When it comes to legendary NBA franchises, few can rival the popularity, historical dominance, and cultural relevance of the Los Angeles Lakers. Simply put, the Lakers have earned its place as one of the most iconic franchises in sports history. Recently, the team’s elite status played a role in luring superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis to Los Angeles.
How exactly did the Lakers rise to prominence in the first place? Star players and a record of postseason success both play roles. Yet another key part of the picture was the influence of former owner Dr. Jerry Buss. Let’s break down the Lakers’ three-pronged approach to all-time greatness.
The Lakers’ legendary players
Let’s recap a few of the legendary NBA players who graced the Lakers’ bench over the years. A logical place to begin: the recently departed Kobe Bryant — perhaps the greatest player to ever don a Lakers jersey. Bryant holds the all-time Lakers scoring records for both the regular season and playoffs.
Going a bit further back in time, we come to Magic Johnson. He possessed a dynamism few other NBA players have ever matched, combining individual excellence with winning team play. The Lakers also got 14 incomparable years from the most prolific scorer in NBA history: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Other Lakers legends include Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, James Worthy, George Mikan, and Byron Scott. At the end of the day, a staggering percentage of the NBA’s greatest spent portions of their careers with the Lakers.
The Lakers’ competitive pedigree
The Lakers haven’t just attracted great players; they’ve drawn great players truly driven to succeed. Over the course of 72 seasons (dating back to when the franchise was based in Minnesota), the Lakers have compiled a .595 win percentage. Among teams that have played at least 3,000 games, that’s good for second place all-time.
Over those 72 seasons, the Lakers have also won an impressive 16 NBA championships. This record is good for second place all-time, with only the Boston Celtics’ 17 titles ahead of them. If James and Davis have their way, the Lakers could tie or even overtake that record soon.
The Lakers as sports entertainment
The aforementioned factors have undoubtedly contributed to the Lakers’ popularity. Yet one of the most overlooked circumstances involves the vision of former owner Jerry Buss. He deserves credit for virtually inventing the concept of sports entertainment. Before Buss, a pro basketball game was just a sporting event.
Buss recognized that it would take more than just sports to make basketball into a true media sensation. He augmented the Lakers by adding copious amounts of entertainment to live games. This included everything from cheerleaders to musical accompaniment to light shows and half-time performers.
Buss also knew that the more celebrities he could get at games, the more allure the Lakers would take on for everyday fans. He catered to high-profile attendees through premium seating, the Forum Club, and other exclusive benefits for A-listers. Celebrities sitting courtside are a common occurrence in today’s NBA. Buss singlehandedly created this tradition.
Of course, Buss wasn’t just a showman. He was also a savvy franchise owner able to build rosters and attract the talent that enabled the Lakers to dominate. Yet his revolutionary approach to the entertainment side deserves more recognition for having turned the NBA into what it is today.
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