A list like the 10 greatest Los Angeles Lakers of all time features a list of players that span multiple eras. Kobe Bryant represents the present day purple and gold, and although he’s sitting out the remainder of the 2014-15 season after suffering a torn rotator cuff injury on a dunk attempt, his accomplishments speak for themselves. Many are questioning if the Lakers should consider moving on from Kobe Bryant as part of a transition into a rebuild through the draft and attracting some free agents to play for one of sports' most storied franchises. Kobe's Lakers are currently in one of their rare dry spells, so perhaps it's time for Lakers fans to take a peek back into the past to remember their perennial glory years.
We’ll get to more on Kobe in a little bit, but in the mean time, there are several other greats worth noting. Kobe’s other half from the early 2000s, Shaquille O’Neal is one of them. Sure he couldn’t knock it down from the charity stripe to save his life, but nobody could stop Diesel in the paint. While he and Kobe couldn't stand each other, they made for a tremendous duo on the court which helped them build their dynasty of the new millennium.
Then of course there’s Magic Johnson. Not only was he a great talent, he has been an ambassador for those suffering from HIV and AIDS since his early retirement, and has taken his success on the court to the business world, operating several profitable ventures and purchasing a piece of the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers. We’ll get to exactly why he’s on this list in a moment.
Like any other all time list, there also have to be some players who get left off. A.C. Green and Byron Scott are two of them. Scott may still have a chance to get on it if he starts winning titles as the coach of the team, but given Kobe’s injury and the fact the franchise is presently in disarray, that’s not happening any time soon. That said, some of the fine players on this list did make an impact as a coach and further their standing as one of the greatest Lakers ever because of it, namely Kareem Abdul Jabaar.
Now that we’ve got all of that sorted out…here’s the list…
10 George Mikan
George Mikan is the third leading all-time rebounder in Lakers history. He posted Hall Of Fame numbers overall, and was one of the first ever players to be enshrined, thanks in large part to the fact he averaged over 23 points and 13 rebounds throughout his career. He was also one of the first players to ever utilize the hook shot on a regular basis. It makes sense that he would go down as one of the greatest Lakers of all time. He’s won scoring titles and MVP trophies in professional basketball and was a dominating force in the paint for a really long time.
9 Michael Cooper
Michael Cooper was named Defensive Player Of The Year in 1987 and spent 12 years with the Lakers. He handled the defense while letting Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Magic Johnson do the scoring. That said, Cooper did average at least 47% from the field during his time with the team, a very efficient number. He wasn’t a superstar anything but he was definitely very dependable and consistent. Consistency is what made Cooper one of the best Lakers ever. 5 championships and 5 NBA All Defensive Team nominations, and titles in the NBA (as a player), NBDL and WNBA (as a coach) have to make Cooper one of top players in purple and gold ever.
8 James Worthy
Steals, points and field goal percentage…the 3 stat categories in which James Worthy ranks in the top 10 in Lakers history. Is it any surprise he ranks as one of the best of all-time too? Worthy won the NBA Finals MVP award in 1988 and spent his whole career with the purple and gold. He averaged well over 17 points a game and over five rebounds a game during his tenure in the association. One of the more versatile players the franchise ever had, Worthy was able to do a little bit of everything on both the offensive and defensive side of the basketball. His number hangs in the rafters of the Staples Center for many good reasons.
7 Elgin Baylor
Another player that spent all his time in the NBA with the Lakers, Elgin Baylor averaged over 27 points per game throughout his career. Unfortunately, Baylor retired just before the Showtime era, and never won an NBA title. Baylor also stands 4th on the Lakers all-time list in rebounds, collecting 13.5 per game. Add in 11 appearances in the All-Star Game and it’s easy to see why Baylor is one of the best players to ever wear a Lakers jersey.
6 Shaquille O’Neal
Few people who remember Shaq’s career need the background information as to why he’s on this list, but we’ll give it to you anyway. He averaged 27 points and almost 12 rebounds a game in his eight years with the team and led the team to three straight titles in the early 2000s, winning the MVP award all three times. He couldn’t hit a free throw to save his life, yet Shaq is arguably the greatest big man of all time. Nobody could stop him once he decided to go to the rim. It also helps that Shaq had a personality made for the spotlight, which makes it hard for anyone forget him in any discussion surrounding the all-time Lakers.
5 Jerry West
Jerry West isn’t just one of the best Lakers of all-time, he’s forever immortalized in the NBA’s logo. He was the third player to ever score 25,000 points. He averaged just a shade less than Elgin Baylor in points for his career, producing exactly 27 points per games, to go along with 6 rebounds and 7 assists over 14 seasons Only one player on this list scored more points than West in his Lakers career. Add a title in 1972 alongside the likes of Magic Johnson to a career filled with personal achievement, and West easily deserves his spot on this list of greats.
4 Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt The Stilt was popular with the ladies and Lakers fans. The fact he averaged nearly 20 rebounds a game during his NBA career probably helped him gain the love of both. Not even the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis will touch that career average. Chamberlain only had the joy of winning one NBA championship with the team, but nevertheless averaging over 30 points a game to go with his rebounding figures would have been good enough to get him a top 5 spot as one of Los Angeles’ greatest players. Wilt was a man among boys and will always be considered one of the best basketball players ever.
3 Magic Johnson
Now we find ourselves in the top 3, a short list of Laker greats who could all be considered number one depending on who you ask. We’ll give the third spot to Magic Johnson. He was the kingpin of the Showtime Era, demonstrating a rare ability to play all five positions on the floor and that athleticism is what enabled him to win five NBA titles, three regular season MVP trophies and three NBA Finals MVPs. In 13 NBA seasons, Magic averaged 11.2 assists per game, which is still the highest average for a career of all time. It’s too bad he had to retire in the early 90s after being diagnosed as HIV positive. Magic’s career truly ended too soon.
2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was fortunate enough to win eight NBA titles in his career, six as a player and two as an assistant coach, all of which came with the Lakers. He appeared in a staggering 19 NBA All-Star games and averaged over 24 points and 11 rebounds during his career. The fact he still managed to average a double-double per game in his 40s speaks incredibly of his longevity and work ethic, which is the only thing that keeps you around at that age no matter how talented you are. Abdul-Jabbar won the Rookie of the Year award in 1970, took home two scoring titles and also led the league in blocks twice. Without a doubt, he put together an incredible career for himself that would cause many of us to call him the greatest Laker ever…but instead, we chose someone who’s still playing for the team.
1 Kobe Bryant
The greatest Laker of all time is a title up for debate in the eyes of some, but we’re giving it to Kobe Bryant. He recently passed none other than Michael Jordan in points scored with 32,482 and counting. He has five championship rings and two Finals MVP awards to go with countless All-Star appearances. He also won the regular season MVP award in 2008. Kobe’s peers around the NBA, other greats from the past and former Lakers have all acknowledged him as one of the greatest of all time, including: Jerry West, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal. It’s safe to say Kobe is simply the best, at least in the eyes of other greats.