The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t just a great NBA franchise – they have perhaps the best claim as the best franchise ever, with 17 championships, 32 Finals appearances, and tenures from some of the sport’s all-time greatest players. Over such a prestigious history, many different squads have won titles for LA in impressive fashion. But how do those Lakers teams stack up against each other? And which one is the best to ever do it?
There’s barely any era in NBA history where the Lakers haven’t been serious contenders. The George Mikan era in the league’s early years; the 1960s of Elgin Baylor and Jerry West; the end of Wilt Chamberlain’s reign; the dominance of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; the Magic Johnson “Showtime” Lakers; the Shaq/Kobe three-peaters; the Kobe/Gasol era; and the current team led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Any time Los Angeles dips in performance, it’s never long before they’re right back at the top.
Given that incredible record across more than 70 years, ranking the top 10 Lakers teams is a somewhat daunting task. With that in mind, let’s lay out some ground rules. First, while the Lakers saw great success in the early 1950s, none of those teams will make it onto this list. Only one season – 1949-50 – has any strong claim by the numbers, and the fact is the league just wasn’t competitive enough at the time for those squads to measure up to the later years.
Secondly, these 10 teams will ultimately be ranked by their total win percentage, factoring in both regular season and playoff records. With that in mind, the 2001-02 team may seem like a glaring omission, but there is a reason – that year was the only year in Lakers history since the 1950s that the team won the championship without also winning their division. The dominance of the Kings and the questionable circumstances surrounding their defeat puts an asterisk on that season that just pushes them off this list.
And lastly, of course, every team on this list had to win the title. Let’s get started.
10. 1981-82 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season Record: 57 W – 25 L (.695)
Playoffs Record: 12 W – 2 L (.857)
Total Record: 69 W – 27 L (.719)
Pat Riley’s first year as head coach for the Lakers brought LA its second championship title with the Magic/Kareem duo. Riley took over early in the season after a dispute between Johnson and former head coach Paul Westhead led to the latter’s firing, and the team went on to win 50 of their 71 games under Riley.
LA swept through the first two rounds of the 1982 postseason, defeating the Suns and the George Gervin Spurs for a Finals showdown with Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers. The series mirrored the two teams’ faceoff two years prior, with LA once again beating Philly in six games. Magic claimed his second Finals MVP in an impressive performance alongside Kareem, Norm Nixon, Jamaal Wilkes, Michael Cooper, and an off-the-bench Bob McAdoo.
9. 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season Record: 56 W – 26 L (.683)
Playoffs Record: 15 W – 1 L (.938)
Total Record: 71 W – 27 L (.724)
LA’s record in the 2000-01 regular season is the worst of the Shaq/Kobe three-peat years (though still very impressive), but it was the duo’s best postseason run by far. To date, no team has ever gone undefeated in the playoffs, but the Lakers nearly did it in 2001. In one of the most memorable and impressive performances in NBA Finals history, Allen Iverson held off Los Angeles nearly single-handedly in Game 1 of the series. Every other game the Lakers played in that playoffs, however, ended in victory.
The 2000-01 campaign proved a lot of different things. It proved that LA had built a team on par with the best squads of the decade before, that Phil Jackson could be a repeat-championship coach without Michael Jordan, and that Shaq and Kobe were both winners of the highest level. This season also saw the beginnings of schisms between those two stars, however, leading to the team’s eventual fracture.
8. 1987-88 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season Record: 62 W – 20 L (.756)
Playoffs Record: 15 W – 9 L (.625)
Total Record: 77 W – 29 L (.726)
The “Showtime” era’s last championship was no less impressive than its first. The Lakers won 62 games in the regular season and fought through one of their most challenging postseasons ever, going a full seven games against the Jazz, Mavericks, and Isiah Thomas-led Pistons sequentially. LA played a whopping 106 games in total, and James Worthy won his first and only Finals MVP.
Kareem also deserves particular recognition for the Lakers’ 1987-88 campaign. He played all but two games in his penultimate regular season, starting in every one and averaging 14.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 1.2 BPG – at age 40. While his farewell tour the next season didn’t end in a title, 1988 is a reminder of how incredibly good, for how incredibly long, the big man really was.
7. 1979-80 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season Record: 60 W – 22 L (.732)
Playoffs Record: 12 W – 4 L (.750)
Total Record: 72 W – 26 L (.735)
Just barely edging out Magic and Kareem’s last championship together in total win percentage is their first. Johnson’s rookie season brought LA its first Finals appearance since 1973, and its first championship victory since 1972. While just losing out in Rookie of the Year voting to rival Larry Bird, Magic was exceptional in the playoffs, claiming the first of his Finals MVP awards.
Kareem was spectacular as well, winning regular-season MVP honors averaging a double-double of 24.8 PPG and 10.8 RPG, with an additional 3.4 BPG. Kareem’s superstardom and Magic’s young prowess led LA to 60 wins. That killer combination carried into a relatively dominant playoff run, foreshadowing the incredible decade to follow.
6. 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season Record: 52 W – 19 L (.732)
Playoffs Record: 16 W – 5 L (.762)
Total Record: 68 W – 24 L (.739)
LeBron’s second year in Los Angeles doesn’t crack the top five on this list, but it’s close. With an impressive .739 total win percentage across a covid-truncated season, the James/Davis team-up brought the Lakers a title for the first time in a decade. LA dominated through the postseason, where LeBron averaged a double-double with 27.6 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 8.8 APG. He averaged a points/assists double-double in the regular season as well.
Of course, the 2019-20 season has its share of potential asterisks – the abbreviated regular season, the unique circumstances of the Orlando bubble, and the early playoff exit of the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George Clipper being the three big ones. Such qualifiers are fair, but they don’t change the domination wrought by LeBron and AD, their impressive win record, or the fact that James is still playing at an MVP level in his 17th year. The big question surrounding this Lakers squad now is if they can do it again.
5. 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season Record: 62 W – 20 L (.756)
Playoffs Record: 15 W – 4 L (.789)
Total Record: 77 W – 24 L (.762)
After losing to Larry Bird’s Celtics in 1984, Magic and the Lakers came back with a vengeance. LA went 62-20 in the regular season, with Kareem averaging 22.0 PPG and 7.9 RPG and Johnson averaging a double-double. Magic also made the All-NBA First Team for the third year in a row.
The Lakers stayed just as strong in the playoffs, where Kareem and Worthy both averaged over 20 PPG, and five other players all scored in double-digits. Magic averaged a double-double with 17.5 PPG and 15.2 APG, and the Lakers reran the prior year’s showdown with a six-game victory over Boston in the Finals. Kareem, at age 38, was awarded the Finals MVP award, as LA claimed their third title in six years.
4. 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season Record: 65 W – 17 L (.793)
Playoffs Record: 16 W – 7 L (.696)
Total Record: 81 W – 24 L (.771)
The Lakers’ 2008-09 season is one of the best comeback stories in the franchise’s history. After years of disappointing performances in the wake of Shaq’s departure, Kobe finally claimed the MVP in 2008 and took LA all the way back to the Finals, only to lose to Boston in six games. That disappointment, however, would not last.
The Lakers had an even better regular season in 2008-09, winning 65 games behind Kobe and Pau Gasol. The two once again had a talented squad surrounding them, with Derrick Fisher starting all 82 games at point guard and a solid supporting roster that included a young Trevor Ariza and an even younger Andrew Bynum. The team was still though, at its core, the Kobe Bryant Show.
Kobe went on a tear through the postseason, averaging 30.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, and 0.9 BPG. Gasol backed him up with more than 18.3 PPG and 10.8 RPG, and LA battled through some tough series against Houston and Denver on the way to a clean 4-1 victory over Orlando in the Finals. Kobe claimed his first Finals MVP, and the Lakers were champions once again.
3. 1999-00 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season Record: 67 W – 15 L (.817)
Playoffs Record: 15 W – 8 L (.652)
Total Record: 82 W – 23 L (.781)
The first of LA’s championship seasons with Shaq and Kobe may not have boasted the most dominant playoff record, but it was the duo’s strongest year together. Shaq swept the regular-season MVP, Finals MVP, and All-Star Game MVP awards, averaging 29.7 PPG and 13.6 RPG in the regular season and 30.7 PPG and 15.4 RPG in the playoffs. Kobe averaged 22.5 PPG, and Glen Rice was solid as a third offensive option.
Phil Jackson led the Lakers to 67 wins in the regular season, but the playoffs wouldn’t be so easy. Sacramento pushed the Lakers to their limits in the first round, and Portland made a seven-game stand in the Conference Finals, but LA prevailed throughout and defeated Indiana to claim their 12th championship title.
2. 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season Record: 65 W – 17 L (.793)
Playoffs Record: 15 W – 3 L (.833)
Total Record: 80 W – 20 L (.800)
The 1986-87 Lakers are widely accepted as one of the 10 greatest NBA teams of all time, and it represents the best of the “Showtime” era. LA had their best regular-season record of the decade with 65 wins. Magic won the league MVP, Michael Cooper was named Defensive Player of the Year, and Kareem made his 17th All-Star game.
Then, in a stacked playoffs, the Lakers demolished the competition. They swept Denver in the first round, beat the Warriors 4-1, swept Seattle in the Conference Finals, and took the crown back from Boston in a six-game Finals series. Magic was named Finals MVP for the third and last time in a definitive showing against Bird and the rest of the Celtics. In 100 total games played through the regular season and playoffs, the Lakers won 80.
1. 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season Record: 69 W – 13 L (.841)
Playoffs Record: 12 W – 3 L (.800)
Total Record: 81 W – 16 L (.835)
Only one Lakers team can stand up against the peak of “Showtime,” and it’s frequently counted in the top three ever. Through the 1960s, the Lakers made the NBA Finals seven different times, and lost on every single occasion – once to New York, and six times to the Celtics. No matter how good Jerry West and Elgin Baylor were, they didn’t seem to have it in them to take a series over Boston.
But in 1971-72, Los Angeles had a season for the ages. The Lakers won a staggering 69 regular-season games with West, Wilt Chamberlain, and Gail Goodrich leading the charge. Goodrich and West both averaged more than 25 PPG, and the Lakers went on a stunning 33-game winning streak that still stands as the all-time NBA record.
They then defeated the Knicks team that had beaten them just two years earlier, becoming champions for the first time since the franchise moved to Los Angeles. Elgin Baylor was awarded a championship ring by the franchise, even though he’d officially retired earlier that season after repeated injury problems returned from the year before. Baylor just barely missed out on the 33-win streak and the subsequent title run, but it’s only fair the team gave him the recognition he deserved.