With the free agent acquisition of LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers are looking to make a big splash in the 2018-2019 season. Not only do they have veteran presence with LeBron James as well as newly acquired Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley, and Rajon Rondo, but they also have a young talented core in Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma.
Who is The Greatest Laker of All Time?
One of the big conversations that has sparked since the signing of James however is where he stacks among the all-time Laker greats. LeBron James may be regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but he has yet to play a game in a Laker jersey making that conversation very premature. The conversation did however make me think, with all the great players that have dawned the purple and gold over the years exactly who is the greatest Laker of all time.
We’ll start off with the logo himself, revered as one of the greatest guards ever Jerry West was one of the first superstars for the Lakers after their move to Los Angeles. West, who was the second overall draft pick for the Lakers in the 1960 NBA draft, is unique to this list as he was the man who put together the “Showtime” Laker dynasty in the 80’s during his time in the front office as the General Manager. For all the great things he’s done during his time as an executive, it can be easy to forget just how good of a player West was for the Lakers.
West averaged 27 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.7 assists for his career, was a 14 time All-Star, and is the only player in NBA history to win a finals MVP while playing for the losing team. West helped lead the Lakers to the NBA finals nine times in his career but was only able to capture the NBA championship once against the New York Knicks in 1972. Despite West’s legendary status within the Lakers organization, the fact he was only able to bring one championship back to Los Angeles hurts his case as number one on this list when stacking him up against the numerous other Laker greats careers with the organization.
Baylor was initially a member of the Minneapolis Lakers, drafted with the number one overall pick in 1958. He won rookie of the year finishing fourth in the league in points per game, averaging 24.9 points, 15 rebounds, and 4.1 assists. Baylor did remarkable things during his Laker career one of which was breaking the NBA scoring record which was previously held by himself (64 points) during the 1960-1961 season when he scored 71 points while also grabbing 25 rebounds during a November game. Baylor was an 11 time All-Star and played in eight NBA finals alongside Jerry West but was never able to capture a championship. Baylor who dealt with knee injuries during the latter of his career retired nine games into the 1971-1972 season.
Coincidentally that would be the same season the Los Angeles Lakers finally got over the hump to capture an NBA title. Baylor is the only superstar player who never captured an NBA championship with the Lakers and similar to Jerry West it is the reason he probably wouldn’t be considered by most to be at the top of the totem pole among Laker greats.
Chamberlain came to the Lakers in the summer of 1968 in a trade that sent Darall Imhoff, Jerry Chambers, and Archie Clark to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Chamberlain. Chamberlain came to the Lakers as a 9 time All-Star with an abundance of playoff experience having already won an NBA championship and playing in a total of two NBA finals while also managing to win Rookie of The Year and league MVP four times. Paired with fellow Laker greats Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West, Chamberlain was a 4 time All-Star with the Lakers and played in four more NBA finals with the Los Angeles Lakers while averaging 20 points and over three times and no less than 18 rebounds throughout his tenure with the Lakers. Chamberlain managed to win a championship while dawning the purple and gold but the bulk of his accomplishments as an NBA player came before his time in LA. Chamberlain may be regarded as one of the greatest centers ever and while he certainly is a Laker great his place among the Laker greats is more so with his fellow teammates Jerry West and Elgin Baylor than the other Laker greats on this list.
Like Chamberlain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came to the Lakers via trade following the 1974-1975 season. He, also like Chamberlain came to the Lakers with an abundance postseason experience as well as accomplishments. Abdul-Jabbar had won three league MVP’s with the Milwaukee Bucks as well as an NBA championship and was revered as one of, if not the premier player in the league at the time of his arrival. During the early years of his Laker career Abdul-Jabbar won back to back MVP’s leading the league in rebounding, and shots blocked per game while finishing second in those categories the following year. The Lakers missed the playoffs his first season in LA but managed to make it back the following two seasons losing to the Trailblazers in the Western Conference Finals and the Seattle Supersonics in the first round.
It was during the 80’s “Showtime” dynasty that Abdul-Jabbar saw the most success with the Lakers. He was a key piece for the Lakers even at an older age with the unstoppable shot known as the skyhook that helped add five more championships to his resume. Abdul-Jabbar to this day still leads the league all time in points scored with 38,387 points while being third on the post season list with 5,762 points. He also leads the league in minutes played with 57,446 minutes played during his illustrious 19-year professional career. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar may actually be ahead of some Laker greats in a conversation regarding the greatest players of all time but in a conversation about being the greatest player for a franchise and what that player meant to the franchise while Abdul-Jabbar is certainly up there with some of his peers it’s tough to say he is the greatest Laker ever.
Worthy was selected with the first overall pick in the 1982 NBA draft and became a key cog in “Showtime”. Worthy averaged 17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, and three assists overall for his career and was a seven-time all-star for the Los Angeles Lakers. Worthy played in a total of seven NBA finals and helped deliver three championships to Los Angeles taking finals MVP in 1988. Worthy was a player who was best noted as the type of guy to show up exactly when you needed him and once the postseason rolled around for the Lakers you saw him do his best work. James Worthy is looked at by most as the best player to never be the best player on his team and while he most certainly is a Laker great his place on this list is probably among those who were apart of the pre “Showtime” dynasty.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson
A player who might just be the greatest point guard ever, Magic Johnson was selected by the Lakers with the first overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft. Johnson was a 12-time all-star and took home both the regular season as well as the finals MVP award three times. Johnson averaged 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 11.2 assists for his career. Most notably known for his passing ability and court vision Magic Johnson was the face of the “Showtime” Lakers. Johnson who was a unique guard standing at 6’9 lead the Lakers to their five championships in the 80’s and even stepped in at center for the team after All-star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went down for the postseason with an injury. Magic helped spearhead the 80’s Laker dynasty with his ability as well as his Hollywood personality that made him perfect for “Showtime”.
Magic was a part of the Lakers team that finally got over the hump of beating the Boston Celtics and he was able to do this not once but twice. Magic Johnson during the height of his career was the face of the NBA and has meant so much to the Lakers organization that he was recently brought back to run the organization and bring them back to prominence in the league. The face of “Showtime” with all his accomplishments and what he was able to do for the Lakers is no doubt one of the greatest Lakers ever and his place in Laker history is forever cemented.
Shaq like Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was not drafted by the Lakers and came to the organization a successful player looking to make a spark in the organization. Shaq was the number one overall pick in his draft and won rookie of the year as well as been a four-time all-star with the Orlando Magic. Shaq also came with playoff experience making three trips to the postseason with Orlando and playing in an NBA final before coming to LA in free agency. At the time of Shaq’s arrival, the Lakers had not enjoyed anything near the success they saw in the 80’s finishing as low as an eighth seed in the west and even missing the playoffs one season. With Shaq the Lakers made the postseason eight straight years and played in four NBA finals winning three of them.
Shaq won three finals MVP awards as well as a league MVP with the Lakers as he made his stake as the most dominant big man in NBA history. Shaq’s arrival in LA marked a resurgence with the Lakers in a time where they needed it the most and this along with his accomplishments with the organization is what ultimately puts him in the conversation as one of the greatest Lakers ever.
Kobe Bryant was the 14th pick in the NBA draft selected by the Charlotte Hornets and then picked up in a trade organized by at the time Lakers GM Jerry West. Bryant is known as one of the greatest shooting guards ever and quickly over time became the face of the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant averaged 25 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists for his career with the Lakers and was an 18-time all-star during his career. Bryant along with Shaquille O’Neal helped lead the Lakers to three NBA championships and four finals appearances before the team went into a small rebuild mode following the 2003-2004 season. Bryant would help take the Lakers to seven more postseason appearances and even deliver two more championships to the city of Los Angeles making it five championships on his resume.
Bryant even managed to notch a win over the big three Boston Celtics in a renewed rivalry between the two organizations. Bryant is third all-time in total points scored and is a sure fire future hall of famer. When you look at his overall body of work as well as what he truly meant to the Lakers organization there should be no doubt that Kobe Bryant isn’t just an all-time great Laker but one of the top tier on that list.
As I said while LeBron James may be an all-time great player the fact he currently has no resume with the Lakers can’t put him in the conversation with all-time Laker greats. Some players that have been mentioned may be higher on the list of all-time great players in comparison to some of their other Laker counterparts but when you talk about the Los Angeles Lakers and what a player has not only done but meant to the organization the top two without a doubt should be Magic Johnson, and Kobe Bryant. When comparing the two and what they were able to do for the Lakers Magics Laker career puts him just ahead of Kobe Bryant as the greatest Laker of all-time. Even decades later what Magic did for the Lakers is still remembered and even recognizable to younger fans. Magic Johnson was not only the face of the “Showtime” Lakers but he was Los Angeles in every sense of what the city embodies. It is for these reasons why Magic Johnson is the greatest Laker of all-time.