The 3 Most Lopsided Trades of Every Decade

76ers Send Wilt Chamberlain to Los Angeles Lakers (1968)

On July 9, 1968, the Lakers traded Darrall Imhoff, Jerry Chambers and Archie Clark for a 31-year-old Wilt Chamberlain who was coming off a season with the Philadelphia 76ers in which he averaged 24.3 points, 23.8 rebounds and 8.6 assists.

Between relocating to L.A. from Minneapolis in 1960 and adding Chamberlain in the summer before the 1968-69 season, the Lakers faced the Celtics in the Finals five times…and lost every meeting. Finally, in 1972, Chamberlain won Finals MVP and, along with plenty of help from Jerry West, secured the first championship in the L.A. era of the franchise.

More importantly, the trade that brought Wilt to Los Angeles hinted at a future in which the team would remake itself time and again by reeling in the biggest trade targets and free agents in the league. If not for the precedent set by the Chamberlain acquisition, who’s to say if the Lakers go on to land Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Shaquille O’Neal or LeBron James?

This is the trade that begat decades of transactional ambition in Los Angeles.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Los Angeles Lakers (1975)

The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar trade from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1975 stands out historically as one of the NBA’s most lopsided deals. Abdul-Jabbar went on to help lead the Lakers to nine NBA Finals appearances and five titles. He won Finals MVP for the second time in 1985 and didn’t retire until 1989 as the NBA’s leading scorer with 38,387 points.

The Bucks still haven’t won another title, dating back to 1971. The franchise was well aware it was trading away an elite player, but Abdul-Jabbar was adamant about his trade demand. Milwaukee ultimately got back a solid return of Junior Bridgeman, Brian Winters, Elmore Smith and Dave Meyers, but none of the players were close to Abdul-Jabbar. Bridgeman and Winters had very solid careers in Milwaukee, both two of only nine honored by the Bucks with retired jerseys. The Lakers also received a backup center in the deal in Walt Wesley.

Hall of Fame Draft Rights to the Lakers (1976)

What stands out as a monumentally lopsided trade of the 1970s was the New Orleans Jazz’s decision to send the Lakers significant draft compensation for signing Gail Goodrich in 1976. The rules of the day were vastly different, and signing another team’s free agent came with a price. The Jazz simply overpaid for a player who was just about to pass his prime.

Goodrich played just three seasons with the team, never averaging more than 16.1 points per game. In that stretch, the Jazz peaked at 39-43 in 1977-78. Meanwhile, the Lakers landed their second legendary member and a perfect teammate for Abdul-Jabbar. Accounting for the players taken with the various picks in the deal, the Jazz ended up with Essie Hollis (1977, 44th) and Jack Givens (1978, 16th). The Lakers landed Freeman Williams (1978, eighth), Kenny Carr (1977, sixth), Sam Worthen (1980, 26th) and Earvin “Magic” Johnson (1979, first).

Cleveland Cavaliers Send James Worthy to L.A. Lakers (1981)

The Cavaliers were going nowhere fast in the 1980-81 season, yet they still made an aggressive deadline move for…Don Ford? The 27-year-old took his per-game averages of 3.0 points and 1.9 rebounds to Northeast Ohio, as the Cavs added him and Chad Kinch (who played one NBA season) for Butch Lee and a 1982 first-round pick.

Incredibly, Ford and Kinch weren’t enough to turn around the Cavs, who lost 67 games in 1981-82—a year in which they had four different head coaches—and wound up with the No. 1 pick. But L.A. now owned that pick, spent it on James Worthy and watched him blossom into a seven-time All-Star and Finals MVP who won three rings with the Lakers and earned Hall of Fame enshrinement. Yikes.

Kobe Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers (1996)

Bryant’s lead up to the NBA draft is a fascinating one, detailed by Bleacher Report’s
Jonathan Abrams
in his book, Boys Among Men.

In the end, Bryant lasted until the 13th pick, where he was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets and traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for veteran center Vlade Divac.

Divac was 28 at the time and was a talented scorer, rebounder, passer and defender. He was a proven option, and Bryant was viewed as a raw talent coming straight out of high school. By trading Divac, the Lakers not only were able to acquire Bryant but also opened up the necessary salary-cap space needed to sign Shaquille O’Neal.

Divac spent just two seasons in Charlotte before signing with the Sacramento Kings, while Bryant went on to become the second-greatest shooting guard of all time.

Bryant played all 20 of his seasons for the Lakers, making 18 All-Star teams, winning five championships and being named the 2007-08 MVP.