The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most storied franchises of all time across all professional sports. Starting with their roots in Minneapolis, the Lakers have seen major and sustained success in just about every decade. They have won multiple championships, won by great teams composed of great players. But which Lakers team stands above the rest?
What is the best Lakers team of all time? It is mostly agreed upon that the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers are the best Lakers team of all time. The 1971-72 Lakers posted a then-record 69-13 regular season record, with a highly potent offense and a very strong defense. The highlight of the regular season was the 33-game win streak, which is still a record in the NBA. Led by Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, the Lakers won their first NBA title after moving to the city of Los Angeles.
Who were notable players on the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers?
The 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers roster featured a bevy of future Hall of Famers, such as center Wilt Chamberlain, guards Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, and forward Elgin Baylor. This roster also featured guard Pat Reilly, who later became the coach of the “Showtime” Lakers, and is currently the team president of the Miami Heat. The team was coached by Bill Sharman.
How did the regular season go for the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers?
Prior to the season starting, it seemed like the window of opportunity was closing for the Lakers. They had suffered quite a few demoralizing losses in the NBA Finals and now their core of stars were all in their 30s. Their aging was also compounded by the fact that most of them had recently suffered major injuries. And the “new kids on the block” were the Milwaukee Bucks, led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.
Enter new coach Bill Sharman, who came with a new system: he wanted Wilt Chamberlain to focus more on rebounding and defense and most importantly, start off their new fast-break offense with outlet passes to guards Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. Moreso, Sharman had the whole team doing strict conditioning in order to keep up with the new, fast-paced offense.
Once the season actually started, any notion that the Lakers were washed were put to bed, because the Lakers answered with a 33-game win streak, an NBA record that still stands. The Lakers were extremely good on offense, scoring 120 points per game and scoring 12 points more than the other team on average. They were also very defensively stout, with the second-best defense in the league.
The Lakers finished with a 69-13 regular-season record, the best in the NBA (and a record that was eventually beaten by the infamous “72-10” Chicago Bulls team). Chamberlain led the league in rebounds, and both Goodrich and West were among the top 10 scorers in the league. West also made both the All-NBA First Team and the All-Defensive First Team. Sharman won the Coach of the Year award.
How did the playoffs go for the 1971-1972 Los Angeles Lakers?
The Lakers swept the Chicago Bulls in the Western Conference Semifinals, before matching up with the Milwaukee Bucks in the Western Conference Finals. The Bucks had the second-best record in the league, and were also the team who broke the Lakers’ 33-game win streak. The Lakers had the last laugh this time, winning the series 4-2. The NBA Finals saw the Lakers play the New York Knicks, who they lost to in the NBA Finals just two seasons ago.
The Lakers lost their first game to the Knicks, in what looked like to be yet another Lakers loss right at the end. However, the Lakers bounced back and got their revenge, winning the NBA Finals series 4-1. Chamberlain won his first and only Finals MVP award after a series of impressive performances, while Jerry West finally got his first ever NBA championship. It was also the first title that the Lakers won ever since moving to the city of Los Angeles.
What other Lakers teams are considered the best of all time?
The Lakers have had the good fortune to be able to put together some of the best ever teams the NBA has ever seen, but only 2 teams are seen as being close to matching the 1971-72 Lakers. The first one is the 1986-87 Lakers team, also known as the peak of the “Showtime” era. Led by MVP and showrunner Magic Johnson, stars in the form of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Byron Scott, and James Worthy, and the DPOY and defensive stalwart Michael Cooper, the 1986-87 Lakers won 65 games in the regular season. They made their way to the playoffs to meet bitter rivals and reigning champions the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. The Lakers came away victorious with a 4-2 series win for their 10th NBA title.
The second team that is highly regarded is the 1999-00 Lakers squad. Led by the dynamic duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, and coached by former Bulls coach Phil Jackson, the Lakers won an astounding 67 games in the regular season, with O’Neal winning the MVP award. The playoffs showed the grit of the Lakers, who were pushed to their limits by first the Sacramento Kings then the Portland Trailblazers, but they won the NBA Finals over the Indiana Pacers for their 12th NBA championship.
In terms of memorability, impact, and dominance, the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers team is the best team the franchise has put out there on the court, and also one of the best NBA teams of all time. Many had ruled them out due to aging and previous failures, but the Lakers completely flipped the script and ushered in a dominant season unlike any other. This combination of grit and passion alongside some of the best basketball talent in the world brought the city of Los Angeles their first title, with many more to come, and an impact that has lasted decades longer.