5. Jerry West wins 1969 Finals MVP
The legendary Lakers-Celtics rivalry first grew its wings in the 1960s, as the two teams faced off in an astonishing six NBA Finals over the course of the decade. After losing the first five matchups, the Lakers entered the 1969 Finals hungry to finally conquer Bill Russell, John Havlichek, and the rest of their hated rivals. And nobody was more hungry than Laker legend Jerry West. The Logo roared out of the gate with 51 and 43 points in Games 1 and 2, both Laker victories.
After the Celtics took Games 3 and 4 in Boston, West led the Lakers to an easy Game 5 victory with 39 points. But West’s efforts came at a price, as he severely pulled his hamstring late in the fourth quarter. After a Celtics victory evened the series 3-3, the series went back to Los Angeles for a pivotal Game 7. Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke famously prepared an elaborate post-game celebration before the game, providing the Celtics with added motivation and angering West. An injured West proceeded to record an awe-inspiring triple-double, with 42 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists. Despite the effort, West could not lead the Lakers to a victory, as the Celtics won 108-106 and took the title.
1969 was the first year the NBA awarded the Finals MVP to a player on the losing side, and with series averages of 38 points, five rebounds, and seven assists, Jerry West proved a worthy first recipient despite being on the losing team. An anecdote featuring West and Russell sums it all up: as soon as the Game 7 buzzer sounded, Bill Russell did not celebrate, but went over to West to congratulate his competitor on a hard-fought series.
4. Elgin Baylor Scores 71 points Vs. the Knicks
Despite making the NBA Finals, the 1960-61 Lakers languished throughout the regular season on their way to a 36-43 record. One could scarcely blame Laker superstar Elgin Baylor for the team’s struggles though, as the Hall-of-Famer averaged 34.8 points and 19.8 rebounds, garnering his third consecutive First-Team All-NBA selection. His season peaked on November 15th at Madison Square Garden, as the 26-year-old forward scored 71 points against the Knicks in a 123-108 victory.
The electrifying performance set an NBA record, beating Baylor’s own record of 64 points set the previous season. Baylor also gobbled up 25 rebounds, as if the 71 points were not impressive enough. Though Baylor’s points record has since been bested, his scoring spectacle still stands prominent as the eighth-highest single-game point total in NBA history and the second-highest in the history of the Laker franchise.
3. Wilt Chamberlain Arrives in Los Angeles
Heading into the 1968 offseason, the Lakers were at a crossroads. They had just lost yet another NBA Finals at the hands of the Celtics, their fifth Finals loss to their hated rivals in seven years. Superstars Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, though playing at a Hall-of-Fame level, were not getting any younger. Baylor was 33, West 29. The Lakers needed the final piece to the championship puzzle, and they needed it fast.
Enter Wilt Chamberlain. The 7-1 behemoth, despite having won three straight MVPs with the Philadelphia 76ers, was disgruntled with the current state of his career. The Sixers had just lost their head coach and a heartbreaking Eastern Conference Finals, and Philadelphia was proving too small of a city for Chamberlain’s celebrity. Los Angeles provided an arena for all of Chamberlain’s aspirations, both having to do and little to do with basketball.
Thus, Wilt the Stilt demanded a trade, and the 76ers complied, sending the Hall-of-Famer to the Lakers for three players. Wilt became the first MVP ever traded during the offseason, the highest-paid player in the NBA, and a national celebrity, with his raucous Bel-Air parties compared to those of the Playboy Mansion. And Wilt’s arrival paid off on the court as well, eventually.
After enduring three consecutive Finals losses, Wilt and teammate Jerry West led the 1971-72 Lakers to an NBA Championship, defeating the New York Knicks in five games to bring the Lakers their first title since moving to Los Angeles. Whether in the low post or the Hollywood Hills, Wilt Chamberlain brought a colorful presence to Los Angeles, a cross-cultural celebrity that would pave the way for future Laker icons Magic, Shaq, and Kobe.
2. Lakers Pick Jerry West in the 1960 NBA Draft
Jerry West, Finals MVP. Jerry West, Hall-of-Famer. Jerry West, General Manager. The Logo’s forty-year career with the Laker franchise as player, coach, and GM made the Lakers into the preeminent franchise it is today, and it all started in the 1960 NBA Draft. There, with the second pick, the Minneapolis Lakers selected the 6’ 2” guard out of West Virginia.
West’s college credentials were tremendous. He was a two-time All-American, named the Most Outstanding Player of the 1959 Final Four, and a gold-medal winner at the 1959 Pan American Games. The Lakers knew they had a jewel in West, but they never could have imagined that the West Virginian would embark on a four-decade journey of consistent brilliance that forever shaped the Laker legacy. West was a fourteen-time All-Star, oversaw the construction of the Showtime Lakers, and brought Kobe and Shaq to Los Angeles in the summer of ‘96. By the time West retired in 2000, he had overseen seven Laker championships, and his decisions as an executive laid the foundation for at least two more. Nine championships and four decades of glory — all from one pick in 1960.
1. The Lakers Arrive in the City Of Angels
From Jerry West to Magic Johnson, from Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal, it is hard to imagine Los Angeles without its Lakers. But until spring 1960, the purple and gold belonged to Minneapolis. It took the mind of business magnate Bob Short, who purchased the team in 1957, to bring the team to Los Angeles. Despite the great basketball success of the team in Minneapolis (the Lakers won five championships there), Short was frustrated by the declining revenues of the team.
So when he noted the great success of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Rams after their moves from Brooklyn and St. Louis, respectively, the businessman decided to move the Laker franchise as well. The move was unanimously approved by the NBA Board of Governors, and on April 28, 1960, Bob Short announced to the world that the Lakers would be heading west. Backed by star Elgin Baylor and new draft pick Jerry West, the Lakers increased attendance by 50,000 during the first year in their new city. Forty-three years, eleven championships, and a couple dynasties later, the Laker franchise is a cultural pillar of Los Angeles and a fundamental part of the city’s very identity. Robert Earl Short, Lakers Nation salutes you.