Throughout the rich history of the NBA, there have been some great teams, and then there have been some legendary ones. The league saw its first dynasty emerge during the 1950s as the Minneapolis Lakers won four titles in the decade with George Mikan leading the way.
The team then moved to Los Angeles prior to the 1960-61 season and thus began the apparent NBA Finals curse. Indeed, the Lakers were defeated a whopping six times during the 1960s in the Finals, with each defeat reinforcing the idea that the Boston Celtics perpetually owned the Lakers. Indeed, the Celtics won nine championships during the decade and defeated the Lakers in six of those nine championship appearances.
But the team’s fortunes changed in the 1970s as the team finally managed to capture a title after moving to Los Angeles. Since the relocation, the purple and gold has won 11 NBA titles; with many of those title teams holding a great historical significance to the league.
It begs the question: which Lakers team since the move is the best of all?
Glad you asked. The FB&G staff looked at the 11 titles teams and voted in order to rank these squads. Whether it’s their historical significance, their trampling of opponents or simply erasing the curse by finally conquering the Boston Celtics in the Finals, we managed to put these Lakers teams from worst to first.
And without further ado, the team that clocked in at #11…
The 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers
In the Shaq and Kobe era, many view this team as the weakest of all the title teams and the voting of the FB&G staff reflected that as well. After winning 67 and 56 games respectively in the previous two seasons and also winning back-to-back titles, it was widely assumed that this team should get back to the Finals and complete the three-peat.
The 2001-02 Lakers boasted the second best offensive efficiency and sixth best defensive efficiency in the league, mind you they flew a little under the radar as the Sacramento Kings (61-21) finished with the best record in the league and the San Antonio Spurs (58-24) finished second in the Western Conference standings.
With that said, the purple and gold still had Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
Both players were in phases in their careers where they could assert themselves offensively seemingly on command without necessarily stepping on the toes of each other. In addition, the roles players on the roster had grown comfortable in their tasks and understood the pecking order on the team; but they never shied away from big moments.
Robert Horry provided clutch daggers against the likes of the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the 2002 playoffs, Derek Fisher helped space the floor against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals and Rick Fox gave his teammates some scoring, rebounding, passing and strong defense in the Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings.
This Lakers team was an impressive 15-4 during their postseason run on their way to the title, but many will recall them as somewhat of an underachieving bunch because of their 15-1 playoff record during the 2001 playoffs. In addition, unlike the season prior, the 2002 Lakers were tested and faced elimination.
Phil Jackson’s unit lost Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Sacramento and had to win Game 6 back in Los Angeles — which they did — to force an epic Game 7 showdown for the ages back in Sacramento.
The Lakers ended up winning Game 7 on the road in overtime against the Sacramento Kings — three of their four wins in that series were by six points or less — and then went on to sweep the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals as Shaquille O’Neal earned his third straight NBA Finals MVP trophy.
Although the Lakers easily dispatched the Nets in the title round, the accomplishments from previous seasons created expectations that would have been difficult for this team to match despite finishing the season with a title. Indeed, statistically, the 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers are one of the best championship teams of all time, boasting a regular season scoring margin of plus-7.1 and a playoff scoring margin of plus-3.8 with Shaquille O’Neal leading the way during the playoffs with averages of 28.5 points per game, 12.6 rebounds per game and 2.8 assists per game on 52.9 percent field goal shooting; but in terms of the rich history of the franchise post-relocation, they are the least impressive title team.
The Shaq and Kobe pair will always be one of the greatest dynamic duos the league has ever seen, and the 2001-02 season will be remembered as the final chapter of their championship days together.
The 2002 Lakers might be the “worst” Los Angeles Lakers championship team, but in the grand scheme of things, they still managed a title and completed the ever elusive three-peat.
Lakers fans will tell you, that’s a great way to finish last…