The word “Showtime” is synonymous with the Los Angeles Lakers, but when the basketball franchise was founded in 1947 in Minneapolis, the prospect of Hollywood movie stars sitting courtside could not possibly have been on anybody’s mind. Indeed, the team was named for Minnesota’s lake-strewn landscape; today many young fans mistakenly think it’s a play on “L.A.”
The team’s leader in the early 1950s was center George Mikan, whose 1948 Bowman rookie card is one of the most collected basketball cards in the game. By the end of the ’50s, the team had added Elgin Baylor to its roster. Baylor was named the league’s rookie of the year in 1959 and helped lead his team to the finals against the Boston Celtics, but the Celtics and Bill Russell prevailed.
The Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960, with Baylor at forward and Jerry West at guard. They played the hated Celtics in the NBA finals six times that decade, losing in each outing. Finally, after Wilt Chamberlain joined the team in 1968, things began to gel, and by 1972, the Lakers were once again kings of the NBA, winning their first championship since 1954.
Showtime arrived in L.A. in 1979 in the form of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a guard from Michigan State who had the bulk to play forward, and often did. Johnson was a fast-break shooting machine, ending his career with an average of just under 20 points per game, but he was also a generous player, passing the ball in the blink of an eye for an average of more than 11 assists per game.
At center during the 1980s, when the Lakers won five championships (four under coach Pat Riley), was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose 7’ 2” height made his trademark skyhook impossible to defend. Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989, and it basically took until 1996 to replace him. That year, the Lakers drafted Shaquille O’Neal as its center, but they also nabbed a 17-year-old named Kobe Bryant, who joined the Lakers straight out of high school.