerhouse Los Angeles squads could not translate into championship success, as the team had Finals appearances in 1962, 63, 65, 66, 68, and 69, all of those ending in losses, all of the losses coming at the hands of the Boston Celtics. Thus began one of the most storied rivalries in professional sports, one that continues today.

The Lakers hold the record for the NBA’s longest winning streak of 33, as set during the 1971-72 season. After missing the playoffs in the 1974-75 season, the Lakers acquired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out of Milwaukee. Abdul-Jabbar had his fourth MVP season with the Lakers in 1975-76, and the team saw continued successes with the veteran squad. The new kid on the block, however, woul prove to be the difference maker in building a legacy in L.A. In the 1979 NBA Draft, the Lakers selected Magic Johnson from Michigan State with the first overall pick. It took Johnson’s teammates some time to adjust to his playing style, as the pointguard’s “no-look” passes often caught them off guard. However, the Lakers won 60 games in Johnson’s rookie season, defeating the 76ers in the 1980 Finals. Johnson was named Finals MVP as a rookie, dropping 42 points in Game 6, in which he filled in for an injured Abdul-Jabbar.

So began the “Showtime” Lakers. Nicknamed as such for Johnson’s fast break offense, the Lakers won five championships in a nine-year span, with wins in 1980, 82, 85, 87, and 88. This team featured Hall of Famers in Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy, and a Hall of Fame coach in Pat Riley. Two of those championships were against the Celtics.

After Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson’s retirement, the franchise struggled in the early 1990’s before acquiring free-agent Shaquille O’Neal, and drafting 17 year-old Kobe Bryant out of Lower Merrion High School in Pennsylvania in 1996. They also used their 24th pick in the draft to select Derek Fisher. A new era of greatness began in Lakers land, as O’Neal, Bryant, and head coach Phil Jackson achieved the unthinkable, a “three-peat,” winning the 2000, 2001, and 2002 NBA Finals. O’Neal was Finals series’ MVP each year, making him the only player besides Michael Jordan to win three consecutive Finals MVP’s. Additionally, during this span, the Lakers racked up an impressive 15-1 postseason record in 2001, an NBA record.

In the 2004 season, the Lakers won the Pacific Division title, and entered the playoffs as the number two seed. They defeated the Rockets, Spurs and Timberwolves in the first three rounds of the playoffs before succumbing to the Pistons in a five game NBA Finals series. After the season, O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in exchange for a number of players including Lamar Odom, as Bryant and O’Neal had clashed in the past, with the media crediting their feud as a motivating factor behind the trade. Jackson too did not return to Los Angeles, and wrote a book about the team’s 2003-04 season, in which he criticized Bryant, calling him “uncoachable.” The Lakers’ front office said that the book contained “several inaccuracies.”

The 2004-07 time period was one of rebuilding, a relatively foreign concept for a historically successful franchise. With coaching turnover and injuries, the Lakers missed the playoffs in 2005 for only the fifth time in franchise history. Jackson returned to the head coach position midway through the 2006 season, and with the addition of draft pick Andrew Bynum, as well as the veteran presence of Bryant, Odom, and new acquisition Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies, the Lakers began to return to championship form, reaching the Finals again in 2008 before falling to the Celtics. However, the Lakers returned in the 2008-09 season with a vengeance, winning their 15th franchise NBA title in 2009 over the Magic, as well as their 16th title in 2010 in a thrilling seven game series over the Celtics. Bryant was named Finals MVP in both seasons.

As the playoff race is heating up with heavy competition in the West, the Lakers have bounced back from a subpar pre-All Star break run, and have been burning up the competition in the most recent part of the season. Can the Lakers “three-peat” yet again? Does Kobe have what it takes to match Jordan and O’Neal as a three-time Finals MVP? Will Phil Jackson’s final season on the sidelines in L.A. prove to be as remarkable as his seasons past? Stay tuned, folks!

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About Home Field Advantage
We are two senior Sports Communication majors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We have launched this blog as part of our senior year capping project, with the goal of creating a comparative analysis and multimedia approach to the differing sports cultures in America.

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