In a city of stars and glitzy Hollywood productions, the Lakers have long been one of the biggest and brightest shows in town.
The franchise has elite roots that sprouted 75 years ago in Minneapolis, where the Lakers’ first star, George Mikan, dominated the game. He was so imposing in the paint, he helped the team win five championships and prompted the NBA to add the 24-second shot clock.
The transformational duo of Elgin Baylor and Jerry West helped power the Lakers as they relocated from Minneapolis to Los Angeles.
The Lakers were an afterthought in a Southern California market that at the time was owned by the Dodgers, but West’s competitive fire and later Jerry Buss’ desire to create a spectacle helped turn the franchise into a frequent championship contender that was fun to watch.
Kareem, Magic, Shaq, Kobe and LeBron have all taken turns commanding the spotlight. They have won championships, shattered records, captivated fans and fueled rivalries.
Pat Riley and Phil Jackson were among the ultra-successful coaches who molded some of those big personalities into champions.
There were long gaps between titles and painful losing streaks, fueled in part by personal and professional gaffes, but the belief the Lakers can and should compete for championships continues every season.
As we prepare to the enter the Lakers’ 75th year, The Times’ award-winning writers and photographers deliver a look back at the team’s colorful history. In addition to the moments captured across 24 pages, you can visit latimes.com/lakersat75 for a more expansive look at more stories and photos of the Lakers through the years. In the months ahead, we’ll continue to mark the Lakers’ jubilee.
1. Jerry Buss. The inventor of Showtime who knew the exact players to get to make his vision a reality. Millionaire, philanthropist, playboy who probably also had his own Iron Man armor somewhere.
2. The Fabulous Forum. Sure, they left the famed arena years ago, but just say “Fabulous Forum” to Lakers fans of a certain age and they are transported to rubbing elbows with celebrities at the Forum Club and the gleaming court that seemed to sparkle more than any diamond.
3. Magic Johnson. The guy who made it happen. Who brought Showtime to life. Who made passes that convinced you he had eyes in the back of his head. Who reminded everyone that you’re supposed to have fun playing basketball.
4. The Boston Celtics. Yes, the Boston Celtics. Because dealing with annoying Celtics fans and watching Red Auerbach made you happy you didn’t grow up in Boston.
5. Dancing Barry. Only the Lakers could have a guy in a cheap white suit dancing strangely be an unofficial mascot and make it seem like the coolest thing you have ever seen.
6. Laker Girls. The best part is to look around the arena when the Laker Girls dance and watch all the husbands/boyfriends try to watch without it appearing they are trying to watch.
7. Jerry West. The logo of the NBA also happens to be one of the best Lakers players of all time and the best GM they ever had. The franchise hasn’t been the same since they let him leave.
8. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. UCLA legend (Bruins were 88-2 when he played). Lakers legend (five NBA titles). Unstoppable skyhook (a record 38,387 points). Now a social activist who has become the elder statesman of L.A. sports.
9. Lawrence Tanter. We’ve heard him say “Koooo-Beeee Bryant” or “Laker Girrrrrrls” hundreds of times. The man with the smooth jazz baritone voice plays a subtle but valuable role at every home game.
10. Chick Hearn. The greatest basketball announcer. He wasn’t afraid to criticize the team when they were playing poorly, and when Chick got excited, you knew something amazing had happened.
11. George Mikan. The first great Lakers center won five titles in seven BAA/NBA seasons. And it’s OK he never played in L.A. He is still part of Lakers royalty.
12. Jack Nicholson. You know a franchise is instantly cool if the coolest actor sits courtside for every game and has a clause in his movie contracts that he has to be done early enough each day to attend Lakers playoff games.
13. Big Game James. Need a victory in a big game? Turn to James Worthy, who averaged more points, rebounds and assists in the playoffs than he did during the season.
14. Purple and Gold. Or, as Jerry Buss preferred it to be called, “Forum Blue and Gold.” But it’s Purple and Gold, and remains the classic uniform for the team.
15. White uniforms. Just kidding. No one likes the white uniforms. If it’s not Purple and Gold, it’s not the Lakers. And it seems they have more intensity in those colors.
16. Elgin Baylor. He soared above the rim in the days when most players didn’t get airborne at all. If you don’t include Baylor among the list of greatest Lakers, you’ve made a mistake.
17. Kobe Bryant. The tragic ending should never overshadow the years of brilliance. Never has a death seem to hit an entire city so hard.
18. Showtime. The perfect name for a fast-breaking, high-energy team that made pleasing the crowd while winning a combination teams have been searching for ever since.
19. Magic-Bird. Lakers vs. Celtics. West vs. East. Showtime vs. Lunch Pail. Two of the greatest ever who wanted to win, but had mutual respect and eventually, friendship.
20. June 9, 1985. The Lakers had faced the Celtics eight times in the NBA Finals, and were 0-8. But on this date, Kareem scored 29, Worthy 28 and a 111-100 victory meant the Lakers had finally beaten the Boston Celtics to win an NBA title. And it was in Boston, too, to make it even sweeter.
21. 33 in a row. The 1972-72 Lakers won 33 games in a row. Still the longest winning streak among the four major pro U.S. sports.
22. 3,338 in a row. That‘s how many games Chick Hearn called before missing one because he needed bypass surgery. He was 85 at the time.
23. The Shaq-Kobe dynasty. Watching Shaq dominate. Watching Kobe grow into one of the greatest ever. We’d love to watch it all over again.
24. The Shaq-Kobe feud. In today’s world, the petulant disagreements between thetwo seem quaint. Turns out, the only two players who could stop Shaq and Kobe were Shaq and Kobe.
25. Kobe-to-Shaq, alley-oop. The Lakers were down by 15 to Portland in Game 7 of the conference finals. They then outscored the Blazers 15-0 and a stirring comeback was punctuated by an amazing pass from Kobe that Shaq plucked out of midair and slammed home. We all seemed to run joyously back downcourt with him.
26. Nicknames. Zeke from Cabin Creek. Cap. Magic. Mr. Clutch. Mr. Basketball. The Black Mamba. The Logo. The Big Smooth. Superman. Clark Kent. Big Game James. Big Shot Rob. No team has had better nicknames.
27. Welcome to L.A. Maybe this should be first on the list, because if they don’t move to L.A. from Minneapolis, this list doesn’t exist. Or it’s about, shudder, the Clippers (and would be a lot shorter).
28. Pat Riley. The coolest coach in town. Did you know the part of the cop in “Tequila Sunrise” was written for, and offered to, Riley? He turned it down. Kurt Russell got the part.
29. Guaranteed. At the parade for the 1986-87 champion Lakers, coach Pat Riley stepped to the microphone and “guaranteed” the Lakers would win the title again the following season. They did.
30. Phil Jackson. So laid back and adverse to timeouts that you worried he might have fallen asleep on the bench. But his style led the Lakers to four titles.
31. Game 6, 1980 NBA Finals. The Lakers led the 76ers 3-2 in the series, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was out with a sprained ankle. Rookie Magic Johnson, 20, took the opening tip at center and put on a performance of the ages: 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and the Lakers were finally kings of the NBA again.
32. Bill Bertka. Usually an assistant coach, he is one of the few links from Showtime to Shaq-Kobe to Kobe-Gasol to present day. He was one of the first people new Lakers coach Darvin Ham called when he got the job.
33. Bill Sharman. Coach of the 1971-72 title team. And, while the shootaround the afternoon prior to a night game is taken for granted today, Sharman invented the idea during the 1971-72 season.
34. Junior skyhook. Five seconds remain in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals. Boston leads the Lakers by one. Magic Johnson dribbles across the top of the key. McHale and Parish are between him and the basket. Junior skyhook. Swish. Lakers win.
35. Kurt Rambis. If a guy who looked like Rambis could play for the Lakers, it kept alive our secret hope of playing for them too. And the secret to the Lakers’ fast break? Watch how fast Rambis inbounds the ball after the other team scores.
36. Triple-double. The term, used everywhere today, was coined by Bruce Jolesch, the former Lakers public relations director who needed a way to summarize Magic Johnson always recording double figures in points, rebounds and assists.
37. The Bubble title. It was during a pandemic. Months after Kobe Bryant died. With social unrest throughout the country it was a much-needed title for the city of Los Angeles.
38. Pau Gasol. The man who seemed to single-handedly make Kobe happy to be a Laker again. It seemed like they had been playing together forever.
39. Minneapolis Lakers. The Lakers have won 17 titles. Same as the Boston Celtics. But five of those titles came in Minneapolis, a sometimes overlooked fact.
40. Stu Lantz. They finally found the perfect broadcast partner for Chick Hearn. He has continued to broadcast games after Chick’s passing and celebrated his 35th year with the team in 2022.
41. Robert Horry. He won five playoff games with shots taken in the last few seconds. He won seven titles overall with three teams. If the ball was in Horry’s hands at the end, you felt secure.
42. Hot Rod Hundley. He brought a bit of Harlem Globetrotters flair to the team with his fancy dribbling and humor. He always referred to the night Elgin Baylor scored 71 points and Hundley seven as the “night me and Elgin combined for 78 points.”
43. Gail Goodrich. He was part of the first two of UCLA’s dynasty teams, then played nine seasons with the Lakers and led them in scoring four times. Then he left for the Jazz and as compensation, the Lakers got a draft pick that ended up being Magic Johnson.
44. Jack McKinney. Paul Westhead and Pat Riley get most of the glory, but it was McKinney who designed and worked out all the kinks of the fastbreak offense the Lakers became known for. When Kareem was asked once who was the greatest coach he ever played for, he said: “John Wooden and Jack McKinney.”
45. Kareem and Magic. In their first game together, Kareem won it on a skyhook in the final seconds. Magic rushed over and hugged him as if they’d just won the title. “Hey,” Kareem said, “Relax. We’ve got 81 more of these.”
46. Jamaal Wilkes. Perhaps the most underrated player in Lakers history. His nickname, “Silk” says it all.
47. Beat L.A. Every time opposing fans chant it, it’s simply acknowledgement that the Lakers are always the team to beat. If we were fans of other teams, we’d be jealous too.
48. “I Love L.A.” The classic Randy Newman song signals that the victory is at hand and all is right in the world.
49. Michael Cooper. There was no one in the 1980s who could shut down the best scorer on the other team like Cooper. No one.
50. Coop-a-loop. Remember chanting “Cooooooop” when Michael Cooper would slam the ball home after a lob pass from Magic? Wish we could do it one more time.
51. Rambis Youth. A group of young men who wore horn-rimmed glassesand sat together at games.
52. Byron Scott. It took awhile for fans to accept him because he was acquired for the popular Norm Nixon. But his outside shot quickly convinced everyone he was a worthy addition to the team.
53. Three-peat. Pat Riley copyrighted the term when the Lakers were going for a third straight title. It has been used across sports since.
54. Derek Fisher. The 2004 conference semifinals were tied 2-2. In Game 5, the Spurs took a one-point lead with four-tenths of a second remaining. Somehow, Fisher grabbed the inbounds pass, turned and shot in one motion, and scored. If it were in a movie, you wouldn’t believe it.
55. 81 points. On Jan. 22, 2006, Kobe Bryant had 26 points at halftime against the Toronto Raptors. Didn’t seem like a big deal. Then he scored 27 points in the third quarter. Then 28 in the fourth, good for 81 points. The other Lakers combined for 41 in a 122-104 win.
56. 60 points. Kobe Bryant’s final game was April 13, 2016. Most players take it easy, particularly when their team isn’t going to be in the playoffs. Sixty points later, another chapter was added to the legend.
57. A.C. Green. In the Lakers’ all-time top 10 in rebounds and, get this, won titles with the team in 1987, 1988 and 2000.
58. Wilt Chamberlain. One of the greatest of all time had a controversial career in L.A., but was a key part of the 1971-72 title team and his No. 13 has been retired by the team.
59. Jim Pollard. Nicknamed “The Kangaroo Kid” for his jumping ability, he could leap from the free-throw line and dunk and won five titles with the Minneapolis Lakers.
60. Vern Mikkelsen. He, George Mikan and Jim Pollard were a Hall of Fame front court for Minneapolis. He still holds the league record for career games fouling out with 127.
61. Clyde Lovellette. Lovellette is one of only eight players in history to win an NCAA championship, an NBA championship and an Olympic gold medal. He is also the first player to win a championship with the Celtics and the Lakers. We forgive him for the Celtics part.
62. Nick Van Exel. Cancun. Cancun. Cancun. OK, maybe not.
63. Happy Hairston. Hairston led the Lakers in rebounds for two seasons and set an NBA record for most defensive rebounds in a quarter in a 1974 game. He was also great as a referee on “Emergency!” where he towered over the regular cast.
64. Frank Vogel. Led the Lakers to a title and later was unceremoniously fired for things out of his control. Afterward, in a poll asking readers who should be the next Lakers coach, Vogel was the overwhelming winner.
65. John Kundla. When you list the great Lakers coaches, how long before you get to Kundla? Yet he’s third all-time in wins and won more titles than Pat Riley.
66. Fred Schaus. He coached the Lakers for seven seasons, making the playoffs each time, then became the GM and built the 1971-72 title team.
67. Norm Nixon. A great point guard who was overshadowed by the arrival of Magic Johnson. He averaged eight assists and 16.4 points per game in six seasons with the Lakers.
68. Dave Robisch. After a playoff game, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was being interviewed on national television, a naked Robisch was shown in the background.
69. Chuck Nevitt. The tallest Laker in history was 7-5 and almost never played. Fans chanted for him at the end of games, but he played in only 15 regular-season games in 1984-85 and 1985-86.
70. Elmore Smith. The link between Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He had 17 blocks in a game against Portland in 1973, a mark that still stands as the NBA record. He was one of four players traded for Kareem.
71. LeBron James. He brought the Lakers back to relevancy, even though the fans haven’t seemed to fully embrace him yet.
72. Rick Fox. Not only did he have movie star looks, the easygoing Fox is said to have served as a facilitator between some of the supersized egos on a team that won three NBA championships during his seven years in L.A.
73. Mark Madsen dancing. There are no words in the English language that can suitably describe this. Just search for “Mark Madsen dancing” on Youtube and enjoy the show.
74. John Q. Trapp. He played for the Lakers team that won 33 in a row and an NBA title. After the season, he was traded to a 76ers team that won only nine games the following season. Plus, how can you not love a name like John Q. Trapp.
75. Del Harris. Shortly after Del Harris was brought in as the new coach, Times sports columnist Mike Downey wrote “Oh no, they hired Leslie Nielsen.”