As the buzzer sounded on June 14, 2009, Lakers players jumped in the air and hugged each other in celebration of their 2009 NBA Championship. While the players celebrated their title that night and in the coming days in front of tens of thousands of Lakers fans as they paraded down Figueroa and into the Coliseum, the 29 other NBA teams were preparing for the 2009-2010 season. The other 29 teams got a head start on their 2009-2010 preparations and the Lakers were forced to play catch up, but that is just one of the many reasons why repeating as champions is difficult. Let's take a look at how the Lakers' last 15 NBL/BAA/NBA champion teams fared in their attempts at repeating.
1948-1949 Minneapolis Lakers
In 1948, the Minneapolis Lakers picked up the franchise's first basketball championship. The 1948 National Basketball League title team was led by George Mikan and Jim Pollard, both future Hall of Famers. Mikan had joined the Lakers prior to that title season and catapulted the team to the top of the standings and sport. For the 1948-1949 season, the Lakers moved to the Basketball Association of America and it was there that they found some stiffer competition. The Lakers, while not defending the NBL title they had won the previous year, were still looking to repeat as champions and didn't even top the Western Division during the regular season. The Lakers finished second in the regular seasonwith a 44-16 record, but in the playoffs they swept Chicago and Rochester, 2-0, to move onto the Finals, where they defeated the Washington Capitals, 4-2, to claim their second consecutive championship.
1949-1950 Minneapolis Lakers
Following the 1948-1949 season, the BAA and NBA merged, created the league we know today and forcing the Lakers to win their third different league title in as many years. John Kundla remained the Lakers' head coach and still had both Mikan and Pollard at his disposal, plus Vern Mikkelson joined the fray. Both their points per game and points allowed per game numbers improved and the Lakers regular season finish improved too, tying Rochester for first in the NBA's Central Division with a 51-17 record and defeated the Royals in a tiebreaker game to claim the first seed. The Lakers then followed a similar path as they swept their way to the NBA Finals, 2-0 each time (although this time through three rounds), then a 4-2 series win in the Finals, this time over Syracuse. Two attempted title defenses and both times defended.
1950-1951 Minneapolis Lakers
The Lakers got to stay in the same league for a change, but they did have to switch divisions, as they became a member of the NBA's Western Division. The Lakers scored more points in 1950-1951 than they did the previous season, but they also allowed more points. Despite winning seven fewer games though, 44, the Lakers still won their division. They would not defend their title though as they fell to Rochester, 3-1, in the Western Division Finals.
1952-1953 Minneapolis Lakers
The 1952-1953 Lakers were able to get back into the winner's circle as Mikan, Mikkelson and Pollard continued to lead a team that had added big man Clyde Lovellette. After a tough seven game NBA FInals series win over the New York Knickerbockers, the Lakers returned to defend yet another title. John Kundla, still at the helm, guided the team to a 48-22 record, tops in the Western Division. It was an easy 2-0 series win over Indianapolis in the playoffs' opening round, but the Fort Wayne Pistons pushed the Lakers to the brink. It took the full five games for the Lakers to dispose of the pesky Pistons and set up a NBA FInal rematch against the Knickerbockers, but this time it was much easier as Minneapolis needed only five games to win the seven game series,
1953-1954 Minneapolis Lakers
The Lakers were getting used to this defending a title thing and it showed in 1953-1954 as they won the franchises fifth title and second consecutive. Once again, the Lakers topped the NBA's Western Division, this time with a 46-26 record. Mikan averaged over 18 points a game while reeling in over 14 rebounds during the regular season, then 19 points and 13 boards in the playoffs. The playoffs only had two rounds in 1954 and it took the maximum in both series for the Lakers to pull out yet another NBA title. First, it was a 2-1 series win over Rochester, then a seven game series win over Syracuse, both familiar opponents. The Lakers were six time champions, with a pair of three-peats and had taken those six in a seven year span.
The 1954 NBA Champion Minneapolis Lakers, via www.latimes.com
1972-1973 Los Angeles Lakers
It took until 1972 and a move to Los Angeles for the Lakers to bring home another NBA title, but they finally did it. It took the midseason retirement of Elgin Baylor for Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Co. to get over the hump in 1971-1972, but they sure did, rolling off 33 straight wins and picking up the NBA title. In the title defense season of 1972-1973, Los Angeles went 60-22, which earned them the top spot in the Pacific Division. It took the full seven games for the Lakers to defeat the Bulls in the first round, but only five to defeat the Warriors and advance to the NBA Finals. It was there that they met the same team they met in the previous year's Finals, New York. The previous season, New York won Game 1 with the Lakers winning the next four, but in 1973, the Lakers took the opener, only to see New York win the next four and the championship.
1980-1981 Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers' next title came in 1980 with a big man, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leading the way and some guy named Magic running the point. In 1980, the Lakers defeated the 76ers in the NBA Finals, but in 1981, the Lakers wouldn't even win a playoff series. Despite three players averaging at least 20 points, Kareem, Magic and Jamaal Wilkes, and two guys topping eight assists, Magic and Norm Nixon, the Lakers finished second in the Pacific. They qualified for the playoffs with that second place finish, but the Rockets topped the Lakers in three games as Los Angeles exited in the first round.
1982-1983 Los Angeles Lakers
Back atop the basketball world, the Lakers, now with Pat Riley manning the bench, had yet another fantastic regular season. Magic Johnson was just a rebound and a half away from averaging a triple double, Kareem topped 20 points a game again and the Lakers had the league's second-highest scoring offense. The Lakers won 58 games to top the Pacific Division again and following series wins over the Trail Blazers and Spurs, LA was back in the NBA Finals against a team they had become familiar with. The Lakers topped the 76ers in the 1980 Finals, then done so against in 1982. The two teams locked horns again in the 1983 Finals, but this time it was the Sixers who prevailed as they swept the Lakers in four.
1985-1986 Los Angeles Lakers
In the 1985 NBA Finals, the Lakers finally exorcised their demons by beating the Boston Celtics to claim the title. The Lakers were flying high coming into the 1985-1986 season. Los Angeles topped the NBA in points per game and topped the Pacific Division with 62 wins. With James Worthy pouring in over 20 points a game to join the Lakers' two offensive cornerstones, Magic and Kareem, the Lakers were a force to be reckoned with. The first round looked easy as could be as LA dropped the Spurs, 3-0, then the Mavericks, 4-2, in the Western semis. That led to a Western Conference Finals matchup with Houston, a team led by Sampson and Olajuwon who upended the Lakers in five games
1987-1988 Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers had already won four NBA titles in the 80's by the time the 1987-1988 season kicked off. Having defeated Boston the previous season in six games to win the title, Magic, Kareem and Co. were looking to repeat for the first time in their careers. It didn't come easy as Kareem turned 41 during the season as was noticeably slowing down, averaging just 14.6 points a game. With Kareem taking a back seat, Byron Scott exploded to average nearly 22 points per game, while Mychal Thompson and AC Green picked up some of the slack in the paint. The Lakers topped their division again, winning 62 games and winning a pair of seven game series to go along with a sweep in advancing to the NBA Finals. There, they met the Pistons who had finally gotten past the Celtics to play for the title, but the Lakers were too much, winning in seven games to repeat as NBA champions.
These Lakers were pretty good as they defended their NBA crown, via i.cdn.turner.com
1988-1989 Los Angeles Lakers
With Kareem down to just 10 points a game and a couple key contributors, Mychal Thompson and Michael Cooper, approaching their mid-30's and aging, the Lakers were having trouble keeping up with the NBA's best by 1989. The Lakers did win 57 games and the Pacific Division, then swept their way through the playoffs' first three rounds to make it look as if age meant nothing to them. When they got to the Finals though, the Lakers were just a step behind at all times as the Pistons exacted their revenge in a four game sweep of the Lakers. It would be Kareem's last season and the end of the Showtime Dynasty.
2000-2001 Los Angeles Lakers
Could the Lakers have another dynasty on their hands? That was the question being asked after their 2000 NBA championship. Led by the league's most dominant players, Shaquille O'Neal and the league's most explosive players, Kobe Bryant, the Lakers had the league's top one-two punch. Joining those two were a handful of veterans who played their roles to perfection, although it took time. Kobe and Shaq had their issues throughout much of the regular season, but Phil Jackson and the veterans were able to sort it out or at least put it on the back burner as they finished the regular season red hot. That continued to the playoffs where they swept each team in their way until they reached the Finals. After the Sixers took Game 1 of the Finals, the Lakers won the next four to finish the postseason 15-1, a new NBA record.
Ron Harper, a key veteran, helped the Lakers' top duo repeat as champions, via c.getbackimages.com
2001-2002 Los Angeles Lakers
Three-peat? Sure, Pat Riley trademarked the term, but he was never able to complete the three-peat. Shaq, Kobe and Phil's Lakers were. The Lakers had arguably their strongest foe of their three-peat in their way in 2002, but it didn't stop them. Los Angels won 58 games, but the Sacramento Kings topped them and won the West. The Lakers didn't have much of a problem in the first two rounds of the playoffs and that set them up with the matchup everybody wanted...Lakers vs. Kings. The series had its share of great finishes (Horry in Game 4) and fittingly culminated in a Game 7 overtime period where the Lakers prevailed to advance to the NBA Finals. Many called the series versus the Kings the true NBA Finals as it matched the NBA's two best teams and those who said that were correct. The Lakers swept New Jersey in the Finals to win the third consecutive NBA title.
The Lakers completed their three-peat and picked up their third ring in 2002, via sportsmed.starwave.com
2002-2003 Los Angeles Lakers
When the Los Angeles Lakers took to the court to begin the 2002-2003 season, they were attempting to do something that hadn't been done since the Celtics of the 60's. It had been nearly 40 years, but the Lakers were looking for their fourth consecutive NBA title. Kobe averaged 30 points per game and Shaq chipped in with 27.5, but only one other Lakers averaged double digits and that was Derek Fisher with 10.5 points per game. Despite this, the Lakers scored the fourth most points in the league, but also allowed the eight most. They finished second in the Pacific, but after a six game series with the Timberwolves, were dispatched by the Spurs in six games to end their hopes of four consecutive titles.
That's 15 NBL/BAA/NBA titles, discounting last year's. That also equals 15 attempted title defenses, seven of which were successful, a downright amazing number. Two other times, the Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals when trying to defend a title. So defending a title is hard, that much we all know. Defending a title as a Laker? Well, that hasn't been nearly as hard. That's what the Lakers' history tells them and that's the history that the Lakers will wear across their chests as they embark on title defense #16 on Tuesday.