The day was October 19, 1960. It may have seemed like a regular Wednesday afternoon, but for the Lakers it was the start of a new beginning. The Lakers, fresh off of their move from Minneapolis, were making their debut as the Los Angeles Lakers. Jerry West was also making his NBA debut after being drafted by the Lakers in the 1960 draft. However, before we get into their debuts, let's go back a little further in time and figure out how we got here:
Since the start of the 1947-48 season, the Lakers had played their games at the Minneapolis Auditorium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Lakers started out in the NBL (National Basketball League) in 1947, in which they won the Championship that year (not recognized by the NBA). In 1948, they moved to the BBA (Basketball Association of America), where they also won the Championship that year. The following year, the NBL and the BAA joined to form the NBA (National Basketball Association), where the Lakers won the Championship 5 of the first 6 years. They only time they didn't win the NBA Finals, is when George Mikan broke his leg during the 1950-51 season.
George Mikan, arguably the best player in the NBA at the time, retired after the 1954 season. The following season, the Lakers second best player, Jim Pollard, also retired. After three seasons with early playoff exits, and the interest in the Lakers from the "twin cities" area decreasing, Lakers owner Ben Berger was ready to sell the team to a pair of Missouri men who planned to move the Lakers to Kansas City. However, a bunch of local investors, headed by lawyer Bob Short, were able to raise enough money to keep the team in Minnesota. But the new owner wasn't able to change the results on the court, as the Lakers would go 19-53 the next season, 14 games behind the next worst team in the league. Short was losing money and was starting to run into some serious financial trouble.
The 1958 draft is where things started to turn around for Bob Short. The Lakers selected Elgin Baylor with the #1 overall pick, and then convinced him to skip his senior year at Seattle University to come play for the Lakers. They did so by paying him a hefty salary of $20,000. Bob Short saw Baylor as a player who could save the franchise; and he did. According to a 1971 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Bob Short said: "If he (Baylor) had turned me down then, I would have been out of business. The club would have gone bankrupt." Baylor's flashy play and all around game started to bring excitement back to Lakers basketball.
The following season would be much more successful for the Lakers, as Baylor led them all the way to the NBA Finals. But being the savvy businessman that he was, Bob Short still wasn't pleased with the financial return he was getting out of the Lakers. He decided to copy a move that the Brooklyn Dodgers of Major League Baseball had done a few years prior. In 1958, Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley had moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and had seen huge financial success. Bob Short decided to do the same, and moved the Lakers to Los Angeles before the start of the 1960-61 season. The Lakers become the NBA's first west coast team.
The Lakers opened their 1960-61 season on October 19, 1960. Although they would play their home games at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, this year's season opener would be on the road against the Cincinnati Royals.
Elgin Baylor was in his 3rd year in the NBA, and the Lakers were very excited about the debut of Jerry West, who was drafted with the #2 overall pick in the 1960 NBA draft. The Lakers would lose their season opener, but West looked like a promising young star as he managed 20 points. Baylor did his expected damage as he put up 35 points against the Royals. The team also featured future Laker greats Rudy "Rough House" LaRusso, Frank Selvy, Rodney "Hot Rod" Hundley and Cotton Nash.
Thus began the start of the Lakers in the city of Los Angeles. Bob Short had taken a team that was at the bottom of the NBA, and with the help of two future Hall of Famers and a move to the west coast, was able to turn them into one of the more successful franchises in the early 1960's. The Lakers had resumed their winning ways, as they would return the NBA Finals 3 times in their first 6 years in Los Angeles.