Charting the Unbelievable Financial Life of the Los Angeles Lakers

J.M. Poulard@ShyneIVContributor IIFebruary 5, 2013

Jerry Buss (left) and Magic Johnson (right).
Jerry Buss (left) and Magic Johnson (right).Ken Levine/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers have been a permanent fixture atop the Forbes NBA valuations list for the last half-decade. They are currently valued at $1 billion, second only to the New York Knicks.

Mind you, the Lakers weren’t always considered to be one of the most valuable franchises in basketball, let alone all of professional sports.

The change in their fortunes began when the team moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960; while in Minneapolis they were doing poorly financially, partly because they were second to last in attendance.

In Los Angeles, the attendance increased but was still relatively low compared to other franchises in the NBA.

However, the team made a move that may not have seemed all that important at the time but was huge in hindsight: They scheduled a series of preseason games across the country against a Boston Celtics team that had not only won the last two titles, but that would also go on to dominate the rest of the decade and form a heated rivalry with the Lakers.

Armed with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, the Lakers began to compete for titles and regularly met the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, but ultimately always lost to them.

The team’s success led to more crowds showing up for Laker games as well as stars making appearances at the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena to be seen at the contests.

This led to a businessman by the name of Jack Kent Cooke taking interest in the franchise and buying it for $5 million in 1965.

A mere three years later, Cooke had the Great Western Forum built at the cost of $16 million and moved the Lakers into his new state-of-the-art stadium, all the while abandoning the blue and white jerseys in favor of the purple and gold.

In the first three years of the new owner’s reign, the Lakers made two appearances in the NBA Finals but were defeated each time in the title round by Bill Russell’s Celtics.

This prompted Cooke to make another splash: He acquired Wilt Chamberlain in 1968 to help combat Russell.

The Los Angeles Lakers were nonetheless eliminated in back-to-back finals, but now boasted the second-best attendance figures in the league (have a look at the increase in their attendance numbers throughout the years here) and were followed closely around the country thanks to radio broadcasts by the incomparable Chick Hearn.

The Lakers never did beat the Celtics with Russell, though.

Instead, they finally broke through by defeating the New York Knicks in the 1972 NBA Finals.

Armed with star power, a huge market and a championship, the Los Angeles Lakers became one of the most entertaining franchises in the league and consequently one of its most marketable and valuable.

But with the superstars getting older and their bodies breaking down, the team seemed to be on the decline and headed nowhere fast—until they acquired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975.

Abdul-Jabbar’s arrival kept the team relevant enough for Jerry Buss to take an interest in purchasing the team.

By 1979, he and Jack Kent Cooke negotiated a deal in which Buss bought the team for $20 million (which was part of a larger transaction that totaled $67.5 million) and in the process selected a player in the draft, Magic Johnson, who he thought would make the team far more entertaining than it had ever been.

With Johnson on board, the Lakers not only remained atop the league leaders in attendance, but they also earned multiple nationally televised game-spots because of their fast-paced playing style as well as their overall success.

In Johnson’s first 12 seasons, the Lakers made nine appearances in the NBA Finals, winning five of them.

The superstar point guard eventually retired, and when things looked really awful, they acquired Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant to set up the team’s foundation from 1996 until now.

The franchise has won five world titles since Bryant became part of it and still holds the potential to win possibly another one in the near future.

The franchise’s success as a whole has made it easy for fans to latch on to the team and want to follow it through its ups and downs, which in turn facilitates the process of marketing the team and allowing it to obtain a large degree of national exposure.

The Los Angeles Lakers have made an appearance in the NBA Finals in every decade since moving to L.A., which obviously is a big part of their glamour, but not all of it.

After purchasing the team, Jerry Buss brought in the Laker Girls, who gave it some added exposure as well as some sex appeal.

But the one thing that the franchise has had more than any other franchise in league history is star power. Loads of it.

Have a quick glance below at the team's stars and the decades in which they played for the Lakers:

  • 1960s: Elgin Baylor was one of the greatest forwards in NBA history.
  • 1960s and 1970s: Jerry West is not only perhaps the third-best shooting guard ever, but he is still represented in the ever-famous NBA logo.
  • 1970s: Wilt Chamberlain was famous on the court as well as off due to his various interests and brilliant display of basketball.
  • 1970s and 80s: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar may have had his issues with the media, but he may well in fact be the best player in NBA history.
  • 1980s: Magic Johnson is still considered by many to be the best point guard in league history as well as one of its top five best talents.
  • 1990s and 2000s: Shaquille O’Neal was not only the most dominating player the league had seen in quite some time, but he also was just as large off the court with his entertainment value (movies, music, etc.).
  • 2000s and 2010s: Kobe Bean Bryant is arguably the best player of his generation and has morphed into the best interview in the league.

The growth of the sport of basketball, the success of the Lakers and the superstars that have played for the franchise have unquestionably made it one of the most valuable teams in all of professional sports.

And to think, when the team first moved to Los Angeles, there were concerns that it might not thrive.

But with multiple Hall of Fame players as well as its own ranking of best-ever Los Angeles Lakers teams, it’s quite clear that we are talking not only about a glamorous franchise, but perhaps the NBA’s signature team.


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