By Lance Tominaga.
Best friends don’t always agree on everything. Case in point: My buddy since elementary school was always a Los Angeles Lakers fan, while my team was the Philadelphia 76ers. In high school (yes, I’m dating myself), Philip would go on and on about this talented young NBA player named Earvin “Magic” Johnson. He’d remind me time and again how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the best center in the league. And you can just imagine how Philip tortured me in 1982 when the Lakers on their second league title in three years and STILL had the No. 1 pick in the draft (James Worthy).
I admit it: I used to hate the Lakers.
But, as with most things, time heals all wounds. As the years passed, I began to appreciate what the Lakers were able to accomplish. I admired how the usually sullen Kareem seemed to age with such dignity and grace, and I cried when Magic announced that he had contracted HIV.
Admittedly, when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant led L.A. to three straight championships, I started to hate them again. (“You’re just a hater,” Philip would tell me.)
Philip passed away shortly before Christmas last year. I can’t bring myself to despise his favorite team anymore. I have to admit that they are one of the great NBA franchises of all time, perhaps surpassed only by the Boston Celtics (and yes, I hate them). Some of the greatest basketball players of all time were Lakers. So I put together my All-Time Los Angeles Lakers Team. Let me know what you think. (Note: I decided to only include players who were with the franchise for at least three seasons; thus, LeBron James and Anthony Davis weren’t eligible here.)
This one’s for you, Phil.
F – ELGIN BAYLOR. He’s the only member on this roster to have played in Minneapolis, where the Lakers played before moving to L.A. Baylor was perhaps the NBA’s first aerial artist, paving the way for the likes of Julius Erving and Michael Jordan. An 10x All-NBA First Team and 11x NBA All-Star selection. Sadly, injuries forced him to retire nine games into the 1971-72 season – the year the Lakers won the league title.
F – JAMES WORTHY. Baylor was the pioneer among the NBA’s high-flying forwards, but Worthy was a better overall player. He could do it all, as evidenced by his triple-double effort in Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Detroit Pistons. That performance earned him the Series’ MVP Award.
C – KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR. The Captain. The NBA’s all-time leading scorer (38,387 points). A 6x league MVP, 19x NBA All-Star and 2x NBA Finals MVP. His legendary “skyhook” was practically unstoppable.
G – KOBE BRYANT. The “Black Mamba” was perhaps the Lakers’ most fierce competitor. A 5x NBA champion, 18x All-Star and 2008 league MVP. Was largely overshadowed by Shaquille O’Neal during his developing years, but now even Shaq calls Bryant “the greatest Laker ever.” His 81 points against Toronto in 2006 is the second-highest single-game point total ever.
G – MAGIC JOHNSON. In my eyes, the greatest Laker of them all. Led the franchise to five NBA championships and nine Finals appearances. A 3x league MVP, 3x NBA Finals MVP and 12x All-Star. Before his arrivals, the Lakers franchise had become mired in a slump. From his rookie season, however, the Lakers became “Showtime.”
F – PAU GASOL. The revitalization of the Lakers in the post-Shaq era began when the team traded for the multi-talented Gasol. Averaged 17.7 points and 9.9 boards per game in his seven years in the purple and gold.
F – JAMAAL WILKES. “Silk” lived up to his nickname. He had a funnel y looking shot, but it was effective. Averaged 18.4 points per game in eight seasons with L.A. Won three championships with the Lakers and one during his rookie season in Golden State. Everyone remembers Magic Johnson’s 42-point, 15-rebound effort in the title-clinching Game 6 in the 1980 NBA Finals, but Wilkes contributed 37 and 10 in that same contest.
F – LAMAR ODOM. Off-court issues aside, Odom was a gem of a player on the hardwood. After he was traded to the Lakers in 2007, he adjusted his game to complement his teammates. He was a key contributor to the team’s back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
C – SHAQUILLE O’NEAL. Teamed with Kobe Bryant to form a mini dynasty. Together, they accomplished something even the Magic/Kareem/Worthy team’s could not do: win three straight NBA championships. Shaq was the Finals MVP in each of those title wins. At 7-1, 325 lbs., he was a dominant force for much of his career. Averaged 27 points and 11.8 rebounds a game in his eight seasons with the Lakers.
C – WILT CHAMBERLAIN. Once put up 100 points in a single game, although that was when he was with the Philadelphia Warriors. If he played his entire career with the Lakers, he probably replace Kareem as my starter. When he joined L.A., he adjusted his game to complement team stars Baylor and Jerry West. Still dominated opponents with his superior size and athleticism. The team’s record-setting 33-game winning streak during the 1971-72 season would never have happened without his defensive presence. Was the NBA Finals MVP that season after leading L.A. to their first league title.
G – MICHAEL COOPER. Every team needs a defensive stopper, and Coop was just that for the Lakers. Besides, it wouldn’t be “Showtime” without Cooper and Magic hooking up for one of their patented “Coop-A-Loop” slams.
G – GAIL GOODRICH. On a team with Chamberlain and Jerry West, it was Goodrich who led the Lakers in scoring for four straight seasons, including their 1971-72 championship year. An All-NBA First Team selection in 1974. Also a 5x NBA All-Star.
G – JERRY WEST. Before he became The Logo, he was known as “Mr. Clutch.” Would be a starter on every other NBA team’s “All-Time” roster. A 14x All-Star and 10x All-NBA First Team selection. The 1970 league scoring champion. And let’s not forget his successes as a team executive (8 NBA titles).
Just Missing the Cut: George Mikan, Norm Nixon, Byron Scott, AC Green, Happy Hairston, Vlade Divac.
Note: Baylor, Worthy, Abdul-Jabbar, Bryant, Johnson, Wilkes, Chamberlain, O’Neal, Goodrich and West all had their jersey numbers retired by the Lakers.
# # #