This is the eighth in a series of articles featuring a countdown of the Top 16 Greatest Lakers of All Time, as decided by the followers of Lakers UK on Twitter and Instagram.
Continuing with number 9 – Gail Goodrich. We’ll take an in-depth look at perhaps his greatest season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
When discussing left-handed Laker point guards from the franchises grand history, Goodrich has definitely earned his place among the names listed. He played 9 of his 14 seasons in the purple and gold, spanning across 2 very different spells. He played 24,122 minutes in 760 games, scoring 14,352 points.
In his first stint with the Lakers between 1965-68 Goodrich played more of a bench role with the team, averaging 11.6 PPG in 21.9 MPG over 3 seasons. He then left for the Phoenix Suns after being selected by the team in the expansion draft. In his 2 seasons in Pheonix, Goodrich averaged 21.9 PPG in 39.9 MPG, earning his first All-Star selection. He would then return to Los Angeles in 1970, signing as a free-agent. As a star ready to prove his stripes under the bright lights of Hollywood.
One event veteran Laker fans may remember is the inadvertent gift left by Goodrich when he signed for the New Orleans Jazz (later the Utah Jazz) in 1976. At the time league rules stated that the signing of a high-level free agent required the team losing out to be compensated, this came in the form of draft picks. The Jazz finished with the worst record in the 1978-79 season, awarding the Lakers with the number 1 pick in the ’79 draft. They would use it to select a certain Magic Johnson.
Goodrich had some great seasons in a Laker uniform. One would be the 1974-75 season, Goodrich’s second to last in Los Angeles. He would score his career-high 55 against the Kansas City Kings (later the Sacramento Kings) that season, averaging 22.6 PPG in the 72 games he played. Another would be the season prior, in which Goodrich averaged 25.3 PPG along with 5.2 APG.
For this review we’ve picked the season in which Goodrich won his only championship, the 1971-72 season.
The Lakers’ Last #25:
In the 1970-71 campaign, the Lakers finished the season with 48 wins. Both in their early 30s, Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West had impressive seasons, scoring 20.7 and 26.9 points a night, respectively.
Despite this, the Lakers lost in the Western Conference Finals, beaten 4-1 by the Kareem Abdul-Jabaar led Milwaukee Bucks. The ageing group of Chamberlain, West and Elgin Baylor needed something else, they needed the next generation of Laker greats to step up.
This came in the shape of Gail Goodrich. In the 1971-72 season he stepped up, leading the team in scoring as he averaged 25.9 points a game, a huge leap from the disappointing season before in which he scored 17.5 per game. Goodrich was starting to feel at home as a star in a Laker uniform, earning himself his first All-Star appearance in the purple and gold.
This was desperately required by the team, West and Goodrich were the only 2 players to average 20+ points a night that season. Chamberlain suffered a major drop off in production, scoring only 14.8 PPG in his second to last season. Wilt the Stilt’s rebounds stood strong, however. Picking up from 18.2 the season before to 19.2 in this campaign. Leaving scoring the only hole to fill, Goodrich was more than capable of that, as he proved.
Another factor in the Lakers being victorious that season would be the role players from the season prior stepping up. Other then Goodrich, 23-year-old Jim McMillian would take a leap in scoring in his sophomore year. In his rookie season, McMillian only mustered 8.4 PPG. During his second year in the league opportunities would open up, firstly coming in the form of his minutes, jumping from 21 MPG to 38 MPG. His FGA per game would more than double due to this, going up from 7.8 to 16.6. This all culminated, resulting in McMillian’s scoring jumping from 8.4 PPG to 18.8 PPG.
Led by the backcourt duo of Goodrich and West, the Lakers would finish the season with a record of 69-13. This would see them face the Chicago Bulls in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. This was when the Midwest Division made up part of the Western Conference. With only 19 teams in the whole league, there were only 8 playoff teams total, hence jumping straight to the semi-finals.
The Bulls would prove to be no match for the purple and gold, suffering 4 straight defeats as the Lakers swept the series. Goodrich and West had 28.5 PPG each through the 4 games, with West also averaging 10 APG. A comfortable series with few close calls, the closest game finishing 108-101 in the Lakers’ favour.
Los Angeles would then face conference rivals, the Milwaukee Bucks. After getting this far the season before and losing out to the very same team, hunger to succeed this time round was more than certainly present. They went on to beat the Bucks 4-2 in the series, Goodrich took a back seat in the series (18.2 PPG) with McMillian stepping up to the plate, scoring 22.7 PPG. This was a slightly tighter series for the Lakers, they lost the opening game before rallying back to go 2-1 up. The Bucks pulled it level, 2-2, before the Lakers finished the series in 6.
So the Lakers breeze their way into the 1972 NBA Finals, this was now becoming an expectation for the franchise. In the last 10 seasons they had been in the finals 7 times, losing each and every time (6 of them coming against the Boston Celtics, who were dominant during the 60s). They now had a chance to beat the team they last faced in the finals two seasons prior, the New York Knicks.
Los Angeles would go onto beat the Knicks in 5 games. Losing Game 1 badly lit a fire under them. Providing a spark to win the next 4 games with little difficulty. Goodrich would well and truly prove himself capable of performing on the biggest stage, leading the series in points, averaging 25.6 PPG. Wilt Chamberlain would take home Finals MVP, averaging 19.4 PPG and 23.2 RPG, a stat line which looks made up by today’s standards.
Unfortunately, the glory was short lived for Goodrich and his teammates. The decade that followed was littered with disappointing exits and seasons in which the Forum didn’t experience playoff basketball at all. This would continue for a few seasons after Goodrich’s departure, that is until Magic Johnson arrived, and so began the next generation.
After being selected with a territorial pick by the Lakers in the 1965 NBA Draft, Goodrich was considered too small to succeed at the NBA level. He would go on to prove his doubters wrong.
Whilst with the purple and gold, he won 4 All-Star selections, an All-NBA First Team selection, an NBA Championship, and an induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
In 1996 the Lakers made it so no other Laker would wear number 25 again, hanging his jersey in the rafters of The Forum, and now the Staples Center. Cementing his place as a true Laker great!