The Lakers franchise has won 16 NBA Championships, second most all time, and they have had to do it with more than one team. George Mikan and the 1950 Minneapolis Lakers, Jerry West and the 1971 Los Angeles Lakers, Showtime and the 80’s L.A. Lakers, and then Kobe Bryant and his two different teams in the 2000’s. So the question is, which team is ultimately the best Laker team?
This is a debate that can go on and on forever, but breaking down the players, stats, and team play, I think there is one team that stands out alone from all the rest, the Showtime L.A. Lakers, more specifically, the 1986-88 team that won back-to-back NBA world championships. This team had it all from the starters, to the bench players, to the coaching, and the most important aspect of a champion, the ability to win. The trio of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy was just too dominant to be taken lightly. These three teammates won three championships together in four seasons, while the Lakers won five in ten years.
If I was comparing and rating teams on paper alone, the L.A. Lakers team of the late 1960’s to mid 1970’s would get my vote. Four of their five starters are in the NBA Hall of Fame, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich. Unfortunately, this team won only one championship, and Baylor was not a part of it. The Lakers with Jerry West was clearly the second best team in the NBA. From 1961-1973 the Lakers were an astonishing 1-9 in the NBA Finals. This team just could not figure out how to win the championship. But that is why teams are not compared on paper alone.
This “All-Star” team was one of the few to actually have success while having many different weapons. Like the 2010-11 Miami Heat, and even the 2003-04 Lakers, a team that is stacked with All-Star players does not always work out as planned. Teams like this rely heavily on their stars’ performance and ability to carry the workload, but when teams gear up to stop them, the surrounding players have to come through. This is where the Showtime Lakers prevailed where other teams failed.
Are you the Ultimate Lamar Odom Fan? Prove It & Win with our L.O. Quiz
While the Showtime Lakers expected dominance from their three future Hall of Fame players, at the time, they knew it was not possible to get that kind of performance day in and day out. That is why the organization signed crucial role players to fit perfectly into their desired championship puzzle.
A key to their success was bringing in players to compensate for a team member when he was either taken out for a breather or not performing. They had guys like Byron Scott, a deadly three-point shooter, Michael Cooper, a hustle player who was also known for his strong defensive play, Bob McAdoo, who was a tall, skilled player, and Mychal Thompson, a back-up center that had no trouble scoring when Kareem went out.
However, the greatest success they had as a club was the mindset of the whole team. They picked up the slack that any one or more player(s) was creating. The best example of this was in the 1988 Finals, Game 7 in particular. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got into early foul trouble and played 22 minutes with four points on 2-7 shooting. That is where James Worthy stepped in and earned his well-deserved nickname, “Big Game James.”
Worthy picked up Kareem’s slack by scoring 36 points on 15-22 shooting, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists in 44 minutes of play. He led all players in those three statistics, not to mention that it was his first and only career triple-double, and it came in Game 7 of the Finals to help the Lakers become the first back-to-back champion in nearly two decades. The game that Worthy had is considered the third greatest single-game performance by a player, and the greatest NBA Game 7 performance according to ESPN.
You can debate that the Kobe and Shaq team is the greatest Laker team ever. Had they been able to get along and continue to play together, I believe they would have won countless championships in their era, but the team would still have fallen to the Showtime Lakers. Yes, Kobe would get his but would struggle a little against James Worthy; yes, Shaq would have dominated the paint like he always did, but when you match up the rest of the two teams together, there is no comparison. No one stops Magic Johnson. A.C Green, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, and the list goes on.
So with all that said, it is my opinion that the Lakers during the 1980’s was the franchise’s greatest team ever.