50 Most Important Moments in Los Angeles Lakers History
Trying to keep track of all the important moments in Lakers franchise history is about as easy as trying to count all of the stars in the sky at night, given the team’s decorated history.
But that’s exactly what this humble writer has done. This article will look at the 50 most important moments in franchise history.
And keep in mind this is not a ranking, but rather a chronological history of the 50 most important moments.
So, sit back, relax and let’s take a trip down memory lane.
Minneapolis Glory Days
Prior to moving to Los Angeles in 1960, the Lakers called Minneapolis home for 12 seasons. Led by George Mikan, the Lakers won five championships in Minneapolis, including three in a row between 1952-1954.
Photo courtesy of: lakerstats.com
The Franchise Moves to Los Angeles
No better way than to start at the beginning, right? All of the great memories in the following slides may not have ever happened had the franchise not moved to the city of angels in 1960.
Drafting Jerry West
The Los Angeles Lakers selected Jerry West with the second overall pick in the 1960 Draft. “Mr. Clutch” was the face of the franchise for 14 seasons, leading the team to nine finals appearances and winning one championship in 1972.
Elgin Baylor Scores 71 Points
Early in the 1960-61 season, Elgin Baylor scored 71 points against the New York Knicks, in addition to snagging 25 rebounds.
Baylor’s 71-point game was both a league and franchise record at the time.
Wilt Chamberlain comes to Los Angeles
Prior to the 1968-69 season, the Los Angeles Lakers traded Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrall Imhoff for Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt helped the Lakers go on a still-record, 33-game winning streak in 1972, en route to the team winning its first championship since moving to Los Angeles.
Jerry West wins NBA Finals MVP, Despite the Los Angeles Lakers Losing the Finals
Despite losing to the Boston Celtics in seven, hard fought games, Jerry West took home a consolation prize. West became the first, and will likely be the last, player to ever win Finals MVP playing for the losing team.
33 in a Row
En route to winning 69 regular season games and the franchise’s first championship since moving to Los Angeles, the Lakers won 33 consecutive games, which is still an American pro sports record.
The 1972 Lakers are one of the best, if not the best, team in NBA history.
Photo courtesy of: apbrbasketball.blogspot.com
Trading for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Prior to the 1975-76 season, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was traded from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Los Angeles Lakers. In his time in Los Angeles, Jabbar won three regular season MVPs and one Finals MVP, in addition to helping the team win five championships.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Winning the 1976 MVP Award
In his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won his fourth career MVP award.
Jabbar averaged 27 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks.
Jerry Buss Becomes Owner
Since Jerry Buss bought the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979, he has played a part in the franchise winning 10 championships, in addition to being responsible for drafting Magic Johnson.
Buss is widely recognized as one of the best owners in sports history.
Drafting Magic Johnson
The Los Angeles Lakers made arguably the smartest move in franchise history by drafting Magic Johnson in 1979, considering Magic is widely considered to be the greatest Laker of them all.
In his time with the Lakers, Magic won five championships and three MVP awards.
Magic Johnson’s Game 6 in the 1980 NBA Finals
After beating the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 5 in Los Angeles, the Lakers found out they would be without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for Game 6 in Philadelphia, after the star center sprained his ankle in Game 5.
Magic Johnson quelled all worries quickly. The rookie notched 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in place of the injured Jabbar, as the Lakers clinched their first championship since 1972.
The Los Angeles Lakers Win Their First Championship of the “Showtime” Era
The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Philadelphia 76ers 4-2 in the 1980 NBA Finals, marking the start of the team’s “Showtime” era, which spanned nearly the entire decade.
It was the first of five championships Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson would win together, as the team’s all-time greatest duo.
Hiring Pat Riley as Coach
Early in the 1981-82 season, Pat Riley became coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. As a rookie head coach, Riley guided the team to the 1982 championship, the first of four championships Riley would win as coach of the team.
The Lakers Continue Their Reign over the Philadelphia 76ers
For the second time in three seasons, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers for the NBA championship.
Also for the second time in three seasons, Magic Johnson was named NBA Finals MVP.
The Los Angeles Lakers Draft James Worthy
With the first overall pick in the 1982 Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers selected James Worthy out of North Carolina.
Worthy would help lead the team to three championships. “Big Game James” was named NBA Finals MVP in 1988
Despite being the third best player on the team for the majority of his career, Worthy was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003.
Hiring Jerry West as General Manager
Prior to the 1982-83 season, the Los Angeles Lakers named Jerry West as general manager.
West held the position until 2002, when he became GM of the Memphis Grizzlies.
West played a hand in building both the “Showtime” dynasty of the 1980s and the Kobe/Shaq dynasty of the early 2000s.
The Lakers Finally Defeat the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals
For the first time in franchise history, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in 1985 NBA Finals, avenging a painful loss to Boston the season before.
Michael Cooper wins Defensive Player of the Year
Quite possibly the best defender in team history, Michael Cooper was named the 1987 Defensive Player of the Year.
Magic Johnson Winning the 1987 MVP Award
The 1986-87 season saw the Los Angeles Lakers defeat the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals and Magic Johnson win his first regular season MVP award.
The Lakers legend averaged 23 points,12 assists and six rebounds.
Magic Johnson’s Baby Hook in the 1987 NBA Finals
Trailing by one point with just a few seconds remaining, Magic Johnson tore a page out of teammate Kareem-Abdul Jabbar’s playbook.
Johnson hit a “baby” skyhook over the outstretched arms of Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, giving the Lakers a 107-106 victory and a 3-1 series advantage.
For the second time in three years, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, finally seizing control in the two teams’ notorious rivalry.
The Lakers Make Good on Pat Riley’s Guarantee
After the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in the 1987 NBA Finals, coach Pat Riley guaranteed the team would repeat the following season.
Riley proved to be a prophet, as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Detroit Pistons in the Finals.
Magic Johnson Announces He Has HIV
On November 7th, 1991, Magic Johnson announced to the world he would be retiring from the game of basketball after contracting HIV.
Fortunately, Magic has been able to fight the disease with much success throughout the years, and is presently able to live a normal, healthy life.
Magic Johnson Being Selected as a Starter for the 1992 All-Star Game
After announcing his retirement from the NBA prior to the 1991-92 season after contracting HIV, Magic Johnson was voted by the fans as a starter for the 1992 All-Star Game.
Johnson not only played in the game, but he would go on to win MVP, scoring 25 points.
Upsetting the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1995 Playoffs
Led by the likes of Cedric Ceballos and Vlade Divac, the Los Angeles Lakers upset the 57-win Seattle SuperSonics in the first round of the 1995 playoffs.
Unfortunately, the team’s playoff magic ran out in the next round. The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Lakers in six games in the conference semifinals.
The Magic Man Makes His Return
In the middle of the 1995-96 season, Magic Johnson made a brief return playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.
In 32 games, Johnson averaged 14 points and six assists. The Lakers were eventually eliminated by the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
Trading for Kobe Bryant in 1996
The rest, as they say, is ancient history. Kobe Bryant has helped the franchise win five championships, en route to becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, in addition to one of the game’s all-time greats.
Signing Shaquille O’Neal in 1996
In the summer of 1996, Shaquille O’Neal became a free agent after spending the first four years of his career with the Orlando Magic. The Los Angeles Lakers signed O’Neal to a seven-year, $121 million contract, continuing the team’s tradition of having dominating post players.
Shaq helped lead the Lakers to three championships, in addition to winning three Finals MVPs and one regular season MVP.
Having Four All-Stars in 1998
The Los Angeles Lakers had four players selected to the 1998 Western Conference All-Star Team: Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel.
Hiring Phil Jackson in the summer of 1999
After years of disappointing playoff appearances, the Los Angeles Lakers hired Phil Jackson as their coach in the summer of 1999, in hopes of being able to get Kobe and Shaq over the hump.
Jackson made an impact immediately, as he led the Lakers to the title in his first season as coach, and the franchise’s first since 1988.
Shaquille O’Neal Winning the 2000 MVP Award
Shaquille O’Neal had what was quite possibly the most dominating season in team history in 1999-2000. On his way to claiming his one and only MVP award, O’Neal averaged 29 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks.
Shaq also collected the All-Star Game and Finals MVP that season.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal Finally Strike It Rich
After years of embarrassing exits from the playoffs, many fans and experts wondered if Kobe and Shaq had what it took to win the big one.
The dynamic, yet tumultuous duo silenced their critics at the end of the 1999-2000 season as they led the Lakers to their first championship since 1988.
En route to winning their second straight championship, the Lakers posted a 15-1 record, which is the best playoff winning percentage in league history.
The only loss came to Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Robert Horry’s Three-Pointer in the 2002 Western Conference Finals
In Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings, Robert Horry hit a game-winning three-pointer to tie the two teams’ best of seven playoff series at two games, preventing the Lakers from falling to a 3-1 deficit.
It’s very possible the Lakers would have not won three straight championships had it not been for Horry’s late game heroics.
In 2002, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Jersey Nets for their third consecutive championship. Shaquille O’Neal was named NBA Finals MVP for the third straight season, and Phil Jackson claimed championship number nine.
Shaquille O’Neal Winning Three Straight NBA Finals MVPs
From 2000-2002, Shaquille O’Neal led the Los Angeles Lakers to three straight championships, winning three straight Finals MVP awards along the way.
O’Neal joined Jordan as the only players in league history to win the award in three straight seasons.
Chick Hearn's Passing in 2002
One would be hard pressed to find a more dreary day for Lakers fans than the day Chick Hearn passed away.
Chick broadcasted 3,338 consecutive games for the Lakers during his 42 year career as play-by-play announcer for the team.
Chick was much more than your everyday broadcaster, he was a basketball pioneer. Hearn is credited with coining some of the most common, popular basketball terms we all use today, including slam dunk, air ball and triple-double.
Karl Malone and Gary Payton Become Lakers
Yes, the Gary Payton-Karl Malone era will always be looked at as a disappointment, looking back at how the 2004 season ended and the ugly aftermath that ensued.
It will always be remembered as the Lakers’ “New York Yankees” moment, in my opinion. The Lakers signed both Malone and Payton in the summer of 2003. Instantly, the team was predicted to win 70 games and cruise to the championship.
But Malone was injured for the majority of the season, and Payton never really meshed well with Phil Jackson and his triangle offense.
The trials and tribulations of the 2003-04 season came to a head when the Lakers were shockingly beat by the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals.
Trading Shaquille O'Neal in 2004
It was both a sad and starting day for Lakers fans in the summer of 2004 when Shaquille O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat.
After O’Neal was traded, the team went through three years where Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson struggled to keep the team relevant. But after acquiring Pau Gasol in 2008, the team has won two of the last three championships.
Who knows, had Shaq not been traded, the team may not have won titles in 2009 and 2010. And it definitely wouldn’t have allowed Kobe Bryant to blossom into the player we all see and enjoy today.
Drafting Andrew Bynum
This moment will hopefully prove to be more important as time goes by, especially if Andrew Bynum blossoms into the franchise player some fans think he will become.
But nonetheless, whether Bynum becomes the next great Lakers center, or he is traded in-exchange for another team’s star player, he will end up being one of the franchise’s most notorious players.
Kobe Bryant's 81-Point Game
On January 22nd 2006, Kobe Bryant scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. Bryant’s 81 points is the second highest point total for one game in league history, second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point performance in 1962.
Trading for Pau Gasol in 2008
Los Angeles Lakers fans took a huge sigh of relief when the team traded for Pau Gasol in February of 2008.
Before then, the Lakers had been struggling to stay relevant after Shaquille O’Neal was traded in 2004.
Gasol instantly made the team title contenders again. In his first three seasons with the team, the Lakers made three consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals and won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.
Kobe Bryant Winning the 2008 MVP Award
Considering Kobe Bryant will likely go down as the one of the top 10 players in league history, it is becoming more and more likely he will oddly retire with only one regular season MVP award.
Bryant averaged 28 points, six rebounds and five assists in 2008, leading the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference.
Winning the 2009 Championship
By leading the Los Angeles Lakers to the 2009 title, Kobe Bryant proved he could win a championship as the team’s undisputed alpha dog.
No longer could people claim Kobe couldn’t win the “big one” without Shaquille O’Neal.
Phil Jackson Wins No.10, Stealing Red Auerbach’s Victory Cigar
With the Los Angeles Lakers’ victory over the Orlando Magic in the 2009 Finals, Phil Jackson surpassed Red Auerbach with his 10th career championship.
The two legendary coaches had been deadlocked at nine each ever since Jackson won his ninth championship in 2002.
Signing Ron Artest in the Summer of 2009
It may seem a little strange to see this as one of the cornerstone moments in franchise history, but I don’t believe the Lakers would have won the 2010 title without Ron Artest.
Not only did Ron Artest hit the game winning shot in Game 5 in the Western Conference Finals that season, but he was arguably the MVP in Game 7 against the Celtics.
Kobe Bryant Becomes The Franchise’s All-Time Leading Scorer
In February of 2010, Kobe Bryant passed Jerry West as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.
Beating the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals
After the Los Angeles Lakers were defeated by the Boston Celtics in the 2008 Finals, the Lakers got revenge on their longtime archrival in 2010, as they defeated Boston in a classic seven game series.
The championship gave Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson their fifth and 11th championships, respectively.
Lamar Odom Wins Sixth Man of the Year Award
After averaging 14 points, eight rebounds and three assists as the team’s sixth man, Lamar Odom became the first Laker in franchise history to win the Sixth Man of the Year Award.