4. 1960-61: They Love L.A.!
In 1958, the Minneapolis Lakers were purchased by Bob Short, a bright businessman that noticed the declining numbers in attendance for Laker games since the departure of George Mikan. The problems could not even be countered by the presence of Elgin Baylor. This prompted Short to follow in the footsteps of the Brooklyn Dodgers, now the Los Angeles Dodgers; and the team moved out west, becoming the first ever western-based team in the NBA.
The Lakers finished the previous season with a record of 25-50, which was enough for the team to secure the second pick in the NBA Draft, leading to the selection of Jerry West out of West Virginia University (the first pick went to the Cincinnati Royals, who selected Oscar Robertson).
Los Angeles now had three professional sports teams (the Rams in the NFL) and were crazy about their teams.
Despite not playing their first home game until five nights later, Los Angeles Laker fans tuned in as their team fell to Robertson and the Royals, 140-123.
West struggled in the first half of the season, but turned it around as the season went along. He, and Baylor propelled the Lakers past the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the playoffs despite a record of 36-43 in the regular season. The next round saw the Lakers narrowly fall to the St. Louis Hawks in the Western Conference Finals.
Nevertheless, the season set the stage for many exciting years in Los Angeles.
3. 1999-2000: A Zen Solution to Boost Performance
Since Pat Riley stepped down as coach of the Lakers in 1990, the team struggled to find an elite coach to guide the squad. That search finally ended in 1999 when the Lakers hired Phil Jackson, who won six championships with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
After losing to the eventual NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers suddenly felt confident. Jackson br0ught along one of his former Bulls, Ron Harper. The Lakers then signed John Salley out of retirement; he had not played since the 1995-96 season.
What was to expect? The fans of Los Angeles wanted to win immediately. If coach Jackson was not the right leader, who would be? Was Phil solely regarded as one of the best because of the players he coached?
The first answers were quickly answered on November 2, 1999; when the Lakers traveled to Salt Lake City to play the always-difficult Utah Jazz, coached by the venerable Jerry Sloan.
The Lakers’ season would begin without Kobe, who sustained a hand injury in a pre-season game against the Washington Wizards.
However, the Lakers carried on, and jumped out to a seven-point lead at the end of the first quarter. The next two quarters played slightly in favor of the Jazz, who were led in scoring by guard Jeff Hornacek’s 23 points.
However, it was the Lakers that would prevail in the final period. Taking Kobe’s place in the scoring column was Glen Rice, who shot five-for-six from beyond the arc, and eight-of-13 from the field in general. He would finish the evening with 28 points.
The Lakers proved to be too tough for the Jazz, and reigned victorious, 91-84.
The team would post winning streaks of 16 games, and then 19. During that 19-game winning streak, they won 30-of-31 games, and 33-of-35.
The end result was a record of 67-15, the fifth-best record in NBA history. Their playoff run would wind up being just as exciting as the regular season was; the team went five games with the Sacramento Kings, then easily disposed of the Phoenix Suns before facing the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland nearly eliminated the Lakers before a miraculous 15-0 run catapulted Los Angeles from the grave into the NBA Finals. In six games, the Lakers fulfilled their goal of a championship.
The wait was over for fans. But it was just the beginning.
Next Page: Legends are Made