Editor’s Note: The modern era of the NBA is generally accepted to have begun with the 1979-80 season, the advent of the 3-point line in the NBA. The lists to follow—one for each of the NBA’s 30 teams—will only consider seasons since 1979-80. We continue the series today with the best of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Los Angeles Lakers have been remarkably consistent, from their days in the old National Basketball League when the team was located in Minneapolis through the most recent decade.
In their 66 seasons in the Basketball Association of America and its successor, the NBA, the Lakers have made the playoffs a whopping 60 times and appeared in the Finals on 31 occasions.
They are the only franchise in league history to appear in the Finals at least once in every decade of the league’s existence (1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s).
The Minneapolis Lakers didn’t begin their existence, however, in Minneapolis and they weren’t called the Lakers.
No, instead the NBA’s most consistently successful franchise traces its origins to a team called the Detroit Gems in the NBL—a squad that won just four of 44 games in its only season before moving to Minneapolis in 1947.
How complete was the makeover from the 1946-47 Gems to the 1947-48 Lakers? No one who appeared in a game for Detroit in 1946-47 played for Minneapolis the following season.
But what Minneapolis did add in 1947 was DePaul All-American George Mikan, the first in a long line of dominant centers the Lakers have called their own. Mikan helped lead the Lakers to a 43-17 record and an NBL title before the team jumped to the BAA in 1948, where they won back-to-back championships in 1949 and 1950 and then became the first team in NBA history to win three in a row, turning the trick in 1952, 1953 and 1954.
The Lakers wouldn’t win another title until 1972, with aging stars Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West teaming up losing eight times in the NBA Finals—seven to the Boston Celtics and once to the New York Knicks.
Phil Jackson, who did two tours as Lakers coach—the first from 1999-2004 and then again from 2005-11—is the franchise’s winningest coach with 610 victories and he is tied for the franchise lead with John Kundla, who coached the team twice as well (1948-57, 1958-59), with five championships.
The team has had only 10 personnel decision-makers in its history, just two of those in the last 32 years. Jerry West called the shots from June 1982 through August 2000 and his successor, Mitch Kupchak, has been on the job ever since.
The guys calling the shots in the front office have come up big a number of times, drafting franchise all-time greats such as Elgin Baylor and West, trading for big men Abdul-Jabbar and Chamberlain, signing O’Neal as a free agent and finding some luck along the way, as well.
The Lakers landed the No. 1 overall pick in the 1979 draft thanks to the New Orleans Jazz, who traded their first round pick in 1979 to the Lakers as part of the compensation package for signing guard Gail Goodrich as a free agent in August 1976.
Three years later, the Lakers were picking No. 1 overall once again. This time it was because the Cleveland Cavaliers had traded their 1982 No. 1 pick along with guard Butch Lee to the Lakers for Don Ford and a 1980 first-rounder who turned out to be the immortal Chad Kinch, he of the 41-game NBA career.
That pick turned out to be eventual Hall of Famer James Worthy.
And here are the best players, by position, for the Los Angeles Lakers in the modern era, beginning in 1979-80. Players had to have played 200 games for the franchise and averaged 25 minutes per game.