|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2010||[Print without images]|
|The Lakers are the greatest franchise ever because of their incredible collection of trademark stars.|
Magic. Kareem. The Logo. Kobe. Shaq. When it comes to superstars, the Lakers are so far out in front of everybody else it's not even funny -- their all-time starting five would crush any other team's; in fact, it might be better than that of the rest of the league's put together. So star-studded is their legacy that I left Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and George Mikan off my five-man team that opened this paragraph, also neglecting the likes of James Worthy, Bob McAdoo and Gail Goodrich.
And those big names won, too. Although the Celtics have more championships, the Lakers have more of everything else -- wins, playoff wins, playoff series wins and conference titles. About the only thing that hurts L.A. in the all-time rankings is the penalty for relocating from Minnesota to Los Angeles in the 1950s.
The story begins with the Mikan years up north, where he led Minneapolis to five championships in six seasons in the formative years of the NBA. As the league's first dominant big man, he established something of a tradition.
Since then, the Lakers have almost always had at least one monstrous big man -- Mikan, Wilt, Kareem, Shaq, Pau Gasol -- and one electrifying perimeter star to go with him (Magic, Jerry West, Baylor, Kobe).
About the only thing the Lakers haven't been able to do is best the Celtics head-to-head. In 11 meetings against Boston in the Finals, L.A. has prevailed just three times. In that regard, Baylor's Minneapolis team got the ball rolling in 1958-59 in the team's last season before heading west, and in the '60s, Chamberlain and West were foiled by the Celtics five times.
Ultimately, those Lakers broke through with a 69-13 season in 1971-72 that featured a 33-game winning streak -- still a record for North American pro team sports -- to win the team's first title in L.A.
After a brief lull in the late '70s, they would get five more rings when Magic arrived to join forces with Kareem. Although there was one more painful loss to Boston interposed -- a seven-game defeat in 1984 -- L.A. avenged it by becoming the first team in nearly two decades to repeat as champs, winning in 1987 and 1988. A hamstring injury to Magic Johnson in the Finals the next year derailed the Lakers' quest for a three-peat, but they would get one a decade and a half later after Phil Jackson came to Tinseltown to guide Shaq and Kobe.
That team provided plenty of last-second excitement -- most notably the alley-oop from Kobe to Shaq that cemented a Game 7 conference finals comeback win over Portland in 2000 -- and produced one of the most dominant playoff runs in history with a 15-1 romp through the field in 2001.
Amazingly, the franchise has missed the playoffs only five times in its 62 years. The Lakers, who have played in seven Finals in the new century, are now only one title behind the hated Celtics after defending their title in 2010 with a dramatic seven-game win over Boston.