The term “Big 3” became popular in NBA circles in the summer of 2010. That’s when LeBron James announced he would be “taking his talents to South Beach.” He joined up with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and the Miami Heat to form a unit of three NBA superstar players.
Since then, the league has seen several Big 3s come and go. For fans of the Los Angeles Lakers, the latest version has not gotten off to the greatest start. The LeBron-Anthony Davis-Russell Westbrook experience failed in the 2021-2022 season.
But this isn’t the only time a Big 3 has run the court in the classic Laker purple and gold. Several have been put together and have accomplished the goal of winning an NBA championship. Let’s look back and rank the top five Big 3s in Laker history.
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5. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (2019-2021)
NBA Finals Appearances: 1
Not every championship-winning Big 3 consists of three superstar players, as we will also mention later in this list. Sometimes it is two superstar players and one role player that plays at a consistently high level. That’s what happened for the Lakers in 2020.
The trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is on this list for a number of reasons. First, this list needs a spot for LeBron James somewhere. Second, the quality of basketball played during the George Mikan era suggests that KCP could have been an All-Star in the 1950s. Third, Caldwell-Pope contributed more to help this Lakers squad win a title than any other role player.
The Lakers entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the West and advanced to the NBA Finals with only three total losses along the way. They went on to eliminate the Heat in six games to win the COVID-19 bubble version of the NBA championship, with James being named the Finals MVP.
LeBron was his usual self during the 2019-2020 season. He also ended the regular season as the league leader in assists for the first time in his career, averaging 10.2 assists per game. The 2019-2020 season was Davis’ first in a Laker uniform after being acquired from the New Orleans Pelicans. Davis was a force on offense and defense, finishing as a runner-up in the voting for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. He was a key figure during the Lakers’ playoff run, including hitting a game-winning 3-pointer in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets.
LeBron and Davis were a dynamic duo during this season. And while the Lakers had Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, and Dwight Howard on the team, the true third component of the team’s success was Caldwell-Pope. KCP was the team’s best outside shooter during its run in the NBA Finals. He scored in double digits in five of the six games, including outputs of 15, 16, and 17 in the final three games.
The trio would return for the 2020-2021 season. However, the compressed season led to James and Davis missing significant time due to injuries. The Lakers would still make the playoffs but were eliminated by the Phoenix Suns after Davis went down with another injury.
Overall, LeBron, AD, and KCP were all critical parts that lifted the Lakers back to prominence after six years of disappointment.
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4. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom (2008-2011)
NBA Finals Appearances: 3
This might be one of the most underappreciated Laker teams to win a championship. The team was spearheaded by Kobe Bryant, who was trying to prove that he could win a title without Shaquille O’Neal (more on that later). It was a task that proved to be difficult the first couple of years. However, two pieces were integral in Kobe securing two more championship rings.
Lamar Odom was brought in when the Lakers traded Shaq to the Heat in 2004. For years, his supreme talent made him a key piece in the Lakers’ rotation. But the team didn’t start winning until it acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies. Together, this trio kept the Lakers relevant over the course of four seasons.
In 2008, they made it to the NBA Finals but lost to the Boston Celtics Big 3 of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. However, this would be the first of three straight finals appearances for Bryant, Gasol, and Odom. The Lakers went on to win back-to-back championships, defeating the Orlando Magic in 2009 and winning a rematch with the Celtics in 2010.
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3. Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor (1968-1972)
NBA Finals Appearances: 3
Not many trios in NBA history are more iconic than Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor. Even though Baylor retired before they won a championship in 1972 (he retired nine games into the season), he was still given a championship ring.
At the time, these guys were the best of the best despite being at the tail end of their careers when they banded together. While Chamberlain was in Philadelphia and West and Baylor were in LA, they all struggled against Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics for many years.
When he joined the Lakers, Chamberlain sacrificed his offense in order to blend in with his fellow stars. He averaged 20.3 points to go along with 20.5 rebounds during a five-season stretch. Baylor was still at the top of his game, averaging 24.5 points per game in the first two seasons they played together.
In 1969, they experienced their most brutal loss when they lost a seven-game series to Russell and the Celtics in the Finals, even with West winning the Finals MVP while averaging 37.9 points per game.
In 1972, with Baylor’s retirement, Gail Goodrich became the team’s third star, and they reeled off an NBA record 33-game winning streak. It remains unbroken to this day decades later.
This Lakers squad made it to the Finals three times, winning one championship. Had they been together during their younger days, it’s possible that the Celtics’ dynasty would have been cut short earlier.
2. Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher (1996-2004)
NBA Finals Appearances: 4
This trio is a part of one of the true dynasties of the modern era. Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Derek Fisher played together longer than any other Big 3 on this list. They won three straight titles at the beginning of the new millennium and went to the Finals four times.
O’Neal bullied all those that stood in his way. He also won NBA MVP in 2000. Bryant grew under coach Phil Jackson, becoming a perennial All-NBA player during their Finals runs.
Although Fisher was mainly a role player for this team, he provided steady leadership and clutch baskets, perfectly complementing the greatness of Shaq and Kobe. If not for his game-winning shot with 0.4 seconds left in the 2004 Western Conference Semifinals, the Lakers of the early 2000s would not have made it to their fourth Finals appearance.
It was hard not making Robert Horry the third in this trio alongside Shaq and Kobe. They don’t call him “Big Shot Bob” for nothing. However, he was never a consistent starter or a double-digit scorer during their runs to the Finals.
1. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy (1982-1988)
NBA Finals Appearances: 7
Most of Laker nation will agree that there was no Big 3 like the Showtime Lakers. The teams led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy were the darlings of Hollywood in the 1980s. Furthermore, three titles in seven Finals appearances gives them the right to be the best Big 3 in Laker history.
It was Magic who turned them into the flashy and classy stars that ruled the NBA for nearly a decade, locking up MVP awards. Although Kareem was nearing the twilight of his career, he still produced at a high level. At 38 years and 54 days old, he became the oldest man to win the Finals MVP in 1985. Worthy, a seven-time All-Star, was the MVP of the 1988 Finals, capping it off with a triple-double in Game 7.
As far as top-tier talent goes, few trios had more than this one. Magic and Kareem are arguably two of the top five greatest players in NBA history. Meanwhile, Worthy is also on to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team alongside Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar. Having all three on the same roster made for some of the most exciting basketball in league history.