If you take the Lakers’ history out of NBA history, there is little NBA history left. But, with 17 titles, 32 finals in 76 years, and eight superstars in the top 15 players in NBA history, the California club is one of the most popular organizations in the world for a reason. The Lakers are the only franchise that is clearly on another level, despite all the artificial restrictions designed to create a level playing field for all teams in the American leagues. It is a club famous for one or more great dynasties and has produced a vibrant, memorable championship-contending team throughout every decade in the league.
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- Years with the Lakers: 1957-1965
Short is like the worst thing that ever happened to the Lakers, yet he is why the club with such an inappropriate name ended up in Los Angeles.
Short could have taught even Sam Hinkie how to tank. Not only did he give away his best players, lose more and more, and sink to the bottom, but he did everything he could to alienate the remaining fans from the club.
In three years, by 1960, he had set the stage for a move out West – making sure there was a lot of interest on the coast in basketball, convincing Elgin Baylor to drop out of college, and drafting Jerry West. He also secured 100 percent excuses – thanks to his efforts, spectators in Minneapolis stopped going to basketball games.
The only problem was the reluctance of the other owners: the Lakers were becoming the first team on the West Coast, and the clubs’ transportation costs were increasing significantly. So short made them vote twice: they told him “no” on the first try and “yes” on the second when they saw that Harlem Globetrotters owner Abe Saperstein was dreaming of a rival league with a club in Los Angeles.
Short declared that he would give up the move if he sold 3,000 season tickets but then spit on that promise.
Naturally, with Baylor and West, the results in the new place soared, the Lakers transformed and returned to the elite, and people went. Short soon resold the franchise, making just over $5 million (he had bought it for $150,000).
- Years with the Lakers: 1970-1973
Jimmy Mac spent only three seasons with the Lakers, but he looked sensational. The 6’2″ fatty played a vital role in the 1972 championship season when he ousted Elgin Baylor from the lineup, forcing him to end his career. He was no Baylor, of course, but he had all the necessary skills for a light forward (he could press with his back, didn’t get greedy, played smart, had a steady average, and especially liked to bomb from the corners) and brought much-needed energy, youth, and energy to an over-experienced team – in particular, he flew to the breakaway after Wilt Chamberlain’s passes.
McMillian scored 18.8 points, grabbed 6.5 rebounds during the regular season, and upped his output to 19.1 points in the playoffs. In case anyone had doubts, the record-setting streak of 33 wins began just as Bill Sharman made the tough choice between Baylor and McMillian.
The fans worshipped him. And he answered every question: “I have no idea what my place on the team is. I’m just a chubby little guy at No. 5.”
Mack, universally surprised to be selected by the Lakers with the 13th pick, never got the chance to grow into star status on his hometown team. Instead, after Chamberlain left, the Lakers traded center Elmore Smith for him.
- Years with the Lakers: 1997-2004
Fox got to Los Angeles by accident. He saw himself as the heir to Boston’s great players. Still, a mistake by Rick Pitino made him a free agent: he further preferred a minimum contract with the Lakers and a limited role with Shaquille and Kobe to 20 million for four years and a leadership role from Cleveland.
During his championship seasons, Fox scored only a few points, didn’t take the decisive shots, and didn’t explode with a series of shots. Still, it’s evident to everyone that things would have turned out very differently without his unusual decision in favor of the Lakers.
- Years with the Lakers: 1965-2002
It is the voice of the Lakers.
Hearn accompanied the club’s performances for ages – 3,383 consecutive games (and a few more after surgery and recovery). He initially became famous for radio reports so detailed and accurate that they created the effect of being there. And once on television, he supplemented his consistently vivid and apt style with phrases that quickly became clichés (“no harm, no foul”), definitions that became recognized terms (“slamdunk”), and nicknames that stuck with the players (“Big Game James”).
Hearn’s importance to the club today is underscored by the plaza next to the arena named after him and the statue placed near monuments to other legends. Hearn was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the media and represented the club wherever it could be done with his voice (from “The Simpsons” to “Gilligan’s Island”).
- Years with the Lakers: 1996-2016
Titles do not define Bryant’s importance to the Lakers. However, no one in the club’s history has accumulated more.
And not the time spent in a Lakers jersey. However, he ran in the purple and gold colors for an unprecedented 20 years.
And, of course, not the fact that he died, putting the whole planet on its ear. Though his early death only solidified the myth of the basketball Cuchulain, who values posthumous glory above everything, even life.
Bryant ranks above all other superstars because the symbol of the Lakers cannot be anyone else.
This seemingly incomprehensible combination makes the Lakers the most exciting club in the NBA, and it’s the same combination that made Kobe Bryant the most exciting person to wear basketball sneakers.
- Years with the Lakers: 2018-present
The title LeBron won is the most important for the club in history. First, it helped catch up (or overtake Boston) in the total number of trophies. He laid some foundation for Jeannie Bass and at least created the illusion of stability in the front office, where there had been back-and-forth rancor years after Jerry Bass’ death. Finally, he put the Lakers back on the radar after the worst period the club had ever experienced.
There was more noise from the LeBron era of the Lakers than the actual value. Except for the Lakers, that noise is critical: disaster will happen when people stop talking about them.
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