The Los Angeles Lakers are undoubtedly one of the most successful organizations in the entire history of not only the NBA, but in basketball in general. The Purple & Gold have no less than 16 NBA titles to their name — a feat that only the Boston Celtics (17) have bettered.
The Lakers have had some memorable teams in its history. These unique makeup of players have been the very reason behind L.A.’s sustained success through the years. Right now we’d like to honor some of these teams in our list of the Top 5 greatest teams in Los Angeles Lakers history.
Honorable Mention: 2019-20
We just had to throw this in there. We are well aware that this season’s Lakers side has achieved nothing other than being the top seed in a ruthless Western Conference for the majority of the season. After a forgettable 2018-19 campaign, the team brought in superstar big man Anthony Davis to play alongside the great LeBron James, and at this point, it’s safe to say that they have more than lived up to the high expectations many had on them.
Unfortunately, what was a highly promising run was abruptly halted/ended by the coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, what the 2019-20 Lakers side has undoubtedly succeeded at is in bringing back hope among the Lakers faithful. As it seems, we have now entered a new era of Lakers greatness.
The 2009-10 Lakers team had a number of important players on their side that were pivotal in this championship-winning season. This includes six-time All-Star Pau Gasol, then highly-promising big man Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and Derek Fisher, to name a few. Nonetheless, we all know that this title run was all about Kobe Bryant.
This season was arguably Kobe’s most important season as a Laker. Not only was this his fifth and final championship with the side, but more importantly, by winning back-to-back titles with him as the unbridled front man, he effectively etched his name into greatness. After this title, Bryant erased all doubt as to if he were capable of winning an NBA title without Shaquille O’Neal. The cherry on the cake was doing all this at the expense of their age-old rivals, the Boston Celtics.
Speaking of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, this perhaps reached its peak in the 1980’s. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were sworn enemies on the basketball court (they were actually great friends in real life), and what stands out in this particular season was the fact that they were coming off back-to-back heartbreaking Finals losses in the previous two seasons.
The Lakers were swept by Julius Erving’s Philadelphia 76ers in 1983, followed by a crushing seven-game series defeat to the Celtics in 1984. L.A., led by the famous pairing of Magic and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, were out for some revenge, and they made sure that they wouldn’t end up playing second fiddle yet again this season.
With the great Pat Riley at the helm as the team’s head coach, the 1984-85 Lakers would successfully vanquish their demons, defeating the Celtics 4-2 in the Finals, and thereby reaffirming their supremacy in the NBA.
After dominating the BAA/NBA in its early years (the Lakers won five championships in the first six years of the league), the team were in an extended slump. They had not won the title in nearly two decades, and the great Jerry West was already in the twilight of his career.
Everything changed in the 1972 when the Lakers finally returned to glory by winning the title after 18 long years. West was already 33 at that time, while Wilt Chamberlain was already 35. Another Lakers legend, Elgin Baylor, actually already retired early in the season, which is a story for another day. An aging Lakers squad defied the odds this season, gifting West with his one and only NBA title in his illustrious career.
One of the biggest what if’s in the history of the NBA would have to be the botched Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant pairing. These two alphas collided, leading up to the Lakers trading away Shaq to the Miami Heat in 2002. This was not, however, until this formidable pair went on an historic three-peat run between 2000 and 2002.
The most memorable season in the Shaq-Kobe era has got to be their 2000-01 campaign. This was the peak of L.A.’s dominance in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, with the Lakers winning all but one of its playoffs games, en route to championship number two. Shaq and Kobe led the Lakers to an extremely impressive 11-game winning streak in the payoffs to reach the Finals, running through the Portland Trail Blazers, the Sacramento Kings, and the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the West. They would taste defeat only once in the Finals against Allen Iverson and the Philadelpgia 76ers in Game 1, and would go on to win the title after four straight wins.
There is perhaps no greater team in Lakers history than the 1986-87 “Showtime Lakers.” At 39, Abdul-Jabbar was already in the tail end of his career at this point, but he was still an absolute force down low. This also saw Magic Johnson in his prime, with his signature flash and panache on full display. As fate would have it, the Lakers would once again be pitted against Larry Bird and the Celtics in the Finals, with L.A. once again coming out victorious. This title would cement the legacy of the Magic-Kareem era, winning their fourth — and arguably their most impressive — out of their five NBA championships.