No NBA team has fascinated fans more than the Lakers, who became the league's glitziest team in the '80s thanks to a charismatic star who brought an exciting style of play, celebrities sitting courtside, the Laker girls and, of course, the rings the franchise won.
The Lakers' place among the NBA's elite remained secure for three decades thanks to a new generation of stars who were passed the torch. But all good things must come to an end, and the Lakers finally fell from the heavens. Now, amid the worst four-year stretch in franchise history, they're trying to return to glory, and they hope Lonzo Ball, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, will lead the way.
Here's a look at the 12 moments that have defined the Lakers' rise and fall.
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George Mikan takes the NBA by storm
The Lakers have a storied history of star big men, and Mikan was the first. A 6-foot-10 giant from DePaul, Mikan landed on the Minneapolis Lakers through sheer luck when a rival team disbanded. He led the Lakers to the National Basketball League title in his first year with them, then to another title in the Basketball Association of American the next year. When the leagues merged to form the NBA in 1949, Mikan and the Lakers became its first dynasty, winning the championship in four of the first five years.
Lakers move to L.A.
Ever wonder why an LA team is named the Lakers? Because it originally was based in Minnesota, "Land of 10,000 Lakes". But when Mikan retired as a player in 1956, the franchise fell on hard times and moved to Los Angeles in 1960. Two decades later, the team was the "Showtime" Lakers — Hollywood meets the hardcourt, with A-list actors, pop stars and power brokers packing the house every night. It was the sexiest show in sports, a breakthrough moment for the NBA — and a far cry from the Lakers of the '50s.
Lakers draft 'The Logo', Jerry West
When the Lakers drafted West with the No. 2 pick in 1960, little did they know that he'd be a key member of the franchise for the next four decades. West was a clutch-shooting star who led the Lakers to the Finals nine times but won only once: in 1972, after eight straight defeats, mostly at the hands of the Celtics. But his greatest contributions were yet to come. After retiring as a player, West remained in the organization as a coach, scout and then general manager. With West as an exec, the Lakers won five titles in the '80s, and then he rebuilt them into a champion that won three in a row starting in 2000.
Lakers trade for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The Lakers' dynasty of the '50s gave way to a Celtics dynasty in the '60s — mostly at the Lakers' expense — and the '70s brought a power struggle. The Lakers and Knicks each went to the Finals three times, and the Bucks twice, in the first five years. Then the Lakers made the trade of the decade, acquiring Abdul-Jabbar from Milwaukee in 1975. It didn't translate to titles immediately, but helped lay the foundation for the Lakers' five title teams of the '80s. Kareem's sky hook was the most famous, unguardable weapon on those teams.
Jerry Buss + Magic = championships
The Lakers hit another level after Jerry Buss bought the team in 1979. The team drafted Magic Johnson that year, and he led it to the first of five titles in the '80s as a rookie. Buss, an LA real estate mogul, brought business savvy and entertainment value to the franchise. Magic brought the on-court leadership to a talented core that eventually included James Worthy, Jamaal Wilkes, Norm Nixon and Bob McAdoo. Johnson also forced a coaching change that promoted Pat Riley to the top spot. Lakers-Celtics became a real rivalry and saved the NBA. Riley promised a repeat as champs, then trademarked "three-peat" (but didn't deliver). It was an amazing intersection of sports, business and entertainment.
1987 Magic Johnson
Magic retires with stunning HIV announcement
Kareem had retired, Riley had resigned, and the Lakers' dynasty of the '80s already was giving way to Michael Jordan and the Bulls' dynasty of the '90s when Johnson stunned the world with his HIV announcement in 1991. It was an unthinkable, dramatic twist from Hollywood's favorite team, but it didn't turn out to be a tragedy. Magic inspired fans everywhere with his MVP performance at the All-Star Game and successfully fought the disease. But the Lakers' level of success slipped and not even a brief comeback by Johnson in 1995-96 could catapult them back to the top.
Kobe + Shaq + Phil = three-peat
The stars of the Lakers' dynasty of the '80s were gone by 1996, with the exception of the one behind the scenes: Jerry West. The GM had rebuilt the team into a winner but not a championship contender. That year, however, he pulled off two of the greatest moves in franchise history, signing Shaquille O'Neal and trading for Kobe Bryant, an 18-year-old rookie straight out of high school. But even that wasn't enough to win a title. That wouldn't happen until West lured Phil Jackson out of retirement in 1999. Jackson had coached the Bulls to a three-peat twice during the decade, and proved he could win without Michael Jordan, leading the Lakers to a three-peat starting in his first season.
Death of a dynasty Pt. 2
The Lakers' dynasty of the 2000s didn't last half as long as their dynasty of the '80s. Mainly because their stars, Shaq and Kobe, couldn't coexist. After assembling a superteam, including Gary Payton and Karl Malone, for a run at a fourth title, the Lakers lost to an underdog Pistons team in the 2004 Finals. That summer the team broke up, highlighted by O'Neal being traded to Miami. Jackson wasn't offered a new contract. The new-look Lakers lasted one season without the Zen Master, going 34-48 before bringing him back. But there wouldn't be an immediate championship run this time.
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The trade that brought back the Lakers
With Jackson back, the Lakers were winners again but not championship contenders. Not until GM Mitch Kupchak, another former Laker who was Jerry West's protege, swung a stunning deal for Pau Gasol that cost the team precious little at the time. Rivals cried foul, and understandably so — Gasol proved to be the next great Lakers big man, helping them reach the 2008 Finals. They lost to the Celtics, but they'd win the championship the next two seasons, beating the Celtics in 2010. Kobe had proven he could win without Shaq. The Lakers' dynasty of the 2000s was back.
Lakers plummet into mismanagement
Kobe, Pau and Phil had led the Lakers back to the top, but it didn't last. After being dethroned by Dallas, Jackson left again — and this time the Lakers didn't bring him back after a year away, despite him showing interest in another return. Without him, the Lakers were winners but not contenders. Another potential franchise-changing trade, this time for Chris Paul, was struck down by the NBA. The Lakers swung for the fences again, assembling another superteam by trading for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. But Howard would not be the next great big man in Lakers history, leaving after one failed season amid friction with Bryant. Jerry Buss died in 2013, leaving the team in the hands of his kids Jeanie and Jim. Bad times were ahead.
USA TODAY SportsJayne Kamin-Oncea
Kobe tears his Achilles
Even as the 2012-13 Lakers struggled to live up to their superteam status, Bryant still performed at an elite level, averaging 27.9 points. But in the 80th game of the season he suffered a torn Achilles tendon. Despite the serious injury, the Lakers gave him a two-year extension worth $48.5 million, only to see him suffer a season-ending knee injury just six games into 2013-14. Bryant would never be the same, struggling through his final two seasons before calling it quits. The Lakers also remained crippled by their commitment to Kobe and their struggle to rebuild.
Magic returns, Lakers clean house
By 2017, Kobe was gone and the Lakers were without any star power. They'd just had the three worst seasons in franchise history and were headed for a fourth. And there was no indication that an established star was going to sign on to lead the Lakers out of their rebuilding blues. So Jeanie Buss exercised her authority and brought back Magic Johnson, putting him in charge. She forced her own brother Jim to step down and fired longtime GM Mitch Kupchak. And she publicly apologized to Lakers fans for waiting "too long" to do it.
Johnson immediately began remaking the Lakers, trading brash young point guard D'Angelo Russell and drafting hometown favorite Lonzo Ball, who's drawn many comparisons to Magic himself.