Minneapolis-Los Angeles Lakers: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

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Minneapolis-Los Angeles Lakers: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

Rather simply waxing poetic about my team, I will validate the claim that the Minneapolis- Los Angeles Lakers are the greatest franchise in the history of the NBA, and perhaps all of professional sports.

In 62 seasons, the Lakers have made 57 postseason appearances, had 50 winning seasons and have only missed the playoffs twice in the same decade once—when they missed consecutively in 1974-75 and in Kareem’s first season with the team, 1975-76 (despite having four more wins than the Pistons, who made it out of the Western Conference’s other division).

The franchise that came into existence in 1948 as the Minneapolis Lakers won a championship in its first season. Over the next five seasons, the last of George Mikan’s great career, he and fellow great Jim Pollard were joined by future Hall of Famers Vern Mikkelsen, Slater Martin and Clyde Lovellette as the Lakers won another four championships.

With Mikan gone, the Lakers were absent from the NBA Finals for each of the next four seasons and missed the playoffs in 1957-58, with a league-worst 19-53 record. It would be almost two decades before either of these things would happen again.

In the 50 years since the NBA expanded to an 80-game (now 82-game) schedule, the Lakers have won 50+ games in a season 31 times and 60+ on 11 occasions. The rest of NBA history has seen 52 60-win teams.

In 62 seasons, the Lakers have advanced as far as the conference finals 42 times. They have participated in exactly half of the last 62 Finals series, including 10 of 15 from 1958-72 and nine of 12 between 1979 and 1991.

The Lakers have won 16 championships—second all-time to the Celtics’ 17—but hold a 11- 6 edge over the past 40 years, 10- 4 since 1980 and 5- 1 since 1990.

Sustained excellence? Thy name is the Lakers.

As for star power and individual greatness, there’s been a steady stream of that too.

A total of 101 players have suited up in at least 300 games for the Lakers. Of this group, 13 are in the Hall of Fame. This number is guaranteed to hit 15 exactly five years after the respective retirements of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Additionally, Pau Gasol looks like a decent bet to push that total to 16 by the time he’s finished.

The flow of superstars into Lakerland through the years is staggering. From Mikan, Pollard, Mikkelsen and Martin in the 1940s and 1950s, to Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and Wilt Chamberlain in the 1960s and early 1970s, to Kareem for a decade and a half starting in the mid-1970s.

At the tail end of the West-Wilt-Goodrich era—right after Elgin Baylor’s retirement—the 1971-72 Lakers produced one of the greatest season in NBA history. They posted a regular season record of 69-13, including an unfathomable 33-game winning streak, and cruised through the playoffs to secure the franchise’s first championship in Los Angeles.

As Kareem rounded out his prime, he was joined by the greatest point guard of all time, Magic Johnson. They were joined under super-coach Pat Riley by underrated two-guard Byron Scott and James Worthy, one of the most well-rounded offensive weapons of the era. Together, they formed the foundation for the spectacular 1980s Showtime teams.

After a relative drought for a good chunk of the 1990s (Cedric Ceballos, Nick Van Exel and Sedale Threatt figured prominently), the Lakers struck gold again. In the summer of 1996, legendary-player-turned-legendary-GM Jerry West landed all-universe free agent Shaquille O’Neal and traded for 17-year-old preps-to-pros stud Kobe Bryant. Under uber-coach Phil Jackson, the pair would return the Lakers to the NBA’s elite, winning three straight championships and become one of the greatest duos in NBA history.

However, tension between the superstar duo, who’d never particularly cared for one another, boiled over after an embarrassing Finals loss to the Detroit Pistons in 2004. That they lost was not embarrassing— the Pistons were really good—but the way in which the wheels came flying off is another story. Once it was clear that the two could no longer coexist, Shaq was sent to Miami in a deal that brought Lamar Odom and Caron Butler to L.A.

The five seasons that have followed have brought a series of ups and downs:

A season of future All-Star Caron Butler emerging as a potential running mate for Kobe. The subsequent trade of Butler to Washington for human cataclysm, Kwame Brown. A return to the playoffs after just one trip to the lottery. Kobe’s “81” amid just the third 35+ ppg season in 35 years. A heart-stopping trade demand from Kobe Bryant. The return of Phil. The arrival of Pau Gasol in exchange for Kwame Brown (Kwame’s lone contribution to NBA history) and Pau’s extremely talented younger brother. The return of D-Fish. A return to the Finals in 2008. A 1960s-esque loss to Celtics upon arrival. A return to glory with another pair of titles, including sweet vindication against the Celtics.

It’s fitting that the Forum (later the Fabulous Forum and the Great Western Forum), no longer a basketball venue, was sold to a local church group and is now a house of worship.

Welcome to my cathedral.

 

WARNING! This is NOT light reading!

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