The secret to the 1999-2000 Los Angeles Lakers is a triangle - or more specifically, The Triangle.
The Triangle is the offensive system run by head coach Phil Jackson, a strategy he employed to perfection during his time as head coach of the Chicago Bulls. Jackson (with the help of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen) guided the Bulls to six championships, and he hopes to replicate his success this season with the Lakers.
A lot is riding on this season's team. The Lakers are one of the NBA's most storied franchises, winning 11 championships in their history. But L.A.'s last title was in 1988. The 1999-2000 Lakers are one of the most talented teams in the league, but anything short of a championship will be a disappointment.
The three points of Jackson's 1999-2000 triangle are center Shaquille O'Neal, guard Kobe Bryant, and small forward Glen Rice. O'Neal is the most dominant center in the league, Bryant is quickly developing into an electrifying total package player, and Rice is a lethal scorer. But can these athletes guide the rest of the team to an NBA championship? Perhaps the best way to gauge their chances is to compare them to the Lakers teams of the past.
The Lakers Roots Go Back to Minneapolis
The Lakers first originated in Minneapolis during the 1947-48 season as part of the National Basketball League. After winning the NBL title that season, the Lakers jumped to the rival Basketball Association of America, where they won another title. Before the start of the 1949-50 season, the NBL and BAA joined together to form the NBA. Led by center George Mikan, the Lakers proceeded to win the NBA championship in 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, and 1954.
In the early days of the NBA, Mikan was the league's main attraction. "Big George" repeatedly finished first or second in scoring and was a defensive presence inside. Mikan's supporting cast, which included forward Vern Mikkelsen and guard Slater Martin, complemented his power game. But by 1953, Mikan's production was beginning to dip. The addition of big man Clyde Lovellette helped to preserve Mikan, which was instrumental in the Lakers 1954 championship. One year later, however, Mikan retired. The Lakers wouldn't taste championship glory again for another 18 years.
The Lakers finished the 1957-58 season with a 19-53 record, last in their division. Their dismal performance, however, had earned them the number one pick of the 1958 draft. The Lakers selected forward Elgin Baylor, and his impact was immediate. In his first season, Baylor averaged 24.9 points and 15 rebounds per game. Although the team finished with a mediocre 33-39 record, the Lakers stunned the competition in the playoffs. After defeating the heavily favored St. Louis Hawks in the Western Division finals, the Lakers earned a chance to battle the Boston Celtics for the NBA championship. But the Celtics were too tough and swept the Lakers in four games.
Lakers Move to Los Angeles
The 1960 off-season was an eventful one. Lakers owner Bob Short moved the team from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, and the team drafted guard Jerry West. The duo of Baylor and West were nearly unstoppable. West and Baylor both averaged at least 27 points-per-game during their 14-year careers. But although both were electrifying scorers, they were unable to lead the Lakers to a title on their own.
In 1965, the Lakers drafted Gail Goodrich, and in 1968, Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke traded for Philadelphia 76ers center Wilt Chamberlain. The 1968-69 Lakers were a good team, but not as dominant as expected, and the championship continued to elude them. In 1971, Baylor retired, but West, Goodrich, and Chamberlain were still going strong. The 1971-72 season was the Lakers best in years. Los Angeles won an NBA record 33 games in a row and a total of 69 for the season (a record that stood until the 1995-96 season when the Chicago Bulls won 72). Los Angeles met the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals, defeating them four games to one. After 18 years, they were champions again.
In 1975, the Lakers traded for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Los Angeles was still a very successful team, but after their title in 1972, championships once again eluded them. In 1976, Gail Goodrich signed with the New Orleans Jazz as a free agent. Goodrich's defection weakened the team, but paved the way for one of the greatest players in NBA history.
As compensation for signing Goodrich, New Orleans had to give L.A. three draft picks. One of the picks was the Jazz's first rounder in the 1979 draft. The Jazz finished the 1978-79 season with the NBA's worst record, thus giving the Lakers the top pick in the upcoming draft. With that pick, Los Angeles selected 6-9 guard Earvin "Magic" Johnson.
In his rookie season, Magic led the Lakers to a 60-22 record. L.A. breezed through the playoffs, reaching the finals against "Dr. J" Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers were up three games to two when Magic put on one of the all-time great performances. With Abdul-Jabbar out with an injury, Magic shifted from guard to center and scored 42 points, pulled down 15 rebounds, and dished out 7 assists. The Lakers won the game and title, and at just 20 years old, Johnson was named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.
No player has ever compared to Magic. During his 13 seasons, the Lakers won four championships. He boasts career averages of 19.5 points-per-game and 11.2 assists-per-game, and was the all-time career assists leader until John Stockton broke his record.
Coach Pat Riley Builds The Lakers Dynasty
Eleven games into the 1981-82 season, Pat Riley became head coach of the Lakers. Riley instilled discipline in a team that had begun to show signs of complacency and the Lakers became a juggernaut. L.A. defeated Philadelphia for the championship for the second time in three years.
In Magic, the Lakers had a great guard. In Kareem, they had a great center. In 1982, Los Angeles drafted a great forward: James Worthy. A triangle was now in place. With supporting help from players like defensive specialist Michael Cooper, guard Byron Scott, and forwards Kurt Rambis and A.C. Green, the Lakers squad was set. Los Angeles went on to win NBA titles in 1985, 1987, and 1988. By winning five titles during the 1980's, the Lakers established themselves as a true dynasty.
Comparing the Lakers – Past and Present.
So how does this year's team compare to the Lakers teams of the past?
For a look at the Los Angeles Lakers of the present, click on Watching the Los Angeles Lakers, Part 2.