By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
Last fall, the Los Angeles Lakers captured their 17th championship, tying the Boston Celtics for most NBA titles in the history of the league. The Lakers are one of the premier franchises in all of sports, with many of basketball’s greatest players having worn the famous purple and gold. But who are the greatest Lakers of all time? Here is one 13-man roster for your consider. The only stipulation I’m including is that the player must have been a Laker for a minimum of three full seasons. Thus, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are not yet eligible.
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. After two more seasons, I expect Anthony Davis to replace Gasol on this list.
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. In another year, insert LeBron James in this slot.
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.
# # #