2020 may go down as the year that nobody wants to remember, and nobody wants to forget.
In January the Los Angeles Lakers were on top of the Western Conference; favorites to win it all. Then the franchise, the fans, and the world were blindsided by the sudden and tragic loss of Kobe Bryant. In the face of such loss, the franchise managed to pull itself up by its bootstraps, but it was only a few weeks before the league shut down due to a pandemic. Uncertainty followed for months, but over the summer the NBA came roaring back in a bubble. It wasn’t too long after that that fans took to the streets to celebrate the Lakers’ seventeenth championship title.
The team’s history of winning has been a story of eras. It began with the early days in Minneapolis beginning with George Mikan and ran through the drafting of Elgin Baylor and the move to Los Angeles. In the ’80’s it was showtime; Pat Riley, Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Almost a decade later, Los Angeles traded for a high school kid on draft day in 1996. Bryant would become the catalyst to five more championship teams between 2000 and 2010.
Now with generational talent LeBron James in the twilight of his career and a newly minted championship chip, the Lakers appear to be on the cusp of their fourth era of league dominance. Analysts already have the Lakers atop the league in terms of NBA betting odds, while players and fans alike await news of when and how the 2020-21 season starts.
Los Angeles Laker Eras
The Lakers have won a record 17 NBA championships, five between 1949 and 1954, one in 1972, five between 1980 and 1988, five more between 2000 and 2010, and one this past season in 2020. That breaks down into three distinct eras.
The Minneapolis Lakers
The Lakers’ franchise began in 1947 when Ben Berger and Morris Chalfen of Minnesota purchased the recently disbanded Detroit Gems. Minnesota, the “Land of 1,000 Lakes” became their hame, and the Lakers were born. Led by Hall-of-Fame center George Mikan, forward Jim Pollard, and playmaker Herm Schaefer, Minneapolis would win five straight championships. The streak ending with Mikan’s retirement in 1954.
The legendary Jack Kent Cooke sold the team and The Forum where they played to Dr. Jerry Buss in 1979. Buss viewed basketball as entertainment and wanted to create a Hollywood atmosphere around an up-tempo playing style.
Drafting Magic Johnson, the 6’9″ point guard out of Michigan State in 1979 ushered in the run-and-gun style, and the Showtime Lakers were born. Led coach Pat Riley, the team rode Johnson’s playmaking skills, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring, to five NBA championships in eight years.
The Lakers dominated for a decade, winning five NBA championships between 2000 and 2010, including three in a row in 2000, 2001, and 2002. However, this era of dominance is really a take of two teams. The first, an absolute juggernaut featuring two of the greatest players of all-time, playing together in their primes.
Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were the key components to arguably the best three year run of any team in NBA history. It took an off-season scandal involving Bryant and a feud between the two stars to end the teams run, culminating with O’Neal’s departure in 2004.
A short three-year rebuild was all Bryant needed to get the team back on the championship track. In the 2008–09 season, the Lakers with the best record in the Western Conference, and went on to win the NBA championship by defeating the Orlando Magic in five games.
The following year would see them meet the Boston Celtics in the finals for the 12th time in league history. They would rally all the way back from a 3–2 disadvantage in the series, erased a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter of the seventh game, and defeat the Celtics for their 16th NBA title.
LeBron James’ Projected Legacy
LeBron James is entering his eighteenth NBA season. He’ll be 36 years old at the end of the year and has played 1265 regular-season games along with an NBA record 260 playoff games. He’s a sixteen-time NBA all-star, a four-time league MVP, a four-time NBA champion, and a four-time NBA finals MVP, most recently this past season.
Even at 35 years old, James has shown few signs of aging. Aside from his 2018 groin injury, he’s been remarkably durable. However, there is no denying he’s at the tail end of his remarkable career. Despite winning multiple championships with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat, to match up with Laker legacy greats, a single championship in Los Angeles isn’t going to be enough.
The main question now isn’t if he’s good enough. It’s if James can remain good enough, long enough to make his mark in Los Angeles. It’s certain that if James can continue his dominant play, the Lakers retain Anthony Davis for the next few seasons, and the team stays committed to winning, that the Lakers will be perennial contenders. If they can find a way to win one or two more championships in that time, James will have cemented his legacy amongst Laker greats.