Magic. Kobe. Shaq. Wilt. Kareem. The list of Los Angeles Lakers you can recall just be saying a first name is impressive unto itself. Throw in “The Logo,” Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor, James Worthy, Pau Gasol, and George Mikan (who, to be fair, played for the team when they were in Minneapolis), and its easy to see why the Lakers sit alone with the Boston Celtics as far and away the most successful franchises in NBA history, with 16 and 17 championships respectively, far ahead of the next closest, the Chicago Bulls, who have six.
This season, for the first time in a long time, there is hope that some of the current names that don’t rhyme with Lobe Cryant may join the immortal ranks of the two-named men above, if not achieving even one-name status. Indeed, now that the Black Mamba has retired, 22 year old Julius Randle, 24 year old Jordan Clarkson, 19 year old Brandon Ingram, 20 year old D’Angelo Russell, and 24 year old Larry Nance Jr. are all contributing major minutes. While the results may have not been pretty so far this season, the future is clearly bright.
Chances are equally possible, of course, that some of the young stars may fade quickly into obscurity and we will forget they once donned the purple and gold. That’s possible too. Only time will tell.
With that in mind… Here are 15 NBAers You Forgot Played For The Lakers
15 Doug Christie
A first round pick of the Seattle Supersonics in the 1992 draft, the two-time West Coast Conference Player-of-the-Year at Pepperdine University Doug Christie returned to the LA area when he was traded to the Lakers mid-way through his first season. He stayed there for a year and a half as an on-and-off starting shooting guard on the only two Lakers teams to ignominiously achieve losing records over a nearly thirty year period between 1975-76 and 2004-2005. Christie was traded to the New York Knicks the following season, allowing rookie Eddie Jones to take over as shooting guard and the team immediately improved by 15 games. As for the two second round picks Los Angeles received in return for acquiring Christie? There were ZERO games played in a Lakers uniform by either.
Not exactly a tenure for the ages. To make matters worse, Christie eventually wound up on the Sacramento Kings in the early 2000s, where he became Kobe Bryant’s shadow during the height of the Kings/Lakers rivalry. By that point largely considered one of the best defenders in the league, he lead the NBA in steals in 2000-01, and memorably landed an upper cut to Rick Fox’s jaw in a pre-season game against LA in 2002. He was also well known for his larger-than-life wife Jackie Christie, who made news recently for announcing she weighs his balls to see if he’s cheating.
So there’s that.
14 Cedric Ceballos
Pop quiz. Who are the seven players whose career scoring average with the LA Lakers was above 20 points per game? If you said NBA luminaries Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, George Mikan and… Cedric Ceballos you were right! Wait, Cedric who? Originally drafted in the second round of the 1990 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns, the 6’ 6” small forward from Cal State Fullerton returned to the Sunshine State in a 1994 deal for a future first rounder. He made the All-Star team in his first season with LA, even scoring a career-high 50 points in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves early in the year, helping the team to a 48-34 record (alongside the aforementioned rookie guard Eddie Jones).
The following year, Ceballos, perhaps unhappy for losing playing time to none-other than returning star Magic Johnson (back after four years away from the game after being diagnosed with HIV), notably missed a flight to Seattle in March, and ended up being AWOL for four days, refusing to return calls from the club. The Lakers suspended him indefinitely, and after it was revealed he was seen boating with his family during his absence, the team unanimously voted him out as team captain. In 1996-97, with the addition of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, Ceballos was no longer needed as a scorer and was traded back to the Suns, for, among others, key role player Robert Horry, who soon became known by another name… “Big Shot Bob.”
13 Mychal Thompson
Mychal Thompson won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers as a veteran NBA center in the late 1980s, and even has passed his LA legacy onto his son, Trayce Thompson, who hit 13 home runs as a young outfielder for the Dodgers last season. Unfortunately for Southern Californian basketball fans, however, Mychal Thompson had another son… who goes by Klay. Yes, the Golden State Warriors elite scorer has been torturing LA’s other team, the rival Clippers, for years now, and his lineage traces back to none other than the man who serves as a current Lakers radio analyst. "We’re really blessed, and that’s why I tell my boys to be thankful for every moment," Thompson says. "Because this does not last long. So make sure you don’t waste a second of your opportunity.”
After seven seasons as one of the better centers in the league with the Portland Trailblazers, Mychal finished his career mostly as a key back-up with the Lakers, contributing around 10 points per game and 6 rebounds per season until his role greatly diminished in his final year, 1990-91. His regular season numbers held pretty steady in the postseason as he helped the team to their final two of the five titles they won over a nine year period during the “Showtime” era. Thompson, however, perhaps committed the ultimate blasphemy when he concurred with his son that his Lakers were not as good as Klay’s Warriors following Game 2 of the 2015-16 NBA Finals. The Warriors, of course, went on to lose that series… proving perhaps the Thompsons may not yet be right in their sentiment.
12 Caron Butler
Caron Butler was a two-time NBA All-Star who played 14 seasons for nine different teams before quietly retiring in 2016. He released his autobiography during his final year as a player, titled “Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA,” and despite playing for the LA Lakers for only one season early in his career, 2004-05, none other than Kobe Bryant was asked to write the book’s forward. "Caron and I bonded in day one and that bond remains as strong today as it ever was even though he now wears a different uniform,” the notoriously prickly Bryant wrote. "It's very rare for me to open up to somebody like that, but I just had a connection with him. He's one of my favorite teammates.”
Butler came over to the Lakers from the Miami Heat in the Shaquille O’Neal trade, alongside Lamar Odom, as clearly the least memorable part of the deal. He was LA’s second highest scorer in his one season, averaging 15.5 points per game, before being traded to the Washington Wizards for, among others, notorious underachiever (and frequent object of Kobe’s ire) Kwame Brown. During Butler’s four seasons with Washington, the notoriously hapless franchise made the playoffs three times, and he made both his All-Star appearances.
11 Isaiah “J.R.” Rider
Like Caron Butler, Isaiah “J.R.” Rider only spent one year with the Los Angeles Lakers, but it was a memorable one for the veteran shooting guard, and not only because it was his first time as a role player after seven straight seasons averaging more than 13 points per game for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trailblazers, and Atlanta Hawks respectively. Rider got his only championship ring with the 2000-01 squad, but unfortunately for him did not get to actually play in the postseason to help obtain it. He would come to regret the decision to join the club, saying “signing with the Lakers ended my career… I wanted a ring and went there. After playing my heart out all season, only to be left off the playoff roster for two reserves, hurt deep.” The talented Rider was cut from the Denver Nuggets the next season, at the age of 30, because of chronic lateness, and despite a comeback attempt, never returned to the NBA.
Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal said of Rider that he “was the type of player who wanted to do things his way, and if his way didn’t match with the system there was a conflict.” “J.R. was brash,” agreed teammate Horace Grant. “J.R. would s--t-talk Kobe. Every practice, it was MF this, MF that. He would say to Kobe, ‘Get your ass back in the kitchen.’” One day, in practice, Rider challenged Bryant to a game of one-on-one and when Phil Jackson cleared the court to let it happen, and, as teammate Ron Harper recalled, “Kobe destroyed him.” As for Rider, he claimed the reason he was not invited to participate in the playoffs "was something that happened at practice, it was an egotistical power move by Phil Jackson.” We’re not sure if this is the practice Rider is referring to, but… it’s a great story.
10 Jim Jackson
Jim Jackson arrived with the return of Phil Jackson following the Lakers’ dismal 2004-05 season. After being waived by the Phoenix Suns midway through the 2005-06 season, he finished the final hurrah of his 14-year career by averaging 1.7 points per game over 13 appearances with LA. This was a far cry from the elite scorer taken fourth in the 1992 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks and who went on to average over 14 points per game over the breadth of his career, but Jackson may yet be remembered for his time in Los Angeles. He might become the answer to the trivia question “who was the final Lakers player to wear #24 before Kobe Bryant?” The Black Mamba switched from #8 to #24 following that season, and it remains to be seen which one LA will retire (or perhaps both).
9 Glen Rice
Is it coincidence that the one full season Glen Rice played with the Los Angeles Lakers resulted in their first championship in over a decade? OK, so the answer is probably yes, but GM Jerry West acquired Rice in 1998 (despite having to give away fan favorite Eddie Jones to get him), as a way to have a third scorer to support young stars Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in finally putting their talents together to win a championship… and that’s exactly what they did. Coming off of three straight All-Star seasons with the Charlotte Hornets and a string of seven straight years averaging at least 19 points per game, Rice was the only other Laker beyond the two stars to score in double digits both in the regular season and in the playoffs in the 1999-2000 NBA title run.
Unfortunately, Rice and new coach Phil Jackson had a bitter relationship throughout his second year with the club. ''Winning the championship was the only good that came out of my experience in L.A.,'' he said. ''I don't think Phil wanted me there from Day 1. From the moment he got there, he was talking about how he wanted Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc.” Rice was traded to the New York Knicks in the offseason as part of a four way deal that included the 38-year-old Patrick Ewing finally leaving the Knicks. He would go on to predict The Lakers wouldn’t be successful that season without him but was, of course, sadly mistaken, as they gained their second of three straight titles.
8 Horace Grant
The most notable player acquired in the Glen Rice trade, the then 35 year old Horace Grant actually played for the Lakers twice in his 17 year career, first in 2000-01 and then again in his final season 2003-04. He was the starting Power Forward for the 2000-01 squad, sporting his legendary wrap-around goggles, heralded as “perhaps the most famous spectacles in sports” by Bill Plaschke of the LA Times, on the way to acquiring his fourth NBA title. He averaged 8.5 points and 7.1 rebounds that season, in his second stint under coach Phil Jackson after serving as the third scoring option in Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin’s first trio of titles together from 1990-1993. While his time in LA was brief, Grant met his future wife Andrea that season, and now has retired with her near her parents in California’s Central Coast.
7 Jeremy Lin
How could someone who was so famous for a time become under-the-radar enough to make this list just two years after his LA playing days, you ask? After his two month statistical spree for the New York Knicks during the 2011-12 season, otherwise known as “Linsanity,” put Jeremy Lin on the map as perhaps the most famous Asian-American baller in history, his career had already regressed to the point where his trade from the Houston Rockets to the Lakers in the summer of 2014 was basically a salary dump. Coach Bryan Scott didn’t like his defense from the beginning and when Lin began to slump on offense, he lost his starting spot with the team after only 20 games and was even benched for a full game in January. His relationship with Scott had deteriorated so much that when he was promoted back to starter in March when Ronnie Price went down with a season-ending injury, he commented “I didn’t even know, I’m surprised” when he was asked to comment by reporters. Lin did manage one classic game, putting up 29 points against the 76ers in March, but ended up only averaging 11.2 over the course of the season. He signed with Charlotte following the year and is currently a starting guard with the abysmal Brooklyn Nets.
6 Tyronn Lue
Before he became the coach who guided LeBron James to his hometown title for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, Tyronn Lue was an 11 year NBA veteran point guard. Drafted late in the first round in 1998, Lue played 61 games over three relatively un-notable seasons with the Lakers to begin his career, never averaging more than 6.0 points and 2.1 assists per game. He had the fortunate good timing, however, of playing alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in the first two of their three straight championships with LA. Lue was “put on the map” during the 2001 NBA Finals, when he squared off defending the Philadelphia 76ers’ best player, Allen Iverson. A memorable snapshot of the finals occurred in the 76ers Game One win, when, with a minute left in overtime, AI scored his 47th and 48th points on a killer crossover move on Lue, and then stepped over the fallen defender on the way back up the court.
While the Lakers would go on to win the next four and their championship runs meant a lot to Lue, it couldn’t compare to winning the title in Cleveland. “I think the Lakers, when I won two championships,” Lue said, “we were favored to win so being the underdogs going into the Finals, being down 3-1, going through all the things I had to go through in the second half of the season and our team had to go through, this meant a lot more to me than the first two.”
5 Mitch Richmond
NBA Hall-of-Famer Mitch Richmond had been in the league 13 seasons as a six-time All-Star averaging more than 21 points per game for his career when he joined the Lakers for one final shot at the title in 2001-02, having never previously even gotten out of the second round. He played a total of four minutes in the postseason but walked away with his first championship at the age of 36, perhaps ushering in today’s era of long-time stars joining the league’s best teams for one final shot at the end of their career. Even when Kobe Bryant was overcome by food poisoning in Game 2 of the conference semifinals, Richmond still didn’t get in the game. Afterwards he said, “I know I still can do it. If I get the opportunity, I'll try to help the team. But I can't sit up here and lie to you and say it's not difficult to sit over there and not be a part of it, knowing that I can contribute.”
Richmond was a consummate professional and refused to ask Phi Jackson for more minutes. Phil acknowledged him as such, saying Richmond “is an elder statesman… he’s got a great sense of humor and he knows a role, even though he'd love to be out there playing like he was 10 years ago, five years ago."
4 Mitch Kupchak
The man responsible for bringing most of the journeyman names on this list to the Lakers as General Manager of the franchise was himself a journeyman who had the opportunity to play four seasons as a role player for LA from 1981-82 to 1985-86 (he missed all of the 82-83 season with a knee injury). He arrived as a starting power forward averaging 14.3 points and 8.1 rebounds a game alongside Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Norm Nixon, and Jamaal Wilkes, but suffered the aforesaid injury after just 26 games and didn’t return for nearly two years. For his part, “‘I never thought I would never play again,'' Kupchak said shortly after he came back. ''A few times I was frustrated and I'd get mad at the coaching decisions or not play well, but I wanted Dr. Buss to be able to look at me and not get sick. He had faith in me. I had to give it some effort.’'
Jerry Buss, the Lakers owner from 1979 until his death in 2013, ended up getting more than enough effort from Kupchak. In total, he now has 11 championship rings, including two as general manager of the Lakers and seven more as a member of their front office working under Jerry West. As a player, he won a championship in his second season as a key member of the 1977-78 Washington Bullets and, when he did return from injury, despite finding himself stuck behind Kurt Rambis in the rotation, he won a championship with the 84-85 Lakers squad. Though he was never the same player after the injury, his physical play was credited for being a large part of the Lakers getting over their hump and beating the Celtics in the finals. He retired the next season, with his .523 career shooting percentage remaining in the Top 50 all-time to this day.
3 Pat Riley
Speaking of men known more for what they did for the Lakers in their second careers, few today remember that Pat Riley played most of his career for Los Angeles, stopping in for five plus of his nine seasons between his early stop with the San Diego Rockets from 1967-68 to 1969-70 and his final season with the Phoenix Suns in 1975-76. Primarily a shooting guard, Riley’s best season came in 1974-75, where he managed to build his minutes total to over 20 per game for the first and only time in his career, and averaged in double digits, at 11 points per game, for the first and only time as well. He also was a role player behind Gail Goodrich for the 1971-72 championship team that also featured Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor.
As a coach and executive for nearly forty years now since his playing days, Riley has put an emphasis on his employees focusing on getting in shape. He recalled in a recent interview “it starts with me, because that's what happened with me, in my career," he says, referencing 1970 and his arrival to the Los Angeles Lakers. "Going into my fourth year, [coach] Bill Sharman met with me and he said to me he had watched me, he liked me. He said, 'The only way that you're going to be able to make the team is if you're the best-conditioned player in training camp.’” Guess we can thank Riley the player for his eight championship rings earned off the court.
2 Dennis Rodman
The unofficial ambassador to North Korea and Basketball Hall-of-Famer known as “The Worm,” Dennis Rodman led the league in rebounds for seven straight seasons for three different teams (Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, and Chicago Bulls) respectively from 1991-92 through 1997-98. Already having won two titles with the Pistons before that period, he ended this stretch of dominance with three more consecutively with Michael Jordan’s Bulls. Signing with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1998-99 season, the notoriously bizarre star was seen as perhaps the piece that would push them over the hump coming off of their NBA Finals appearance the previous year.
Instead, he offered them a career in low in points and a relatively pedestrian, for him, 11.2 rebounds per game, and on April 16, after Rodman showed up late again for a practice and was slow getting ready because he could not find his socks and shoes, the Lakers waived him only seven weeks into his contract. He had also previously left the team for eight days to deal with “personal problems.” “This obviously didn't work out like we had hoped,” general manager Jerry West said in the under-statement of the year, “but we would like to thank Dennis for the contributions he did make to the team and wish him the best of luck in the future.” We would love to know what he REALLY thought.
1 Karl Malone and Gary Payton
OK, perhaps you knew this one already, but as big names as Karl Malone and Gary Payton were, first Ballot Hall-of-Famers both, playing alongside none other than Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, its amazing how quickly the original “Big Four” has faded from public memory. We never would have guessed it 21 games into the 2003-04 season when the Lakers sat at 18-3 and seemed the definition of “super team.” But the locker room spelled a different picture; the media was digging into Bryant’s sexual assault charges, Payton would soon complain about his lack of playing time, Malone would end up missing half the season due to injuries and had a weird incident in which Kobe accuse him of hitting on his wife, and O’Neal became more alienated by playing with Black Mamba than perhaps ever before. Still, they somehow overcame all that disfunction to make it to the Finals, where they were favored, but wound up losing in a stunning upset to the Detroit Pistons in only five games.
Following the season, Shaq was traded to Miami, Peyton to Boston. Malone retired. Phil Jackson went on a hiatus. As LA Times columnist Mark Heisler put it, “That season was when the tornado comes off the horizon and hits you right between the eyes. That was one of the all-time whacked-out seasons for the Lakers, which is one of the all-time whacked-out franchises.”
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
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