The Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th NBA championship on Sunday behind the outstanding play of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, two of the best players in the league who accomplished their ultimate goal in their first season together after joining forces last summer. It was the first career title for Davis, while James took home his fourth ring, first with the Lakers, and fourth Finals MVP trophy.
The Lakers met little resistance until the NBA Finals, and their convincing 106-93 win over the Miami Heat in Game 6 punctuated a run that will go down in league history given the circumstances. With the Lakers' performance, it's only natural to wonder where this team fits in alongside the other great teams in franchise history.
Where do LeBron and A.D. fit next to other Laker legends, from George Mikan to Jerry West to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Magic Johnson to Kobe Bryant? To find out, we went back and ranked every Lakers championship team. We used statistics as our guide as much as possible, but sometimes you just have to make a gut call. Since the Lakers are all about titles, we heavily weighted postseason performance over regular-season prowess.
These teams all did the hardest thing you can do in the NBA, so they're all great, but we tried to decide which were the greatest.
17-13. The Minneapolis Years
(1948-49, 1949-50, 1951-52, 1952-53, 1953-54)
So this will probably rub a lot of the basketball traditionalists the wrong way, but we just couldn't in good conscience attempt to rank these teams among the others. With Hall of Famer George Mikan leading the way, the Minneapolis Lakers dominated the early days of the NBA, winning five titles in six seasons. But the game they were playing doesn't even remotely resemble what we see today. None of those championship teams shot over 40 percent from the field in the regular season, and they never averaged more than 86 points per game. Advanced playoff stats aren't available for those years either, making comparisons to other eras extremely difficult. Just take a glance at the game action from a 1950 matchup between the New York Knicks and the Fort Wayne Pistons:
Trying to compare them to Kareem or Shaq or LeBron would be an exercise in futility. The 1949-50 team was probably the best of the bunch, going 51-17 in the regular season and 10-2 in the playoffs, but we thought it was only fair to respectfully group them together.
12. 1987-88 Lakers
- Playoff record: 15-9
- Playoff net rating: 2.7
- Leading playoff scorers: James Worthy (21.1), Magic Johnson (19.9), Byron Scott (19.6)
The last of the Showtime Lakers dynasty, the 1987-88 team won 62 games in the regular season, but needed seven games in three straight series after an opening-round sweep of the Spurs. Were it not for an Isiah Thomas ankle injury in Game 6 of the Finals (he was brilliant after the injury that game, but scored 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting in Game 7), the Lakers probably don't win the title at all. Worthy earned Finals MVP honors with a 36-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist masterpiece in Game 7, but it was clear that the Lakers' time at the top may be nearing an end. This was a great team with great players, even a 40-year-old Abdul-Jabbar, but not on the level of most of the Lakers' dominant title teams.
11. 1999-00 Lakers
- Playoff record: 15-8
- Playoff net rating: 2.6
- Leading playoff scorers: Shaquille O'Neal (30.7), Kobe Bryant (21.1), Glen Rice (12.4)
The first title of the Shaq-Kobe three-peat almost never happened. The Lakers needed a decisive fifth game to get past the Sacramento Kings in the opening round, then came back from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit against the stout Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals, capped by an iconic alley-oop from Bryant to O'Neal with 40 seconds left that has gone down in Lakers history:
O'Neal was an absolute monster that postseason, averaging 38 points, 16.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in a six-game Finals victory over the Indiana Pacers, but Kobe (15.6 points on 37 percent shooting in the Finals) hadn't yet become the player he was going to be. They were also 13th out of 16 teams in the postseason in defensive rating. That leaves these Lakers a little bit short of the lofty bar the franchise has set.
10. 2009-10 Lakers
- Playoff record: 16-7
- Playoff net rating: 4.2
- Leading playoff scorers: Kobe Bryant (29.2), Pau Gasol (19.6), Metta World Peace (11.2)
The second of the Kobe-Pau back-to-back title teams ran into little resistance, going 12-4 before meeting the rival Boston Celtics in the Finals. The Lakers fell behind 3-2 in the series and eked out an ugly Game 7 win, thanks to brilliant play from Gasol and a timely, unexpected 3-pointer from World Peace (he famously couldn't believe Kobe passed him the ball). This team was fourth in the postseason in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency, which isn't going to put it on the level of some of the others on this list given their 16-7 postseason record.
9. 2001-02 Lakers
- Playoff record: 15-4
- Playoff net rating: 4.1
- Leading playoff scorers: Shaquille O'Neal (28.5), Kobe Bryant (26.6), Derek Fisher (10.2)
The Lakers lost four games in the 2002 postseason, and three of them came to the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference finals. In what was the de facto NBA Finals (the Lakers went on to sweep the New Jersey Nets), the Lakers and Kings had an epic series that Sacramento fans will still tell you they would have won were it not for some suspect officiating -- the Lakers had 40 free throw attempts in Game 6 compared to 25 for the Kings, who would have advanced with a win. As you can tell from the scoring leaders, this Lakers team was extremely top-heavy but Shaq and Kobe were absolute monsters, and this was the last title they would win together. It was an incredible team, but that near-loss to the Kings drops them slightly on the list.
8. 1979-80 Lakers
- Playoff record: 12-4
- Playoff net rating: 4.2
- Leading playoff scorers: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (31.9), Jamaal Wilkes (20.3), Magic Johnson (18.3)
All Magic did in his rookie season was average a near-triple-double in the playoffs (18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 9.4 assists) while leading the Lakers to a championship and winning Finals MVP. Kareem absolutely dominated the Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers (33.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, 4.6 blocks), but was forced to miss Game 6 due to an ankle sprain. This led to Magic's first signature NBA moment, when he started at center and put up 42 points and 15 rebounds in the title-clinching win.
7. 2008-09 Lakers
- Playoff record: 16-7
- Playoff net rating: 7.9
- Leading playoff scorers: Kobe Bryant (30.2), Pau Gasol (18.3), Lamar Odom (12.3)
Outside of a seven-game struggle with the small-ball Houston Rockets in the second round, the Lakers pretty much dominated the postseason with a net rating of plus-7.9. Bryant, Gasol and Odom were all at the peak of their powers, forming a long, imposing defense that was second among postseason teams with a 103.5 rating. The title came after a tough Finals loss to the Celtics the year before, and it was the first that Bryant won without Shaq by his side.
6. 2019-20 Lakers
- Playoff record: 16-5
- Playoff net rating: 6.9
- Leading playoff scorers: Anthony Davis (27.7), LeBron James (27.6), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (10.7)
It will be interesting to see how time treats this team given the unique bubble situation, but the duo of James and Davis is right up there with prime Kobe-Shaq and Magic-Kareem. This team was dominant, though the net rating is a little deceiving, thanks to two blowouts in the Finals. What really puts them behind some of the others is the lack of depth. Caldwell-Pope had a great playoff run, but he, 34-year-old Rajon Rondo, Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green and Alex Caruso don't quite stack up to some of the supporting casts that rank higher on this list.
5. 1981-82 Lakers
- Playoff record: 12-2
- Playoff net rating: 5.9
- Leading playoff scorers: Norm Nixon (20.4), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (20.4), Jamaal Wilkes (20.0)
Pat Riley's first title team (as a coach) is in direct contrast to the 2020 Lakers when it comes to depth. They had six players average 12 points or more in the playoffs, and five above 16.7 points per game. They steamrolled their way through the playoffs, not losing a game until the Finals. Magic won Finals MVP as the team's fifth-leading scorer in the six-game win over Julius Erving's 76ers -- that tells you how deep and dangerous they truly were.
4. 1971-72 Lakers
- Playoff record: 12-3
- Playoff point differential: 3.2
- Leading playoff scorers: Gail Goodrich (23.8), Jerry West (22.9), Jim McMillian (19.1)
Still holders of an NBA-record 33-game winning streak and the third-highest regular-season winning percentage in NBA history, the 1971-72 Lakers rode veterans West and Wilt Chamberlain, plus leading scorer and Hall of Famer Goodrich, to a dominant playoff run, including wins over Abdul-Jabbar's Milwaukee Bucks and a New York Knicks team with six Hall of Famers. As a gesture of gratitude, the Lakers awarded franchise legend Elgin Baylor a 1972 championship ring, even though he had retired nine games into the season due to knee injuries. This team was dominant, but having West and Chamberlain past their primes keeps them from climbing higher on the list.
3. 1984-85 Lakers
- Playoff record: 15-4
- Playoff net rating: 9.4
- Leading playoff scorers: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (21.9), James Worthy (21.5), Magic Johnson (17.5)
The heart of the Showtime era, the 1984-85 Lakers were one of the best teams in NBA history. Seven players averaged double figures in the playoffs with an up-tempo attack led by Johnson, who averaged a ridiculous 15.2 assists per game in the playoffs, and a 37-year-old Abdul-Jabbar finished things off by taking home his only Finals MVP as a Laker, averaging 25.7 points, nine rebounds and 5.2 assists in the franchise's first Finals win over the Boston Celtics after eight straight losses. These top three Lakers title teams are a toss-up so there's not much argument if you rank this group at the top of the list.
2. 1986-87 Lakers
- Playoff record: 15-3
- Playoff net rating: 11.3
- Leading playoff scorers: James Worthy (23.6), Magic Johnson (21.8), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19.2)
With Magic entering his prime, Kareem still producing at 39 and young players like Worthy, Byron Scott and A.C. Green coming into their own, the 1986-87 Lakers won 65 games and dominated the playoffs, once again beating the Celtics in six games. Johnson won his last Finals MVP, averaging 26.3 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds while hitting one of the most iconic shots in Lakers history -- a sweeping hook to give the Lakers a 107-106 win in Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead:
When you think of Showtime, this is probably the team -- and the moment -- that comes to mind.
1. 2000-01 Lakers
- Playoff record: 15-1
- Playoff net rating: 13.7
- Leading playoff scorers: Shaquille O'Neal (30.4), Kobe Bryant (29.4), Derek Fisher (13.4)
Were the 1987 Lakers a better team than this one? Perhaps. But you can't argue that the 2000-01 Lakers weren't the most dominant playoff team in franchise history -- in fact, their .938 winning percentage is second only to the 2017 Warriors in the history of the NBA (because Golden State played one more game). And were it not for Allen Iverson almost single-handedly beating them in overtime in Game 1 of the Finals, they would be the league's only undefeated playoff team. Shaq and Kobe were unstoppable as individuals and as a duo, averaging nearly 60 points combined in the playoffs. Phil Jackson had learned how to fit the pieces around them, with Fisher, Rick Fox, Horace Grant and Robert Horry playing their roles to perfection.
The biggest knock on this team compared to other Lakers juggernauts is the lack of elite competition, but you can only play who's in front of you. Keep in mind that they swept a very good Kings team and then Tim Duncan's Spurs before beating Iverson, the MVP of the league, in the Finals. Their regular season wasn't as good as some of the others on this list, but with the Lakers it all comes down to the postseason, and this is the greatest playoff team in franchise history.