In the long and storied history of the NBA, no team has made more appearances in the NBA Finals than the Los Angeles Lakers. Since the franchise was founded in 1947 in Minneapolis, the Lakers have appeared in the Finals 31 times. As one would guess, the team they’ve faced the most in the final series of the year, the Boston Celtics, have the second-most with 21.
Unfortunately for Lakers fans, the Celtics still own more titles than the Lakers. Boston leads all NBA franchises with 17 championships with the Lakers right behind with 16. The Bulls and Warriors are tied for third with six titles each.
Here’s a quick look back on how the Lakers won those 16 titles.
The Minneapolis Lakers were the first dynasty in NBA history
Led by basketball’s first dominant center, George Mikan, the Minneapolis Lakers actually won their first title in 1949 as members of the Basketball Association of America (BAA), which merged with the National Basketball League ahead of the 1949-1950 season to form the NBA. But the NBA still recognizes titles from the BAA so it does count toward the 16.
The Lakers hold the distinction of winning the first-ever NBA Finals in 1950, defeating the Syracuse Nationals in six games. Two years later, Mikan & Co. won the first of three consecutive titles. In total, the Minneapolis Lakers won the title in five of six seasons and were the NBA’s first dynasty.
Elgin Baylor and Jerry West finally won an NBA title in 1972
In 1958, the Lakers selected Elgin Baylor with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. Two years later, ahead of their first season in LA, they took Jerry West in the exact same spot. With those two leading the way (Wilt Chamberlain didn’t come to LA until 1968), the Lakers made six appearances in the NBA Finals in the 1960s but lost each and every time to the Boston Celtics, who won 11 titles in 13 seasons between 1957 and 1969.
Finally, in 1972, now armed with Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West won the NBA title that had eluded both of them for so long. The Lakers went 69-13 that season, then an NBA record for wins, and defeated the New York Knicks in five games in the Finals to win their first title in 13 years.
Magic Johnson and the ‘Showtime’ Lakers of the 1980s
Following their victory in the 1972 NBA Finals, the Lakers were defeated by the Knicks the following year in five games and didn’t make another appearance in the Finals until 1980, which just happened to be the rookie year of Magic Johnson. With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out for Game 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers, Magic stepped up and played every position, scoring 42 points and adding 15 rebounds and seven assists to lead the Lakers to their seventh NBA title.
Magic would go on to lead the Lakers to four more NBA titles in the 1980s, twice defeating rival Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. Joined by the likes of James Worthy, Byron Scott, and Kareem, Magic and the “Showtime” Lakers were the highlight of one of the NBA’s greatest eras.
Shaq & Kobe lead the Lakers to a three-peat to start the new millenium
In 1996, the Lakers signed free agent Shaquille O’Neal and drafted Kobe Bryant to form arguably the greatest duo in NBA history. It took a few years for Kobe to adjust to the NBA but once he did, he and Shaq were close to unstoppable. Led by Phil Jackson, the Lakers won their first title in a dozen years in 2000 by defeating the Indiana Pacers in six games.
Shaq and Kobe went on to win two more titles together in 2001 and 2002, giving Phil Jackson his third three-peat, and made a fourth NBA Finals appearance in 2004, where they lost to the Detroit Pistons in five games. Shaq was then traded to Miami as Kobe became the face of the franchise.
Kobe wins two without Shaq
With Shaq out of the picture, it took Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to once again become an elite team but they did get there. The addition of Pau Gasol during the 2007-2008 season was a big factor in the Lakers getting back to the NBA Finals that season, where they lost in six games to the Celtics.
In 2009, Kobe finally got the monkey off his back and proved that he could win without Shaq as he and the Lakers defeated Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in five games. The following season, in yet another matchup with the Celtics, the Lakers won their 16th and most recent NBA title by defeating their bitter rival in an epic seven-game series.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference