The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most popular sports franchises in the world. They’ve won numerous championships and featured some of the greatest players in NBA history on their roster.
There are few uniforms and color schemes more iconic than the Lakers classic purple and gold. But when one ponders their name, questions may arise. For example: why is a team located in Los Angels, California — a place not exactly known for its lakes — called the Lakers? Let’s take a closer look at the franchise’s history and how they got their name.
The birth of the Lakers franchise
The Lakers weren’t even originally known as the Lakers. The franchise originally played in the National Basketball League and was known as the Detroit Gems. In 1947 they moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota and joined the Basketball Association of America. This was when the team changed its name to the Lakers.
This league was the forerunner to what is now known as the NBA. The Lakers went on to win four of the league’s first five titles. Prior to the 1960-1961 season, the team moved to its current location: Los Angeles, California.
Some of the greatest players and eras in team history
The Lakers’ first era of dominance was ushered in by center George Mikan. Mikan was the first great center in NBA history as well as the first in a long line of great Lakers’ centers.
In the ’60s, the Lakers had great teams led by legends Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. The only problem was the Boston Celtics, who defeated the them six times in the NBA Finals. They wouldn’t win their first title in L.A. until the 1971-1972 season when they won behind center Wilt Chamberlain.
The Lakers’ best period of dominance came in the ’80s. That team featured one of the greatest lineups of all-time: point guard Magic Johnson, shooting guard James Worthy, and center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Under the expert tutelage of head coach Pat Riley, the team won five championships in the decade.
The early ’90s brought tough times for the team. After the world and league were rocked by Magic Johnson’s sudden retirement and announcement that he had tested positive for HIV, the team began to struggle.
Three key transactions reversed their fortunes: they signed center Shaquille O’Neal, traded for the draft rights to guard Kobe Bryant, and hired former Chicago Bulls’ coach Phil Jackson. That iteration of the Lake Show won three straight NBA Finals.
Bryant added two championships later in the 2000s after the team traded O’Neal. Currently, the team hopes to establish a new dynasty behind superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Why are the Lakers called the Lakers?
The Lakers’ name comes from their original location: Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota is known colloquially as “The Land of 10,000 Lakes” because of the high volume of lakes in the state. The nickname somehow sells the state short — there are actually 11,842 lakes in Minnesota.
The Lakers simply didn’t change their name when they moved from cold Minneapolis to sunny Los Angeles. They aren’t the first team in history to have a geographically confusing nickname, however. Here are a few examples of other teams with confusing nicknames — confusing, at least, until you take a closer look at their history:
- The Utah Jazz may seem to be oddly named at first — after all, Utah isn’t a state particularly known for its output of jazz. But before the Jazz relocated to Salt Lake City, they called New Orleans, Louisiana their home. The Bayou is known for its jazz music, which is why the New Orleans Jazz made perfect sense for a team name.
- The Los Angeles Clippers were originally located in San Diego. The team’s name came from the many clipper ships that sailed through San Diego Bay. Once the team moved in-state, the name stuck.
The Lakers’ name may not make a lot of sense based on the state they’re in, but that hardly means they’ll change it. At this point, the Lakers have one of the most iconic brands in the NBA. Their popularity has transcended their odd nickname.