Can you rank the best Lakers team ever?
When it comes to iconic basketball teams, the Los Angeles Lakers have set the standard for achievement in sports. Whether it’s championships, famous players, or pop-culture fame, the Lakers have had it all since the team’s formation.
Even those who don’t follow basketball know their name, their purple and gold colors, and their much-cherished legends — like Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
The Lakers have become one of the most recognizable brands in sports, one in the same tier as soccer’s Manchester United or football’s Dallas Cowboys. Despite the many highs, the Lakers haven’t escaped a few lows since two Minnesotans, Ben Berger and Morris Chalfen, founded the organization in 1947.
The Purple and Gold have just put the arguably lowest of their lows behind them, as LeBron James and Anthony Davis ended the franchise’s longest-ever, seven-year playoff drought with a title during the 2019-20 season.
That resurgence has put the Lakers right when they want to be: back in the spotlight. It also reignited the hopes their best years are still ahead — even if the Purple and Gold have enjoyed countless moments of glory in the past.
In celebration of L.A.’s finest, LakersNation.com has put together a list of the 10 best Lakers teams ever to prove just how valuable the franchise really is.
No. 10: 1983-84 Lakers
The 1983-84 Lakers didn’t get to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. What’s more, they became yet another Purple and Gold team that reached the NBA Finals, only to fall to the loathed Boston Celtics — making it 0-8 against their arch rival when a title was on the line.
But the 1984 Finals loss shouldn’t diminish the greatness of those Lakers, who represented a generation — it’s “Showtime,” baby! — that had already brought in two titles.
First, they led Larry Bird’s Celtics 2-0 in the Finals — still widely considered as one of the greatest ever. Then, Kevin McHale’s dirty clothesline foul on Kurt Rambis in Game 4 took place, breathing new life into Boston — which would eventually beat L.A. 4-3.
Second, four future Hall-of-Famers started for L.A. that year: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Jamaal Wilkes and James Worthy. The fifth, Bob McAdoo, came off the bench, completing the third-only Lakers quintet of would-be Hall-of-Famers that represented L.A. in a single season.
Johnson led the NBA in assists with 13.1 per game, which remains the highest single-season assist average in franchise history. Abdul-Jabbar memorably surpassed Wilt Chamberlain as the league’s all-time leading scorer right before the playoffs began.
Besides, no other Lakers team has ever boasted the tallest roster in the NBA while also recording a shooting for 3 with a top-10 efficiency (28.3%).
That team radiated with talent and versatility, easily crowning them as one of the best Lakers teams ever.
No. 9: 1987-88 Lakers
The Lakers’ last triumph before the turn of the millennium lacked the razzle-dazzle of the Showtime dynasty’s previous victories.
Still, L.A. showed off grit and versatility, delivering on Riley’s famous promise to defend the NBA title for the first time since the Celtics did so in 1968-69.
The Purple and Gold ended the regular season as the only team with 60-plus wins, in big part thanks to continuous first-team All-Defense effort from Michael Cooper. Meanwhile, the Lakers’ first-round picks from 1982 and 1983, James Worthy and Byron Scott, grew into offensive leaders as part of Showtime’s generational shift — taking over from the 40-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
With Magic Johnson in his prime and still pulling the strings, Worthy led the team in scoring with 21.1 points per night during the long 1988 postseason. The Lakers needed 24 playoff games to defend their title, beating Isiah Thomas’ Detroit Pistons in the Finals — in a third-straight seven-game series.
Worthy claimed the Finals MVP Award, putting up a triple-double in Game 7 with 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists.
No. 8: 1979-80 Lakers
The iconic Showtime era began after the Lakers selected Magic Johnson with the No.1 overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft.
Together with Jerry Buss’ takeover, Johnson’s enthusiasm, energy, and sheer vastness of talent immediately transformed the Lakers from contenders to title favorites. L.A. improved their prior season’s record by 13 wins, ending with the league’s second-best mark at 60-22.
While Kareem Abdul-Jabbar claimed his third NBA MVP Award, Johnson lost in the Rookie of the Year race to Larry Bird despite averaging 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists.
However, the guard would soon sweeten the individual failure by collecting Finals MVP, putting up one of the most famous performances of his career during the deciding series.
In the close-out Game 6 against Julius Erving’s Philadelphia 76ers, Johnson started at the center position after an ankle sprain ruled out Abdul-Jabbar. He ended up with 42 points and 15 rebounds, leading the Lakers to their first title since 1972.
Johnson remains the only rookie ever to be named NBA Finals MVP. He averaged 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 9.4 assists in the postseason.
No. 7: 1981-82 Lakers
A good show must involve at least a little drama. Hence, the Lakers — perhaps fittingly — got caught in early-season fracas after Showtime’s first failed title defense.
A rumored $25 million contract extension agreement between L.A. and Johnson angered Abdul-Jabbar before the 1981-82 season even tipped off. Then, a month into the campaign, Johnson would fall out with head coach Paul Westhead — who was eventually replaced with Pat Riley after the young Lakers star’s trade demand.
But they put out the fires and the show went on.
The Lakers boosted their arsenal with a midseason trade for veteran Bob McAdoo after a knee injury ruled the newly-recruited Mitch Kupchak out for the season. As a result, L.A.’s scoring weapons went out in the playoffs, firing the Purple and Gold to an unbeaten run before they checked in the Finals for a rematch with Dr. J and his 76ers.
Philadelphia mustered up enough resilience to take just two games off the Lakers, succumbing to the Purple and Gold’s firepower. Magic scooped his second MVP Finals Award despite ending the series as the Lakers’ fifth-best scorer with 16.3 points per game, although clocking in team-high 41.7 minutes a night.
Half of the Lakers’ roster finished the postseason averaging double-digits in points. Three of them — Norm Nixon, Jamaal Wilkes, and Abdul-Jabbar — scored at least 20 per game.
The Lakers claimed the title while suffering the fewest postseason losses in NBA history, becoming the second team to achieve the feat after the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks.
No. 6: 2008-09 Lakers
The 2008-09 season cemented Kobe Bryant’s status as one of the best Lakers ever to don the purple and gold jersey, as he proved he could lead L.A. to victory without Shaquille O’Neal by his side. This was easily the best Lakers team with Kobe.
Having teamed up with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, the iconic trio led L.A. to the franchise’s third-best record ever at 65-17. Along the way, Phil Jackson notched the 1000th victory in his coaching career thanks to the 86-80 win over the Celtics on Christmas Day.
That was a special day for the Lakers, as they snapped Boston’s 19-game winning streak in revenge for the previous year’s Finals loss — which Bryant relieved each time he heard “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey play.
In the playoffs, L.A. outscored their opponents by 7.21 points per game, the fourth-highest margin ever among the Lakers’ title-winning teams. Gasol, Odom, and Trevor Ariza all ended up averaging double-digits in the postseason, joining Bryant who registered 30.2 points as the reigning MVP.
LeBron James snatched the MVP Award away from the Lakers’ legend in 2009, but Bryant still collected an individual accolade that year by claiming his first Finals MVP title. He averaged 32.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists in the five-game victory over Dwight Howard’s Orlando Magic.
After a seven-year wait, Bryant brought the Larry O’Brien trophy back to L.A. He would help the Lakers defend the title, becoming the face of two multi-year championship runs following the move to Staples Center.
The arena would eventually become unofficially known by many as the “house that Kobe built” — and for a good reason. This reputation makes it easy to dub this season as the best Lakers team with Kobe.
No. 5: 1984-85 Lakers
The Showtime Lakers needed to reach the Mount Olympus of basketball offense to end Boston’s 8-0 Finals streak in head-to-head matchups.
They did that in 1984-85, recording the second-highest offensive rating in NBA history at that time (114.1) over the regular season. They also averaged 118.2 points per game, the most of any Showtime team.
In the playoffs, the 1984-85 Lakers still found a way to improve upon their crazy regular-season numbers. They averaged 126.3 per game, in big part thanks to Magic Johnson’s ridiculous 15.2 assists per game.
At 38, Abdul-Jabbar became the oldest player to win Finals MVP after recording 25.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 5.2 assists in the victorious six-game series against the Celtics.
Not only did the Lakers eventually manage to beat the Celtics in the Finals, but also become the only team ever to seal the victory at Boston Garden.
No. 4: 2000-01 Lakers
The Lakers created a monstrous force by pairing Bryant with the towering Shaquille O’Neal in 1996. But they had to wait three years before they saw what the perhaps the most dominant duo in the NBA history was capable of — when they get started on bringing the franchise’s only ever three-peat since relocating from Minnesota to California.
The middle season of that triumphant run was particularly spectacular. Bryant averaged 28.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game, while O’Neal registered 28.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks over the 2000-01 campaign.
Besides the 1961-62 Lakers’ Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, no other team has ever had two players average over 28 points in a single season.
L.A. went 15-1 in the playoffs, pulling off the best-ever postseason run at the time — which would ultimately be matched by the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors. The Purple and Gold outscored their opponents by 13.8 points per 100 possessions, which remains the best playoff net rating ever registered.
After 76ers star Allen Iverson’s 48-point performance in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals, the Lakers won four straight games in dominant fashion.
O’Neal won Finals MVP, averaging 30.4 points, 15.4 rebounds, and 3.2 assists against the 76ers.
No. 3: 2019-20 Lakers
Perhaps the 2019-20 Lakers weren’t as complete a team as some of the past iterations. But hardly anyone could compete with the mental toughness of that group, which spent 94 days in the remoteness of the Orlando bubble until they won the franchise’s 17th championship in the middle of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Giving Lakers fans a gleam of hope during the pandemic could make this the best Lakers championship team yet.
In his first season in L.A., Anthony Davis averaged 26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. LeBron James averaged 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and career-high 10.2 assists during the regular season.
The four-time NBA champion led the NBA in assists for the first and only time in his illustrious career, boosting his case to be remembered as the most versatile player in the league’s history -— if not, simply, as the G.O.A.T.
Both James and Davis made the All-NBA First Team, fittingly becoming the first Lakers’ duo to earn the selection in the same season since Bryant and O’Neal received the recognition in 2003-04.
Next, James and Davis led the Lakers to record the 20th-best offensive rating ever recorded in the playoffs (117.1) —- all the while their fearsome defense continued to perform at an elite level.
In each postseason series, L.A. dominated their rivals by switching between big and small lineups. In six games, they outscored opponents by 6.9 points over 21 playoff games, eventually beating the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
James earned the fourth Finals MVP of his career, but most importantly, fulfilled his promise of bringing glory days back to L.A. The Lakers’ worst decade in franchise history had officially ended -— under extraordinary circumstances, no less.
Even before the season started, L.A. found itself stranded in China due to political tensions. Then, the franchise mourned Bryant’s tragic death before the raging coronavirus further sent anxiety levels through the roof in the U.S. and around the world.
Yet, those Lakers still delivered, in spite of the tremendous adversity. The significance of that triumph cannot be overstated.
No. 2: 1986-87 Lakers
The Showtime Lakers reached their apex in 1986-87 when they recorded the highest-ever offensive rating at that time (115.6). L.A. dominated in the regular season, outscoring the rivals by 9.3 points — which remains one of the biggest average margin of victory of all-time.
The Lakers fared particularly well at home, suffering just four losses as the hosts — a record they would match three times but still have not beaten.
Magic Johnson won his first MVP Award, putting up a career-high 23.9 points per game during the regular season. The 39-year-old Abdul-Jabbar still ranked among the four Lakers who averaged 17-plus points that year.
L.A.’s 1986-87 side remains the franchise’s only ever team to lead the league in 3-point shooting percentage, making 36.7% of their attempts from beyond the arc.
Also, Michael Cooper became the only Laker to earn Defensive Player of the Year.
To secure their spot among the most dominant NBA teams in the ‘80s, L.A. denied the Celtics their 17th championship in a second straight Finals victory over Boston. Magic Johnson collected the Finals MVP Award, becoming the fifth ever player to claim both MVP titles in the same season.
No. 1: 1971-72 Lakers
We consider the 1971-72 team as the best Lakers roster of all-time, and very well could be the NBA’s all-time best team.
Led by Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, they would go on to win 69 games, which remained the league’s best-ever record for 24 years until Michael Jordan’s Bulls pulled off a 72-10 season in 1995-96.
However, even those Bulls couldn’t top the 1971-72 Lakers’ astonishing average margin of victory of 12.28.
Chamberlain was the NBA’s best rebounder that year with 19.2 boards per game, while Gail Goodrich and West featured ended up among the top-10 scorers, averaging 25.9 and 25.8 points per game, respectively.
On the way to the playoffs, the Lakers also put together a historic 33-game winning streak.
The Lakers defeated Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Milwaukee Bucks before they reached the Finals. There, they squared off with the New York Knicks led by future Hall-of-Famers Jerry Lucas, Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, Dave Busschere and Earl Monroe.
Still, the Knicks fell in five games. Chamberlain won his first and only Finals MVP Award that year, averaging 19.4 points and 23.2 assists.
There’s one more way to emphasize that team’s long-lasting impact on the franchise and the league in general.
Bill Sherman became the Lakers’ first-ever Coach of the Year recipient after leading the 1971-72 team to the franchise’s first NBA championship in the Los Angeles era. During that run, he intrigued the rest of the NBA with a certain invention that coaches across the league immediately started implementing into their practice regimen.
It was the morning shootaround, which the pioneer coach invented to help the players deal with pregame stress. This effort led to curating the best Lakers teams of all-time.