LeBron James is no longer following in Michael Jordan's shadow as it relates to the NBA Finals. As a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, James is now following in the footsteps of Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Jerry West and other Laker legends that helped bring the Larry O'Brien to Hollywood. In all, the Lakers have won 11 NBA titles since moving to Los Angeles from Minneapolis, and are just four wins away from matching the Celtics' total of 17 titles.
After George Mikan led the Lakers to five titles during their time in Minneapolis, West and fellow Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain led the franchise to their first Finals victory upon moving to Los Angeles. And while the Lakers' five-game victory over the Knicks in 1972 was monumental, West has said that the pain of losing seven finals to the Celtics and the '70 Finals to New York took some of the joy out of his one Finals victory. That is the main reason why the Lakers' first championship in Los Angeles failed to make the following list of the five greatest Finals moments in Lakers history, a list James and teammate Anthony Davis hope to join soon.
5. Kobe's clutch moment
O'Neal owned the 2000 season. After winning regular season MVP honors, O'Neal won his first of three consecutive Finals MVP awards after averaging 38 points, 16.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in the Lakers' six-game victory over the Packers in the Finals. But Shaq may not have won that championship without Bryant's heroics in Game 4, when the 21-year-old guard scored eight points in overtime after O'Neal had fouled out of the game. With the Lakers ahead by a point with five seconds left, Bryant's tip-in helped clinch Los Angeles' 120-118 victory. Bryant, despite playing with an ankle sprain, tallied 26 points and 10 rebounds the Lakers' series-clinching win over Reggie Miller and the Pacers. O'Neal poured in 41 points and 12 rebounds, as the Lakers won their first of three straight titles during the Kobe-Shaq era.
#MambaMondays 🐍— ShowtimeForum (@ShowtimeForum) March 16, 2020
In Game 4 of The 2000 Finals. Kobe Bryant went from missing most of Game 2 and all of Game 3 with a sprained ankle to playing 47 minutes, scoring 28 points, Shaq fouled out in OT and Kobe took over! #Lakeshow #MambaMentality pic.twitter.com/KuUYUcGSsZ
4. World Peace delivers
After losing to the Celtics in the 2008 Finals, Bryant implored his teammates to get tougher heading into the 2008-09 season. While the Lakers showed their resolve by defeating the Magic in the 2009 Finals, Los Angeles was still not considered to be as physically tough as the Celtics heading into their 2010 rematch. The Lakers, most notably Pau Gasol, showed their collective mettle in Game 7. In a game that was a throwback to a more physical era, Gasol led both teams with 18 rebounds, while Bryant pulled down 15 boards as the Lakers held a six-point lead with two minutes left. But after the Celtics pulled to within three points, Metta World Peace, on a pass from Bryant, buried a 27-foot shot that proved to be the difference in the Lakers' 83-79 win. The win gave the Lakers their third Finals victory over the rival Celtics. It also gave Bryant his fifth title and second consecutive Finals MVP award.
3. Magic's magical Game 6
Abdul-Jabbar was having an MVP Finals before an injury kept him out of Game 6. With the team's Hall of Fame center watching the game on TV, Johnson, the Lakers' 20-year-old rookie point guard, started at center against Julius Erving's 76ers in Game 6. Johnson turned in a performance for the ages, scoring 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists. Johnson had great success getting the ball to forward Jamaal Wilkes, who scored 37 points in the Lakers' 123-107 series-clinching win.
(1980) 38 years ago today, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was injured, so the Lakers put rookie point guard Magic Johnson at center in game 6 of the NBA Finals.— Timeless Sports (@timelesssports_) May 16, 2018
How did he respond? 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals. Lakers won the chip and Magic won MVP! Greatness. pic.twitter.com/Dzw6reXR98
While Johnson deserved his MVP award, he may have been inclined to share it with Abdul-Jabbar, who averaged 33.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks during the first five games of the series.
2. Magic's 'junior, junior' skyhook
After falling to repeat as champion in 1986, the Lakers put together their greatest season during the Showtime era in 1987, winning 67 games during the regular season. A big reason for the Lakers' success was Pat Riley's decision to have Johnson handle the scoring load for the first time in his career. With Johnson now looking to score, the Lakers were nearly unstoppable, losing just one game during the Western Conference playoffs en route to a third Finals matchup with Larry Bird and the Celtics.
After cruising to a 2-0 series lead, the Lakers lose a tightly contested Game 3 and found themselves trailing the Celtics by 15 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4. Led by Johnson and the clutch 3-point shooting of Michael Cooper, Los Angeles took the lead before a Bird 3-pointer gave the Celtics the lead with 12 seconds left. That set the stage for Johnson, who took a page from Abdul-Jabbar's book by hitting a "junior, junior" sky hook over Kevin McHale that gave the Lakers the lead with two seconds left. Los Angeles then had to hold its breath as Bird, who somehow managed to break free from James Worthy, barely missed what would have been the game winning shot as time expired.
After the game, Bird, a three-time league MVP and all-time great in his own right, declared Johnson the "best I've ever seen." Bird's Celtics would rally to win Game 5 at the Garden before the Lakers closed out the series in 6 games. Johnson won his third and final Finals MVP award, as the Celtics won their fourth of five titles during the 1980s.
1. Lakers (finally) beat the Celtics
The Lakers' most painful Finals loss took place in 1984, when Bird, McHale, Robert Parish and the rest of the Celtics defeated the Lakers in seven games. Johnson, who won his second Finals MVP award two years earlier, had a rough go of it against Boston, committing several costly turnovers that contributed to the Lakers' eighth Finals loss to the Celtics. The Celtics took that momentum into Game 1 of the '85 Finals, drubbing Los Angeles in what is known as the "Memorial Day Massacre". One Laker that had a particularly bad game was Abdul-Jabbar, whose age (38) became a major storyline heading into Game 2.
Abdul-Jabbar, who had his father ride with him on the team bus on the way to Game 2, played like the 25-year-old version of himself, scoring 30 points, 17 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 blocks in the Lakers' 109-102 win. Four games later, with Los Angeles enjoying a 3-2 series lead, Abdul-Jabbar's 29 points on nearly 62% shooting gave the Lakers their long-awaited Finals victory over the Celtics.
The Lakers became the first team to win a champion on the Boston Garden's fabled parquet. Abdul-Jabbar was named the Finals MVP, while Johnson received his vindication following the '84 Finals after posting a triple-double in Game 6.