The story of the Los Angeles Lakers extends over 50 seasons including success that would be envied by any sports franchise in existence. From humble beginnings to the so called Showtime Lakers of the 1970’s, transitions of culture and time were adapted into the pop culture successes known as the Los Angeles Lakers. Some historians also consider Detroit to be a very short primary home for the franchise, including Tex Winter, who even acknowledges that Minneapolis really got the ball rolling for laying down a successful path for the franchise (Lazenby, vii).
Before 1960 the Lakers called Minneapolis home. This period extended from 1947 to 1959. While the city was shy from the glitz and glam of the Hollywood Hills it is largely accepted that the Lakers franchise held one of basketball’s biggest stars. George Mikan was larger than life in more ways than one. At six feet, ten inches, Mikan was one of the league’s first focal points. According to Lakers historian Roland Lazenby, Mikan set the pace for a history of great big men in basketball history. George Mikan led the team to a championship in his first year with the Lakers. Mikan was “the drawing card” according to Lazenby (22). The presence of the first coveted player in the league laid foundation for highly paid superstars of professional basketball to come.
From the first star to the first dynasty, the Lakers won five titles in six seasons between 1948 and 1954. Managers Ben Berger and Morris Chalfen purchased and relocated the troubled National Basketball League (NBL) franchise, the Detroit Gems. For their $15,000 they received not much more than some of the team’s equipment and a piece of paper as a document saying that they now owned a team in the NBL. This aforementioned deal would move the team from Detroit and begin a whole new story. Through this purchase no players were acquired by the organization.
The Lakers continued their winning ways in the BAA, or Basketball Association of America in 1948-1949. The Lakers took their first BAA championship that year at home in Minneapolis in game 6. More attention was garnered during this initial season than ever before and Minneapolis was beginning to be known as a hub for basketball, a tradition that has endured today through many great players of mid-western original who grew up idolizing Laker greats. One such influenced is Jerry Reynolds, former player and now color commentator for the Sacramento Kings who grew up in French Lick, Indiana. Historian Mark Heisler notes a classic Madison Square Garden marquee that read “Wed Basketball, Geo Mikan vs. Knicks” (Heisler, 14). At the beginning of this 2010 season Reynolds relived some of the memories of watching Mikan and a generation he called the greatest of all time (Fox Sports West).
The following season was the first for the merger that became the national basketball Association. Another winning season with a 51-17 record was good enough to tie the Royals, who they then eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The NBA finals that year saw the Lakers taking yet another title in six games against the Syracuse nationals. The first NBA title was won by the Lakers by the final score of 110-95. Minneapolis took these victories in close contention from the Nats who had held home court advantage in the season.
The 1951-52 season brought the Lakers another title which would be their second in three years and followed up with the first back to back championships in NBA history. It was at this point that the first NBA dynasty was born. The 1954 season delivered the third title in a row for the Lakers who defeated the Syracuse nationals again. The 24 second shot clock was introduced during the following seas in 1954 and the foul out rule simultaneously came into affect. Roland Lazenby wrote that the introduction of the shot clock cut significantly into the big man dominance of controlling the low post (Lazenby, 36). That season served the Lakers a defeat at the hands of the Rochester Royals in the first round of the playoffs and two losing seasons ensued (NBA.com). The Royals fought hard and were a difficult match-up for the Lakers who lacked in speed and tenacity throughout that series. The Royals put a hault in the Lakers run of luck and talent for a few seasons.
The first Laker legend George Mikan bid farewell in retirement before the start of the 1955-1956 season which was the first Laker to retire of key players to follow in the next few seasons including Jim Pollard and Slater Martin. Struggling seasons came to follow for several years with only a few berths into the postseason.
One of the more noticeable downturn years came in 1958 when the team finished last in the Western Division with an overall record of 19 wins and 53 losses during the regular season. These times brought a period of seemingly lackluster effort according to an ESPN interview Jerry West. Scoring was hard to come by and inconsisten and the team seemed to lack leadership on the court.
The losing season of 1958 resulted in the top draft pick in the NBA draft with which they selected the next Laker legend, Elgin Baylor. Without discounting George Mikan, the LA Times released their 50th anniversary book with Elgin Baylor as the first billed classic Laker player in its text (LA Times, 8). The book by LA Times writers notes that Baylor brought a consistency that could be counted on in times of need. Baylor did not bring instant success but he did have a lasting basketball impression on both the franchise and the game.
The advent of the Lakers and Celtics rivalry began in 1959 when Boston knocked out the Lakers from the playoffs. Boston had built a large fan base along the Eastern Seaboard on the backs of flashy scorers who were second only to the Lakers at that point in terms of showmanship.
The Lakers departed from Minneapolis for Los Angeles and became the first NBA franchise located on the West Coast before the 1960-1961. Minnesota would not have another franchise until the birth of the Timberwolves in 1989. This was also the year the legend Jerry West came into the league. A knockout in the Division Finals would end that season but dawn a new era of Laker basketball in the city of Angels. The Celtics rivalry also would help define the early Los Angeles years for the franchise which excited fans across both coasts of the United States for having the pride of the best time in basketball.
The Celtics had the better of the matchup through the early years taking the NBA Finals for the first five times that they faced the Lakers. The green machine dominated the league with 11 of 13 championships in Boston. The turning point would be a blockbuster trade in 1968 to acquire Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain’s era as a Laker extended from 1968 to 1974. He averaged a league leading 21.1 rebounds per game in his first Laker season setting the pace for a Hall of Fame career (NBA.com). His tremendous size and impressive athleticism allowed him to have inches of reach further than many of the opposing teams that the Lakers would face along the way. Sometimes called Stilts by players and fans because of his lean height, Chamberlain was a special player who was able to score in drives and also presented a defensive force.
The team attack of West, Baylor, and Chamberlain were formidable. Jerry West won his first scoring title at 31.2 points per game in 1970. West also won an NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award even in a losing effort. Losing efforts to the Celtics and Knicks would keep Championships out of reach while these personal milestones began to rack up in Los Angeles. A remarkable 33 game winning streak in 1971 showed how special the team had become. That season Sherman won the Coach of the Year as the Lakers pulled a record 69 victories. Sherman had a dedicated approach according to Jerry West during an ESPN interview that was “second to none” during that era.
In 1974 Jerry West retired. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came along in 1975 to become the new dominant center in the NBA. Kareem earned four MVP awards by 1978. The Showtime Lakers had arrived. Bill McClean accounted this period as the “glamour days of basketball”. The proximity of Los Angeles and the Hollywood and Burbank film production studios created unprecedented access to celebrities courtside and filmmakers worldwide. The Lakers achieved more fan success during this period than at any time preceding the present. National media attention intensified as the team was able to not only carry a swagger but back it up with wins on the court. The good looking and very talented team lit up the scoreboard and camera flashbulbs in every city where they traveled.
By 1979 the team was worth 67.5 million dollars to new owner Jack Kent and Pat Riley arrived to coach. The heroic entrance of Magic Johnson into the league made the team a force to be reckoned with unlike any other in terms of both skill and popularity. The Lakers finally overcame the Celtics and entered back into Championship spotlight. Rivalries flourished against Boston and later with the Chicago Bulls of the Michael Jordan era which created some of the biggest games in basketball history. This remained the biggest matchup in sports (Bill Walton, NBC) until the retiring of Magic Johnson in 1991 after he tested positive for the HIV virus.
The early 1990’s brought mediocre success to the team on the court as many Western Conference teams like the Seattle Supersonics and San Antonio Spurs began to develop great half court offenses that brought match-up problems for the Lakers to overcome. As TNN broadcaster and former player Charles Barkley has accounted for several times during half time show broadcasts, the Lakers were not always the ones on top, and Barkley’s roles with the Phoenix Suns and later the Houston rockets were partly responsible.
The Lakers acquired rookie Kobe Bryant in 1996 and Shaquille O’Neal in 1997 to create the next great era of Laker basketball (Lakers.com). The 1999 building of the new Staples Center placed a new physical cornerstone to the new Lakers, a team whose reign continues in dominance with Pao Gasol, Kobe Bryant, and a terrific support system behind ownership and management that can see no immediate end in sight or diminishing of franchise greatness.
Coach Phil Jackson, sometimes referred to as the Zen Master, has become the most acclaimed coach in National Basketball Association history. His prolific career building the star sensations of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have made him a legendary leader. The significance of Phil Jackson can not be understated by basketball fans and critics alike.
Basketball fans now debate the greatness of kobe Bryant who might go down as the best shooting guiard in basketball history, arguable as good as Michael Jordan. While the two refuse to address the comparisons, fans, bloggers, and media savvy individuals will long be conversing the issue until Bryant’s spectacular career comes to an end one day.
The support and following of the Los Angeles is second to none over the tenure of the franchise in the NBA. Even non flagship stations in Southern California make the Lakers headline news worthy on a daily basis during basketball season. On Wednesday, December 1st, 2010, Roger Lodge of radio station AM 830 KLAA begged the question, “Over the long haul, what team in basketball, anywhere in the world, deserved the admiration of fans and long term success as the Los Angeles Lakers?” This sentiment is echoed daily by hundreds of sports reporters around the country who cover the NBA. Only the Miami Heat who acquired three superstars have a rivaled popularity based on attendance and chatter online. A Google search for “Los Angeles Lakers” yields about 8 million results as of December 4th, 2010.
It is somewhat of an understatement, by the modern day Los Angeles Lakers can be summed up by one icon defining new territory, Kobe. Lakers documentarian Mark Heisler stated that “Kobe and the New Lakers Dynasty started a whole new tradition as starry as the heavens” (Heisler, 22). Kobe’s skill and agility make him dominant because he has the work ethic to continue improving even when he is at the top of his game. He can take over in clutch moments and lead expansive victories because of his determination and uncanny control of the basketball. His improvement in the passing game also makes him a double threat with the ball. This makes him the single most difficult player to guard in 2010. Having this superstar on your team is a surefire way to give each game a chance to become a victory for the Lakers.
The management of staff and roster have allowed for a creative and supportive atmosphere for player acquisitions, development, and scouting. The ability to foster the growth of young players by placing them with proven veterans allows the team to continue to prosper without becoming overly dependant on two or three players on the court at any given time. The Lakers remain one of the teams leading in depth that attacj in waves from starters to bench players. On top of depth and popularity comes dollar signs. The revenues of the team are increasing during a recessed market, according to a post season interview with Jerry Buss on NBATV.
In the fall of 2010 Kobe Bryant brought some negative attention by groups unhappy with his appearance in a television commercial shooting a gun advertising a video game. Still, the accomplishments on the court outshine the criticisms including a thrown out case of rape accusations. His international fan base follows every record breaking play of his career, as noted by one popular international paper, The Manila Times, ” On February 1, 2010, Kobe Bryant surpassed Jerry West to become the all-time leading scorer in Lakers history” (The Manila Times).
Steve Blake and Derrick Caracter arrived on the team recently to bring new support to the established stars. The return of point guard veteran Derek Fisher gives the play calling and flow of the game a familiar approach for long time fans. Expansion of radio remote broadcasts from KSPN 710 AM and proximity to ESPN Los Angeles studios ensures coverage of all of the great moments which makes the team easy to follow for national and international audiences alike.
The Los Angeles Lakers have developed an international fan base with help from star center and pride of Spain Pao Gasol. Until December of 2010, the Lakers had not lost more than three consecutive games since the addition of Pao Gasol. Owner Jerry Bus has worked diligently to maintain a professional relationship. This international following from Spain’s Gasol supporters to the Serbian connections of shooter Sasha Vujacic bring many walks of life to televisions access the world to watch the Lakers take the court. The Lakers have booked increasing nationally televised games as another success indicator (Lakers.com Schedule)
Television Nielsen ratings have shown that national broadcasts with the Lakers draw very well. The careful manage and public relations of the team has built a strong relationship between the organization and the community, which was noted in the Los Angeles Times Blog several times featuring charitable team events (LA Times Blog). They remain the most popular franchise in basketball, and one of the most dominant and reputable teams of all time.
Buss, Jeannie. Laker Girl. Triumph Books, 2010.
Hauger, Danny. A History of the Los Angeles Lakers. 2010.
Heisler, Mark. Kobe and the New Lakers’ Dynasty. Triumph Books, 2009. LA Times and Jackson, Phil. The Los Angeles Lakers: 50 Amazing Years. Time Capsule Press, 2010.
Lazenby, Roland. The Show: The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers. McGraw-Hill: 2005.
Lodge, Roger. The Sports Lodge. AM 830 KLAA. 12/1/2010.
The Manila Times . Feb 1, 2010. Accessed 12/4/10
McClean, Bill. Showtime Lakers. Blending Books: 2008.
“Minneapolis Lakers 1954-55 Roster and Statistics”. basketball-reference.com . http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/MNL/1955.html. Retrieved December 3 , 2010 .
Reynolds, Jerry. Sacramento Kings Basketball. Fox Sports West. Broadcast October 29, 2010.
“Team History”. Lakers.com. www.Lakers.com. Accessed 12/3/10.